The Spell of Inner Speech

Inner speech is not a universal trait of humanity, according to Russell T. Hurlburt. That is unsurprising. Others go much further in arguing that inner speech was once non-existent for entire civilizations.

My favorite version of this argument being that of Julian Jayne’s theory of the bicameral mind. It was noted by Jaynes how bicameralism can be used as an interpretative frame to understand many of the psychological oddities still found in modern society. His theory goes a long way in explaining hypnosis, for instance. From that perspective, I’ve long suspected that post-bicameral consciousness isn’t as well established as is generally assumed. David Abrahms observes (see at end of post for full context):

“It is important to realize that the now common experience of “silent” reading is a late development in the story of the alphabet, emerging only during the Middle Ages, when spaces were first inserted between the words in a written manuscript (along with various forms of punctuation), enabling readers to distinguish the words of a written sentence without necessarily sounding them out audibly. Before this innovation, to read was necessarily to read aloud, or at the very least to mumble quietly; after the twelfth century it became increasingly possible to internalize the sounds, to listen inwardly to phantom words (or the inward echo of words once uttered).”

Internal experience took a long time to take hold. During the Enlightenment, there was still contentious debate about whether or not all humans shared a common capacity for inner experience — that is, did peasants, slaves and savages (and women) have minds basically the same as rich white men, presumably as rational actors with independent-mindedness and abstract thought. The rigid boundaries of the hyper-individualistic ego-mind required millennia to be built up within the human psyche, initially considered the sole province of the educated elite that, from Plato onward, was portrayed as a patriarchal and paternalistic enlightened aristocracy.

The greatest of radical ideals was to challenge this self-serving claim of the privileged mind by demanding that all be treated as equals before God and government, in that through the ability to read all could have a personal relationship with God and through natural rights all could self-govern. Maybe it wasn’t merely a change in the perception of common humanity but a change within common humanity itself. As modernity came into dominance, the inner sense of self with the accompanying inner speech became an evermore prevalent experience. Something rare among the elite not too many centuries earlier had suddenly become common among the commoners.

With minds of their own, quite literally, the rabble became rabblerousers who no longer mindlessly bowed down to their betters. The external commands and demands of the ancien regime lost their grip as individuality became the norm. What replaced it was what Jaynes referred to as self-authorization, very much dependent on an inner voice. But it is interesting to speculate that it might have required such a long incubation period considering this new mindset had first taken root back in the Axial Age. It sometimes can be a slow process for new memes to filter across vast geographic populations and seep down into the masses.

So what might the premodern mentality have been like? At Hurlburt’s piece, I noticed some comments about personal experience. One anonymous person mentioned, after brain trauma, “LOSING my inner voice. It is a totally different sensation/experience of reality. […] It is totally unlike anything I had ever known, I felt “simple” my day to day routines where driven only by images related to my goals (example: seeing Toothbrush and knowing my goals is to brush my teeth) and whenever I needed to recite something or create thoughts for communication, it seemed I could only conjure up the first thoughts to come to my mind without any sort of filter. And I would mumble and whisper to myself in Lue of the inner voice. But even when mumbling and whispering there was NO VOICE in my head. Images, occasionally. Other than that I found myself being almost hyper-aware of my surroundings with my incoming visual stimuli as the primary focus throughout my day.”

This person said a close comparison was being in the zone, sometimes referred to as runner’s high. That got me thinking about various factors that can shut down the normal functioning of the egoic mind. Extreme physical activity forces the mind into a mode that isn’t experienced that often and extensively by people in the modern world, a state of mind combining exhaustion, endorphins, and ketosis — a state of mind, on the other hand, that would have been far from uncommon before modernity with some arguing ketosis was once the normal mode of neurocogntivie functioning. Related to this, it has been argued that the abstractions of Enlightenment thought was fueled by the imperial sugar trade, maybe the first time a permanent non-ketogenic mindset was possible in the Western world. What sugar (i.e., glucose), especially when mixed with the other popular trade items of tea and coffee, makes possible is thinking and reading (i.e., inner experience) for long periods of time without mental tiredness. During the Enlightenment, the modern mind was borne out of a drugged-up buzz. That is one interpretation. Whatever the cause, something changed.

Also, in the comment section of that article, I came across a perfect description of self-authorization. Carla said that, “There are almost always words inside my head. In fact, I’ve asked people I live with to not turn on the radio in the morning. When they asked why, they thought my answer was weird: because it’s louder than the voice in my head and I can’t perform my morning routine without that voice.” We are all like that to some extent. But for most of us, self-authorization has become so natural as to largely go unnoticed. Unlike Carla, the average person learns to hear their own inner voice despite external sounds. I’m willing to bet that, if tested, Carla would show results of having thin mental boundaries and probably an accordingly weaker egoic will to force her self-authorization onto situations. Some turn to sugar and caffeine (or else nicotine and other drugs) to help shore up rigid thick boundaries and maintain focus in this modern world filled with distractions — likely a contributing factor to drug addiction.

In Abrams’s book, The Spell of the Sensuous, he emphasizes the connection between sight and sound. By way of reading, seeing words becomes hearing words in one’s own mind. This is made possible by the perceptual tendency to associate sight and sound, the two main indicators of movement, with a living other such as an animal moving through the underbrush. Maybe this is what creates the sense of a living other within, a Jaynesian consciousness as interiorized metaphorical space. The magic of hearing words inside puts a spell on the mind, invoking a sense of inner being separate from the outer world. This is how reading can conjure forth an entire visuospatial experience of narratized world, sometimes as compellingly real or moreso than our mundane lives. To hear and see, even if only imagined inwardly, is to make real.

Yet many lose the ability to visualize as they age. I wonder if that has to do with how the modern world until recently has been almost exclusively focused on text. It’s only now that a new generation has been so fully raised on the visual potency of 24/7 cable and the online world, and unlike past generations they might remain more visually-oriented into old age. The loss of visual imagination might have been more of a quirk of printed text, the visual not so much disappearing as being subverted into sound as the ego’s own voice became insular. But even when we are unaware of it, maybe the visual remains as the light in the background that makes interior space visible like a lamp in a sonorous cave, the lamp barely offering enough light to allow us follow the sound further into the darkness. Bertrand Russell went so far as to “argues that mental imagery is the essence of the meaning of words in most cases” (Bertrand Russell: Unconscious Terrors; Murder, Rage and Mental Imagery.). It is the visual that makes the aural come alive with meaning — as Russell put it:

“it is nevertheless the possibility of a memory image in the child and an imagination image in the hearer that makes the essence of the ‘meaning’ of the words. In so far as this is absent, the words are mere counters, capable of meaning, but not at the moment possessing it.”

