Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Chapeau to A Friend

You may notice that if I am ever quoted I rarely comment and try not to endorse that kindness with a "like." This morning one of you did as much, and beautifully so. I write here to make a few points likely well-understood, so apologies if I bore you. I hope you know that I am flattered and not at all ungrateful for the shout-outs. I am deeply honored when you cite something you heard or read. But the reason I don't always acknowledge those citations is that I want those experiences to be yours. This is what _you_ heard or these are the words _you_ read.

I mean to honor _you_ for your experience and choose, as far as seems reasonable, not to "interfere." Unless there's some egregious mistake, I will leave your memories to you. I will try to let your experience come through. There's no catechisms, no repeat after me. Appa was insistent that this was how we learn more creatively. He would time and again ask me to put matters in my own forms, even if that included citing him or using a quotation. He was keen to "get it right" but he was just as keen to invite your own understanding.

It's an important feature of Rajanaka that we affirm more autonomy of experience in relationship, that intimacy demands that we strive to protect another's autonomy. When you speak about or for Rajanaka you will notice too that, for my part, it belongs to you. I'm not keen to "control" or "manage" anyone. The ethos of autonomy and self-empowerment has a greater priority than any form of "management" over what is or is not "Rajanaka." And _that said_, I still acknowledge full responsibility and mean to do right by you or others, which is why "Rajanaka" is also technically copyrighted. More embrace the paradox, as you would expect.

We experience our experience of the world. This is a premise common to even the most objectivist schools of Indian thought and it is the cause of much conversation, particularly around the term "māyā." Since māyā refers to the ways we take our measure---that common etymology in Proto-Indo-European is /ma, from which we get "measure," "meter," etc. But when we see things, we see ourselves making the world from consciousness. Bees see bee-world, pandas see panda world, humans see human world. But human world is different from all other worlds. Why?

Human worlds cannot be extricated from something that, so far as we know, only humans do, that is, use language. I won't rewrite Steven Pinker here but will recommend The Language Instinct. My point here was to tell you a story from class yesterday.

In one of those professor homilies that I routinely give about what it means to be in college, to acquire an education, I made a routine comment. As we grow up and continuing well into the process of science education we learn that words refer to "things." Those things can be ideas as much as feelings or objects but we are taught that there is a world that appears before us that all of us share. The purpose of language is to draw this process into greater clarity. Early Wittgenstein argued that the ideal propositions put that relationship in a one-to-one and isomorphic relationship. In other words, when we really get it right we make the direct and proper correlation between the word and the thing. Wittgenstein spent most of the rest of his life refuting this point for which he was so famous---and much to the chagrin of his mentors Russell and Ayer. (Shall we someday read his Tractatus together? We could do that, you know.)

But what makes language so much more like the Indian premise of referring to consciousness experience _as the things_ we experience is also a part of the transition that needs to be part of learning to learn. As a caveat, learning how to learn is heart and soul of being educated in contrast to merely well-informed or exhibiting "intelligence." This is a complex process because it involves an integrated self---one that is engaged somatically, emotionally, with all facets of our being human. But it crucially involves language. "Language" here too becomes a much more complex category since it will involve matters well beyond and, importantly, sometimes without words at all. Dance, music, mathematics, yoga asana are all forms of language learning, all taking on the shapes of their own "words" that must reference _other "words"_ to be meaningful. Learning how to learn without words is itself a _part of language learning_ when we redefine the parameters of language itself. That said, words no longer refer merely to things but now to other words.

Let me say that again because this was the point I made in class (for the umpteenth time) and this time it was met with an unusual incredulity. I think that is part of the problem in our new education: we are failing to make clear to young people that _words do not refer to things but to other words._ Of course this doesn't mean that words don't refer to things, it means that we must turn to other words to understand the words we use to express "things." We are creatures of consciousness, a peculiar kind of consciousness (as far as we know) that _depends_ on words in ways other creatures do not. Such a process of referencing the process of words---that we are _always_ talking about the words we are using to explain other words---means that the interpretive matrix is never separate from the references we think we are making. When I say "apple" I mean the word "apple" refers to other words as much as it references the fruit on the table.

We never master words anymore than we master consciousness. The task before us is to know that the world we experience is human-made by language that we inherit, adapt, and employ to meet our needs or fulfill our desires. Learning how to learn is the yoga we call Rajanaka, which means that we're always in unfinished worlds and lives, entering further into undiscovered territories. How we see words creating the relationships of meaning will tell us what kind of world in which we are living and help us create invent the worlds in which we aspire to live.

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