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Is thinking without words possible? Is there a connection between language and consciousness? Can we reach a state of mind beyond words?
In "The Picture of Dorian Gray", Oscar Wilde wrote:
"Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet, what subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as the viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”
But are words real? Aren't they mere symbols for what they mean? Or are they the very fabrics of our thoughts?
John 1:1 in the Christian Bible states:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
How should we interpret this, the strongest statement of the power of words ever made?
This is about the creation, but the meaning depends on what we mean was created. If we choose not to interpret the statement in the conventional way, but say that what was created was not the universe or the world in general, but the “human world” or rather “human consciousness of the world”, it suddenly makes sense. Is this about the dawn of human conscious thinking? Did consciousness, thinking and language develop together? Were words a precondition for thinking and consciousness?
If you think of it, when you think, don't you think with words? Can you even imagine thinking without words, without some sort of inner monologue, or perhaps a dialogue with yourself?
It is possible, but extremely rare. A few people can train themselves to this, but it requires long and hard training. It certainly does not come natural for humans.
Consciousness is peculiar, because in a sense that is what is really you, that is what you perceive as you, the “self” - yet you can think of yourself from outside, then it is as if the consciousness was separate from you. Or, alternatively, your consciousness is a you residing in something alien, which is the rest of you. There is a sharp barrier between the very small consciousness and the huge “rest of you”. So what is this strange thing we call “consciousness”? Is it possible to have more than one consciousness in the same body/nervous system, and what would be the consequences of that?
There is such a thing as multiple personalities, an extremely interesting phenomenon with sometimes very strange consequences. Different personalities residing in the same individual can really be radically different, know different things and have different sets of experience - and all that without even knowing about each other. The latter is thought-provoking and a trifle uncomfortable. Read it again: “without even knowing about each other”. How can we, anyone of us, be sure that we are not housing such other personalities? Perhaps we lead a double-life but are totally ignorant of the fact!
These are difficult and deep questions upon which we will not dwell too much right now, let's just say that there is some sort of connection between consciousness and words.
God delivers the law in form of words to Moses at Mount Sinai; Allah's message to humankind comes in form of words (the Qur'an). Words are the very threads out of which the fabric of human consciousness is woven. But are they a precondition for spirituality?
No, I don't think so. In fact, genuine spirituality might be the opposite of words and consciousness, like Buddhist Enlightenment or, even more, the state of Satori in Zen. This is what mystics of all religions and traditions seek: to liberate the self from the conscious and logical and become one with God, the Divine, Cosmos, whatever name they give it. Words and what they say are just tools to obtain the purity and self-discipline required in order to be able to reach a genuinely spiritual state of mind (which is not easy). That, in turn, might be a glimpse of what lies behind the words – because words are not only power to our advantage; they trap us, enclose us, keep us away from what is beyond. They are symbols, they mean something, but we can see only their interpretation, not what is really there. We are prisoners in our consciousness and its constant stream of words. The genuinely spiritual experience might be to “see” beyond that, if only for a moment.