Jaynes resolves the seeming dilemma by proposing the visuospatial as a metaphorical frame in which the mind operates, rather than itself being the direct focus of thought. And to combine this with Russell’s view, as the visual recedes from awareness, abstract thought recedes from the visceral sense of meaning of the outer world. This is how modern humanity, ever more lost in thought, has lost contact with the larger world of nature and universe, a shrinking number of people who still regularly experience a wilderness vista or the full starry sky. Our entire world turns inward and loses its vividness, becomes smaller, the boundaries dividing thicker. Our minds become ruled by Russell’s counters of meaning (i.e., symbolic proxies), rather than meaning directly. That may be changing, though, in this new era of visually-saturated media. Even books, as audiobooks, can now be heard outwardly in the voice of another. The rigid walls of the ego, so carefully constructed over centuries, are being cracked open again. If so, we might see a merging back together again of the separated senses, which could manifest as a return of synaesthesia as a common experience and with it a resurgence of metaphorical thought that hews close to the sensory world, the fertile ground of meaning. About a talk by Vilanayur S. Ramachandran, Maureen Seaberg writes (The Sea of Similitude):

“The refined son of an Indian diplomat explains that synesthesia was discovered by Sir Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, and that its name is derived from the Greek words for joined sensations. Next, he says something that really gets me to thinking – that there is greater cross wiring in the brains of synesthetes. This has enormous implications. “Now, if you assume that this greater cross wiring and concepts are also in different parts of the brain [than just where the synesthesia occurs], then it’s going to create a greater propensity towards metaphorical thinking and creativity in people with synesthesia. And, hence, the eight times more common incidence of synesthesia among poets, artists and novelists,” he says.

“In 2005, Dr. Ramachandran and his colleagues at the University of California at San Diego identified where metaphors are likely generated in the brain by studying people who could no longer understand metaphor because of brain damage. Proving once again the maxim that nature speaks through exceptions, they tested four patients who had experienced injuries to the left angular gyrus region. In May 2005, Scientific American reported on this and pointed out that although the subjects were bright and good communicators, when the researchers presented them with common proverbs and metaphors such as “the grass is always greener on the other side” and “reaching for the stars,” the subjects interpreted the sayings literally almost all the time. Their metaphor centers – now identified – had been compromised by the damage and the people just didn’t get the symbolism. Interestingly, synesthesia has also been found to occur mostly in the fusiform and angular gyrus – it’s in the same neighborhood. […]

“Facility with metaphor is a “thing” in synesthesia. Not only do Rama’s brain studies prove it, but I’ve noticed synesthetes seldom choose the expected, clichéd options when forming the figures of speech that describe a thing in a way that is symbolic to explain an idea or make comparisons. It would be more enviable were it not completely involuntary and automatic. In our brains without borders, it just works that way. Our neuronal nets are more interwoven”

The meeting of synaesthesia and metaphor opens up to our greater, if largely forgotten, humanity. As Jaynes and many others have made clear, those in the distant past and those still living in isolated tribes, such people experience the world far differently than us. This can be seen in odd use of language in ancient texts, which we may take as odd turns of phrase, as mere metaphor. But what if these people so foreign to us took their own metaphors quite literally, so to speak. In another post by Maureen Seaberg (The Shamanic Synesthesia of the Kalahari Bushmen), there are clear examples of this:

“The oldest cultures found that ecstatic experience expands our awareness and in its most special form, the world is experienced through more sensory involvement and presence, he says. “The shaman’s transition into ecstasy brought about what we call synesthesia today. But there was more involved than just passively experiencing it. The ecstatic shaman also performed sound, movement, and made reference to vision, smell, and taste in ways that helped evoke extraordinary experiences in others. They were both recipients and performers of multi-sensory theatres. Of course this is nothing like the weekend workshop shamans of the new age who are day dreaming rather than shaking wildly…. Rhythm, especially syncopated African drumming, excites the whole body to feel more intensely. Hence, it is valued as a means of ‘getting there’. A shaman (an ecstatic performer) played all the senses.” If this seems far afield from Western experience, consider that in Exodus 20:18, as Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to retrieve the tablets, the people present were said to have experienced synesthesia. “And all the people saw the voices” of heaven, it says. And we know synesthesia happens even in non-synesthetes during meditation — a heightened state.” “

The metaphorical ground of synaesthesia is immersive and participatory. It is a world alive with meaning. It was a costly trade in sacrificing this in creating our separate and sensory-deprived egoic consciousness, despite all that we gained in wielding power over the world. During the Bronze Age when written language still had metaphorical mud on its living roots, what Jaynes calls the bicameral mind would have been closer to this animistic mindset. A metaphor in that experiential reality was far more than what we now know of as metaphor. The world was alive with beings and voices. This isn’t only the origins of our humanity for it remains the very ground of our being, the source of what we have become — language most of all (“First came the temple, then the city.”):

“Looking at an even more basic level, I was reading Mark Changizi’s Harnessed. He argues that (p. 11), “Speech and music culturally evolved over time to be simulacra of nature.” That reminded me of Lynne Kelly’s description of how indigenous people would use vocal techniques and musical instruments to mimic natural sounds, as a way of communicating and passing on complex knowledge of the world. Changizi’s argument is based on the observation that “human speech sounds like solid-object physical events” and that “music sounds like humans moving and behaving (usually expressively)” (p. 19). Certain sounds give information about what is going on in the immediate environment, specifically sounds related to action and movement. This sound-based information processing would make for an optimal basis of language formation. This is given support from evidence that Kelly describes in her own books.

“This also touches upon the intimate relationship language has to music, dance, and gesture. Language is inseparable from our experience of being in the world, involving multiple senses or even synaesthesia. The overlapping of sensory experience may have been more common to earlier societies. Research has shown that synaesthetes have better capacity for memory: “spatial sequence synesthetes have a built-in and automatic mnemonic reference” (Wikipedia). That is relevant considering that memory is central to oral societies, as Kelly demonstrates. And the preliterate memory systems are immensely vast, potentially incorporating the equivalent of thousands of pages of info. Knowledge and memory isn’t just in the mind but within the entire sense of self, sense of community, and sense of place.”

