Naming and Qualia

We see the world through the grid of language.

For newborn babies, the world looks chaos. Everything they see is a stream of colorful dots and shapes. It is almost a series of abstract artworks. And everything they hear sounds a series of meaningless noise.

It looks like the beginning of the universe.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Genesis 1:1-4

And because of the word, “light,” God uttered, it has existed. This existence no longer a part of the chaos, but one of the meaningful pieces for the world. Literally and figuratively, all the words God proclaimed created the grid that formed the universe.

Also, God created a man who has the same power.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:27

And God gave us the power to name what we see.

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

Genesis 2:19

Since then our human history has been the process of such naming. We’ve been naming whatever we see. Without these names, the world goes back to chaos. We can sense and feel something and someone. But such something and someone would remain chaos and unknown without naming.

But, these pieces of names (naming and symbolizing shapes, sounds, colors, feelings, senses, and sensations) can give us the power of creativity. By crafting these pieces, we can create our works of art; we can replicate the world and universe in our imaginations. God created us in His image, indeed.

It is true that naming keeps us in the realm of Maya. We love and hate Maya’s veil. We enjoy it and suffer from it. But, it is also true that naming gives us the rich world of qualia. The world without names is chaos. But the world with names is what we call qualia.

That is why Helen Keller’s confession fascinates us a lot.

For the first time, she has realized that what she senses and feels has its name. At this very moment, the world of qualia has emerged in her consciousness, and she has become the creator of her universe. And as she confessed, her feeling of repentance and sorrow has gotten more realistic.

We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.

I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Image by José Manuel de Laá

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