Prisoners of Speech


A zoo is a wonderful place. It is where we meet some of our long lost relatives and feel proud of being more highly established in life than any of them.

We are different from the other animals mainly because we are able to use symbols. Symbols are simple and convenient ways of dealing with the world. The world is too complex a situation for us to handle in any other way. The animals are able to function properly but then their stakes are far too lower than ours. Language is a wonderful tool since it is what establishes our past and future. Without language we will not have past and future experiences. Without past and future there wouldn’t be cause and effects in our perceptions.

If we just look around carefully we will find that no evidence of the past is actually out there. What is seen as past is actually present. For example, an old fort is only and example of how a fort is now. However, our habits call it as a thing of the past. In the past the fort never looked like this. In the past it looked complete and fresh. If we recreate it as such then it is seen more as a new thing than as an old thing. The feeling that come into our mind when we see an old fort, the awe with which we think about the Moguls or the Cholaswill not be there when we look at a fort rebuilt as it is. This is an evidence of us always being slaves of our mind.

It is possible even in the absence of language to have a picture of the past in our mind. An old photograph or a painting would have done the same for us if our minds were incapable of it. But then to deal with that image and manipulate it as frequently as we pleased would have been very hard in the absence of language. And then there are the abstract ideas to deal with. Even to say that our progress if far slower now than what it used to be would be next to impossible in the absence of language.

Language would have been the product of our mind in its initial stages. But as it became a thing of social interaction rather than introspection it became bigger than individual minds and just like the internet revolutionising the PCs it revolutionised the mind to such an extend that modern mind if a product of language. Even when we know that all language done would have been to help evolve the mind in a big way unlike a car produced in a car factory, we still choose the word ‘produce’ to mean ‘help evolve’ . This is the power of language over mind. It has given our mind an extensive symbol system whereby there is no clear speech. Convenience overrules and language becomes a set of metaphors. Our everyday speech is full of metaphors. Here in this sentence we prefer to say ‘full of’ instead of ‘has’. When ‘instead’ was written as two words this could have been taken to a third level!

Most people are right-handed which is a clear indication that the left brain is dominant for more people. And the left brain is the seat of language and linear thinking which is opposed to visual and holistic thinking.

Thus, not only are we slaves of our minds but also of language which has enslaved the mind by being its progenitor. As such it has as additional function. We all live in the present. It is impossible to be otherwise even for a second. But language widens our present and mixes it with our past and future. It is possible to speculate using language. Making it a tool for my abstract thinking, I can consider the different causes and different effects before actually choosing one. From where I stand I can create an illusory past where I choose plan a or b and then move over to the future and look at the gain or loss of such a choice. In the absence of language such operation will not possible or even be imagined. In the absence of past and future there would be no need of the concept of time. Thus it is language that entails time. Nevertheless one has to remember that all this operations are speculations and not real. The choices are just illusionary. The cause and effect relationship in the physical world is so solid that there are no chances for alternatives. Both mind and language are evolved entities for the individual as much as it is for the species. They are as interconnected with each other as much as with everything around them. Nothing in the world is free to make its own choice. Still language gives us the illusion of the alternatives and sense of being the chooser. This makes us feel personally responsible for the choices that we make and separates us from the god out there – the universe itself. As things naturally go from order to disorder, life has its share of miseries and to feel personally responsible for the things that happen around us is to volunteer to be crucified. Most people crucify themselves sooner or later.

Animals have no such problems. They may not have the mental agony that we have. Being emotional is not painful in itself. Mental agony is far more painful than physical pain and that is what art is all about. In the absence of language mind is primeval and simple. There are no games to play or gains to gain. Thus an animal is having a ball while we are trying to figure out our own roles and goals. All the time we complement ourselves for inventing language. We don’t realise that we were inventing our own prisons. We look at an imprisoned lion or a hyena and think about them, sympathise with them and write about them. We don’t realise that we are also imprisoned in an illusory but painful world by our own distinction – language. Even if the animals figure it out that our conditions are worse than their, they will not have any sympathy for us since to have sympathy is to be sad in the same way. And animals refuse to be sad. So it is solitary confinement for us. Forever and ever.


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