We remain haunted by the past (“Beyond that, there is only awe.”):

“Through authority and authorization, immense power and persuasion can be wielded. Jaynes argues that it is central to the human mind, but that in developing consciousness we learned how to partly internalize the process. Even so, Jaynesian self-consciousness is never a permanent, continuous state and the power of individual self-authorization easily morphs back into external forms. This is far from idle speculation, considering authoritarianism still haunts the modern mind. I might add that the ultimate power of authoritarianism, as Jaynes makes clear, isn’t overt force and brute violence. Outward forms of power are only necessary to the degree that external authorization is relatively weak, as is typically the case in modern societies.

If you are one of those who clearly hears a voice in your head, appreciate all that went into creating and constructing it. This is an achievement of our entire civilization. But also realize how precarious is this modern mind. It’s a strange thing to contemplate. What is that voice that speaks? And who is it that is listening? Now imagine what it would be like if, as with the bicameral gods going silent, your own god-like ego went silent. And imagine this silence spreading across all of society, an entire people suddenly having lost their self-authorization to act, their very sense of identity and social reality. Don’t take for granted that voice within.

* * *

Below is a passage from a book I read long ago, maybe back when it was first published in 1996. The description of cognitive change almost could have been lifted straight out of Julian Jaynes book from twenty years earlier (e.g., the observation of the gods becoming silent). Abrams doesn’t mention Jaynes and it’s possible he was unfamiliar with it, whether or not there was an indirect influence. The kinds of ideas Jaynes was entertaining had been floating around for a long while before him as well. The unique angle that Abrams brings in this passage is framing it all within synaesthesia.

The Spell of the Sensuous
by David Abrams
p. 69

Although contemporary neuroscientists study “synaesthesia”—the overlap and blending of the senses—as though it were a rare or pathological experience to which only certain persons are prone (those who report “seeing sounds,” “hearing colors,” and the like), our primordial, preconceptual experience, as Merleau-Ponty makes evident, is inherently synaesthetic. The intertwining of sensory modalities seems unusual to us only to the extent that we have become estranged from our direct experience (and hence from our primordial contact with the entities and elements that surround us):

…Synaesthetic perception is the rule, and we are unaware of it only because scientific knowledge shifts the center of gravity of experience, so that we have unlearned how to see, hear, and generally speaking, feel, in order to deduce, from our bodily organization and the world as the physicist conceives it, what we are to see, hear, and feel. 20

pp. 131-144

It is remarkable that none of the major twentieth-century scholars who have directed their attention to the changes wrought by literacy have seriously considered the impact of writing—and, in particular, phonetic writing—upon the human experience of the wider natural world. Their focus has generally centered upon the influence of phonetic writing on the structure and deployment of human language, 53 on patterns of cognition and thought, 54 or upon the internal organization of human societies. 55 Most of the major research, in other words, has focused upon the alphabet’s impact on processes either internal to human society or presumably “internal” to the human mind. Yet the limitation of such research—its restriction within the bounds of human social interaction and personal interiority—itself reflects an anthropocentric bias wholly endemic to alphabetic culture. In the absence of phonetic literacy, neither society, nor language, nor even the experience of “thought” or consciousness, can be pondered in isolation from the multiple nonhuman shapes and powers that lend their influence to all our activities (we need think only of our ceaseless involvement with the ground underfoot, with the air that swirls around us, with the plants and animals that we consume, with the daily warmth of the sun and the cyclic pull of the moon). Indeed, in the absence of formal writing systems, human communities come to know themselves primarily as they are reflected back by the animals and the animate landscapes with which they are directly engaged. This epistemological dependence is readily evidenced, on every continent, by the diverse modes of identification commonly categorized under the single term “totemism.”

It is exceedingly difficult for us literates to experience anything approaching the vividness and intensity with which surrounding nature spontaneously presents itself to the members of an indigenous, oral community. Yet as we saw in the previous chapters, Merleau-Ponty’s careful phenomenology of perceptual experience had begun to disclose, underneath all of our literate abstractions, a deeply participatory relation to things and to the earth, a felt reciprocity curiously analogous to the animistic awareness of indigenous, oral persons. If we wish to better comprehend the remarkable shift in the human experience of nature that was occasioned by the advent and spread of phonetic literacy, we would do well to return to the intimate analysis of sensory perception inaugurated by Merleau-Ponty. For without a clear awareness of what reading and writing amounts to when considered at the level of our most immediate, bodily experience, any “theory” regarding the impact of literacy can only be provisional and speculative.

Although Merleau-Ponty himself never attempted a phenomenology of reading or writing, his recognition of the importance of synaesthesia—the overlap and intertwining of the senses—resulted in a number of experiential analyses directly pertinent to the phenomenon of reading. For reading, as soon as we attend to its sensorial texture, discloses itself as a profoundly synaesthetic encounter. Our eyes converge upon a visible mark, or a series of marks, yet what they find there is a sequence not of images but of sounds, something heard; the visible letters, as we have said, trade our eyes for our ears. Or, rather, the eye and the ear are brought together at the surface of the text—a new linkage has been forged between seeing and hearing which ensures that a phenomenon apprehended by one sense is instantly transposed into the other. Further, we should note that this sensory transposition is mediated by the human mouth and tongue; it is not just any kind of sound that is experienced in the act of reading, but specifically human, vocal sounds—those which issue from the human mouth. It is important to realize that the now common experience of “silent” reading is a late development in the story of the alphabet, emerging only during the Middle Ages, when spaces were first inserted between the words in a written manuscript (along with various forms of punctuation), enabling readers to distinguish the words of a written sentence without necessarily sounding them out audibly. Before this innovation, to read was necessarily to read aloud, or at the very least to mumble quietly; after the twelfth century it became increasingly possible to internalize the sounds, to listen inwardly to phantom words (or the inward echo of words once uttered). 56

Alphabetic reading, then, proceeds by way of a new synaesthetic collaboration between the eye and the ear, between seeing and hearing. To discern the consequences of this new synaesthesia, we need to examine the centrality of synaesthesia in our perception of others and of the earth.

