Truth, Language, Compassion, and the 'Danger of Single Story'
by Danny Castillones Sillada
“The small wisdom is like water in a glass: clear, transparent, pure. The great wisdom is like the water in the sea: dark, mysterious, impenetrable.”
Keywords: Truth, Epistemology, Phenomenology of Language, Language, Judgment, Compassion, Cubus Theory
he platitude that ‘the Truth can set us free’ may as well be the same platitudinous Truth that can imprison us!
Since the primeval period, man is accustomed to understanding and defining the Truth within the fringes of his empirical existence. What is discernible through the human mind is an outright representation of reality. What is not evidential, but psychologically or mysteriously experienced is either a metaphysical or a supernatural manifestation of the Truth.
As man’s consciousness progresses in history, his perception of the Truth also evolves in a dialectical process from spoken to written language, which began five thousand years ago in ancient Mesopotamia at around 3000 B.C. Since then, never before has the Truth been written and spoken so blatantly in many languages, emanating from various beliefs and cultures.
With six thousand languages all over the world, we could have six thousand versions of the Truth. And whether these “versions” are consensual or not, by now, we could have already understood the absolute meaning of the Truth.
Even then, will it liberate?
The Prismatic Principle on Truth and Language
It seems that language, as an intermediary mode of communication, is impecuniously constrained to articulate the empirical and metaphysical perception of reality. An object or idea, for instance, as intuited in the human mind, can be sieved in the process when written or spoken to and eventually lost its succulent substance.
Hence, if language is insufficient to express the cognitive and affective human perceptions, will it be possible that the physiognomy of Truth can also be emaciated or mutated when confined within the linguistic norm and structure?
Imagine a prism as language, and the light that passes through it is the Truth. As the light travels through the prism, it refracts and produces spectral colors (rainbow colors). After the beam of light is dispersed through the prismatic medium, the colors become visible in varying wavelengths and frequencies, which can be measured in nanometer.
Visible through the prism are seven colors from the infrared to the ultraviolet regions, i.e., red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. In reality, however, there can be millions of colors in different gradations and values as the light, with low and high frequencies, passes through the earth’s atmosphere.
Now, imagine the Truth as it filters through the human language. What we may perceive through the linguistic structure can only be a refraction of reality––a refracted reality based on the literal and figurative interpretation of language.
Following the syntactic and semantic principles, the articulation of reality can become rigidly or loosely delineated, exaggerated or understated, intrepid or circumspect. No matter how logical or objective the linguistic proposition is, the depiction of the Truth could either warp or lose the epistemic substance in the process.
The same prismatic principle can be applied how the human brain perceives and processes the Truth before it is configured within the confinement of language. How the neurons, for example, fire up millions of electrical signals to capture and collect the raw data of perceived reality; how the entire neurological regions from cerebrum to cerebellum work together in understanding, analyzing, and formulating the collected data; and how the broca and wernicke areas of the brain process the same data into spoken and written language.
Our brain is the most crucial part in perceiving and processing the Truth because it is the microprocessor of our consciousness, in a manner of speaking. Everything that is perceived through our senses is processed within the intricate circuitry of our brain. If there is any glitch in any part of our neurological system, the entire mental activity will be affected; thereby, corrupting our understanding of the Truth.
No matter how impeccable the human brain is, in present time, it has not yet evolved genetically to grasp the absolute dimensions of the Truth. Our perception of reality as much as our hegemonic use of language can only comprehend what it can process based on the present evolutionary blueprint of human genome, particularly the biological and neurological structure of the human brain.
The Binary Processors of Truth and Language in the Human Brain
Man’s intellectual capacity to know and understand the Truth is relative and variable. The power of human brain, in the parlance of computer, can be likened to the different capacity of microprocessor, e.g., 1.5 GHz, 2.5 GHz or 3.0 GHz; 16 bit, 32 bit, or 64 bit. It has its own configuration, which is dependent on the capability of human intellect (mente-processor) to process the given data based on the individual perception of reality.
Mente-Processor, as coined and defined by this writer, is a neurological function that processes (perceives, analyzes, and formulates) the empirical and metaphysical data within and outside the realms of human experience. Anything that passes through the human mind is filtered by the mente-processor. After processing the data, it has yet to pass through another neurological function (lingua-processor) before it can be revealed in the form of spoken or written language.
