Language offers only imperfect approximations of the human experience

Afterthoughts: Here is New York by E.B. White

Afterthoughts: A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

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Language is perhaps one of the most glorious evolutionary quirks of mankind, but even it has its limits. Words, no matter how coherently they are strung together, are unable to truly capture human experience. Having said that, it does do a pretty good job of approximating it. Approximations are guesstimates at best and thus invites the possibility of variance. It is in this variability where issues arise, for the one presenting their experience and those receiving that communication.

What complicates matters further is that human experience are often unique and individualised. If you put people through the same set of circumstances, their responses will inevitably vary given that their life experience and values vary. Granted it is often easy to identify the broad strokes of what each person experiences, but to nail down the minutiae with any sort of precision or accuracy is impossible. We need not look further than events that have left an impression on the world: 9/11, the Global Financial Crisis, Climate Change. These events had a global impact and shaped the sensibilities of the generation. But you would have more luck trying to build a time-travel machine than to predict how an individual responds in light of these world-changing issues. Given that human experience is heterogeneous, language is inherently handicapped in its pursuit toward connection.

Even if the person communicating their experience, whether first-hand or second-hand, captures 99% of what they intend, the oneness then lies on their audience to judge whether they believe it. The issue is that the goal of understanding and empathy is contingent on the technical language skills they have, and to an extent how compatible the message is to their own experience and worldview. The news highlights intolerance and ignorance on a daily basis, and try as people do bridge the divide via discourse, signs of success are few and far between.

Language is the medium through which mankind tries to achieve connection and develop empathy with one another. While it is always evolving, I imagine that something else entirely will take its place as technology develops. There are too many trap doors with spoken languages in terms of its reliability to create connections and foster empathy. Having said that, we should not stop trying. Imperfect as language may be, it is the best tool we have.

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