The experiencing body (as we saw in Chapter 2) is not a self-enclosed object, but an open, incomplete entity. This openness is evident in the arrangement of the senses: I have these multiple ways of encountering and exploring the world—listening with my ears, touching with my skin, seeing with my eyes, tasting with my tongue, smelling with my nose—and all of these various powers or pathways continually open outward from the perceiving body, like different paths diverging from a forest. Yet my experience of the world is not fragmented; I do not commonly experience the visible appearance of the world as in any way separable from its audible aspect, or from the myriad textures that offer themselves to my touch. When the local tomcat comes to visit, I do not have distinctive experiences of a visible cat, an audible cat, and an olfactory cat; rather, the tomcat is precisely the place where these separate sensory modalities join and dissolve into one another, blending as well with a certain furry tactility. Thus, my divergent senses meet up with each other in the surrounding world, converging and commingling in the things I perceive. We may think of the sensing body as a kind of open circuit that completes itself only in things, and in the world. The differentiation of my senses, as well as their spontaneous convergence in the world at large, ensures that I am a being destined for relationship: it is primarily through my engagement with what is not me that I effect the integration of my senses, and thereby experience my own unity and coherence. 57 […]

The diversity of my sensory systems, and their spontaneous convergence in the things that I encounter, ensures this interpenetration or interweaving between my body and other bodies—this magical participation that permits me, at times, to feel what others feel. The gestures of another being, the rhythm of its voice, and the stiffness or bounce in its spine all gradually draw my senses into a unique relation with one another, into a coherent, if shifting, organization. And the more I linger with this other entity, the more coherent the relation becomes, and hence the more completely I find myself face-to-face with another intelligence, another center of experience.

In the encounter with the cyclist, as in my experience of the blackbird, the visual focus induced and made possible the participation of the other senses. In different situations, other senses may initiate the synaesthesia: our ears, when we are at an orchestral concert; or our nostrils, when a faint whiff of burning leaves suddenly brings images of childhood autumns; our skin, when we are touching or being touched by a lover. Nonetheless, the dynamic conjunction of the eyes has a particularly ubiquitous magic, opening a quivering depth in whatever we focus upon, ceaselessly inviting the other senses into a concentrated exchange with stones, squirrels, parked cars, persons, snow-capped peaks, clouds, and termite-ridden logs. This power—the synaesthetic magnetism of the visual focus—will prove crucial for our understanding of literacy and its perceptual effects.

The most important chapter of Merleau-Ponty’s last, unfinished work is entitled “The Intertwining—The Chiasm.” The word “chiasm,” derived from an ancient Greek term meaning “crisscross,” is in common use today only in the field of neurobiology: the “optic chiasm” is that anatomical region, between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, where neuronal fibers from the right eye and the left eye cross and interweave. As there is a chiasm between the two eyes, whose different perspectives continually conjoin into a single vision, so—according to Merleau-Ponty—there is a chiasm between the various sense modalities, such that they continually couple and collaborate with one another. Finally, this interplay of the different senses is what enables the chiasm between the body and the earth, the reciprocal participation—between one’s own flesh and the encompassing flesh of the world—that we commonly call perception. 59

Phonetic reading, of course, makes use of a particular sensory conjunction—that between seeing and hearing. And indeed, among the various synaesthesias that are common to the human body, the confluence (or chiasm) between seeing and hearing is particularly acute. For vision and hearing are the two “distance” senses of the human organism. In contrast to touch and proprioception (inner-body sensations), and unlike the chemical senses of taste and smell, seeing and hearing regularly place us in contact with things and events unfolding at a substantial distance from our own visible, audible body.

My visual gaze explores the reflective surfaces of things, their outward color and contour. By following the play of light and shadow, the dance of colors, and the gradients of repetitive patterns, the eyes—themselves gleaming surfaces—keep me in contact with the multiple outward facets, or faces, of the things arrayed about me. The ears, meanwhile, are more inward organs; they emerge from the depths of my skull like blossoms or funnels, and their participation tells me less about the outer surface than the interior substance of things. For the audible resonance of beings varies with their material makeup, as the vocal calls of different animals vary with the size and shape of their interior cavities and hollows. I feel their expressive cries resound in my skull or my chest, echoing their sonorous qualities with my own materiality, and thus learn of their inward difference from myself. Looking and listening bring me into contact, respectively, with the outward surfaces and with the interior voluminosity of things, and hence where these senses come together, I experience, over there, the complex interplay of inside and outside that is characteristic of my own self-experience. It is thus at those junctures in the surrounding landscape where my eyes and my ears are drawn together that I most readily feel myself confronted by another power like myself, another life. […]

Yet our ears and our eyes are drawn together not only by animals, but by numerous other phenomena within the landscape. And, strangely, wherever these two senses converge, we may suddenly feel ourselves in relation with another expressive power, another center of experience. Trees, for instance, can seem to speak to us when they are jostled by the wind. Different forms of foliage lend each tree a distinctive voice, and a person who has lived among them will easily distinguish the various dialects of pine trees from the speech of spruce needles or Douglas fir. Anyone who has walked through cornfields knows the uncanny experience of being scrutinized and spoken to by whispering stalks. Certain rock faces and boulders request from us a kind of auditory attentiveness, and so draw our ears into relation with our eyes as we gaze at them, or with our hands as we touch them—for it is only through a mode of listening that we can begin to sense the interior voluminosity of the boulder, its particular density and depth. There is an expectancy to the ears, a kind of patient receptivity that they lend to the other senses whenever we place ourselves in a mode of listening—whether to a stone, or a river, or an abandoned house. That so many indigenous people allude to the articulate speech of trees or of mountains suggests the ease with which, in an oral culture, one’s auditory attention may be joined with the visual focus in order to enter into a living relation with the expressive character of things.

Far from presenting a distortion of their factual relation to the world, the animistic discourse of indigenous, oral peoples is an inevitable counterpart of their immediate, synaesthetic engagement with the land that they inhabit. The animistic proclivity to perceive the angular shape of a boulder (while shadows shift across its surface) as a kind of meaningful gesture, or to enter into felt conversations with clouds and owls—all of this could be brushed aside as imaginary distortion or hallucinatory fantasy if such active participation were not the very structure of perception, if the creative interplay of the senses in the things they encounter was not our sole way of linking ourselves to those things and letting the things weave themselves into our experience. Direct, prereflective perception is inherently synaesthetic, participatory, and animistic, disclosing the things and elements that surround us not as inert objects but as expressive subjects, entities, powers, potencies.

And yet most of us seem, today, very far from such experience. Trees rarely, if ever, speak to us; animals no longer approach us as emissaries from alien zones of intelligence; the sun and the moon no longer draw prayers from us but seem to arc blindly across the sky. How is it that these phenomena no longer address us , no longer compel our involvement or reciprocate our attention? If participation is the very structure of perception, how could it ever have been brought to a halt? To freeze the ongoing animation, to block the wild exchange between the senses and the things that engage them, would be tantamount to freezing the body itself, stopping it short in its tracks. And yet our bodies still move, still live, still breathe. If we no longer experience the enveloping earth as expressive and alive, this can only mean that the animating interplay of the senses has been transferred to another medium, another locus of participation.

