Friday, February 25, 2011

Filosophy Friday: "Saying the Darndest Things"

(Note: Posted this before on Facebook. Reposted for the sake of having a proper 'Filosophy Friday' column.)

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
- Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

We've all noticed people saying things we consider stupid. But wherein comes this unutterably horrible offense to the intelligent psyche? I propose these postulations to help explain this phenomenon.

Postulation 1: Words are expression of thoughts and ideas.
Postulation 2: Thoughts and ideas are generated by sensory input.
Thus, What Goes Out is What Comes In.

Let's examine these postulations and see what I mean by it. Postulation 1 states that whatever we say betrays our inner thoughts and ideas. You might go, "So what else is new?" Fair enough, it isn't. Of course when we express ourselves, we are expressing our own thoughts and ideas, and may in fact betray our own emotions about the subject. For instance, simply saying, "Lapar sial," carries with it first, relaying that the speaker is hungry, in fact hungry enough to comment on it. From here we can also deduce a few things; the speaker is in fact giving an invitation to the recipient for lunch or dinner or munchies. The usage of the word 'sial' can give us a clue to either the education level of the speaker, how strongly the speaker feels about his subject, and perhaps the company he is in. Thus, no matter how much (or how little) the speaker says, there's something we can learn about how the speaker thinks.



Postulation 2 attempts to try and find the source of these thoughts, and ideas. This stuff doesn't just come out of nowhere, in the manner of divine revelation (or 'wahyu'). Indeed, while writers have been known to pull off what has been known as 'Ass Pulls' (the time honored tradition of pulling an idea out of your ass, instead of your head; http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AssPull for more) even these Ass Pulls are based somewhat on a germinating idea in the writers' head. This also makes some sense. You certainly can't write about Cosmopolitanism if you think it has something to do with buildings and cities, or you can't write about Yogi Bear and pic-a-nic baskets if you haven't seen the show. Thus ideas come from somewhere, the question is; where?

Obviously, from all forms of input available to humans; our senses. Our first teacher is experience, which is probably what led to our survival in the first place. Imagine these doofy hillbilly cavemen learning from experience about the world around them.

"Kronk eat brown fruit yesterday. Make Kronk make more water from mouth and brown fruit from Kronk ass. Kronk not eat brown fruit anymore."

This kind of intelligence is of course rudimentary and possessed even by animals, but being human beings, we can ascribe different values to our own experiences, and learn different things from a similar but slightly different experience. This makes our experiences very valuable as sources of our ideas and thoughts, and ultimately if Postulation 1 is to follow from Postulation 2, our words.

The next logical question: what DO we experience? The rude answer would be something like, "Fuck, what DON'T we?" Eating shit is an experience, as Kronk can testify to. Reading this can be an experience. Bungee jumping is an experience. And from all of this, we can expand our idea set and thought libraries to accomodate these new experiences. So do we form our ideas from all these experiences?

Let's say, for example, two people go bungee jumping. A goes first and experiences it without a hitch. At the end he's all, 'That was fun,' and B goes. Suddenly the bungee cord rips (I don't know how, this is just an example) and B nearly falls to his death. After a few minutes going 'OH GOD I'M GONNA DIEEEEE' B is finally pulled up, and thinks, 'Fuck this shit'. We now have two different ideas on bungee jumping born of two different experiences, A who thinks bungee jumping is da shiznit, and B who thinks it's a peril to life and limb. Reading this example, many will think, 'Well, of course!' and they'd be right, again; this is common sense to many.

Now, let us put the two postulations together. If we follow from our original question, 'Where do stupid statements come from', and go all the way back to our two postulations, we can perhaps conclude that:

"Stupid Statements are the end product of a Stupid Idea and Stupid Input".

This conclusion does come with some pre-made assumptions and flat-out ignoring some aspects. For instance, we are here ignoring the personal reaction to the experience, and presumptive judgments and other things like that that can seriously affect the ideas born of an experience and the words born of the ideas, not to mention the definition of 'stupid' as a value. This is an oversimplification, but in general the flow goes something like this:

EXPERIENCE --> IDEA -->WORDS

I think everybody can follow this very simple flow of ideas, so let's go to a different one.

What I put forward here, then, is this; reading is also another type of experience.

Think about it. You sit there, moving your eyes over a group of symbols made to represent words which in turn represent (or as we know now, follow from) different ideas, and through the writer's wordplay we experience the ideas he or she is expressing, albeit one tainted by their own take on the subject but still a kind of experience nevertheless, and we can learn from books, can we not? So I put forward that reading is also a kind of experience, it is also something from which we can learn. Reading allows us to experience new ideas, and expand our thought libraries without maybe needing to experience it ourselves. In the case of fiction, we get to explore worlds of imagination, and endless possibility not bounded by our rules of reality. Thus, reading, as an experience, is very valuable in adding to our library of thoughts and ideas. Now, since words arise from thoughts, then it also follows that the quality of the ideas that the words are directly related to the quality of the reading material.

I think you can see where this is going.

Bottom line, you should really be paying attention to what you're reading. Words feed ideas to the mind, and help shape our prejudices and thought processes. For example, my friend Husna Musa often shares items about Islam and sometimes about feminism (at least I think it's her doing that) on facebook, and I would bet you anything that if you get her started on any of these topics she would let you have it. Now let's go find somebody who reads a lot of Kosmo! for example; we can (maybe) make assumptions that this person is going to be obsessed with celebrity gossip, maybe quick to judge, and having no opinions on the stuff that matter (since none of that is covered in a tabloid rag). Myself, for a while I was really into horror and cynical stuff; I could get pretty bleak, and a wet blanket at my most annoying. My father, meanwhile, enjoys reading these self-help books, or these managerial type books, and it shows in how he speaks.

I am of course not ripping on people who can't read; that's why postulate 2 says 'sensory input' as opposed to 'reading'. Other non-reading experiences can be just as meaningful, if not more than what we read about in a book. I chose to highlight reading because first of all, it's a topic dear to my heart, since I love reading and often wonder why the hell aren't people reading more. Secondly, as I've let slip I feel like reading as a whole has been neglected, and people aren't doing too much of it. And finally, I'd like people to stop reading stuff which will only feed completely stupid stuff to their minds. I'm not going to say what these are, but I will say this; pay attention to what you read. Imagine you standing in front of everybody (or a judge, or God, or your mom) and saying what you just read, not just repeating it but saying it, as if it were your own idea - and see how you like how it sounds.

If you like it, then be my guest. Tabloids need circulation too.
If not, then maybe you should try reading something else.

FIN. Any thoughts, ideas, alternate views, whatever? Feel free to share and/or comment.

By Hafiz Tajuddin with No comments

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