We’re immersed in language like fish in water. I often use that analogy to describe how blind we are to the linguistic world in which we swim, how its structure enables our being in the way that the ocean enables the being of this jellyfish. It is “invisible” to us if we just use language without looking at how we use it or how it uses us.
If you have ever had the experience of having a thought but just not being able to put it into words, that is the fundamental experience from which this post starts. Perhaps you found yourself making up odd concoctions of mashed-up roots and suffixes to say what you wanted to say, things like “disunderstandingness.” Shakespeare did that alot. He is reputed to have introduced thousands of words into our current vocabulary.
The Adaptability of Language
Maybe you made something up in the heat of the moment, and it stuck. I’ve adopted turns of phrase that my friends have used, for example, calling a hammer a “persuader”; calling $20 bills “yuppie food stamps.” A more philosophical friend coined the term “cinemaesthesia.” Words take on different hues, flavors, or tones at different times, in different circumstances, with different nuances in meaning. Language is so adaptable and flexible, in fact, that I can use a word to mean its opposite.
But do these types of adaptations of language really do anything more than the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? Will they be sufficient to take language broadband?
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
The short answer, IMHO, is NO.
The Language of Separateness
Why not? In an earlier post, I quoted Arjuna Ardagh who said that our problems, such as child abuse, domestic violence, people lying to and cheating each other, environmental degradation, and war, stem from our sense of separateness, a sense of a ‘me’ and a ‘not me’. According to Einstein, those types of problems will need to be solved by coming from a different mindset, perhaps one that sees uniqueness-within-nonseparateness. And yet our language itself—its very structure of subject-verb-object—assumes separation (see home page). Consequently, any time we talk about such problems, even as we try to solve them, we’re back in the same separatist mindset in which they were created. A bit of a catch-22.
Although the mindset is beginning to change in society—I hear it echoed in the refrain that “we are all one”—wholehearted change is being hindered by the lack of concurrent change in language. And so, there is the dilemma I seek to address.
It is our generation’s “problem that has no name.” Like the problem that had no name until Betty Freidan recognized and named it, which led to the women’s movement, and the problem that Martin Luther King addressed for black people, which led to the civil rights’ movement, this one is as deeply if not more embedded in our culture. The current “problem with no name” with regard to language is more insidious because it is harder to see because it doesn’t involve an easily identifiable subgroup or minority. It’s in our language, which everyone uses, so it affects everyone equally.
Who is disempowered by this problem that has no name?
WE ALL ARE.
That’s why it is so hard to see—because there’s no contrast between an empowered subgroup and a disempowered one, no us-against-them, no basis for struggle. In fact, my grad school advisor said about this topic, “I don’t see what your problem with language is. It works just fine for me.” Indeed, it does work just fine if you don’t see how it works or if you want to remain in the old mindset.
Unlike the previous “problems with no name” the identification of which served to empower women and minorities, this is a liberation movement for EVERYONE, regardless of race, creed, culture, gender orientation, or political persuasion. It is liberation from the limits of our small- or separate-mindedness, the constraints of our self-consciousness, our “ego-minding” as Ashok Gangadean puts it. (I’ll explain ego-minding in a later post.) It is a liberation to our knowing/being/awaring of wholeness, our expansiveness, our becomingness. It is time to step into and speak from the perspective of our Selves as the paradoxical Divine Humans that we are.
Whereas those other movements challenged social codes, this one goes much deeper than social codes. I don’t even know if there is a word for the kind of code that our language gives us (an ur-code?). Language underlies all social codes, all moral codes, legal codes—all codes, because the social, moral, and legal codes themselves are constructed within language. (It is what gives us our ontology, as Ashok says; it’s an onto-linguistic code.)
To identify the kind of thinking that was used to create our problems won’t be easy because it forces us to look at ugly truths, blind spots, the best intentions that ignored their unintended consequences, and our motives for thinking that way.
What will a new type of thinking/being/awaring and a new way of languaging enable us to do? Indeed, what is the end point, the purpose of thinking differently to solve our problems? If our current way(s) of thinking have led us to an increasing sense of fragmentation, of breaking down of old structures, such as the nuclear family, the corporation, community, marriage, and even democracy, then what will a new way of thinking provide?
What seems to be missing from our current worldview, which a new way of thinking could provide, is awaring of and living from wholeness.
Taking Language Broadband
How do we take our first steps toward this wholistic and integrated way of communicating? What is our first baby step? When I switched from my dial-up internet service to broadband cable service, the speed of downloads increased tremendously. I was thrilled. It was easier to watch videos. The sound and images flowed and were synchronized. Oh frabjous day, calloo callay!
With regard to my computer, broadband means more bits per second, which translates into sound, images, and words—more information at the same time. To use another analogy, it’s like having a full orchestra playing, not just a lone piano. In a TED.com video, David McCandless discussed the findings of a Danish physicist by the name of Tor Norretranders, who found that we get the most information visually, next-most audially, then tactilly, and least through taste. So, I’m going to focus on the visual, although given that we don’t just write but also speak, we’ll need to think about that as well.
