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Beyond Words

If you, as a reader, think in words, you might surmise that attaining a state ”Beyond Words” is beyond your comprehension. When one thinks only in words, it is akin to a fish living only in water and thus not appreciating how water is a unique environment for them (and how much it differs from a terrestrial setting). One experience or "close call” out of water, for our naive fish, may be ever instructive to him or her to appreciate water (and not take it for granted).

To the extent that we think in words, it may be difficult to appreciate, anticipate, comprehend, visualize, and attend a state “beyond words.” One who thinks in words sees, believes and thinks of words as an “end all” or source of understanding and rather than as a barrier to understanding. This feat is reminiscent of the Wright Brothers who figured that they could combine gravity, air, motion, wind in a innovative fashion by which gravity typically encumbers them and combine these elements to escape gravity with an operational combination that we have come to know as a plane and flying.

Until the Wright Brothers taught us about lift, we tended to assume that air was a “nothing” because we could not see it. Of course, with tornadoes, we can quite readily see air in action and accomplishing the seeming impossible, unfortunately with horrifying results. (True too, mathematics could not really “Take off until the invention of the zero concept generated independently both in India and by the Sumerians.)

Verbal thinking is structured with sentences. A goodly percentage of these deal with the “is” (and the conjugation of the verb “to be”) connection and the varied meanings of “is.” To a word-bound person, such a statement may seem strange, alien and unexpected. It may seem—to us—that everyone knows and agrees what “IS” means. But that is hardly the case, as instanced by various examples. One person says, “I am 17 (as in years).” Another says “I am happy.” A teacher announces, “Tom is present.” Then Timmy repeats: “Three plus four is seven.” Here each example reprises a different use of the word.

Sometimes “is” means equals (=) as in an equation. Sometimes it refers to a state of being in “It is raining.” Often it refers to an attribute such as “heavy," "pink,” “radioactive,” or “difficult” as is the English language for a student from Japan.

There is a whole “science” or study of language and its impact on perception, cognition, reasoning and communication called “General Semantics.” Therein are dozens of insights and ways to make our language work better for ourselves. We can learn the difference between facts and inferences. We can be turned onto studies of sampling. We study the superficiality, silliness and misrepresentations of averages, rates and percentages. We can hasten to avoid “absolute” words such as “Always," "Never,” “Infinity,” “Literal,” “Every,” etc. We study how to index words such as pink, versus pink493. And we learn to highlight words whether by bolding them, using italics, “quotation marks,” or modifying them through parentheses that follow (after), or by employing footnotes for further explain (parenthetically. In short, we can learn to be much more careful in how we use language.

Yogi Berra was known for his sense of humor and penchant for novel ways of commenting on matters. He might have said “Nobody goes there anymore: It's just too crowded.” Such discourse may tend to “awaken” us to greater possibilities as well as dangers of using our customary “street” vocabularies (as that which we adopt in genres at home or with our friends).

Among the most flagrant and under appreciated errors of language is that of Reification i.e. a concept and understanding rarely attained by college graduates. We are virtually weaned on implicit reification. A three year old when asked, “Could we switch names for the “Sun” and “Moon” and call the “Moon” the “Sun” and the “Sun” the “Moon?” Most such young children suggest, “No; that would be wrong.” Therein can be seen our predilection for confusing the map with the territory; the word or concept with the referent. Young children (and even many adults) hardly appreciate words as only having uses and not actual meanings. Words are mere conventions and we can place any name on any object or process with any selection (which insight is youthfully absorbed by those young children picking up a second language early on). But in Reification, we inevitably succumb to the habit of assuming

and acting as if the concept in our heads is more real than the reality (territory) “out there,” otherwise known as the “referent” (thing to which the word refers or points) or “territory.” And because we may well be numb, non-conversant and blind to our prioritizing our concepts over realities, in very naive (and silly) fashion, we combine concepts such as “time” and “travel” and invent a myth (and belief) in “time travel” as if it were real or could be real. Just saying something does not make it so: i.e. “Abracadabra.”

