Tag Archives: Language

Two Realities

There are two realities going on simultaneously. One is the reality of which we cannot speak and EVERYTHING happens in THAT reality. Actually it is the only reality. However, there is the second reality which is the superimposed reality – the one created by thought, name, concept and description. It attempts to describe and understand the first underlying reality. However, the second reality is made of the same substance as the first one. It is the second reality only from the perspective of the second reality. From the perspective of the first reality, the second superimposed reality does not exist.


For example, a chair or a tree exists in the first reality as atoms, molecules and process. This cannot be described. It is a mystery, just nameless BEING. In the second reality, we call it the tree, the mango tree, the wooden chair and so on.

Now we must understand the overlap between the two realities. The tools used by the second reality – sounds, letters, names, images – are all expressions of the first reality. That means that the second reality cannot exist independently of the first one. It is made of the first reality.

Here is the funny thing. The first reality can only be known through the medium of the second. It is not right to say that the first and the second do not intermingle. From the very beginning, it is only the first reality and will always be. The second exists only to know the first.

People do not realize that the second reality, the superimposed reality, is nothing but the original source reality. They think the superimposition is a separate reality and by constantly forgetting that, they only live in the second reality R2.

Sometimes, R2 is in sync with R1. It can describe it well and goes together with it. At other times, it is not in sync, does not overlap and is incapable of describing whats going on. At this time, for a person, who is only living in R2, there is stress, conflict, anguish and suffering.

The nature of R1 is impermanence, change, dynamic while the nature of R2 is permanence, static, same. Again, this distinction is only from the perspective of R2, not from R1.

Remember R2 is nothing but R1 and has always been so. If a person realizes that, he comes back in sync. In other words, he accepts R2 … whatever description he has of R1 … and stays with it. The effort to modify R1 to meet R2 or R2 to meet R1 causes suffering.

A wise man, or one with this insight, knows both R1 and R2 and can distinguish R2 from R1 or know the limitations of R2 to describe R1 and at the same time accept that R2 fully as R1 itself and not run away from R2.

What Are You Saying?

Today is a great day for a long drive.

What does that sentence mean? Is it a fact? Or an inference or a judgment? Do we understand the difference between these three characteristics of our day to day communication? When we communicate, do we realize how these things affect our moods and our clarity of understanding? Understanding what is a fact, what is an inference and what is a judgment is easy in a classroom setting but in daily life, it demands acute attention from the person who is listening or reading. Without being aware of these distinctions, it is easy to get swayed by what people say. So please pay attention to how you encounter these qualities in everyday communication.

Let us start with some definitions

  • A fact is a piece of information that one has seen, read, heard, which is open to discovery or verification.
  • An inference is a conclusion about the unknown based on the known.
  • A judgment is an opinion that implies approval or disapproval of a person, object, situation or occurrence.


Example 1: Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has warned that embracing Artificial Intelligence without reskilling people will have an impact on jobs.

Now this sentence is not a fact because you cannot go and verify it at least now. So it is a conclusion about the unknown based on the known. So it is an inference. It may turn out that way or it may not turn out that way. It is an educated expert inference coming from Microsoft chief so it is likely that it may turn out that way in the future.

However, someone might comment – I’m afraid AI will end all traditional jobs. This is not a fact, neither an inference. It is a judgment, an opinion. If you happen to hear this statement first, what would be your reaction? Will you be scared of losing your job? If you are listening carefully and notice that the statement seems like an opinion, you might want to inquire further why that person feels that way.

Example 2: One of our most unfortunate national traits is to adore a few visible successes, and ignore the unglamorous need to improve the fundamentals.

What is this if not a judgment? Is it a fact that can be verified? Can you go and measure a national trait? You cannot. Is it an inference about anything unknown? No. It is clearly a judgment. It is very easy to get influenced by a judgment if one does not attempt to verify the underlying facts or inferences.

Let’s say we list the facts. We sent 100+ satellites in orbit in a single rocket. We still have school children in the 5th standard in a few schools who cannot add or subtract. Now both these facts are true. They can be verified. What inference can you draw from them?

