Psychedelics and Language

“We cannot evolve any faster than we evolve our language because you cannot go to places that you cannot describe.”
~Terence McKenna

This post is a placeholder, as I work through some thoughts. Maybe the most central link between much of it is Terence Mckenna’s stoned ape theory. That is about the evolution of consciousness as it relates to psychedelics and language. Related to McKenna’s view, there have been many observations of non-human animals imbibing a wide variety of mind-altering plants, often psychedelics. Giorgio Samorini, in Animals and Psychedelics, that this behavior is evolutionarily advantageous in that it induces lateral thinking.

Also, as McKenna points out, many psychedelics intensify the senses, a useful effect hunting. Humans won’t only take drugs themelves for this purpose but also give them to their animals: “A classic case is indigenous people giving psychedelics to hunting dogs to enhance their abilities. A study published in the Journal of Ethnobiology, reports that at least 43 species of psychedelic plants have been used across the globe for boosting dog hunting practices. The Shuar, an indigenous people from Ecuador, include 19 different psychedelic plants in their repertoire for this purpose—including ayahuasca and four different types of brugmansia” (Alex K. Gearin, High Kingdom). So, there are many practical reasons for using psychoactive drugs. Language might have been an unintended side effect.

There is another way to get to McKenna’s conclusion. David Lewis Williams asserts that cave paintings are shamanic. He discusses the entoptic imagery that is common in trance, whether from psychedelics or by other means. This interpretation isn’t specifically about language, but that is where another theory can help us. Genevieve von Petzinger takes a different tack by speculating that the geometric signs on cave walls were a set of symbols, possibly a system of graphic communication and so maybe the origin of writing.

In exploring the sites for herself, she ascertained there were 32 signs found over a 30,000 period in Europe. Some of the same signs were found outside of Europe as well. It’s the consistency and repetition that caught her attention. They weren’t random or idiosyncratic aesthetic flourishes. If we combine that with Williams’ theory, we might have the development of proto-concepts, still attached to the concrete world but in the process of developing into something else. It would indicate that something fundamental about the human mind itself was changing.

I have my own related theory about the competing influence of psychedelics and addictive substances, the influence being not only on the mind but on society and so related to the emergence of civilization. I’m playing around with the observation that it might tell us much about civilization that, over time, addiction became more prevalent than psychedelics. I see the shift in this preference having become apparent sometime following the neolithic era, although becoming most noticeable in the Axial Age. Of course, language already existed at that point. Though maybe, as Julian Jaynes and others have argued, the use of language changed. I’ll speculate about all of that at a later time.

In the articles and passages and links below, there are numerous overlapping ideas and topics. Here are some of what stood out to me or else some of the thoughts on my mind while reading:

  • Synaesthesia, gesture, ritual, dance, sound, melody, music, poeisis, repetition (mimesis, meter, rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration, etc) vs repetition-compulsion;
  • formulaic vs grammatical language, poetry vs prose, concrete vs abstract, metaphor, and metonymy;
  • Aural and oral, listening and speaking, preliterate, epic storytelling, eloquence, verbosity, fluency, and graphomania;
  • enthralled, entangled, enactivated, embodied, extended, hypnosis, voices, voice-hearing, bundle theory of self, ego theory of self, authorization, and Logos;
  • Et cetera.

* * *

Animals on Psychedelics: Survival of the Trippiest
by Steven Kotler

According to Italian ethnobotanist Giorgio Samorini, in his 2001 Animals and Psychedelics, the risk is worth it because intoxication promotes what psychologist Edward de Bono once called lateral thinking-problem-solving through indirect and creative approaches. Lateral thinking is thinking outside the box, without which a species would be unable to come up with new solutions to old problems, without which a species would be unable to survive. De Bono thinks intoxication an important “liberating device,” freeing us from “rigidity of established ideas, schemes, divisions, categories and classifications.” Both Siegel and Samorini think animals use intoxicants for this reason, and they do so knowingly.

Don’t Be A Sea Squirt.
by Tom Morgan

It’s a feature of complex adaptive systems that a stable system is a precursor to a dead system. Something that runs the same routine day-after-day is typically a dying system. There’s evidence that people with depression are stuck in neurological loops that they can’t get out of. We all know what it’s like to be trapped in the same negative thought patterns. Life needs perpetual novelty to succeed. This is one of the reasons researchers think that psychedelics have proven effective at alleviating depression; they break our brains out of the same familiar neural pathways.

