The Kitchen Vedantist

Just another site

Lost in Transmission

Statue of Confucius on Chongming Island in Sha...

Image via Wikipedia

A recent conversation about the nature of communication has left me wondering. The guy, someone whose views and judgment I value a lot, was going to meet his friends from schooltime, and I asked “Can you still connect with them?”. He said , “I speak to them in my own way”. He continued that no matter who your correspondent is, they’ll make what they want out of your words. I can readily see the point…our interpretation of someone’s words and deeds is tempered by our own attitudes, experiences and state of mind at that point in time. But doesn’t that make each human an island unto himself? If total communication were not possible, why this irresistible instinct for self expression that only the great silent ones (munis) could overcome? Why this need to be understood?

On the other hand, is this such a one-sided need? Don’t we all at times want to get inside someone’s head, see and experience things as they do? What of that saying “to know someone is to love them”? Why do we buy books and art? Why do great works of art and literature appeal to people divided by centuries and vast geographical expanses? Where lies the universal and where the individual?

These thoughts remind me of a quest in an entirely different field. I just can’t stop marveling about the delightfully thought provoking Edge essay by neuroscientist V S Ramachandran about mirror neurons. Call it empathy, call it collective subconscious, there indeed seems to be some kind of overlapping of minds/experience/consciousness.

Coming back to the munis, is silence the ultimate desirable? Did they withdraw into silence because they realized experience can never be expressed in words? Is it the ultimate victory when one overcomes the need for self expression? If so, have I fallen from grace by starting this blog?


August 25, 2010 - Posted by | communication, culture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Yes, I kind of think you’ve fallen. You drank the kool-aid and now it can’t be undrunk. (What? That’s a word. If the writer writes it, and the reader understands it, it’s a word. Like Heinlein’s “grok”.)

    I think about what you’ve written here a lot. Mostly within the context of art. It’s actually kind of a neat thing, how someone will paint a painting, and people will interpret it through the lens of their own point of view and experiences. It seems to be the same with music and even writing. Case in point: the book “Jitterbug Perfume”. That novel from Tom Robbins actually changed my life. So much so that I’ve recommended it to friends and co-workers. Yet each time, when someone has read it, they’ve taken something completely different from it.

    Yet when it comes to communication, there’s a desperate need (for many of us, but not all) to make sure we’re understood according to *our* context. Maybe it’s the struggle itself that is so enticing to people. I don’t know. It’s fun sometimes though – and frustrating at others.

    Comment by wolfshadesblog | August 25, 2010 | Reply

  2. Kool-aid was neat! Yes they say ambiguity is a virtue in art and poetry. Recently I read this quote by Jim Morrison- “Listen, real poetry doesn’t say anything; it just
    ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through anyone that suits you”.

    That said don’t you think there are also other times, especially in intimate relationships, when you want the other person to experience something the same way as you did?

    All in all, I agree it’s amazing, how everyone’s an island unto themselves and still a lot of what is said leaves a profound effect on others.

    Comment by umavvs | August 25, 2010 | Reply

    • In intimate relationships – yes, I really do want that person to experience something exactly as I do. For me, that’s part of the mating process actually, and I believe it’s a key part of what we vaguely refer to as “chemistry”: the ability to be able to relate, almost at a visceral level, the same type of experiential thinking.

      I also note that it’s a rare, often serendipitous thing, and definitely worth waiting for.

      To use a simple example: if one of us observes an old couple holding hands, walking down the side walk in front of us and it brings a smile to our face, while the other person can only see an old couple who are in the way – that’s a discordant note which should probably be acknowledged.

      Sometimes it’s just, as you say, a matter of communicating something to the other person, so that eventually they can see the same quality that we do. Certainly it’s happened to me, where my viewpoint has changed.

      Comment by wolfshadesblog | August 25, 2010 | Reply

      • Yes, it’s rare and worth waiting for. Especially, as one matures, this kind of mutual chemistry matters much more than physical features. Glad you relate so well to this.

        Comment by umavvs | August 25, 2010

  3. I am blown away by this blog. Thank you for it! Speaking to the comment thread…I have always hoped for that like-minded joy, that visceral relating. I am full of wonder when it happens–and in its absence I’ll gladly settle for the shared moment. Lately, I have been finding that serendipitous responsiveness in friendships. Wherever it comes, that sharing of ethers is an amazing thing, yes?

    Comment by lynnbiederstadt | August 25, 2010 | Reply

  4. Yes, such sharing is rare and beautiful. People are together for years and yet this shared mutuality evades them and then sometimes you strike an instant rapport with a total stranger. It’s amazing! Glad you liked the post- thank you!!

    Comment by umavvs | August 25, 2010 | Reply

  5. BTW, on the issue of mirror neurons, you might find this conversation interesting…

    And thank you for elevating skydiaries to “envy” status… I consider that a signal honor.
    xo Lynn

    Comment by lynnbiederstadt | August 26, 2010 | Reply

    • That was a great link..loved it. Thanks a lot Lynn. Actually I was also doing a little research on my own on this whole music thing…lots of questions in my mind. Was even planning to write a post here on that…only couldn’t put it all together..too complicated. So your contribution will help in that direction too..whether I’m able to finally write it out or not.

      I liked the way you write your posts and the subjects are also stuff that interest me. And there are lots of other people who like the posts. So the envy is natural! I meant it. Glad to have found someone so intelligent, friendly and helpful as you in the very first few days of my blogging experience here!

      Comment by umavvs | August 27, 2010 | Reply

  6. I think humans are social by nature and sharing our thoughts is part of what makes us who we are. Maybe I’m just a chatter box.
    Thanks for a thought inspiring post.

    Comment by Cassandra Jade | September 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Glad you liked the post. I too feel that communication is a deep-seated need. All the same it’s never been easy to share our thoughts or understand others. Like the bard said, there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip. Thanks for stopping by…

      Comment by umavvs | September 1, 2010 | Reply

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