The Verge of Experience

The prior post describes a minor personal crisis which took place at the start of my participation in the volunteer program. The crisis arose the first time I entered a Super-Cappuccino outlet.

I was lost. I became flustered. That still is not the right term. I disassociated but this too is not entirely correct. Benefiting from the passage of time, I now understand I experienced some form of overload. But overload does not strike me as a meaningful technical term. Nor does it truly “get at” the experience. It fails to fully describe it.

My competency clearly was taxed. I was very much aware of this fact. The fact of my inability to process events. Of being stunned, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. I had to resort to writing out the experience to make sense of it. The resulting text has sat in my “embarrassed moments” pile for some time now. I have only recently exhumed it.

What occurred on that day was the opposite of acting out. I “acted in.” I resorted to the creation of a written record as a means to clarify my experience, to document my perception as a strategy through which I might fully process and master the event. I was writing not to explain this encounter to you. I was writing in order to explain the encounter to myself. I sought to tame raw experience by codifying it, transmuting it into symbols resting quietly on the page, in an ordered serial of text. A sequence of comprehensible words. I was writing my way to some form of understanding.

This mild crisis suggests that the human capacity for experience is moderated by our limited capacity for discourse. As Wittgenstein suggested: “we cannot speak of what we do not know.” This implies that there exists a Terra Incognita which we lack the capacity to know as we lack the words to describe it. This would apply not only to communications with others, but also to the self interpretation of events, the cognitive construct that we unwittingly inhabit. I had to write things out to try and gain a handle on my own inchoate experience of Super-Cappuccino. The other side of not attempting such exposition is a fine sort of madness.

This raises the issue of central tendency in language. Everyday language appropriates and seeks to describe the common experience of the many. Language will therefore express a richness in regard to the most common, or conventional, forms of experience. The desire to love, and be loved, is one such meme. We have a great deal of language with which to describe this experience. We have both textual and cinematic models. A hundred million songs in thousands of stylistic variations cover the same terrain. But language will likely display a paucity when it comes to the expression of experience which is lesser known, and more marginal. This will be true for those who experience such marginal states. and doubly true for those with no such experience. This serves as an alternate explanation for the social shunning described in this prior post. We encounter an event which signifies something on the very border of the known. We recoil, not in horror, but from the recognition that we stand on the verge of experience. We tread at the edge of our cognitive world. Beyond the next footstep lies a fearful unknown. A place outside the realm of discourse. We turn away in response.

I think this a better explanation then that found in The New York Times.



An infant perched at the edge of a counter will recoil from the drop. This is a learned response. My understanding is that the child must achieve a certain degree of cognitive development before they recognize the hazard the drop off represents. This acknowledgement of the hazard then becomes codified into our cognitive world view. It is how we come to understand the world. It defines how we interact with the world.

My thought in this passage is that our employment of words as factual propositions about our world has the implication that an absence of description inhibits our ability to integrate our experience in a holistic manner. We shun what we do not know as it unsettles our cognitive Terra Firma and renders it as both elastic and fluid.