IT IS THE WRITTEN TEXT THAT PROVIDES THIS NEW LOCUS . FOR TO read is to enter into a profound participation, or chiasm, with the inked marks upon the page. In learning to read we must break the spontaneous participation of our eyes and our ears in the surrounding terrain (where they had ceaselessly converged in the synaesthetic encounter with animals, plants, and streams) in order to recouple those senses upon the flat surface of the page. As a Zuñi elder focuses her eyes upon a cactus and hears the cactus begin to speak, so we focus our eyes upon these printed marks and immediately hear voices. We hear spoken words, witness strange scenes or visions, even experience other lives. As nonhuman animals, plants, and even “inanimate” rivers once spoke to our tribal ancestors, so the “inert” letters on the page now speak to us! This is a form of animism that we take for granted, but it is animism nonetheless—as mysterious as a talking stone.

And indeed, it is only when a culture shifts its participation to these printed letters that the stones fall silent. Only as our senses transfer their animating magic to the written word do the trees become mute, the other animals dumb.

But let us be more precise, recalling the distinction between different forms of writing discussed at the start of this chapter. As we saw there, pictographic, ideographic, and even rebuslike writing still makes use of, or depends upon, our sensorial participation with the natural world. As the tracks of moose and bear refer beyond themselves to those entities of whom they are the trace, so the images in early writing systems draw their significance not just from ourselves but from sun, moon, vulture, jaguar, serpent, lightning—from all those sensorial, never strictly human powers, of which the written images were a kind of track or tracing. To be sure, these signs were now inscribed by human hands, not by the hooves of deer or the clawed paws of bear; yet as long as they presented images of paw prints and of clouds , of sun and of serpent , these characters still held us in relation to a more-than-human field of discourse. Only when the written characters lost all explicit reference to visible, natural phenomena did we move into a new order of participation. Only when those images came to be associated, alphabetically, with purely human-made sounds, and even the names of the letters lost all worldly, extrahuman significance, could speech or language come to be experienced as an exclusively human power. For only then did civilization enter into the wholly self-reflexive mode of animism, or magic, that still holds us in its spell:

We know what the animals do, what are the needs of the beaver, the bear, the salmon, and other creatures, because long ago men married them and acquired this knowledge from their animal wives. Today the priests say we lie, but we know better. The white man has been only a short time in this country and knows very little about the animals; we have lived here thousands of years and were taught long ago by the animals themselves. The white man writes everything down in a book so that it will not be forgotten; but our ancestors married animals, learned all their ways, and passed on this knowledge from one generation to another. 60

THAT ALPHABETIC READING AND WRITING WAS ITSELF experienced as a form of magic is evident from the reactions of cultures suddenly coming into contact with phonetic writing. Anthropological accounts from entirely different continents report that members of indigenous, oral tribes, after seeing the European reading from a book or from his own notes, came to speak of the written pages as “talking leaves,” for the black marks on the flat, leaflike pages seemed to talk directly to the one who knew their secret.

The Hebrew scribes never lost this sense of the letters as living, animate powers. Much of the Kabbalah, the esoteric body of Jewish mysticism, is centered around the conviction that each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew aleph-beth is a magic gateway or guide into an entire sphere of existence. Indeed, according to some kabbalistic accounts, it was by combining the letters that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created the ongoing universe. The Jewish kabbalists found that the letters, when meditated upon, would continually reveal new secrets; through the process of tzeru, the magical permutation of the letters, the Jewish scribe could bring himself into successively greater states of ecstatic union with the divine. Here, in other words, was an intensely concentrated form of animism—a participation conducted no longer with the sculpted idols and images worshiped by other tribes but solely with the visible letters of the aleph-beth.

Perhaps the most succinct evidence for the potent magic of written letters is to be found in the ambiguous meaning of our common English word “spell.” As the roman alphabet spread through oral Europe, the Old English word “spell,” which had meant simply to recite a story or tale, took on the new double meaning: on the one hand, it now meant to arrange, in the proper order, the written letters that constitute the name of a thing or a person; on the other, it signified a magic formula or charm. Yet these two meanings were not nearly as distinct as they have come to seem to us today. For to assemble the letters that make up the name of a thing, in the correct order, was precisely to effect a magic, to establish a new kind of influence over that entity, to summon it forth! To spell, to correctly arrange the letters to form a name or a phrase, seemed thus at the same time to cast a spell , to exert a new and lasting power over the things spelled. Yet we can now realize that to learn to spell was also, and more profoundly, to step under the influence of the written letters ourselves, to cast a spell upon our own senses. It was to exchange the wild and multiplicitous magic of an intelligent natural world for the more concentrated and refined magic of the written word.

THE BULGARIAN SCHOLAR TZVETAN TODOROV HAS WRITTEN AN illuminating study of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, based on extensive study of documents from the first months and years of contact between European culture and the native cultures of the American continent. 61 The lightning-swift conquest of Mexico by Cortéz has remained a puzzle for historians, since Cortéz, leading only a few hundred men, managed to seize the entire kingdom of Montezuma, who commanded several hundred thousand . Todorov concludes that Cortéz’s astonishing and rapid success was largely a result of the discrepancy between the different forms of participation engaged in by the two societies. The Aztecs, whose writing was highly pictorial, necessarily felt themselves in direct communication with an animate, more-than-human environment. “Everything happens as if, for the Aztecs, [written] signs automatically and necessarily proceed from the world they designate…”; the Aztecs are unable to use their spoken words, or their written characters, to hide their true intentions, since these signs belong to the world around them as much as to themselves. 62 To be duplicitous with signs would be, for the Aztecs, to go against the order of nature, against the encompassing speech or logos of an animate world, in which their own tribal discourse was embedded.

The Spaniards, however, suffer no such limitation. Possessed of an alphabetic writing system, they experience themselves not in communication with the sensuous forms of the world, but solely with one another. The Aztecs must answer, in their actions as in their speech, to the whole sensuous, natural world that surrounds them; the Spanish need answer only to themselves.

