Saturday, August 13, 2016

Experiential communication

One of the hardest elements of Freemasonry to communicate to others is what it communicates. There are parts of the communication that are easy to understand. You can read exposes of the degrees online. You can chase the historical, philosophical, religious, educational, literary and technical allusions that they have to offer, and spend a lifetime in doing so. You can listen to lectures on their deeper meanings on YouTube and read the dissection of them by notable Masons, scholars, enthusiasts and raving conspiracy theorists alike.

All of this will have varying amounts of return on the investment of your time, and to some extent I think it would be worth doing for the person who is not and feels they never will be a Mason.

But after all of that study, you still won't understand what Freemasonry communicates!

That's a kind of bold statement, and it really does need to be defended, so let me first explain some technical details before I circle around to defending my claim.

In the 1960s, a man by the name of Noam Chomsky developed a startling linguistic theory. His theory, backed up by the first successful mathematical approach to all languages, demonstrated that all human languages together only covered a small subset of possible languages that might be developed.

From this arose the popular idea that even the set of all possible languages has its own limitation on expressing all possible ideas.

If we take that as given, then my statement about Freemasonry becomes a bit clearer. What I'm really asserting is that, while language cannot communicate certain ideas, the combination of language and an experiential setting that goes with it gives us the ability to communicate ideas that we cannot then divulge to others without the same combination of language and experience.

I call this "experiential communication," and it has been the secret hidden in plain sight of Freemasonry for hundreds of years. In fact, it is one of the hidden secrets of all initiatory organizations, religions, orders, societies and so on. Not all of them are communicating the same ideas, though. Obviously a Christian baptism is seeking to communicate something different from a Masonic initiation, but both are ideas for which language is (in my opinion) insufficient and always will be.

But, I hear the careful reader saying, "you said that this was true only if we took as given that there are ideas which cannot be expressed through language." This is true. And it should never be taken as an absolute given that what we Freemasons claim to communicate is truly impossible to communicate any other way. But what I will say is that, thus far, I have never even come close to finding a way to do so. I could write for ages on this blog about how I feel "connected" to the Brethren of my Lodge or how the degrees evoke a gestalt that I can't quite put my finger on and has lead me to a deeper and more intuitive understanding of the philosophies and other ideas that the degrees connect to.

But ultimately we come to the fact that I can never tell you what it is that I can't tell you.