Reality surrounds you. You see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and otherwise perceive your environment. There are a zillion things going on around you all the time, yet you get used to the overwhelming amount of information coming at you at a very young age – possibly as early as infancy.
With this bit of context, I want to talk about language. In my opinion, language is a powerful tool – perhaps the most powerful – to construct some satisfactory model of reality for yourself that prevents you from being overwhelmed every time you open your eyes.
Here’s an example to illustrate the point I’m trying to make. Imagine you are a being that has spawned into this (or some other) universe for the first time. You have no knowledge of anything whatsoever – everything is new. Let’s say you spawned into a completely empty room, with a single bright yellow light in front of you.
Wait. We already got ahead of ourselves. What is “empty”? What is a “room”? What are “single”, “bright”, “yellow”? These are completely new concepts! In order to form an idea of what “empty” is, you’d first have to experience a room that is full of things. Then, you might draw a comparison between the two. Further on in this thought experiment, you might realize that it’s not just rooms that can be empty or full, and you might articulate the more general idea of a container. Same goes for the other words – take a moment to think about them.
Simple, individual words that you use without a second thought represent and convey large amounts of information. They give you the powerful ability to qualify and quantify reality around you with relative ease.
In my experience, many people are familiar with the idea that language is a communication tool; it allows you to share an idea with someone else. But I want to draw attention to a specific use of language: communication with oneself – the inner monologue.
There’s a voice in your head that thinks the words you want to express before you say them out loud or write them down. That voice exclaims “Yes!” in triumph when you finally solve a difficult puzzle or beat a game. It goes “Fuck!” when you stub your little toe. And that same voice nervously goes over your rehearsed lines before a presentation or speech.
I’m going to model this voice as a character. An interesting tangent might be to study the link between this character and your sense of identity, but that’s probably worthy of a whole book or maybe at least an essay or paper. Anyway, let’s call this character Voicey McVoiceface.
It’s undeniable that you have an intimate relationship with Voicey. Voicey is who you listen to when you’re alone. When you’re engaging in very personal activities – when you’re showering, doing your make-up, preparing for an important meeting, when you’re in bed just before falling asleep, when you’re having an existential crisis – Voicey is there.
Through Voicey, you communicate with yourself. And when you think about it this way, you realize that Voicey is just as prone to being wrong as anyone else you know. Just as prone to being an asshole. Just as prone to being hurt, angry, afraid. Just as prone to being happy, loving, kind. I think it’s important to question Voicey. Call Voicey out on bullshit. You have control. Voicey is how you constantly describe reality to yourself – make damn sure that you’re not letting yourself get scammed.
These thoughts came from thinking about how the tone of my inner monologue affects my life. I feel that exploring these concepts further should be a personal quest, so I’ll stop here (a bit abruptly, I’ll admit) and leave you with this quote from David Foster Wallace’s This Is Water speech:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”