It’s easy to have hypotheses when you’re not a professional scientist – you just spew them out, and there they are. Sort of like how the Federal Reserve creates money and then loans it to us.
I have this hypothesis that language evolved from alarm cries. Of all life situations, one’s response to an approaching predator can mean the difference between life and death. Premature death means that an enormous investment has been wasted; prolonging life is an evolutionary advantage to any species. Many species of animals have alarm cries; some species even have a “language” that can communicate different kinds of threats – the difference between an eagle and a leopard, say.
The original human alarm cry, way back when, could be summed up by saying, “Threat!” Then it evolved into, “Threat! Leopard!” Then, after our brains got a bit larger, it became, “Threat! Leopard! In the tree!”
I have another hypothesis (I have a lot of hypotheses) that the final mutations to a brain much larger than needed for survival got locked-in to our species because our ancestors (who, by definition, had the larger brains) had a competitive advantage which allowed them to eliminate the humans with the smaller brains. In other words, our ancestors murdered the competition. Evolution ain’t necessarily pretty, and neither are humans.
At any rate, here we are today, sitting at keyboards, sitting in front of microphones, sitting in front of cameras, grunting in a way that other humans find meaningful.
Already my mind has spun off into thinking about the post-modern conservative movement, in which words no longer have a consensus meaning; they can mean any damn thing you want them to; “meaning” can be tailored to suit the occasion. “Torture? We don’t torture! The United States of America doesn’t torture people! And no, solitary confinement is not torture! Next question!” The recent fact-free Romney campaign is a classic example of our new reality free from “objective, verifiable truth.”
One warm New Mexico morning in November 2008, when I was doing my final bee work of the season, I was thinking about how language is such an unsuitable instrument for communicating about spiritual topics. Specifically, I was thinking about how the Christians like to say, “God is Love.” Hmmm, I wondered, thinking about this God-is-Love business. (God is a word I seldom use anymore. These days, I find “God” a fairly useless concept. There are other, more accurate, ways to point at the Moon.)
Hmmm, I continued to wonder, God (or whatever you want to call it) is supposed to be beyond qualities, beyond duality... so God would be beyond love/hate, good/evil, or any pair of opposites you can name. Saying “God is love” necessitates its opposite: “Satan is hate.” And this is exactly what the fundamentalists do. They view reality as an eternal battle between good and evil, between God and Satan, between Christians and everybody else. Never underestimate the fundamentalist propensity for jihad.
Technically speaking, we can’t even speak about “God” at all, because giving God a name implies that it is “something,” and God is beyond the duality of something/nothing. And you can’t say that God is “beyond,” because God is neither here nor there. In fact, you can’t even say that God exists, because God is beyond the duality of existence/nonexistence. And so forth.
This line of thinking gave my mind something to do while I was screwing a mouse guard onto the entrance of each hive. I attempted, fairly successfully, to give my full attention to my bee work, while the philosophical maunderings about God nattered on in the background.
I came up with the statement, “God is and is not both and neither something and/or nothing, neither somewhere nor nowhere.” Or something like that... it made perfect non-sense to me in the beeyard. It was an attempt to get language to turn around and spank its own ass. Like a koan.
Then I drove to my next hive location and noticed that all the philosophizin’ had stopped. I was thinking about lunch, instead.
On my way home I stopped by to visit Jacques Conejo, he of the blog, and we were sitting on his front porch discussing our usual variety of topics. We started to talk about what I had been thinking about earlier -- about the unsuitability of language for certain applications.
“It’s like using a hammer to hammer the darkness!” I cried, holding an imaginary hammer and swinging it wildly around. Take that, darkness! Wham!
“Yeah,” Jacques replied, “I’ve been shining my flashlight on this nail all afternoon but it hasn’t gone in very far.”
We have a lot of fun, Jacques and I, attempting to talk about things that really can’t be talked about. But that minor fact doesn’t slow us down at all! We just keep chattering away for hours. It’s a harmless activity that gives us pleasure and passes the time. It’s like reading a book about Enlightenment.
I told Jacques I thought he was courageous, sharing his personal experiences in his blog like that. He was breaking a taboo against self-revelation, which in my mind is always a good thing. Taboos are meant to be broken, right? Otherwise, why have them?
I shared my metaphor about the heavy-duty sunglasses we are born wearing. Humans evolved according to the dictates of sheer animal survival; aspects of reality not directly contributing to survival are automatically filtered out. The thick sunglasses are symbolic of our reality filters. But for some of us – in fact, perhaps for many of us – the sunglasses have pinhole leaks. Occasionally the light will blast through a pinhole directly into our eyeball... perhaps for a split-second, perhaps far longer. We experience this as an “oh wow!” experience.
We discussed how limited the conventional view of reality is, because people usually don’t share their “pinhole leak” experiences with each other. Probably, more people have these experiences than is commonly supposed. But you can’t really “do” anything with these experiences (which is why they’re automatically filtered out most of the time), so they’re not considered worth talking about... and besides, we don’t really want to be talking about our inner lives, do we?
But then again, why not? We would live in a much richer culture if we were encouraged to share these experiences with each other. Sharing them would allow us to acknowledge how wonderfully incomprehensible reality really is, and how – if we only knew – ordinary-seeming individuals are capable of having the most remarkable experiences.