An approximate truth

It is as Dostoevsky says, difficult to formulate an idea into words, and this is what led the critic P. M. Bitsilli to conclude that Dostoevsky had resigned himself from finding any comprehensive formula to express all the complexity and inner contradictions of this or that element of reality.” Bitsilli’s conclusion is quoted by Kenneth Lantz, the translator of Dostoevsky’s A Writer’s Diary, who opines that Dostoevsky was wary of expressing himself too plainly and this is why his prose is replete with innuendos, qualifications, and circumlocutions. But Dostoevsky, the acute psychoanalyst that he is and with his masterful grasp of the workings of the inner mind, perfectly summarises the principle aspect of cognition—that there is a chasm between thinking as a process and the interpreting into human speak”. He encapsulates the entire cognitive experience when he says that entire trains of thought can sometimes pass through our heads in an instant, like sensations of some sort, without being translated into human language, never mind into literary language.”1 The tacit and unconscious processing powers of the mind would be recognised in psychology only half a century later. Pawel Lewicki2 determined that our non conscious information processing system is more capable of processing complex knowledge structures” than our conscious attempts to think and identify meanings of stimuli”. Dostoevsky, the keen observer of the field, never permitted himself the luxury of stating his views plainly on paper. A voracious reader and keen student of the literary giants of his time, he notes that it is not good practice to bring a thought to its conclusion; to present the bare facts.

[I]f many of the most famous wits—Voltaire, for instance—had, instead of gibes, hints, innuendos and insinuations, suddenly resolved to state everything they believed in and revealed all their innermost reality, their essence—then, believe me, they would never have gained a tenth of the effect they did. Even more: people would only have laughed at them. Indeed, people in general somehow do not like the last word in anything, the expressed” thought; they say that the thought expressed is a lie.”

The world does consists of objects, but we cannot take the objectivist’s view of a singular God’s-Eye-View of reality. Although we are each endowed with roughly equivalent sensory equipment—the photoreceptors, Pacinian corpuscles, olfactory and other cells, are literally identical—the way that we use and combine our sensory channels is uniquely different in any shared experience. Our perceptual experience is circumscribed by our physical embodiment. Our world radiates out from our body, which is the epicentre of our sensory abilities of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. At a certain distance, our world fades away The nature and shape of our bodies, the acuteness of our senses, and the shape of our consciousness limit what we glean from each sensory channel. We can scan our perceptual field by focussing on an object and modulating our sensory channels. Certain objects and people in our world are more important than others; one’s spouse, lover, or friend hold greater sway over one’s perceptual impetus than . So we can choose to allow only those sensory channels that offer critical information of those entities. Since each of us can only attend to 7 ± 23 chunks of information at any one time, it can be readily seen that no two experiences will ever be the same. Furthermore, we seem to habituate ourselves to certain modes of perception; our perceptual world is circumscribed by our religious, political, social, economic, and philosophical views. How true it is then that memory is a fickle friend. Consider how you might recount a shared experience with two other friend to a group of your friends; It was precisely at noon” you say that we felt a low rumble underfoot followed by a deafening explosion outside. So we rushed out and saw the diner across the street enveloped in flames, the diners rushing out glass from the windows blown right across the road—”. But here one of my companions might say: No way! The place was hardly on fire. Sure, there was a lot of smoke bellowing out of those windows, but certainly no fire” at which point your second companion might concur with him and add that there weren’t any diners rushing out, but I do recall seeing the chef rushing out with his blanche ablaze!”. On hearing these contradictory statements

The telling of stories follows an ancient tradition since time immemorial of imparting knowledge, values, ethics, and morality. The story wraps the moral imperative in a sweet coating of allusions and innuendos, making the bitter pill a more palatable option for most people. While outright moral preachments might be dismissed, a story that reframes the writer’s moral outlook in an intriguing, amusing, and interesting way is not only more readily accepted by the reader, but is also retained and recalled more easily. The superstructure of great poetry and memorable stories rests on allusions and figurative language—the foremost of which are metaphors. Indeed, Wheatley aptly summarises the puissance of the metaphor when he says that all men are more gratified at catching the resemblance than at having it pointed out to them.”


  1. The juxtaposition of conscious and unconscious processes apropos writing is not a novel concept. In Elements of Rhetoric (1828) Thomas de Quincey described the conscious process as the discursive faculty, which could only proceed in steps; each step being contingent upon its predecessor. Intuition, on the other hand, is capable of processing information simultaneously and holistically. John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding follow de Quincey by distinguishing intuitive knowledge from demonstrative knowledge; the latter requiring a progression of steps and degrees, before the mind can in this way arrive at a certainty.”.

  2. Lewicki, P., Hill, T., & Czyzewska, M. (1992). Nonconscious acquisition of information. American Psychologist, 47, 796-801. Not only is the non conscious acquisition of information incomparably faster than the relatively slow and inefficient conscious process, but it is also structurally more sophisticated. Consequently, one is only tacitly aware of this knowledge because its complex encoding is inaccessible by the conscious mind.

  3. The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two is one of the most cited papers in psychology (source: Wikipedia). The paper presents the key findings of George MIller’s 1956 study of our memory spans. The brain stores the information it receives in chunks for quick retrieval, the limit on the number of chunks being around seven. Words, numbers, and letters have different limits on retention—short words that can be spoken in a short duration stand a better chance of being retained in short term memory. But a myriad of different factors—such as readiness with which new information fits into preexisting categories and groups—can also effect a bias towards retention.

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The two kinds of beauty

Man is fundamentally incomplete, and so must seek all his life for the truth that balances him....

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