When we lose track of the referent and the actual meaning underpinning the concepts that we use in speech, we can invent, contact and establish all sorts of crazy ideas. Even were it not for the dopamine in our nervous systems, we could nevertheless concoct religions and belief systems with ghosts, gods, devils and all sorts of notions unrooted in reality. But dopamine, indeed, enhances our tendency, incentives, and occasional obsessions to invent (and discover) surreal figures, identities, gods, etc. to explain the extra world of the paranormal, extrasensory, religious and parapsychology.

Many of the essays that follow appear with a “Beyond Words” perspective. We are attempting to fashion, use and apply words to go beyond the words. Sometimes this is referred to as “meta-communication” or communicating about communication. In the similar way that we can "bang" a book on a table to awaken a sleeping student, i.e. as a use of the book other than for reading. we can employ words, as in these first few paragraphs above, to venture and explore the uses of words beyond the usual.

Temple Grandin, that brilliant Veteranarian with Aspergers, wrote a book entitled, “Thinking in Pictures” which is one of the alternate ways that many of our Aspergers brothers and sisters cogitate. Albert Einstein was a visual thinker. This writer read Rudolph Arnheim's book Visual Thinking back in 1970 or so, which read promoted him in his escape from “word-boundness” or being cognitively bound and gagged by words. (One might have guessed that Leonardo DaVinci and Isaac Newton were very likely visually biased and able to “vault” out of the word bound condition of their peers.)

To illustrate how “wordbound,” so many of us are, we might take a student before a landscape painting such as one by John Constable or Hans Holbein. If the instructor asks the student what he sees, immediately the student

will rattle off names of items observed in the picture. But the question was not to name items, but (the totality) of what he sees. Thus, for the most part, the student converts and redacts the brush strokes into words. But once words invade his/her mind, he/she is no longer seeing but rubricizing and scanning for particular content. That was not what the artist intended: Elsewise all landscapes would, in a sense, be crafted the same i.e. without periodicity and style. But it is the style; the overtone, the memory inducing aspects of the landscape that the artist seemingly chose to “move,” inspire and to excite his audience. The artist attempted to seduce us with his or her paradigmatic example of a “scene” that was and is “beyond words.” The student, however, mentally dissected and mentally “ripped” the work apart by separating out various items which prompted words. Such was the student's “wordboundness.”

Too often we forget that the whole notion of “kind” and “category” is a thing, figment and invention of the mind designed to organize and simplify our understanding of the world. “Kinds” to not exist in nature even if underlying differences exist in nature. Nature does not need nor employ words. Our minds commit the foibles of cutting and ripping as we carve out distinctions to replete our vocabulary. It is a bit like the construct of race. The concept of “Race” is but a construct erected and founded upon myth and junk science. And yet racism is very real, quite palpable and most hurtful and destructive as it impairs and soils the human condition—often referred to as our original sin.”

Among words, there are qualitative differences. For instance, we use extremely opaque, more or less “nothing” verbs such as “do,” “get,” “make” or even “cause.” Instead we might incorporate and spill into our speech “visual” components such as “operationalize,” “choreograph,” “compose,” “translate,” “whittle," "detonate,” (sketch,” “outline” or “improvise.”

Too, we can colorize, spice up, or multi-dimensionalize our speech with apt, relevant, innovative, and non-trite analogies and metaphors that can "capture” circumscribe and embody additional visual components into our speech. Even jokes can illustrate points at times, as hinting that the “joke may be on the reader.”

In going “beyond words” we can clamor, struggle and apply ingenuity to find generate insights, intuition, “Verstehen” and a non-verbal mastery of various things and processes in our world.

“Wordboundness” is expressed and distinguished by a “love for nouns.” Too many among us flee from the notion of a “process reality,” flux and change to the static “ossified” world of nouns. We trap and ossify verbs like passionate taxidermists and convert them into nouns. With those so obsessed, a person who lies is characterized as a “liar," a person who cuts men's hair is a “barber,” a person who drives others is a “chauffeur.” But by grinding and tearing the life out of verbs, we transform our understanding of reality as a fixed and static universe and hardly one explained better by Quantum Mechanics, Natural Selection and the Doppler effect. In short, we tend to destroy our verbs appreciation of process and live language by fixating (transfixing) on nouns thereby, in effect, killing an otherwise potentially useful language.