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Yet this attempt is always, at best, a sea of adversities. This is not due to a malfunction of the speech centre in my cerebrum or the emotional confusion that I had befriended alongside puberty; it is simply due to acceptance, if not resignation, of the undeniable fact that words can not do justice to the complexity of life that we carry around with us. Despite words being floating combinations of letters and sounds, vulnerable just like the concept of money, we hold an unshakable faith towards these human creations.

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. It has been a habit acquired throughout the years, to jot down words that had caught my attention and stick them to any nearby surface. Initially, it was a ritual deriving from the fear and sorrow at how easily things could be forgotten or distorted in my mind as time passed.

However recently, I had an epiphany: perhaps it was an act of self-guidance. A hopeful, continuous reminder to wonder until that day when I am wise enough to fully understand the meaning of those words, for the author but more so for me. Why in that moment did these exact words pop out of the pages and shout at my conscience? I wanted a reason then, and I still search for them now. The meat and potatoes of communication.

Not many people stop amidst a conversation to think: is the person sitting across from me, who is listening to the same exact collation of words as I, understanding them exactly the same way I do? Perhaps this is not an important process in order to have a smoothly carried conversation; and rightfully so, which I will later on explain why. The human desire to share. Sharing is an act of distribution, conciliation, elucidation, and compromise. Hence the terms ambiguity and communication seem to be standing on the opposite polar.

Besides that, the term communication nowadays can be used in the tone of, if not as a complete synonym, to clarity. Therefore ambiguity of words, from the common notion of verbal and textual communication, may sound and seem like an oxymoron. As much as ambiguity and communication can be a parallel counterpart depending on the context, ambiguity will always be an inhabitant of any existing word. What exactly is the power that words have that move people? How do we assign words with this power when they are merely combinations of letters? Kerouac, J. The Dharma Bums. London: Penguin Books. Introduction Version 2: The personal I was always fascinated with ambiguity.

The grey area. The intangible. The complexity. The unexplainable. Humanity never seemed black or white but a spectrum of grey. That was what attracted me more than pure facts as we had come to know it. This became a constant source of guilt for me, especially since moving to the Western society as an adult and studying the arts where individual statement seemed so important. So here I am, trying to grapple the impossible, within the restriction of merely words. The most thinkable starting point for me in this search was language and words, my other constant obstacle and reminder of a void in communication.

Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations. Greene, D. Stanford University. Theory of Mind Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Check reference image. Okrent, A. Sapir, E. Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. New York: Harcourt, Brace. Kohama, I.

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Stang, Nicholas F. Zalta ed. Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth Through words and concepts we shall never reach beyond the wall off relations, to some sort of fabulous primal ground of things. Nietzsche, F. Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks.

Washington DC: Regnery Publishing. What are words: Learn through experience.

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Shape your world. Why do we think that when we communicate in words, others understand them the same way that we do? A simple answer could be that we have dictionaries to fall back on, giving us definitions and etymology, and the thesaurus to reassure us that our thoughts are expressible in innumerable ways and will eventually land on the right one. In social psychology, the false consensus effect 3 can also be referred to.


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It is, simply put, how we tend to project our way of thinking onto other people, assuming other people think the same way as we do. We have developed our Theory of Mind 4 , a cognitive behavior to ascribe mental states to other people, and yet we still can not escape this assumption. In many cases, this assumption can act as a lubricant in everyday social interactions, allowing an extent of smoothness and linearity in the conversation.

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We are taught from a young age to read and write, spell out words we will probably never use, and receive brownie points for knowing the longest word in the dictionary. The more words you know the better. But why?

That means that the more words we have, we could potentially have a wider range of thought and ways to put them out to our external environment. It is similar to how culture is an organic and long-term crowd-sourced result of human activity, yet dissimilar in the sense that cultures are usually exclusive to the contributors and followers labelling themselves as part of the group also contributors. Not to mention these are theoretical constructs of our mental life, a space in which we can only access alone and never fully identify.

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They are a purely psychological concept that does not correspond to somatic structures of the brain such as neuroscience. Freud, keen and cautious, had emphasized the fact that they were nothing more than models, but his disciples and successors daringly utilized these words as if they were pre-existing entities, raising highly speculative debates. God, time, or particles are the same in the sense that once coined or verbalized, the presence of an entity that was once an abstract concept starts closing in, raising the inevitable debate of its credibility, existence, and the whats-its.

Once something is, it is all but natural for humans to be curious of the whys-its, hows-its, wheres-its and take on deeply philosophical investigations.

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Even when abstract concepts such as time and space are being discussed as a priori condition, all terms coined around this discussion come from our surrounding environments and physical experiences. We have no other way to formulate abstract ideas and make them understandable or measurable.

Reflecting our physical experiences into the metaphysical discussions allow us to, exchange better, although perhaps never quite entirely. Words will fail us only if we treat them as content, complete communicators in itself.


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Intermediation will never seem fully functional, if we intend our minds to be understood by others rather than interpreted. We tend to understand that intuitively when it comes to images, music, or any other artform, but words have less of that luxury. A writer creates his or her sentences on the page, but the minute they are released to the world, they belong to the readers.

Mattijs van de Port, an anthropologist who works primarily with footage, specifically essay films, states that when textual and audio-visual anthropologies come together under one roof, one may make up for what the other lacks. I cannot emphasise enough that Van de Port does not diminish what words can accomplish; instead he sought greatest power in the combination of both words and film in his practice.

It seems illogical to discuss taking in receiving and implication of the words intention , when the receiving will be done second-handedly in anycase. Point being, both footage and words are intermediation, and the receiver will ultimately have their own judgements towards whatever mediation takes place. Perhaps the level of interpreting done by the author through production differs; however this still was not enough to convince me that the receiver will have a better understanding with less interpretation done throughout the process of making.

It bears an ontological relation to its referent. I would disagree, that if we acquire meanings to words through experience, our vast collection of memories of first hand experiences are the referents to our vocabularies. I did not recognise this as a bodily experience before.

It does not touch me on the surface of my skin, or create a reflex in my muscles. I feel hooked, by a force making me read the same lines over and over again, mouthing them to imprint them stronger to my mind. In extreme cases, I even feel a chill down my spine, hair rise on the back of my neck. The words resonate with what was within me, pulling it out of my sub-conscience into somewhere closer to the surface of my body.

Words trigger the imagination, which produces an endless stream of mental images. Philosopher Peter Carruthers has argued that there is a type of inner, explicitly linguistic thinking that allows us to bring our own thoughts into conscious awareness.

Like a Gieger counter for issues that deeply matter, when they allow the words to come out, the emotion comes pouring in.