Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Prison of Words

The Prison of Words

Jesus taught using parables, which are basically simple stories to illustrate a moral concept. We understand something better if relate it to things that we know. Good teachers often give real-life examples to describe abstract concepts that he or she is trying to teach.

We often need to explain difficult technical concepts in layman's language to make ourselves understood. To do so, we need to use simple language that is familiar to the layman. But sometimes when things are put in simple language, certain nuances are lost. Worse still, it could even be misinterpreted.

A lot of religious texts sound very incomprehensible to people because these writings attempt to describe something that is beyond the realm of ordinary experience. A statement such as: "Suchness is neither that which is existence, nor that which is non-existence, nor that which is at once existence and non-existence, nor that which is not at once existence and non-existence.", will likely confuse more than enlighten people. Which is also why there's so much controversy over religion: it's often hijacked by people who think they have the absolute interpretation.

Science faces the same problem too when it comes to describing the nature of the universe. An electron exhibits both wave and particle properties. But it is quite impossible for us to imagine how something can be a wave and a particle at the same time because we can only think based on our own sensory experience.

As we explore the secrets of nature deeper, we find that our language is grossly inadequate to describe what we discover. Scientists have to resort to using the language of mathematics, which again is only comprehensible to a small group of people.

There's no way we can think of space in multi-dimensions without using mathematics. Even when we are able to describe it mathematically, no scientist can mentally visualize what space in four dimensions look like. Astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington said, "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine".

Words are only approximations, signposts to reality. But some of us get entangled with words, and think they are the real thing. We disagree over words, we argue over words--all the time, using the imperfect instrument of words. If only we can transcend this prison of words, we'll catch a glimpse of that Ultimate Reality, and be awed into absolute silence.

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