November 19, 2012

Helen Keller, the Matrix, Quails, and Weebles

 Helen Keller's experience seems almost a case study to support Burke's claim that language can create reality. While we all create reality through language every day, we have the scapegoat of vision to make us believe we are seeing reality. Think of the Matrix -- even though Neo is immersed in a sensory world, it only exists in his mind, and the minds of many others. Does language create a Matrix world for us, placing the basis for reality on neural synapses and perception instead of the actual physical world around us?

While discussing this article with a friend, he mentioned a term new to me -- quail.

I knew it was a bird, but he shared another definition. Apparently a quail is a term used to describe someone whose visual spectrum is biologically reversed. This means when they look at a red fire truck, they see the color blue, but have learned that the name for that color is red. It's kind of mind-bending. It isn't color-blindness -- they can see and distinguish between colors just fine, they just have learned the wrong names with each color, as the meaning of blue they call red and vice versa. I think this is so interesting. How do I know if the red I see is the same red you see? All I know is we both call it red. I think this is one of the major things I find problematic with language -- no matter how much you communicate, you are ultimately just using signs or symbols without any real verification that you are talking about the same thing as someone else. And yet, this symbol-using can be so powerful -- it is almost as if we are meant to just accept that reality is lost to us and just take the reality language creates for granted.

On a personal level, I found this article intriguing because my grandmother is legally blind and also hard of hearing. Her case is very different from Keller's, as she had sight and hearing before, but it helps me try to grasp how her reality could be different from mine. When I think of a blind reality, I imagine a dark and shadowy world of confusion -- perhaps because that is the visual analogy our culture uses to represent blindness? This article helped me realize my grandmother is probably not living in that dismal world, but a reality based on the same things it used to be based on and which ours is as well. She can still remember in color even if she can't see them as well anymore.

Side note: Goerge mentioned how Keller joined the political party 'Wobblies.' Why don't our current parties have cool names like that? It sounds like some Indie band. Or a slang term for Weebles (a kids' toy).

1 comment:

tgraban said...

I know this isn't exactly to point, but I was once a member of the "Wahoonas." (I kid you not.) Not a major political party by any means, but a grass-roots, underground, civic-minded organization of college student women who thought that the name gave us all manner of notoriety and empowerment. Call it a failed terministic screen. This was, of course, long ago ....

-Dr. G

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