Monday, May 07, 2012

Words and Experiences

Our first way of knowing is through our senses. Language is the second.
The sense-become-word is a point of departure, allowing us to transfer that sense from one context to another.

We are playing at the pool, my 4 year old grandson and me, with a 2 foot long piece of PVC. First, we are blowing air into the submerged end, making huge bubbles erupt on the surface. Then the pipe becomes a water gun, shooting a spray of water across the pool. Then we are taking turns pressing our lips together and blowing into the empty pipe to make new sounds. I do it first, then I hand him the pipe and say, "blow". And he does, and after a few tries, hits on a resonant note. The pipe produces a new kind of sound he can feel as well as hear. He laughs out loud.

Primary play, learning hydraulics and pneumatics by feel, sight and sound. Stumbling across the secret to making music.

In a few years, he will learn about electricity, and he will be able to tap into these experiences to grasp the unseen. He will be able to draw upon these moments of pool play, then imagine how a current of electrons might flow under pressure, from one place to the next, and how that can do work.

He will be in a music class, and will recall that experience of resonance, and apply it to string length, and to tone, and undertone, and so forth.

Language allows abstraction. We can teach children words, and they can be heard using them, but language must be charged with primary experience if it is to bear intellectual fruit.