Language Transcending Logic through Play (Body Language), Poetry, and Koans
"You know the sound of two hands clapping; tell me, what is the sound of one hand?" (oral tradition attributed to Hakuin Ekaku).
One can analyze thinking and language in terms of logic and such analysis can lead to insights that I have tried to convey in the preceding chapters. Most of all, it can lead to healing thinking, writing and speaking, and it can allow us to avoid or reduce harmful thinking, writing and speaking.
Nonetheless, logical analysis cannot capture the full richness of thinking and language. Thinking, writing, and speaking do not always follow strict logical rules. Many nuances can be expressed in written and especially spoken language that are beyond the confines of logic. Playfulness, especially through body language, some poetry and koans are important in this respect.
Raymond Queneau wrote a book entitled “Exercises in Style” (Queneau, R. 2009. Exercises in Style. New York: New Directions Books. English translation by Barbara Wright). In this book he presents 99 different ways of describing a simple event that took place in a crowded bus: A man accuses another man of jostling him. When a seat is vacated, he takes that seat. Later he is seen in front of a train station where a friend advises him to sew another button on his overcoat. The differences of the 99 descriptions of this event cannot be sufficiently reduced to differences in logic because at least some of the descriptions surpass logic to a great extent or altogether. Here are a few samples:
"He started to quarrel" (Queneau, R. 2009, p. 35). This is a rather categorical statement that still implies our ordinary logic. It could be rendered less harmful through Korzybski's extensional devices such as "He started to quarrel, etc." (see Chapter 4).
In contrast to the above statement, the following description of the situation is not categorical. It presents the complexities and contradictions of life in a way that surpasses our ordinary clear-cut logic:
"The other chap! claims he trod on his toes! They're going to come to blows! definitely! no, though! yes they are, though! go wonn! go wonn! bite him in the eye! charge! hit'im! well I never! no, though" (Ibid., pp. 83-84).
The next statement also softens the accusation and changes ordinary grammar:
'You're jostleseeming me" (Ibid. p.45).
Ordinary grammar and logic is further surpassed by the following poetic rendition in Haiku form:
"Summer S long neck
plait hat toes abuse retreat
station button friend" (Ibid., 139).
Finally, the next rendition is beyond all grammar and logic:
"Psst! h'm! ah! oh! hem! ah! ha! hey! well! oh! pooh! poof! ow! oo! ouch! hey! eh! h'm! pffft!" (Ibid., p. 191).
These examples show that there are playful and poetic alternatives to soften or overcome the constraints of Aristotelian logic and logic in general. Some of these alternatives are less harmful or even healing. Hence, the healing kinds of logic I explored in the preceding chapters are not the only way to surpass the negative psycho-logical reactions to Aristotelian logic. Language can be used in many creative ways. Barbara Wright, the translator of Queneau's original French book, wrote: Queneau's "purpose here, in the Exercises, is, I think, a profound exploration into the possibilities of language. It is an experiment in the philosophy of language" (Ibid., p.14).
Queneau's book also shows that no linguistic description can fully cover an object or event, as Korzybski has emphasized. Hence, each description is just a story that, at best, captures one aspect of the object or event. Having 99 stories that complement one another is, of course, more informative than only one story. Furthermore, each story loses its dogmatic absolutistic claim, which creates humility that may be a basis for healing. Unfortunately, we are often too much attached to our own story and mistake it for the Truth, when in fact it can be at best a partial truth.
In his film Rashomon (1950), Akira Kurosawa presented four different, even contradictory, accounts of a murder. Such contradictory accounting of the same event that has been called the Rashomon Effect involves not only different description but also different interpretation based on different intentions.
Playfulness and Body Language
Spoken language surpasses logic even more than written language because in spoken language playfulness, the tone of the voice and body language play an important, if not crucial role. They can override or even counteract logic. For example, in the extreme, “no” can mean “yes” in a flirting, playful tone and body language. In general, Aristotelian logic can be made less harmful through tone and body language, whereas non-Aristotelian logic can lose healing power through an inappropriate tone and body language. Thus, tone and body language can have more or less negative or positive effects.
"Ultimate Reality: "It cannot be expressed in words, yet, it cannot be expressed without words. The art of writing poetry is inherently paradoxical because, in the process of writing, the poet is using words to invoke feelings that cannot be expressed in words"(Wolfe, G W. 2014. Meditations on Mystery: Science, Paradox and Contemplative Spirituality. Lake Oswego, OR: Dignity Press, p. 21). Sometimes poetry can transcend more or less the strictures of logic as the following haiku illustrate:
set the mountain in motion -
Wallace Stevens wrote a poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.
Koans play an important role in Zen Buddhism. They are paradoxical short stories, questions, or dialogues whose meaning cannot be accessed by logical thinking. Hence, koans challenge the student to go beyond logical discourse and the thinking mind.
The following are some examples of koans:
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Who is the Buddha? Three chin of flax.
Is there Buddha-nature in a dog? Wu.
D.T. Suzuki pointed out that "wu" literally means "not" or "none", but in the koan it is just the sound wu (Zen Buddhism. Selected Writings of D.T. Suzuki, edited by W. Barrett. 1956. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, p. 134). If "wu" meant simply "not" or "none", the answer to the question would imply Aristotelian binary logic (yes or no), and the above question and answer would cease to be a koan.
Although beyond logic, koans are still part of language that has become rather paradoxical because of the transcendence of logic. The next chapter will deal with transcendence of both the thinking mind and language.
The purpose of this short chapter (interlude) was to emphasize that the constraints of Aristotelian either/or logic can also be overcome more or less through a playful and poetic use of language that may surpass logical strictures. Hence, alternative holistic kinds of logic that I explored in the preceding chapters are not the only way to transcend Aristotelian logic. In spoken language the tone and body language provide additional means to mitigate the strictures and of Aristotelian logic. The effects may be harmful or healing, or both, or none. Koans completely transcend logic and the thinking mind. Their function is to aid in liberation and healing.
This chapter needs elaboration. Any suggestions would be welcome!
Watch the Gibberish Laughter Workshop by Dr. Kataria
Continue with Chapter 6 on Beyond Thinking, Writing, and Speaking - the Unnamable, or return to Table of Contents of this book ms on Healing Thinking and Being.