Lingua-Processor (the broca and wernicke regions of the human brain) is a neurological function that decodes and converts the “processed data” from mente-processor into spoken or written words. Its function is mechanical rather than formal. Once a processed data is communicated, it becomes a formal disclosure of the perceived fact or reality.
To borrow the Aristotelian principle of causality and apply it on language, the lingua-processor is the efficient cause of language because it is responsible for translating the processed data into spoken and written words. The processed data, as perceived via the neurological activity of the mente-processor, is the material cause because it is the substance or the ‘flesh and bones’ of language.
The formal cause is the spoken or written language because it is the structural form of processed data shaped within the linguistic system. While the final cause is the disclosure or revelation of spoken and written words through a passive or active communication. The passive communication pertains to a one-dimensional form of medium, which is either written or spoken, e.g., book, newspaper, public speech, television or radio. The active communication refers to the ordinary conversation between two or more people.
To sum it up, before a perceived Truth can be revealed, it has to percolate from the mente-processor through the lingua-processor and, finally, through the spoken and written language. The mente-processor processes the “raw data” of the Truth as perceived by the human mind and senses. While the lingua-processor converts the “processed data” into spoken and written language.
The prismatic filtering of empirical and metaphysical data through this binary process, which seems to be tedious and taxing, is instinctively mechanical as part of the neurological functions. During the mental activity, however, the essential elements of perceived data could be variegated when finally broken down and confined in any spoken or written language.
The Truth within the Normative Tenure of Language
The Truth is amorphous, opaque, and mysterious!
The more we contain the Truth within the paradigmatic structure of natural and formal language, the more we deprive it of its epistemic value and meaning. We can never know, for example, what is inside a man who is incapacitated by the norms of language. We can never know what is lost in a particular culture, whose language is either dying or gobbled up by a dominant language.
The deeper language winnows the raw data of reality within the stringency of language, the inaccessible it becomes as a medium of the Truth. The linguistic paradigm does not make us conscious or intelligent enough to understand the epistemological picture of the Truth. Instead, it limits our consciousness to explore the contiguous realities beyond our empirical existence.
Whatever is revealed within the normative tenure of language is only the tip of the iceberg. Because language, as much as the human brain, has its own version of the Truth that expresses only what it can comprehend or communicate. Not that it cannot articulate the empirical or metaphysical reality –- it could not simply contain the latitudinal dimensions of the Truth.
Therefore, if the Truth is corruptible through language, then everything that is spoken or written along with it is also corruptible, e.g., philosophy, aesthetics, politics, science, economics, and religion. The Truth can be emaciated or manipulated in any set of systems, rules and principles (e.g., beliefs, cultures, school of thoughts, and language), and consequently lose the intrinsic values salient to enlighten or liberate the human consciousness.
Ironically, without the blandishment of language, the Truth of man’s existential condition is vertiginously abysmal, awful, and petrifying!
The Danger of Single Story: Human Judgment and the ‘Cubus Theory’
The danger of single story is that human being is inclined to see only a single facet of the Truth. Instead of verifying the veracity of a ‘suggestive’ reality, as seen or heard on social media, newspaper or television, one indulges on its titillating effect in the senses, clouding the mind to make a rational judgment. Once a mental judgment is distorted, it begets another distorted reality, until the distortions reproduce in a viral manner and, eventually, become a mutated monster of ill-conceived reality.
The Cubus Theory, as employed and defined by this writer, is the process of mental judgment that revolves within a limited point of view of the Truth. Cubus is a Latin word that means ‘cube,’ a three-dimensional geometric figure of six equal sides. The measurement on all square sides is constant depending on the volume of a solid cube, e.g., 2 m3 (2 x 2 x 2 m) or 4 m3 (4 x 4 x 4 m).
Human judgment is parallel to the angular perception of a solid cube. The eyes cannot entirely see the six sides of the cube. Instead, it sees only the three geometric points of view, e.g., one-square side, two-square sides, and three- square sides. The other three-square sides, as the law of physics dictates, are invisible from the perspective of human eye unless the cube is transparent.
Suppose the six sides of the cube have six different colors, but the eyes can only see three from a three-square-side perspective. Viewer A, for example, sees three colors and infers, based on the first impression, that there are only three colors in a cube. Viewer B, on the other hand, sees also three colors but infers, based on assumption, that the cube has six different colors. Which one has made the right judgment?
Common sense tells us that, although we cannot see the colors at the other sides of the cube, we can create a mental picture how the colors must have looked like. In like manner, in order to arrive at a sound judgment, one must go beyond from what is perceived by analyzing and classifying the given data.
