The Great Omniscient, Invisible, Dumb, Deaf Man: A Thought Experiment in Ethics

I am proposing that humans get rid of the noise that inundates all reality. Sometimes the one thing that a human being wants is silence and simplicity. Amidst the bustling crowds, overhead PSAs, screeching cars, and incessant gossip spread by the clique of women sitting near you, sometimes I think about silence—pure and absolute silence.

Assume, just for a second, that you were a deaf man. But you weren’t only deaf, you were also unaware of motives, thoughts, arguments, and anything rational. You were unable to understand human language. As if living in a world of absolute pristine silence.

What would you see? No, what would you really see? I doubt you’d see much, if anything, at all.

People live in the crowds. They feed on the noise. Noise is other people. But once you get rid of the noise, you’re left with scraps and newspaper clippings; this outer-shell we call “humanity.” In sum, you’re not left with anything meaningful at all.

For example, you enter a household. You’re this omniscient, invisible, dumb, deaf man incapable of perceiving words. What do you see upon arrival? You meet a couple arguing. They’re arguing about something. You don’t really know what. They appear angry. They don’t really do anything with their lives; they just sort of exist, if you know what I mean.

Had anyone bothered to “translate the noise,” they would have told you that the couple is fighting about something that happened earlier at a dinner party. The wife was adamant that X was acting selfishly while the husband argued that X was motivated by selflessness. Nobody had any access to X. In fact, the motives of X were known only to X. But the husband and wife, apparently, were wiser than the rest of us—so they argued.

And they argued their way through the kitchen.

Then they argued their way into the bathroom.

They argued their way into bed.

They argued about it during sex.

And then there was you. The invisible, omniscient, deaf man who couldn’t understand grammar nor language. Several hours spent doing precisely nothing. That’s how you saw the couple. It was strange living in this silent world where what you see is what you get.

A couple blocks away there was a religious family residing. Outward appearances convinced you—the omniscient deaf man—that they were well-to-do. You entered their house to see them moving their silent mouths rapidly. The mother was spewing out lots of spit as she managed to contort her face into every imaginable horror-scene expression. The father appeared just as energetic. Hands were waving like an excited dog’s tail; the father delivered the forecast of rain within several yards of his presence. The children appeared to be just as involved. Everybody was using a lot of their tongue muscles.

Had anyone bothered to translate the scene, you would have been astounded to know that they were arguing about God, the afterlife, and what God thinks of them. Of course, none had access to God, but somehow all had a lot to spew out.

In another room, there lived a group of people criticizing the rest of the world. Some kind of “politicians” they were. Outside of massive amounts of what looked like white stuff—and their obsession with it—nothing was revered here. Lots of black stuff was poured into this white stuff. Once they were done doing the pouring, the massive thing was taken away, never to be seen again. More white stuff brought it. The cycle continued. Everyone seemed intent on pouring some of his own black stuff onto the white.

Had anyone bothered to translate the scene, you would have been informed that the white stuff was “paper” and the black stuff was “ink.” The people were politicians trying to come up with “words” (that is, symbols that represent gibberish sound waves people make when removing carbon dioxide from their lungs) that should be written upon the paper. Immediately after a group of other politicians in fancy robes approved the content, the papers were taken away to a place nobody cared to remember. More papers would be brought. More gibberish would be written. More language produced.

And you—the deaf man—would be astounded. So much “stuff” going on, according to the translation, and yet…nothing, really. You, as the omniscient deaf man, could only see what was really being done. And you knew, intuitively, without the need of translation, that nothing was happening. In other words, people were trained in “language work”: all work is language, and all language is work. Outside of language, there is nothing.

Next time you argue about love, religion, politics, and whatnot, do me a favor: become the omniscient, invisible, dumb, deaf man.

And if you do, tell me what you see. No, what you really see.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

3 thoughts on “The Great Omniscient, Invisible, Dumb, Deaf Man: A Thought Experiment in Ethics

  1. From one of the wisest books ever written for a purely popular audience, E.F. Schumacher’s “A Guide for the Perplexed”:

    “It is not a question of good or bad thoughts. Reality, Truth, God, Nirvana cannot be found by thoughts, because thought belongs to the Level of Being established by consciousness and not to that higher Level which is established by self-awareness. …Thoughts cannot lead to awakening because because the whole point is to awaken from thinking into ‘seeing.’ …In Buddhism, they are called ‘vain thoughts. This is called the blind alley of opinions, the gorge of opinions, the bramble of opinions, the thicket of opinions, the net of opinions.’

    Only by liberating oneself from the thralldom of the senses and the thinking function–by withdrawing attention from things seen to give it to things unseen can this ‘awakening’ be accomplished.”

    Given the situations you describe, the heated after-dinner argument, the vociferous family discussion of religion, the creation of political propaganda, perhaps the opposite of such noise–the only relief from its relentlessness– is not silence but meditation or prayer.

    • I think meditation is certainly an alternative. Prayer becomes more tricky. Some people pray for the destruction of other people (Muslim terrorists). So the content of the prayers would still matter, I think. And, as my thought experiment suggests, we should also look at the consequences. What are we all really doing? Are we doing the things we speak of?

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