Language it limited. We often find that it is virtually impossible to say anything of any real meaning. Sometimes people will say, “I know what I mean, I don’t know how to express it.” Do these people really know what they mean, or are they mixing up knowledge with feelings, intuitions, and instincts? Is knowledge possible without language? Some would answer “no” – without language, they would say, we have no thoughts. To these theorists, language is the medium of thought – we could no more have thoughts without language than we could have vision without light.
If this is true, then for us to hold knowledge, we must be able to put it into words. But is language always powerful enough to capture what we want to say? The influential analytic philosopher W. V. Quine points out:
We cannot know what something is without knowing how it is marked off from other things.W. V. Quine, Ontological Relativity
But what are the boundaries? If we point to a rabbit in the grass, where is the boundary between the rabbit and the grass? And why don’t we talk about rabbits as groups of undetached rabbit parts? Why do we make the delineations that we make? Where should our categorizations end?
Have you ever taken a walk in a park with someone who knows a lot about biology? “Ah,” they say, “this is a hybernus lingus took-root. And look at that ring-wormed nose-picker – amazing!” After a couple of minutes of this, I usually want to blurt out: “Look! A birdy!”
The point is that we often get so wrapped up in our words and categories that we miss things. Real life is what is happening while you’re searching for the right words to describe it. Like the person who never actually experiences a vacation because they are constantly SnapChat-ing it, real experiences pass us by while we search in vain for a way to describe them.
Try taking in an experience without describing it to yourself in your head.