Words Form the Thread on Which We String Our Experiences

1 January 2017

Aldous Huxley was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of his family, the well-known Huxley family. He is best and most commonly known for his novel, Brave New World. He was a humanist, pacifist, and satirist, was interested in subjects of spirituality like parapsychology, which incorporates paranormal phenomena’s such as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psycho kinesis, near-death experiences, and reincarnation. He was also an advocator for psychedelics, a psychoactive drug whose primary action is to alter cognition and perception.

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George Orwell’s idea of Sapir-Whorf is the linguistic theory that semantic structure of languages shapes or limits the ways in which a speaker forms conceptions of the world. This theory was named after the American anthropological linguist Edward Sapir, and Benjamin Whorf who was his student. In the 20th century, the theory that the language people speak controls how they think, was popular among behaviorists. Sapir Whorf tells the idea that human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are at the “mercy” of the language of their culture.

In George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-four, he addresses the idea of “newspeak”, which is where words are taken out of the character’s vocabulary. This can be seen to influence their thoughts by decreasing the number of associations to connect the word with. Language influences thoughts about the real world. We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because of the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.

The hypothesis can be seen to show that language influences how people categorize their experiences. For example, the Inuit people have many words for “snow”, which causes them to perceive snow differently than those who know only one word. By having more words to define “snow”, it is perceived as a more crucial part of their lives. Aldous Huxley’s quote “Words form the thread on which we string our experiences” can be paralleled to the theory of Sapir Whorf. He is ultimately saying that words and their connotations can help define an experience.

When certain words are associated with experiences, they can be seen to influence the thoughts of that person about that situation. Words can also provoke emotions, such as crying or laughter, which can create a positive or negative view on an experience. An example would be if an experience were described as “a sunny, cheerful day in the vibrant park”, positive thoughts and emotions would be brought to mind because of the words “cheerful”, “sunny”, and “vibrant”. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley proves that experience is influenced by words and culture.

At an early age, the people of Brave New World are taught to view certain things and experiences as positive or negative. In their sleep, biased words are whispered to them to help reinforce these beliefs of the society. The words already put into their minds influence their experiences by having already associated certain ideas with a negative or positive connotation. This is directly related to the idea that words influence thoughts and opinions of an experience, or Sapir Whorf.

Some problems that could be associated with this idea of words defining our experiences can be related to Brave New World. In this book, the characters are influenced by the words that are whispered to them, which limits their ability to make their own opinions of certain experiences. This limitation can lead to the idea that words are all that experiences are. A problem with this idea in general is the similar arguments that people have against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. We are not able to prove that thoughts are affected by words or vice versa.

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