The four pillars

"The centre for mental health in Sector 4" [where the jokers go]

“The centre for mental health in Sector 4” [where the jokers go]

We want to hear songs. We want to hear something that is smooth and about 3 minutes long.

What does the length of this interval mean? That we have a three minutes tolerance for music perception? How about a movie which usually lasts an hour and a bit? What’s our tolerance for that?

The tolerance limits that we have defined for listening to the voice of another person depend on how much time we are given to spend on this planet.

Listening, paying attention, for more than a minute now [if you’re listening to the voice recording].

We want to hear songs. What if the singer is not very talented?

What if by the time he or she delivers the message (the chorus message) everybody else has tuned off?

What do we do then? Well, we can only hope that somebody listens for longer periods when we think that we have an important message to communicate that is longer than [an hour and a half] [three minutes].

Is it a song? Is it a movie? Or is it a voice in your head?

The voices in my head (which I insist on calling “dialogues”) are many, but there are a couple of main ones, 4 main dialogue contexts in which I speak.

One of them is (of course) Socrates and the dialogue format, the idea of developing arguments by providing reasons in a dialogue form, the question-and-answer form.

What is right? What is true? What is this? What do we know for sure? How can we know for sure?

Using language, rhetoric. That’s one voice.

Another voice is that of aikido (Ki-Merging Path 合氣道); if you think that aikido means Steven Seagal, then we’re in trouble because that’s not aikido; that’s the appearance of aikido, but as soon as you see Steven Seagal shooting a weapon [in his  movies] you realise that he hasn’t understood the most basic point about aikido, which is that

“the attacker always loses, the attacker is always thrown (投げられる)”

Maybe you think that this happens only in a simulated exercise in the dojo (=Way-Place 道場), but it also happens in reality because the attacker forces the ki and consequently becomes weaker. I hope you know (or learn) enough aikido to understand this.

I’m talking about shinshin-toitsu (Mind-Body Integrated-into-One 心身統一) aikido, which says that the path towards peace is the path of non-Conflict (non-Strife), non-competition.

Competition appears in the relative world, but it does not exist in the absolute world of Sky-Earth. This competition gave birth to us, but we need not continue acting on this basis, except in the form of reasoned dialogues.

The third persona in my mind who is a constant companion in these dialogues is the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (bibliography) developed in several Australian universities (by Cliff Goddard at Griffith University and Anna Wierzbicka at the Australian National University), but it started with the idea of this Polish linguist (Anna Wierzbicka), who was in turn inspired by several Russian researchers investigating lexical semantics (as in “making a good dictionary”).

Australia provided a particularly rich ground for investigating differences in meaning across languages because of the many opportunities of coming into contact with other languages (i.e., Australian Aboriginal languages) in addition to the languages spoken by the research team (including Latin, English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Polish, etc.).

The core concept of the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach is that there is a set of basic shared meanings (originally called “semantic primitives”): I, YOU, SAY, THINK, FEEL, GOOD, BAD and some 50 more.

We can feel something good, or we can feel something bad.

We can say something, some words, as I am doing right now, and you can hear something now.

Something moves; what moves? Something in the air, the particles that vibrate and create the sound-waves.

Something else moves: The spark of light across a certain path in your brain (a circuit?); are there multiple firings of neurones? In which parts of the brain?

Why should we care about this? Because these are shared meanings, so they might be originating in the same places. We would like to believe so, but that’s probably not so simple in reality.

The associations (i.e., concomitant firings) would be different; think about all the things we would associate with SEE in English: LOOK or WATCH.

How is LOOK different from SEE?

How can I explain LOOK (not universally shared) using SEE (universally shared)?

People see something

People want to see something

People look at this something.

There is an element of “want to see” contained in LOOK.

How about WATCH? Here we add the element of time (“for some time”): You don’t watch something for a second only, but you can shoot a look at somebody, very quickly. You could see (or look at) somebody for a short time, but watching involves longer intervals.

All these associations are made like this in English, but what about Japanese? What word do they use for the basic meaning SEE and what are the associations with the other verbs (watching, observing, perceiving, knowing…)?

If we talk about SEE, the basic meaning is shared, but it is networked differently in each language.

We should not exaggerate the size of this core of shared meanings.

However, we know that this shared semantic core does exist.

How do we know this? Because communication is possible between societies and people speaking different languages and because we can explain more economically other more complex meanings (like LOOK and WATCH) so there must be an irreducible core of semantic primes.

TIME is another primitive, as well as PLACE (happy, Einstein?)

A fourth persona making frequent appearances in my dialogues is the Romanian joker: Bula

Ce dracu ba, Bula, bai…

We (Romanians) have all these jokes about things that are hard to explain because even the name sounds different in English: Bula does not carry many associations in English (but don’t worry, I’m working on it).

Bula is the main character of many Romanian jokes (bancuri) and in some way I feel that’s my role in this life as well.

Things happen, Bula just doesn’t get it. He tries to understand what’s going on, he’s a pretty smart guy, but he’s got bad luck, cosmic bad luck, being born Eastern European in Communist Romania.

What does Bula do? Well, for example, imagine this:

Bula (who is married) has a friend called Strula (another name that doesn’t strike a chord with you English speakers). Anyway, Bula is the one who is married, and Strula is not married.

Now, Bula is at home, having sex with his wife, when Strula comes around the house and starts knocking on the window panes like crazy and starts shouting

Strula is fracking [take that, prudes and Internet censorhip!] Bula’s wife! Strula is fracking Bula’s wife!”

So (sure enough) Bula gets really upset about this, leaves his wife and runs outside to catch the insolent bastard. In the meantime, Strula climbs the rain-pipe of the house, crosses to the other side, finds an open window, goes inside the bedroom and starts having sex with Bula’s wife!

Now Bula, who is outside, still searching for Strula (“Where is that bastard? Where is he?”), looks through the window (the one where Strula was knocking) and sees his wife having sex with Strula, so he thinks

“Oh, my God! From here it does look that way! It looks as if Strula is fracking Bula’s wife. It looks like that from here!”

Anyway, it’s a joke, right? I hope you got it. I hope you feel with me the exasperation of Bula who feels that he’s been somehow cheated, by his senses; he believes, he trusts his friend Strula… (and his own eyes).

So the four personas with whom I have dialogues:

  1. Socrates and the Greeks (dialogue and reason);
  2. aikido and Zen (the Good) and finding the way (the path) to peace;
  3. Natural Semantic Metalanguage, Aboriginal Australians and shared meanings (primitives);
  4. and, of course, Bula.

Because it’s all a big joke, isn’t it? Laughing (in itself) is a form of dialogue, which we don’t normally consider as such.

Laughter is a giving-up of trying to understand all of reality.

It’s an acknowledgment of the limits of our reason when you realise how absurd it is to want to know everything.

We feel we know everything; we feel we ought to know everything (we should know everything), but then we don’t, and we realise how absurd, how ridiculous this presumption is.

Life: the dialogue with the body you’re trying to silence. All the time you’re trying to carry on the dialogue with your body as an Automatic Subconscious Procedure and then it (=Laughter? Death? Or both when they’re the same?) comes, it comes as a giving-up in the face of this whole complex reality.

Because it looks different from here, from where I’m sitting, on these four personas’ shoulders.

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