There are important hypothetical questions that must be raised. First: What do the colors represent? Second: Are the colors randomly painted on each side of the cube? Third: What are the classifications of colors, e.g., primary, secondary, or tertiary colors? Fourth: Are the colors sequentially arranged in a pattern or symbol? If viewers A and B can answer these questions, then they can probably infer a coherent judgment.
A sound and balance judgment is not dependent on a single fact or any preconceived notion of reality. A ‘single fact’ should not only be verified and juxtaposed with other facts, but also discerned rationally whether it comprises the value and meaning of the Truth. A one-dimensional story is only a single facet of the Truth, while an exaggerated picture of reality does not tell at all the whole story of the Truth.
Human judgment, therefore, in the context of ‘Cubus Theory,’ is always biased and prejudiced, because it sees only a limited facet of reality. Any single fact is always a ‘single story’ unless the human mind, with prudence and discretion, suspends judgment until an alleged presented “fact” is verified with the other side of the story.
Truth, Compassion, and Language
Language is subservient to human being in disclosing and understanding the Truth. It is an indispensable tool of conveying human thoughts and feelings between or among humans. However, language without compassion can become flaccid sounding cymbals, bereft of soul and substance. Compassion, as a language for the unspoken, goes beyond bodily gestures and linguistic expressions because it feels what others feel even in solitude and distance.
Language reveals the soul of humanity, so to speak. Whatever language that comes from one’s mouth mirrors the ‘inner self’ of that person. Whether the spoken or written language is abrasive or gentle, derisive or thoughtful, tactless or discreet, it reflects the character of individual personality. A self-centered individual, for example, cannot understand other beings if he or she is resentful, arrogant and selfish.
We cannot let others, as much as ourselves, like us if the language that comes from our mouth is deleteriously bland and bitter. We can neither feel nor understand the happiness or sadness of others if we do not soak ourselves in their mental and emotional environment. Because to reach out to others, we need to remove that aura of indifference within us, by allowing the delicacy of our soul to blossom and radiate in every word, gesture, or sound that we give off to other beings.
Human emotions are common denominators to understand others even if they do not know each other’s languages. Compassion is not dependent on any linguistic mediums because it dwells in the heart and soul of humanity. Human being, as the dwelling of thoughts and emotions, is a living and dynamic language that transcends any linguistic barriers through compassion.
Without compassion, language cannot emphatically feel what is inside a person who is despairing. The silence of a broken man or the lament of a grieving mother is inexpressible in language, and it is only through human compassion that one can feel and understand the inner ‘torment’ of other souls. Language can persuade, manipulate, or dictate what it wants us to believe, but compassion brings and reconciles us to other beings in love, humility, respect and understanding.
When language fails to commune the human thoughts and emotions, silence becomes a necessity to meditate upon the unspoken. When verbal or written words placidly settle in propitious impasse, when bodily sounds and gestures slowly abate in calm surrender, when quietude resonates with the gentle beatings of human heart – it is then that silence tiptoes carefully between the sublime encounter of two souls. This kind of encounter is a compassionate encounter in Grace, Truth, and Beauty.
To sum, as cognitive and affective being, human thinks and speaks beyond the empirical form of language, because language alone cannot mimic or articulate the bodily gestures and facial human expressions. More so, the human thoughts and emotions are inherently polymorphous and chaotic, they cannot be adequately contained within any linguistic norms or systems.
Language is ephemeral –- so does the meaning or symbol that it signifies. In time, as the historical society evolves and progresses, language will become a dense unified global medium. The perception of the Truth from the perspective of different cultures will disintegrate and become part of amalgamated principles of the Truth, as dictated by a more powerful and influential language and culture.
The only thing that will not dissolve is the metaphysical language of human soul from which all linguistic mediums are necessitated to unveil the transcendental Truth and its urgency in the present and future existence of humanity.
© Danny Castillones Sillada
How to cite this article:
Sillada, Danny Castillones. “Truth, Language, Compassion, and the 'Danger of Single Story'.” Manila Bulletin (Manila) 28 November 2011; 5 December 2011: F1-2. Prints.
Links (Published in two parts in Manila Bulletin):
First Part (Manila Bulletin, Arts & Culture, November 28, 2011)
Second Part (Manila Bulletin, Arts & Culture, December 5, 2011)