In contact with this potent new magic, with these men who participate solely with their own self-generated signs, whose speech thus seems to float free of the surrounding landscape, and who could therefore be duplicitous and lie even in the presence of the sun, the moon, and the forest, the Indians felt their own rapport with those sensuous powers, or gods, beginning to falter:

The testimony of the Indian accounts, which is a description rather than an explanation, asserts that everything happened because the Mayas and the Aztecs lost control of communication. The language of the gods has become unintelligible, or else these gods fell silent. “Understanding is lost, wisdom is lost” [from the Mayan account of the Spanish invasion]….As for the Aztecs, they describe the beginning of their own end as a silence that falls: the gods no longer speak to them. 63

In the face of aggression from this new, entirely self-reflexive form of magic, the native peoples of the Americas—like those of Africa and, later, of Australia—felt their own magics wither and become useless, unable to protect them.

33 thoughts on “The Spell of Inner Speech

  1. Profound and mind blowing!!! I have things to take care of before commenting in detail but this is a fantastic and fantastically rich and dense piece. among the points that knocked me over:

    “The loss of visual imagination might have been more of a quirk of printed text, the visual not so much disappearing as being subverted into sound as the ego’s own voice became insular. ” Check out my post from yesterday if you get a chance.

    Also look up a book called The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin.

    I’m taking a look at a Jaynesian context for some Archaic Greek myths especially Sisyphus – the back and forth of the metaphoric rock being a metaphor for the (Jaynesian) dilemma of the bi-cameral mind in action and the era of transformation but as “luck” would have it it turns out there is an extraordinary issue around archaic Greek language in how it was written (sic!) that may also be an example of the Jaynesian bi-cameral reality.

    You’ve written a truly provocative and fascinating piece!

    More to follow.

    • I took a few bits of stuff strewn about, threw them together, and hoped that they would hold together as a coherent piece. It wasn’t initially clear what might be the central point or conclusion. There was a lack of inspiration to pull it into a worthy form, as opposed to a meandering line of thought or a loose collection of ideas. But I guess I managed to turn it into something of interest.

      I’ve seen Chatwin’s book around. But I haven’t read it. Maybe I should find out if the public library has a copy of it. There aren’t many books I come across in reference to the Australian Aborigines. You’d think there would be more. In Sally Fallon Morrell’s recent book, she dedicates an entire chapter to the Aborigines, although her focus is simply on their dietary lifestyle which is interesting in that she dispells some misconceptions.

      I can’t say I’ve ever written much about the archaic Greek myths. In particular, I don’t recall any time when I discussed Sisyphus. I have touched upon various myths but mostly in passing or in some other context. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some good stuff by not exploring tapping that vein of material. Any specific writing on the topic that you’d recommend? What are you presently looking at in this regards?

      • Sometimes an “Impressionistic” or slightly more lose structure works as it suggests ideas and connections. Regardless it’s a provocative piece.

        Songlines is really a great book. The Songlines are the markers laid down by the Aboriginal people of Australia. They created the world as they named it/things.

        Among the things that are fascinating about the idea is that it matches Aristotle and Hume – the world is created both as it is named and in its name – or as you touch on, “spell” has two meanings.

        My interest in Archaic Greece was sparked by coming across the following: boustrophedon – that in turn was sparked by a blog:

        My idea is that Bousphedron writing is a manifestation of Jaynesian bi-cameralism and it represents a back and forth between the hemispheres and that is the backstory to the central metaphor of Sisyphus – the rock that is pushed up and rolls back down the hill.

        I’m working on connecting that to the story in Herodotus where he says the Egyptians told him “Helen” was not ever really in Troy.

        Closing in on finishing the Hume/Rosseau book and the book on Holland and a few other loose ends then back to Popper on Parmenedes and then have to turn notes into a coherent piece.

    • It’s maybe hard for us to easily notice the quirks of the printed word.

      We live in a historically and culturally unusual society. Even in the West, the majority of the population became functionally literate only about a century ago. But for the past few generations, such quirks have defined the only world we’ve known within living memory. We are immersed in text.

      What we don’t give much thought to is what came to dominance so quickly could fall back out of dominance just as quickly. We aren’t living in a stable social order that is likely to be long-lasting. The quirkiness of our era might be better understood with the hindsight of future generations.

      • Agreed. the text-driven zeitgeist is a very recent invention. And I’m making a distinction between Gutenberg and the era of mass printing and text emersion which is really only about a hundred or so years old – perhaps back to the middle of the 19th century?

        Just finished going through Foucault’s The order of Things. His conclusion about the systems of language that reflected the systems of thinking:

        “…man is a recent invention within it. It is not around him and his secrets that knowledge prowled for so long in the darkness. In fact, among all the mutations that have affected the knowledge of
        things and their order, the knowledge of identities, differences, characters,
        equivalences, words – in short, in the midst of all the episodes of that profound history of the Same – only one, that which began
        a century and a half ago and is now perhaps drawing to a close, has made it possible for the figure of man to appear. And that appearance was not the liberation of an old anxiety, the transition into luminous consciousness of an age-old concern, the entry into objectivity of something that had long remained trapped within beliefs and philosophies: it was the effect of a change in the fundamental
        arrangements of knowledge. As the archaeology of our thought easily
        shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.

        If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared, if some event of which we can at the moment do no more than sense the possibility – without knowing either what its form will be or what it
        promises – were to cause them to crumble, as the ground of Classical thought did, at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the
        edge of the sea.”

        The impulse to act as if these issues either don’t exist or have been resolved are a kind of time bomb waiting for detonation whether in environmental collapse or some other catastrophe and the realization of just how fragile our arrangements are is of course never allowed into the “discourse” and when someone does express it there’s always a sizeable backlash – to this day reactionaries of a certain stripe can be counted on to attack Foucault (usually as a unicorn of the “neo-Marxist-Postmodernist tribe;-))

        • That conclusion from Foucalt is nice to see from such a major thinker. Few people appreciate this insight, this sense of precarity.

          I’d add that the dramatic change of the past century has corresponded to many factors. It was massification all around, the age of mass man. There was the abrupt appearance of mass literacy, partly because of mass printing and hence the availability and pervasiveness of printed text, along with an increase of advertisements, billboards and signs — a proliferation of words everywhere. And there was the related mass education/indoctrination, mass media/propaganda, mass monoculture/enculturation, mass mass urbanization/isolation, industrialization/corporatism, mass pollution/toxicity, etc.

          Also, we can’t forget about the mass dietary changes (19th Americans ate a mostly non-processed meat-based diet with average bread consumption being lower than average meat consumption), from at least partly ketogenic to entirely non-ketogenic for most Americans. This probably goes along with mass addiction as a widescale societal phenomenon: heroin, cocaine, nicotine, caffeine, and of course glucose — the result of mass production, mass marketing, mass availability, and mass consumerism; exacerbated by the addictive mindset itself with social isolation and repetition-compulsion. The body and mind going out of whack.

