Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lost In Translation (part 1)

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about language and how it conditions consciousness. I've also been thinking about evolution, what it is and how it works. I've come to the conclusion that the story of evolution is the story of language. I'm using the word language in a broad sense to mean: a medium or carrier of information. Evolution has nothing to do with survival. If it did, we would have to rate humans as one of the least evolved species on Earth. Cockroaches, amoeba, and bacteria are all better at surviving than we are. No, evolution is about the capacity to acquire, transmit and utilise information.

The language common to most living things is that of sensation. Our senses allow us to receive and transmit information. When you sit and converse with a friend across your kitchen table, it isn't just words being used. You are seeing your friend's posture, expressions and gestures. You are hearing the tone, emphasis, volume and rhythm of his voice. Through your sense of smell, you are picking up subtle chemical signals that tell you about his health and emotional state. If he touches you, you would know even more. So if the two of you just sat there holding hands, you would be communicating.

Speech is actually a hybrid of sensational and verbal language. The language of sensation is confined to percepts. Spoken language allows for information of a new and expanded type. It incorporates concepts. With speech, we can convey information about things not present within the field of sensation. Speech lets us partially transcend time and space. We can talk about what was, and is no more. We can make plans. We can pass on messages though intermediaries. We can make up and tell stories. We can name the objects of our experience. The names are still tied to sensation though. They have a real vibrational connection to the realities they represent. That's why the sound of equivalent words from unconnected languages are often very similar. The subconscious mind cannot distinguish between words that sound the same. For this reason, the word "want" should not be used in affirmations or magick (unless you want want).

Writing leaves sensation in the dust. Written language allows for another expansion of information. It further transcends the limitations of time and space. Language is intimately tied to our perception of time. I'll come back to that. Now we can read the exact words of someone long dead or thousands of miles away. The invention of writing marks the beginning of history, as compared to myth. Most of the institutions of civilisation and all of our advanced technologies were made possible by written language. Philosophies and ideologies also depended on this development for their existence. It is nearly impossible to overstate the effect of writing on consciousness.

The development of written language has been problematic in a number of ways. It has made it possible to lie to ourselves and each other. Just try lying to your dog. Our heavy reliance on it has impaired our ability to understand the language of sensation. So, while it permits access to new kinds of information, our sensational awareness has atrophied and been greatly reduced. This sensory disconnect has also resulted in our confusing of words with the things they refer to. We tend to think we know the objects of experience because we know their names. As a result, we really don't know them at all. In the graphic novel series, "The Invisibles, Entropy In The UK" by Grant Morrison (thanks again, Ben), one of the Invisibles is given a drug called Key 17. It forces his mind to perceive any written words to be literal reality. Written language actually does have this effect on our minds. The difference is one of degree. For example, almost everybody knows that the day/night cycle is due to the revolution of the Earth, not the movement of the Sun. However, that is not what we experience. Now consider how we describe it. We say, "the Sun rises" "the Sun sets". How different would our perception be if we said, "I approach the Sun" "I move away from the Sun". And what about those objects of experience that have no names? George Orwell, in "1984", describes a "development" of verbal language called "Newspeak". The purpose of Newspeak was to reduce the ability of people to think, by shrinking the vocabulary they could access.

Written language relies heavily on left-brain cognition. A parallel type of language that is utilised by the right-brain is symbolism. There is a large area of overlap between verbal and symbolic language. Poetry, fictional writing and films, cultural references, and unfortunately, advertising, occupy this area. Whereas speech is derived directly from the sense of hearing, and writing (while read with the eyes) is phonetic (therefore still based on sound), symbolism is mostly visual. Sound occupies a lower frequency range than light, so we would expect symbolic language to be capable of carrying far more concentrated information than verbal language, and so it is. A picture is worth a thousand words. I used to work as a professional diviner. I read Tarot cards, Runes and astrological charts. All these are symbolic languages. Understanding the meaning of the symbols was the easy part; translation was often a problem. In many cases, the gulf could only be partially bridged by relying on metaphors and stories, word pictures. I know for a fact that symbolic language allows one to entertain concepts for which there are no words. If sensational language is pre-verbal, symbolism is, to some extent, trans-verbal. It allows for much greater connectedness of ideas. Words are confined to carrying relatively specific and finite information; but the realities that symbols refer to are like vast webs that branch out and spread , combining and interacting with other symbolic realities. Mathematics is a symbolic language. It is not fully translatable into words.

To be continued...


  1. I'm on the edge of my seat, 13!

    The language of symbols is the language of the future. How else can we be expected to communicate with aliens? Or with our own inner minds and higher Self? I've been increasingly fascinated with this topic recently ... you might have noticed a certain poetry project show up on Evolver recently. No accident, that. What we have to communicate is a very simple, but at the same time to the untrained mind highly complex world view. To do so in the time-frame required will necessitate a mastery of symbolic communication unrivaled in history.

    So far as the written word goes, poetry is the way to go.

    That said there's a new Moon Food up. A bit vitriolic as one might expect on that blog but you might get a kick out of the theme if you cross-reference with the Calender ... wasn't planned, just sort of happened ;)

  2. Hi, Psychgram. It's funny, isn't it? This must be how babies feel. Like them, we know what we want to say, but lack the means. Still, they find a way, and so shall we. I did notice an increase in poetry blogs on Evolver, but I didn't know it was a project.