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Human Experience

April 7, 2009

This is an essay that I wrote a few years back. I was reminded of it today.

“Human experience is inescapably tangled with our description of it. What does this statement mean?

I believe that this statement is speaking of the fact that in order to communicate an experience we have to subjugate it to language and in subjugating it to language, something is lost in the telling.

In order to communicate an experience or emotion you have to use language to describe it. Language is made up of labels, so your experience is automatically put under a label in your brain in order to make it relateable. When you limit your experience to language, however, there is inevitably something indescribable left out. If you touch a hot pan you might say :Ouch!” but does that fully describe the pain you felt?

Likewise, when someone tells of an experience, the only way another person can understand it is to relate it to an experience that they themselves have had. If this person has never had the exact experience you are talking about, they will force your description under another label in thier head. Thus, the experience is not the same to them as it was to you.

It is also true that when you have an experience that you consider significant, you want to tell people about it. You end up finding an easy way to tell the story and you tell it multiple times. There is something lost in the telling, however. When you tell the story of a personal experience you are limiting the feelings that you had to a language that cannot fully describe it. When you have told it enough times, the memory in your head molds to the story and you begin to forget the parts that you could not describe. Therefore, the experience changes for you and now it is limited by the fact that you had to express it though language.

Out experiences cannot escape the demeaning qualities or our language.”

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