          The mind was being transformed in other ways as well. With all of these changes, including the increasing complexity of urban life and work, the average IQ across all demographics shot up in a few generations after it first was measured. It was specfically fluid intelligence that has risen so dramatically, indicating greater capacity for pattern recognition more importantly abstract thought. At beginning of the 20th century, most Americans were still rural and the same was true in many other countries. Rural life was different in many ways, requiring an entirely different set of cognitive abilities.

          This was shown in Alexander Luria’s study of rural Russians who essentially were still living as peasants and what he found was that their thinking was almost entirely concrete with its concomitant concrete worldview where things were connected in ways highly practical and personal. The Piraha demonstrate this in their extremely precise and heavily qualified language that disallows generalizations and impersonal assertions. Sacrificing this concrete thought for abstract thought comes at a cost, maybe justifying some of the fears of mass urbanization both in the past and in the present (such as rising schizophrenia and psychosis among urban youth).

          You are correct in making a distinction between Gutenberg and more recent history. The clearest example of a textual shift was the popularization of novels, the first form of mass entertainment. It became a youth craze and, as today with smartphones, kids were walking around with their heads stuck in their book-devices while being oblivious to the world around them. There was growing popularity of novels in the 19th century. But one might note that the romance novel craze began earlier in the decades prior to the revolutionary era. And it became undeniable with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). Readers were not only becoming immersed in fictional realities but sometimes acting out the behavior of characters.

          That puts the origins of the first print-related mass psychological change back in that tumultuous era building up into revolution. A number of things occurred in the 18th century. Printing presses did become common with at least one to be found in any significant population area. It was also a time when education became common as well. Thomas Paine, as a working class son of a tradesman, got an early education and, as later in London, he took advantage of the new opportunities for the landless peasants and others in the underclass to seek education through not only books but paid lectures — none of which would have been available to many even a generation before. This radicalized many in the working class, as literacy made possible the writing of petitions and pamphlets (Paine doing both). There might be something about literacy that, in contributing to a strong ego-sense, encourages an individualistic audacity to challenge others at an individual and collective level.

          Still, I wouldn’t too starkly demarcate the modern era from the premodern. As I often argue, the revolutionary era was preceded by events that hinted at what was to come and all of modernity is in a sense an echo of the Axial Age. But even to limit ourselves to the near historical past, it might have been literacy, silent reading, and moveable type printing presses that made possible the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, religious wars, Peasants Revolt, English Civil War, etc — a period, although technically premodern, during which modern thought was first forming: humanism, psychology, science, and such. The revolutionary era was largely the playing out of previous unresolved issues, as the American Civil War and 19th century revolutions were a furthering of this process in the intermittent rupture and repetition of the unresolved.

          The difference with the past century or so is that the unresolved is more forcefully causing rupture and so the repetition might come in more quick succession, building up to a breaking point. Even so, this might be more of a difference of degree than of kind. We are feeling the shockwaves of the Axial Age. Socrates could be proven right that the written word, not just the printed word as stands out now, is a danger to civilization. Maybe we have never fully recovered from the collapse of the Bronze Age, our minds permanently traumatized and scarred in its present rigid form. If there ever was a point to turn back from the madness, maybe what Foucalt is describing is our having gone beyond that point. We are fully committed to the rule of the ego-mind warped even further with print-immersion, whether it ends in transformation or collapse.

          • A brief response with more to follow ass time allows.

            As always very interesting. Regarding the advent of mass culture, one of the details that tends to get lost in narratives about WW2 is that the U government distributed millions of inexpensive paperback books to soldiers. These gestures are as important as Midway or The Battle of Britain if not ass inherently dramatic. They also get lost in the repetition of the more official narrative.

            Re: Demarcation(s) of eras – it’ tricky a events tend to offer easy points where one can say before and after but they are really moving targets. And if I’m correct repetition may be hardwired into consciousness which would then require a different approach to Historiography.

            Re: diet. Very interesting. It receives far less attention than it deserves.

            Didn’t read your link about Goethe and Werther but Goethe was angst ridden about his “fame” and that young men were shooting themselves with copies of The Sorrows open to the page were Werther shot himself.

            People don’t know their history and repetition becomes “new” and patterns are erased from collective memory.

          • “Regarding the advent of mass culture, one of the details that tends to get lost in narratives about WW2 is that the U government distributed millions of inexpensive paperback books to soldiers.” Soldiers were also getting large numbers of comic books. It’s often forgotten that the early comic books originally targeted soldiers, not young boys, as their primary audience. Along with books, this introduced an entire generation to reading as an enjoyable and immersive experience.

            “And if I’m correct repetition may be hardwired into consciousness which would then require a different approach to Historiography.” This is where our thinking is parallel and often overlapping. As I say about Jaynes’ theory, I would say about your theory that it is either true or else something very similar to it is true. The evidence, ignored and dismissed by most, remains to be explained. And any explanation worthy of the evidence will radically challenge conventional thought.

            “diet. Very interesting. It receives far less attention than it deserves.” I look for alternative perspectives to shake up stale thought. Diet forces us to rethink much that we thought we understood. What we eat determines not only how our body and minds operate but also the microbiome within us which itself determines so much of how our functioning. Changing the gut microbiome can change diverse things, from weight to mood.

            Similar results can be seen with certain parasites (e.g., toxoplasma gondii) causing profound changes in behavior and personality across entire populations (e.g., New England). As with toxins with their neurological impact, toxoplasmosis has increased over the 20th century, as toxoplasmosis was rare prior to cats being kept indoors as pets. Research has even shown that parasite load alters culture.

            “Didn’t read your link about Goethe and Werther but…” In that case, you basically already are familiar with the topic. For all the fear it involved, it does seem amusing looking back on it. It’s hard for us to imagine a moral panic about books. Yet future generations will have the same opinion about our moral panic about present technology. Modern Westerners have been in a state of near continuous moral panic for several centuries now.

            And that brings us to your concluding remark: “People don’t know their history and repetition becomes “new” and patterns are erased from collective memory.” Maybe the ongoing moral panic requires the ongoing amnesia, the underlying dynamic or contributing factor to repetition-compulsion and addiction. And maybe we can’t have collective memory in that sense because this modern state of mind disallows the full expression of collective ways of being, as related to Johann Hari’s suggestion that the isolation of hyper-individualism is what addiction is all about.

