Posts Tagged ‘Eric Chaisson’

15. Linguality and its consequences


The philosophical term ‘linguality’ is the translation of Heidegger’s concept Sprachlichkeit. In the work of another hermeneutic philosopher it appears even as ‘linguisticality’, but for humanosophic purposes the word ‘linguality’ suffices. However, our definition is not exactly the same as Heidegger’s.

What is then the humanosophic definition? We already defined ‘humanosophy’: the humanist/philosophical view on human nature as the mental condition of an ape who has begun to use names for the things, gradually finding himself in a named world, in a virtual ‘words-world’. The definition of linguality in this context (in another sense than just ‘the ability to use language’) is obvious: with ‘linguality’ we mean the mental predisposition to experience the world in concepts. This is the characteristic that makes us humans unique among all animals.

Seen from a wider perspective, linguality is the latest, most complex culmination of a natural, even universal development. According to the American astrophysicist Eric Chaisson, the universe started with the simplest kind of complexity: the mere fusion of hydrogen and helium into primordial stars. This fusion produced complex molecules that endured in the clouds of dust around the implosions of those first stars. In favorable environments, on some planets of the second generation of stars, such complex molecules (matter) could generate even more complex combinations, like RNA on Earth. In the rare ideal circumstances on our own planet Earth, the complexity of matter progressed step by step to the evolution of DNA, and eventually of more complex life forms. This evolution was about finding ever more refined tricks to absorb energy from the environment. The cell was a step, and so was the super cell, was multicellularity, were organisms, were sensory organs, were brains, was intelligence. Living in groups was a step. The lingual consciousness of humans is the ultimate trick, the (preliminary?) culmination of complexity of matter in the Universe. But: still serving to absorb energy from the environment to stay alive and multiply.

Our lingual consciousness, the grasping, comprehending understanding of the world, started with the first gestured name. In the beginning, it was still rather inadequate. Nevertheless, eventually the humans had to rely on it: they had made instinct secondary. When you no longer use an organ it will shrink, and something similar happened to our instinct. Because the humans began to understand their world with a lingual understanding that was still weak and unreliable, they fell prey to incertitude. Therefore, this is the first major consequence of linguality: it made us into worrying apes’.

By itself, incertitude is not a new phenomenon in the Universe. When an animal comes upon a situation where his instinct cannot give an adequate impulse, it may feel uncertain. But for humans, incertitude became a more permanent part of daily life experience.

One cannot live with constant incertitude, so the early humans developed two anguish allaying mechanisms. The first one was repetition: rhythm, dancing, singing, rituals: I already mentioned some scholars who suggest that human ritual behavior reduces anxiety. Tradition has the same effect: doing things the same way they had be done since many generations. Consequently, the early humans were astonishingly conservative. Over more than a million of years, the form and material of their hand-axes showed virtually no change. In their named world, the most important tradition and ritual was the danced singing of the creation story every night around the camp fire.

The second anguish-allaying factor became belief: a firm inner conviction that things are the way we want them to be, or at least are the way somebody with status and/or authority says they should be. In primitive times humans were not yet acquainted with the concept of authority: in the group, they were more or less equal. Therefore the most important parts of their belief were not based on some kind of authority, but rather on magic (fear allaying ritual actions) and myth (tradition-based elucidations of the world).

Until our scientific times, it was never important whether a story was true. It mattered only if it was a good (useful) story, a story which people wanted to be true, which was felt to be relevant to their existence. Just like in a later era, in the time of patriarchal society, the story of the birth of Eve out of a rib of Adam became a good story because it was just what the men wanted to hear, as a reinforcement of their supremacy. Such stories had to be true.

The thus acquired certitude enabled our ancestors to intervene in their environment. As I said before: names for the things also gave them (a feeling of) power over the things. linguality created a distance between the understanding brain and the object, the understood thing or phenomenon. Humankind became a factor in nature that mastered a mental but also an instrumental power over the world, the first critical intervention in the natural environment being the control of fire. The inner conviction that some ritual words – such as incantations, charms or spells – evoke magical forces that can create or destroy, is just as ancient. Knowing somebody’s name gives a feeling of power over him. Naming somebody can be felt as disrespectful, or even be understood as violating the named one’s integrity (which is why in several traditional religions, including Judaism, the actual name of the feared powers (be it natural elements such as a tiger or a volcano, or the gods, or a single God) may not be spoken aloud.

As another consequence of having names for the things, the ability to exchange complex thought scenarios with each other became a powerful new strategy: two know more than one, and people now could share their thoughts and overcome the biggest problems. Essentially, this is the power of democracy.

Some other consequences need to be mentioned here. Between the lingual creatures and their environment, an apparatus of thousands of concepts (the sign language codes associated with representations in the brains) arose, which created a ‘virtual’ world. All things in our world are named things, but how can we be sure that this is the only world? Many philosophers (Plato with his cave metaphor; Kant with the thing as representation and the thing in itself) wrestle with the feeling that, besides the world we know, there is a another or even more real world, but one which slips out of our hands as soon as we try to name and know it: talking about it is by definition not possible. Perhaps this philosophical ‘second’ or ‘real’ world exists in the larger part of our thinking: lingual consciousness takes only 20% of our actual thinking.

A last important consequence was the emergence of the bastion of holiness. Our ancestors kept their incertitude at bay with belief and magic rituals. They believed when and where they couldn’t know for sure: these beliefs were imagined certitudes, pseudo-elucidations, not based on hard evidence. Deep in their minds, incertitude lived on. So the necessary elucidations were canonized into holy elucidations. Holy is unassailable, untouchable: something holy may not be doubted or called in question. But this runs counter to the progress of our lingual consciousness, our knowing, our rationality. To the only ability which can really free us from incertitude. This contradiction between holiness and rationality is the most dramatic consequence of our growing into lingual creatures.

By briefly discussing these important consequences of the emergence of our named world, a world consisting of named things, I hope to have given some meaningful context to my new up-filling of the concept linguality.