When it comes to our language, what are some of the ways that we already get more “bits per second?”
- When you’re talking with someone who is physically present, you get their words and gestures, the verbal and the nonverbal language. (Texting, to me, is like taking broadband and diluting it to dial-up.)
- In some tonal languages, additional layers of meaning are conveyed by the tone in which the words are spoken.
- Song: much like tonal languages, sung messages can convey extra meaning (or not). However, we don’t yet have a “lexicon” in music as there is in tonal languages. In other words, there is no social agreement about what the sound quality means apart from the meaning of the words; it is left entirely to subjective interpretation.
What are some other ways in which we could increase the bandwidth of language? And why would we want to? For starters, the text that you are currently reading is mostly activating your left brain, which is processing information in a linear fashion. (Yes, there is some right-brain pattern recognition of the letters going on too…and other things.) To increase the bandwidth, we could add elements to language that would also tap into the right brain’s information-processing capabilities. In my first book, The One That Is Both, I introduced some new types of concepts that do just that (like the one to the left). But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here are a few ideas I had for ways to increase bandwidth. What others are possible? What do you suggest? Send me some comments.
1. Build mutual interdependence into concepts themselves, perhaps by creating a new type of concept
Why? As we increasingly come to realize that we live in a world that is black AND white, nature AND nurture, individual AND collective, we need a way to express that interdependence. Our current language usage (and logic) pits those concepts against each other, implying that it’s either one or the other. That creates power struggles between those who believe it is one and those who believe it is the other. And they’re both right, AND they’re both wrong because the separation of such polarities is an artificial and inaccurate representation of things. Yes, sometimes they are opposed, but they can only be opposed because they are part of a continuum.
2. Build color into the language, with different “colors” (which could be represented vocally by different frequencies or tonalities/pitches?) signifying different things.
Why? This could be used, for example to convey context like Ashok does—one color signifying the ego lens, another signifying the nondual lens, another signifying the both/and integration of those two lenses.
3. Use more graphic type images (like the ones in my book) to convey complex relationships or concepts in a single glyph (like Chinese or Mayan)
With computers and even telephones becoming more graphics based, this would not be difficult to do. In fact, it has already happened on our smartphones.
Again, I come back to the questions, “Why? Is it necessary?”
To answer those questions, we have to look not just at where we are but where we’re going. Time seems to be speeding up. The world is becoming more integrated and global. Supposedly we’re going to have more DNA strands “activated”. All this is leading up to our shift from being individual beings to being a human organism. Each of us is to be a “cell” in a much larger organism. (Perhaps we already are, we just don’t know it and/or don’t know how to relate to that larger organism. We have perhaps been thinking of “it” as God for all these years.) When our tuned-in-ness of the whole comes online, we will be flooded with information on all sides about what the other 10 billion of us are up to. That’s a lot of information to sort through each millisecond. Although we’re learning how to process that much information externally, it will not be external, it will be internal. In fact, the internal/external distinction will become one of those both/and concepts—so we’ll know that it’s both.
The information flow will become so integrated that it will seem instantaneous. Right now our communication system is designed to transmit and receive specifically from other somebodies out there. However, when we evolve to be the supra-human-earth organism, we will know that there is no other “somebody” out there. The convergence of space-subject-object into a unified whole (spatiosubobjectivity) will be complete. And we will need to have a communication system that assumes that there is no other somebody out there and conveys information on that basis.
The role of language in this return to wholeness is important (in my humble opinion) because ultimately we won’t need a spoken language. We’ll all be tuned into each other (Language 2.0 is just a small step toward Language ∞), like, when the foot itches, the hand just knows where to scratch—no deliberating involved. The cells in my body, be they as different as muscle cells and nerve cells and skin cells, function as a whole and can communicate with each other seamlessly (when not ill in some way). Imagine the universe being like that! Maybe it already is, and we just forgot.
That kind of near-instantaneous communication is a huge leap to make from where we are now to there. So the shifts in language that we’ll be exploring are simply stepping stones, phases that must be passed through to get to where we’re going. Most of us needed to learn to ride a bike, for example, by starting with a tricycle (to get the pedaling motion practiced), to a bicycle with training wheels (to get the basics of balance), to a bicycle, to a unicycle. To go from the radical separation stage that we are currently in (and coming out of), we can get to fully integrated (without it freaking us all out) by first finding a way to speak from wholeness rather than separation. We need to build assumptions about our connectedness into our everyday ways of thinking. We need to build the paradox of our uniqueness and oneness (and all the other paradoxes) into the infrastructure, the invisible architecture of the language. Then we will truly act (and speak) from that place. Since our thinking/being/awaring is so interwoven with our language, we can influence one by influencing the other. In doing so, we influence how we are in the world, and how we are might then preclude things like violence to each other and to our home planet.