Does language make the man or does man make the language?
It has long been held that man makes the man, but some are questioning that notion. Coming as I do from a Post-Moderm Poetry background, I can attest to the exploration of this notion that language makes the man, at least in part, or, as William S Burroughs echoed in his novel, the Ticket that Exloded, and was made semi-famous by the Laurie Anderson song of the same name, Language is a Virus,
OUR LANGUAGE SHAPES OUR REALITY, NEW STUDY SUGGESTS
Critical theorists, in a variety of fields, have argued the opposite. That our language actively shapes our reality and there is no objective reality which exists independent of language. For instance, that explosive diarrhea may be a psychosomatic reaction to your racist conceptions of Mexican food. Okay, Taco Bell is not Mexican food, nor is it “objective” good, but you get the point.
John Mearsheimer, in a criticism of the language-makes-reality tradition (in international relations), argued:
It would be understandable if realists made such arguments, since they believe there is an objective reality that largely determines which discourse will be dominant. Critical theorists, however, emphasize that the world is socially constructed, and not shaped in fundamental ways by objective factors. Anarchy, after all, is what we make of it. Yet when critical theorists attempt to explain why realism may be losing its hegemonic position, they too point to objective factors as the ultimate cause of change. Discourse, so it appears, turns out not to be determinative, but mainly a reflection of developments in the objective world. In short, it seems that when critical theorists who study international politics offer glimpses of their thinking about the causes of change in the real world, they make arguments that directly contradict their own theory, but which appear to be compatible with the theory they are challenging.
Of course, Mearsheimer’s criticism is the international version of a view also held by many other fields, specifically positivism. It is also, if only implicitly, a view held by plenty of mainstream commentators.
But a study conducted at Yale is poking holes in the idea that our perceived reality is all that it’s cracked up to be. Yale researchers used a technique called “flash suppression” where stimuli in one eye will block your perception in another. For instance, a flash in your left eye can make an image in your right eye functionally invisible.
But it turns out, when given a verbal cue, such as the word “kangaroo” when the invisible image was “kangaroo,” it sometimes allowed the subjects to see the invisible image. As the Medical Daily notes, “The findings suggest that perception may be more subjective and erratic than most of us would like to think.”
Here is the Laurie Anderson song: