Final notes from The Painted Bird

A lot of what “The User Illusion” — the book I just finished on consciousness — is about is the limitations built into various modes of communication. For instance, you can send someone a letter, but that letter can never convey the subtleties of emotion that could be conveyed via the human voice. Or, using speech, you could describe a scene to someone, but that would never be the same as actually viewing the scene. We can never fully convey our experiences to another person. We can’t describe every individual thing we’re seeing, every sound we’re hearing, every visceral sensation traveling through our body during an experience etc. And even if we took the time to address every detail of every experience, words themselves have a limited bandwidth. Words like “love,” or “consciousness,” or “justice,” or “beautiful” border on being meaningless, because everyone has a different interpretation of them.

Today, I finished up reading “The Painted Bird,” and find that towards the end the narrator — a mute child who has seen the horrors of World War II — sums this all up nicely. Reflecting on man’s predicament, he says…

It mattered little if one was mute; people do not understand one another anyway. They collided with or charmed one another, hugged or traveled one another, but everyone knew only himself. His emotions, memory, and senses divided him from others as effectively as thick reeds screen the mainstream from the muddy bank. Like the mountain peaks around us, we looked at one another, separated by valleys, too high to stay unnoticed, too low to touch the heavens.

Thus is defined the futility of our existence. The next time you’re having a conversation with someone, I recommend that you reach into your mouth and literally push the spongy gobs of your brain out through each of your ears.

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