All I am asking you is to listen carefully when you listen to others or read anything – whether it is a fact or an inference or a judgment.

A doctor checks that your body temperature is 102 degree Fahrenheit. This is a fact. He may arrive at an inference that you have a viral infection based on his experience. But if he says – you do not take care of your health, then it is a judgment. It is his personal opinion on the matter. There is no compulsion for you or others to accept another person’s judgment.

All this while we looked at some examples which were maybe not relevant. But now let’s come closer home.

Example 3: When asked to submit a status report on a project, we usually comment, it is going well, client is happy.

Can you see what’s wrong in this? A report was asked for but a judgment was expressed. Judgments are most of the time useless. You cannot take a decision based on a judgment. What is important is facts and the expert inferences we can draw from those facts. Would it be better to state – We brought down the number of bugs from 300 to 25 over the last 2 months and client sent an appreciation email. But he wants to get the final delivery by month end and we are short of 1 resource. All this information can be verified. Now, an inference can be drawn about the unknown from this known that it would be possible to meet the deadline if 2 resources work on the weekend. There is no need for any judgment anywhere.

Many times we do not share facts because we are afraid that other people will judge us from them. But if we realize that judgements do not follow a logic, they are personal opinions which need not be taken seriously, then we will have the freedom to share facts. It is possible one person can draw a different inference from the same data set as compared to another. It happens all the time. Seeing the symptoms, one doctor might diagnose viral infection and another bacterial infection. Further tests would clarify that.

I can give many more examples but I believe the above would have succeeded in conveying my core message about keeping to facts as much as possible, developing your ability to draw right inferences and avoiding judgments at all costs. Watch for these in your speech and in other’s speech.

Now a quick quiz. What do you think about the starting sentence of this article? Is it a fact or an inference or a judgment?

Please share your views in the comments

The Word is Not The Thing


Our language can be considered to be a mutual agreement between all people to use certain symbols and associated sounds to represent various things found in nature or to represent various abstract notions developed by the mind. The invention of language gives tremendous power to human beings. All advances in science and technology, engineering and medicine would not have been possible without the foundation of language.

As much as language helps in changing our environment, it is also the source of much misery, misunderstanding and suffering. Words can deceive and words can hurt. Words can influence masses of people and words can make people fight with each other. The root cause of all the problems caused by our language can be traced to Alfred Korzybski’s famous statement – The Word is not the Thing.

Let me explain with an example. The word “bulb” stands for the physical object, which is spherical in form made out of glass and contains a filament made of tungsten. When connected to an electrical outlet, it glows and gives off light. You, me and everyone else has agreed to call it a bulb. We could have agreed to call it by any other name but for some historical reason we have called it the bulb.

The physical bulb is not a static object because it is undergoing change all the time. The filament is wearing off and the glass is getting weaker. But the name remains the same. The word “bulb” does not change. Now most people when shown a bulb will say that it is a bulb whereas in reality there is only the agreement to call it a bulb. The physical object can break when dropped on the floor but the word “bulb” does not break.

In the case of the bulb, there is no problem. Most people would agree wholeheartedly that the word, which is the symbol, is not the real thing. But in many other instances, all of us confuse the two. We fuse the word and the thing together as if they were never separate. And this confusion leads to all the troubles.

Let me explain with another example. The word “communist” stands for a person who believes in a certain way of thinking, who has a certain ideology and has certain political convictions. Communism is generally associated with negative connotations. Now, suppose you come to know that Mr. X, your friendly neighbor, is a communist. You will automatically forget all the excellent qualities of Mr. X and starting being cautious in interacting with him.

This reaction is common in many other cases where the symbol is confused to be the thing. We salute the flag (a symbol) to show our respect to our country. We offer flowers to a statue (a symbol) in order to pray to God. We give a birthday card (a symbol) to express our love. We attach a lot of emotion to our symbols. So if someone burns the flag, we consider it as an attack on the country and if someone throws away the card, we consider it as an insult.

If we think about our reactions with a calm mind, we will discover that they are not warranted. However because of our habit, we continue to confuse the word for the thing.