July 03, 2005

Only the Like Knows its Like

Only the like knows its like. – Porphyry

These were the words of the above mentioned post-classical Greek philosopher. In the beginning, the thoughts that came to my mind were – “How do you define like? What constitutes a similarity of likeness?”
To me, my thoughts conveyed that as I used to ‘understand’ people’s actions and reactions, I would know that they are one of ‘us’. Like us. I would know who would react in what way by observing how people moved, how their arms swung, in what sequence their feet turned around, whether they would tilt their head back carelessly at an angle while laughing or whether their eyes would still be on the other person while laughing; whether they would observe another person coming near them without staring at him or her. It would matter a lot to know how skilled they were in the art of deception, for in the game of espionage that was all that mattered.

At a superficial level, overcoming the initial paranoia, likeness meant whether a person has gone through the same experiences as I have. It encompassed all the conditioning of my mind, how I had altered its development consciously, how well I respond, how tactfully I respond to a given situation, the communion between two minds and hearts depends upon the likeness between them, the value systems they share, their perception of life and their vision towards its development. Only the like people can actually know their like completely. Others would merely stand in awe, disgust, confusion, or disbelief, and only the like would be disillusioned.

At the lowest level, there would be those who are completely heartless, surviving, hunting for their food, foraging through the jungles of life. Then there would be those who would have feelings, emotions, and thoughts, of guilt. As we progress upwards, there would be those who would try their best to help out other living beings in the world, retracting back to their haven when they feel necessary. Most of us are at this level. We are doing our best to make the world a better place. But now, this hierarchical system is another illusion, for there are no well defined boundaries between the levels. People act and react to each situation at different levels. They have all at times been at the lowest level and at times the highest level. We cannot maintain a strict ordering of life. It is more of an interconnection, a networking between different elements.

In our case of likeness, this would translate to beings having similar experiences, and also experiences that are poles apart. The like cannot always be categorized into the like. There is no way to define whether people are like or not. There is always a probability of occurrence of likeness, a basic necessity in terms of compatibility with which the communion takes place. The sharing of thoughts and feelings can come only when the individuals build up on their likeness. It is this basic foundation that is built once the beings come together and interact, inter-network, consciously alter their perceptions, their beliefs, their values. How they apply these learnt principles, which basically govern their actions and reactions is how I would now define likeness. For a person who doesn’t know the experiences another has been through is unlikely to understand them. And whence - only the like knows its like. Only when the other goes through the same experience, or understands it, does s/he go through the ubiquitous ‘paradigm shift’. The unlike then become the like. And a new level of interconnectivity between different beings is spawned. This level does not contain, again I stress on it, does not have a hierarchical nature, for the two beings were at variedly different levels earlier. It is a new relationship that is forged, a new connection that is borne out of the situation. This connection then grows towards more ‘likeness’ till a point may come where it breaks away.

The connection may break away due to many reasons. Implicit in this, is the different perceptions each has encountered by building upon the unlike experiences prior to the making of the connection. But this connection is never completely broken, for the two people have already built upon their likeness. Each has come to a point where each needs to forge a new connection, have varied experiences in order to continue building up on the likeness. They may forge a new connection with each other, to continue building up the likeness, or they may not, but at the point the connection was broken, the like will still know its like.

The like, then, may start to categorize the ones with whom the connection has been broken, on the basis of the unlike. And there enters all the illusions of being different, unlike, not same, good, bad, to subjugate the unlike, to destroy the unlike. This state may or may not come in each, for each would have different (but like) experiences. But the like who do not go into this state would have one experience in common – they would have experienced the failure of categorization of the unlike based on their actions and reactions, which come from their experiences. This, however, is not merely an experience, but is an understanding that we should have been talking about all this time. The experiences are not the true teachers of life; rather, it is the observing of those experiences that really shows us the true path. Learning from those experiences can come only by observing the outcome of those experiences. However, the way we react, or the knowledge we infer, what we learn from those experiences is controlled by our own perceptions. And each person has different perceptions. But the like have something like in their perceptions. And that is how only the like know its like.

It is the perceptions that actually guide the like in search of the like, and how only the like will know the like. However, these perceptions, the inference from observations, and the experiences themselves are not based on a level of hierarchy. The varied inference from observations comes through the varied experiences the like and the unlike have had, and consequently, the perceptions change according to these inferences. The varied perceptions then change the inference from observations of future experiences, which themselves change according to the previous experiences, their inference, and consequent change of perceptions. The three are tightly interlinked in a network, and there is no inherent level of hierarchy.