            It’s hard to have public or institutional memory of what came before when each individual feels alone, disconnected from others and from the past, such that living memory becomes splintered and stunted. Even the living memory from one generation to the next is crippled in how our society segregates people by age, thus making difficult the intergenerational passing on of personal experience and knowledge (I can attest to this in, living far away, how I barely knew my own grandparents and so never learned of the world they grew up in). So, in not learning from the past, we repeat it.

            But what stands out, as you note, is how oblivious we are in assuming that we are doing something original. That could be a key difference. Having lost a circular and cyclical sense of time, we are unwilling and unable to embrace repetition. Instead, repetition as a repressed process takes on demonic qualities of compulsion and addiction.

          • In my reading and research for my expansion of my earlier piece on Jaynes (Faulkner’s Sparrows – looking at the idea that repetition may be hardwired into the mind) I’ve been reading up on the Archaic Greek myths as I mentioned. As these things to one thing leads to another and I looked up an American Historian named Hayden White. Sort of an American neo-Focualtian. But here’s what hit me when I started reading an article about him by another historian. This is from the beginning of the article:

            “From the OED: “Mentor: after ancient Greek Μέντωρ, the name of a character in the Odyssey, in whose likeness Athena appears to Telemachus and acts as his guide and adviser. The origin of mentor embedded the notion of multiple voices/personas.”

            So, per Jaynes, a “mentor” would have been the personification of the bi-cameral reality. Voices/personas are one and the same and they were, clearly, understood to be guides. They were external and internal at the same time – that is even though they were external voices they were persona that inhabited in this case Telemachus and gave instructions.

            The OED quote strikes me as a completely Jaynesian construction though no doubt the OED did not write it with that in mind.

            Regardless, thought you’d get a kick out of it.

          • That background on the word ‘mentor’ does get one thinking. It’s one of those clues that indicates something odd about earlier mentalities. Or rather, if they were closer to the evolutionary norm, maybe it indicates something odd about us.

          • To my oft-repeated point about transformation or collapse, the Jaynesian perspective is easily applied. And I suspect Jaynes had that in mind while writing, in that his talking about the past was a useful way of talking about the present.


            “How did humans graduate from bicameralism to “consciousness?” As best I can tell at this stage of the reading, through language. By learning to attach names to perceptions, to discrete objects, to persons, and then, to the self. Having cognized the self, we can begin to experience it, to use it, and to recognize it in others.

            “Because Jaynes was arguing that human brains now operate differently from those of our ancestors with the same cerebral hardware, he also had to argue that this change in function was possible, thus throwing in his lot with the newly-emerging paradigm of brain plasticity. Today, we have plenty of evidence that the brain repurposes its neural resources with great flexibility, and can thus agree that the functioning of the brain has evolved as linguistic capacities developed, causing newer brains to be wired more efficiently as generations have grown up with ever-more sophisticated speech resources, including of course, the Internet.

            “So one must ask: if our consciousness arose from the “breakdown” of the bicameral mind, due toits inability to handle the stress of ambiguous situations as efficiently as a “conscious” interface, what could lead to the “breakdown” of consciousness? Could it be the labor of keeping up with machine intelligence? Could it be the overtaxing of consciousness by loading it with too many alternatives for a single mind to process? And if so, what would the next evolutionary stage be?”

  2. You spoke about the current generation and their immersion in the internet and newer forms of communication. I’m surprised that you didn’t seize upon the role of emojis and non-text based pictorial characters used to express abstract concepts. Possibly a newer form of animism or synesthesia…. Also, I find it curious that other languages are more efficient at communicating information than some. I heard that Mandarin is one example. Not sure if this has anything to do with anything but the words ‘Kung Fu’ evoke various degrees of association in Westerners but essentially mean ‘hard work’ in Mandarin.

    • Admittedly, this wasn’t a thorough post. It was just a few things that caught my attention and I quickly threw them together. I could have expanded in many directions using more details of examples and observations. There is a lot that could be said about new media and the new generations.

      There is also the complicating factor that, although the young do experience more visual stimuli than in the past, they also experience more text than in the past. Considering social media and texting, a kid these days reads and writes text way more than prior generations. So, it’s an increase of both images and texts, combined with emojis.

      About other languages, that is another interesting angle. Despite my lack of familiarity with other languages, I’ve long been immensely curious about differences in languages, specifically in how they effect thought and behavior and in how they relate to cultural worldviews. From a Jaynesian perspective, there are scholars who have looked at ancient Chinese language.

      This post isn’t a careful enough analysis to do justice to any of this. It was simply sketching out a few thoughts. But I’ll keep exploring it all. If you have any suggestions or observations, let me know. I’m always open to other perspectives. And I’m sure others have explored the significance of emojis and such.

      • Your article is interesting and comprehensive. These points are probably side issues to consider in another context. I enjoyed the article and thought it was coherent. I had heard that some scholar maybe Thomas Aquinas would transfix his audience by reading from some passage silently then answer question posed to him. People thought it was magical or maybe even demonic at that time in history before such inner perspective was commonplace or understood.

        • The post is fine for what it is. I had simple aspirations in writing it and I achieved that end. But I knew as I was writing it that there was far much more that I could say. I didn’t feel like spending too much time on it, as I had other posts I was working on.

          The emoji issue is interesting. The thing about emojis is the role they’ve played in texting where text and image are so often combined. That connects to my thought about how, as we’ve become drenched in visual imagery, there has also been a new surge of text. For example, more books have been published and printed the past couple of decades than any other period in history.

          I don’t know what all of that adds up to. It is telling, though, that we take for granted such things as silent reading. The anecdote you shared demonstrates how much that once wasn’t taken for granted.

    • Thanks for sharing that. I’ve been meaning to read that book. You aren’t the first to bring it up in this blog.
      Have you read Lynne Kelly’s work? That is how I came to realize the full significance of Songlines.

          • I’ve deep-scanned it and find her assertions interesting and believable, especially (and taking her at her word) that she has undertaken to successfully employ the techniques associated with her findings. I’m too old to undertake the same discipline, espcially as I’ve got a lot of other projects to complete before I reach room temperature.

          • I can’t say I’ve tried to apply the techniques she describes. But I have learned some mnemonic devices from other sources. Just the typical stuff. It has helped some, despite my crappy memory. Improving my diet maybe has done more to improve my memory than anything else. My main interest in her work was more along the lines of what it indicates about the human mind and other ways of being in the world.

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