Friday, January 25, 2013

String Theory Unraveled

Oh, I wish I’d written it—had the ability to put the thoughts into words and string them together so brilliantly. But I didn’t. I read them in a young Irishman’s novel, copied them out, and then savored them. The author is Paul Murray, a Dublin resident. The book Skippy Dies, page 654.

 “Maybe instead of strings it’s stories things are made of, an infinite number of tiny vibrating stories: once upon a time they all were part of one big giant superstory, except it got broken up into a jillion different pieces, that’s why no story on its own makes any sense, and so what you have to do in a life is try and weave it back together, my story into your story, our stories into all the other people’s we know, until you’ve got something that to God or whoever might look like a letter or even a whole word…”

And in an almost magical kind of way, on the same day I came across Murray’s quote, I found a proposal I’d put together for a course at Antioch College. I called it “The Power of Language.” I know it’s a big segue, to go from superstory string theory to language, but I think language is the bridge between us, the “string” that connects us. In language we create our stories and then put them together. My course wasn’t about grammar, semantics, or the proper use of language. It was about examining language in a new context, that of creating a consensual domain of behavior. The word communicate means “to make common.” And isn’t that what we really want, to understand and be understood? Words in and of themselves have no meaning. They are merely triggers, much like the PLAY button on a tape recorder. Your finger does not start the recorder. If it did, when the recorder broke, you’d take your finger in for repair. It’s the button that triggers the player. It’s the same with words. The word triggers us into coming up with a meaning. Words are merely the symbols we use to carry on our social and business interactions. And we bring our unique interpretations to them.

Our ability to language—to speak, think, and make our thoughts known to others distinguishes us as human beings. We language. Amazing! Think a thought. How did you do that? No one really knows. Even the neurologists are in awe of our minds. Language is a function of being human. Babies do not imitate the sounds of the refrigerator. They take human sounds and forge language for themselves. Even children who are unable to hear will find ways to language. We all know the thrill that comes when the baby begins to speak. But something more profound than just speaking is occurring. A personality is being born. We reveal ourselves in language. We think in language, and organize our thoughts in ways that have been determined by our culture and personal history. Within that culture, that personal history, we each bring our backgrounds and experiences to every situation we find ourselves in. We are an amalgam made up of all of our experiences. We are like libraries of rare and wonderful manuscripts presenting ourselves to the world. We are a collection of stories and events, of opinions and ideas, being expressed in the world all of the time. That’s what makes the idea of the superstory so exciting. We are each of us truly unique—the only one of us in the universe—and that makes our story important. If you didn’t exist, that part of the story would be missing and I would suffer as a result.
Sounds to me like a good reason to look forward to each day. What today is going to come alive, will give me something to weave back into that superstory we are all a part of? So give yourself permission to be who you are, where you are, doing what you are doing. I need you. You’re a vital part of my story.


  1. OK Ruth - FANTASTIC
    I am in a little Italian place here in Seattle - nice town you should visit it some time. Just been blown away by your musings. After your last comment to me I know I should quit while YOU are ahead but couldn't stop myself. Loved this. I loved the, and I mean this, braveness and boldness of the writing, taking on a big idea and thrashing right in full bore and taking me the reader with you. And by the way you are delivering the gift to me that you are inciting others to give you. Merci mon amie!
    Hey you have a fan in me. Loved it!

  2. Just beautiful, Ruth. There are several quotes of yours that will stick with me forever, much like Paul Murray's words stayed with you. Thank you for sharing!