Expression and symbol

Subjective expressions like art, poem, literature, drama, movie, are an attempt to express the feelings. Spiritual expressions are also an attempt, but on a different level. Observational expressions, like science and math, on the other hand are an attempt to encode the observed reality objectively. In either of these cases, the expressions can be best appreciated and understood only after going through similar experience. Even the objective expressions, in a certain plane, have a level of subjectivity encoded in them. For example, let’s say there is “1+1=3” written on a wall. What does that mean? The first reaction may simply be to discount it as a child’s attempt at learning addition. But it can be any number of other things as well. No one can tell for sure why anyone wrote it. It could be stating a simple mathematical fact but instead of “2”, the person wrote “3” by mistake. It could actually be a kid’s attempt in learning addition. It could also be a code word for another person. It could be a joke two people played with each other. Or any number of infinitely many other possibilities. In similar vein, if I write, “As big as the universe, as small as nothing”, what will that mean to you? It may mean nothing. You may think this rambling of an old man or babbling of a novice philosopher. Or if you had tried to inquire about your own nature and had reached a certain point, you would understand exactly what I meant.

Imagine the very first human who becomes aware. He looks around. He sees the vast nature for the very first time. He sees the Sun moving across the sky. He sees days turn to nights and nights turn to days. He sees the moon and the stars. He looks at the trees and the animals. He looks at himself: his hands, his legs, his body. He looks at his fingers and his toes. He feels his head, feels his hair. He wanders around. He sees the mountains. He sees the lake. He finds huge rocks and small pebbles. He sees rivers and oceans. He sees that some animals run away from him. He feels hungry. But there are no thoughts yet just the observations. There is nothing to think about. He hasn’t experienced anything. He does not yet have the symbols for thinking. He does not have a name. Names have no meaning yet. He just sees and experiences the world purely at the sensory level. He can see and can feel everything around him except himself. Sometimes it is cold. Sometimes it is hot. He hears the sound of the wind, bird-calls, river flowing, lightning and roar of a tiger. He feels the pain when he walks. He feels tired. He does not yet have the names for all these experiences. Still he feels it and he knows it. But there is always a hole where ever he stands. He does not know who he himself is. Who is experiencing all these? What does he look like? He looks at his parent with odd fascination like a chick looks at the mother hen without any attachment. He does not know what parents mean. There probably is some connection at the subconscious level, but he is not aware of that yet.

If you can truly imagine what being that first human must have felt like, I think you are truly enlightened then. That is still the world we live in at the most fundamental level. Only now, we have created separate worlds on top of this fundamental world based off of symbols. Symbols are a way to encode our understanding of the fundamental world. Expressions are then constructed out of these symbols to express the feelings, encode the understanding, and modulate the sensory information to make them more tractable. From that perspective, when someone says “1+1 is 2”, what is he trying to say? Is he saying, “If we put one of your pencils and one of my pencils in a box, there will be two pencils” or is talking abstractly at a purely mathematical level. We can never be sure.

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