Those who are then alike have become so only because they have something alike in their perceptions, the consequent inference of observations, and the varied experiences they have. Only when the perceptions have become like from the varied experiences, can the like know its like, and only the like knows its like.

Posted by puzli at July 3, 2005 04:43 AM


It was quite interesting to your interpretation of the proverb.

Posted by: vish at July 3, 2005 03:07 PM

Dear Pulzi,
The quotation that inspired your blog is a relatively simple one. In fact, for the average person, it speaks for itself.
For the first time, as I read your complex(and sometimes almost rambling)commentary on the quote's meaning,you revealed a part of yourself to me that illustrated that despite your usual tight control, your schizophrenia was apparent in your writing. As a teacher of writing, I am almost programmed to read just about anything with an analytical view(aka correcting, commenting etc. all the way). Although your superior intellect is ever present in this piece, what is known as your "executive functioning" has definitely taken a vacation. One might call this type of writing "stream of consciousness" rather like James Joyce in his book Ulysses. My main concern would be to ask you,"What was your purpose in writing this piece?" When I reached the end, I had no sense of closure, nor could I discern the point you were making. Perhaps, of course, as you lost yourself in your writing,you lost your sense of the structure of a written piece as well. This is what I mean by seeing a glimpse of your illness in a full blown state for the first time. I also think that is why Vish commented so briefly. I must write the truth. Every time I praise you, it is real. This time I felt the need to point out how difficult this blog must have been for your readers to understand. You have given so much of yourself, and helped so many people understand and accept the differencesin people. I hope you will not be hurt or offended by my attempt to point out some of the problems with this particular piece. I wrote this to help, not to hurt, and I believe that you can accept this from me, knowing that it comes from the heart.
Love, Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at July 3, 2005 08:44 PM

hello paula,
i'm not at all hurt by your comment. I'm always open to constructive criticism. I must admit myself that by the end of the piece I had myself been lost in how to close the piece as I had intended to do in the beginning.
There is something I do want to know. What do you exactly mean by executive functioning? my sister has just graduated in english literature, so i do have an idea of 'stream of consciousness', though i would like to know more about it. love. take care. puzli

Posted by: puzli at July 4, 2005 01:00 AM

Dear Pulzi,
As far as the term"stream of consciousness" goes, it was a method of writing that was popular for a short time and was considered rather new and innovative at the time. The author simply let his or her thoughts flow in a free form fashion, many times abandoning the usual conventions such as capitaization and punctuation. The trend was short lived, simply because it was too difficult for the general reader to follow,and I know that I personally eventually simply gave up and abandoned several books that I attempted to read to the end. Reading is meant to inform, entertain, inspire etc. It is not meant to be a chore or an exercise in frustration.
"Executive functioning" is not related to the field of literature or writing. It is a term used in neuropsychology. I minored in psychology as an undergraduate, and as a graduate student took enough psychology courses to, in effect, equal another 30 hours. In any case, I am familiar with neuropsychology because of my Lyme disease. I have had two neuropsychological examinations which lasted @ eight hours each.(A very long day of many tests of my brain functioning-very tiring-but fascinating as well.) Everyone has a certain amount of intelligence. This amount is very difficult to quantify as it is very complex and elusive. In any case, one's intelligence abides somewhere within the brain and usually remains intact, despite any neurological or psychiactric problems. One's "executive functioning" refers to the brain's ability to control, use, and direct that intelligence in a practical, consistent manner. It is this aspect of brain function that can be affected by disease or insult to the brain. To give you a simple example,I once drove into my garage and went about the usual steps to turn off the car. I merrily went along doing the things I had done thousands of times. I had been listening to the radio and I was about to shut it off. All of a sudden, I realized that I did not have a CLUE how to do this simple task. I realized that I wanted to shut off the radio. I was aware that I had done this numerous times and that I knew how to do it, but at that point I did not have the faintest idea how to go about it. I did not know what button to push, etc. I sat quietly and waited. After several minutes had passed, it all came back, and I was able to shut off the radio as usual. This is an example of my executive functioning misfiring. I had the knowledge stored in my brain, but the executive function that controls what one does with that knowledge had failed momentarily. It can also be call the "executive set", as in "She lost or could not maintain the executive set during this task."
I did not mean to use unfamiliar terms, nor did I expect that you would know the meaning. That was a failing of mine in writing to you because I should have defined my terms if I wanted you to be absolutely clear about what I was saying. I hope this explanation was helpful. If you apply it to what I said about your blog, I think you will find my comments to be at least somewhat valid. I applaud your insatiable thirst for knowledge, a characteristic that I have as well.
Warmly and fondly,Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at July 4, 2005 03:54 PM

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