This isn’t a uniquely human trait, animals also engage in deliberate intoxication. In his book Animals and Psychedelics, Italian ethnobotanist Giorgio Samorini wrote ‘drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior, on the part of both humans and animals, enjoys an intimate connection with…..depatterning.’And thus dolphins get high on blowfish, elephants seek out alcohol and goats eat the beans of the mescal plant. They’re not just having fun, they’re expanding the possible range of their behaviours and breaking stale patterns. You’re not just getting wasted, you’re furthering the prospects of the species!*

Synesthesias, Synesthetic Imagination, and Metaphor in the Context of Individual Cognitive Development and Societal Collective Consciousness
by Hunt Harry

The continuum of synesthesias is considered in the context of evolution, childhood development, adult creativity, and related states of imaginative absorption, as well as the anthropology and sociology of “collective consciousness”. In Part I synesthesias are considered as part of the mid-childhood development of metacognition, based on a Vygotskian model of the internalization of an earlier animism and physiognomic perception, and as the precursor for an adult capacity for imaginative absorption central to creativity, metaphor, and the synesthetically based “higher states of consciousness” in spontaneous mystical experience, meditation, and psychedelic states. Supporting research is presented on childhood precocities of a fundamental synesthetic imagination that expands the current neuroscience of classical synesthetes into a broader, more spontaneous, and open-ended continuum of introspective cross modal processes that constitute the human self referential consciousness of “felt meaning”. In Part II Levi-Strauss’ analysis of the cross modal and synesthetic lattices underlying the mythologies of native peoples and their traditional animation thereby of surrounding nature as a self reflective metaphoric mirror, is illustrated by its partial survival and simplification in the Chinese I-Ching. Jung’s psychological analysis of the I-Ching, as a device for metaphorically based creative insight and as a prototype for the felt “synchronicities” underlying paranormal experience, is further extended into a model for a synesthetically and metaphorically based “collective consciousness”. This metaphorically rooted and coordinated social field is explicit in mythologically centered, shamanic peoples but rendered largely unconscious in modern societies that fail to further educate and train the first spontaneous synesthetic imaginings of mid-childhood.

Psychedelics and the Full-Fluency Phenomenon
by T.H.

Like me, the full-fluency phenomenon has been experienced by many other people who stutter while using psilocybin and MDMA, and unlike me, while using LSD as well. […]

There’s also potential for immediate recovery from stuttering following a single high dose experience. One well told account of this comes from Paul Stamets, the renowned mycologist, whose stuttering stopped altogether following his first psilocybin mushroom experience. To sustain such a high increase in fluency after the effects of the drug wear off is rare, but Paul’s story gives testimony to the possibility for it to occur.

Can Psychedelics Help You Learn New Languages?
by The Third Wave Podcast

Idahosa Ness runs “The Mimic Method,” a website that promises to help you learn foreign languages quickly by immersing you in their sounds and pronunciations. We talk to Idahosa about his experiences with cannabis and other psychedelics, and how they have improved his freestyle rapping, increased his motivation to learn new languages, and helped the growth of his business.

Marijuana and Divergent Thinking
by Jonah Lehrer

A new paper published in Psychiatry Research sheds some light on this phenomenon, or why smoking weed seems to unleash a stream of loose associations. The study looked at a phenomenon called semantic priming, in which the activation of one word allows us to react more quickly to related words. For instance, the word “dog” might lead to decreased reaction times for “wolf,” “pet” and “Lassie,” but won’t alter how quickly we react to “chair”.

Interestingly, marijuana seems to induce a state of hyper-priming, in which the reach of semantic priming extends outwards to distantly related concepts. As a result, we hear “dog” and think of nouns that, in more sober circumstances, would seem to have nothing in common. […]

Last speculative point: marijuana also enhances brain activity (at least as measured indirectly by cerebral blood flow) in the right hemisphere. The drug, in other words, doesn’t just suppress our focus or obliterate our ability to pay attention. Instead, it seems to change the very nature of what we pay attention to, flattening out our hierarchy of associations.

How the Brain Processes Language on Acid Is a Trip
by Madison Margolin

“Results showed that while LSD does not affect reaction times, people under LSD made more mistakes that were similar in meaning to the pictures they saw,” said lead author Dr. Neiloufar Family, a post-doc from the University of Kaiserslautern.

For example, participants who were dosed with acid would more often say “bus” or “train” when asked to identify a picture of a car, compared to those who ingested the placebo. These lexical mixups shed some light on how LSD affects semantic networks and the way the brain draws connections between different words or concepts.

“The effects of LSD on language can result in a cascade of associations that allow quicker access to far way concepts stored in the mind,” said Family, discussing the study’s implications for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Moreover, she added, “inducing a hyper-associative state may have implications for the enhancement of creativity.”

New study shows LSD’s effects on language
by Technische Universität Kaiserslautern

This indicates that LSD seems to affect the mind’s semantic networks, or how words and concepts are stored in relation to each other. When LSD makes the network activation stronger, more words from the same family of meanings come to mind.

The results from this experiment can lead to a better understanding of the neurobiological basis of semantic network activation. Neiloufar Family explains further implication: “These findings are relevant for the renewed exploration of psychedelic psychotherapy, which are being developed for depression and other mental illnesses. The effects of LSD on language can result in a cascade of associations that allow quicker access to far away concepts stored in the mind.”

The many potential uses of this class of substances are under scientific debate. “Inducing a hyper-associative state may have implications for the enhancement of creativity,” Family adds. The increase in activation of semantic networks can lead distant or even subconscious thoughts and concepts to come to the surface.

A new harmonic language decodes the effects of LSD
by Oxford Neuroscience

Dr Selen Atasoy, the lead author of the study says: “The connectome harmonics we used to decode brain activity are universal harmonic waves, such as sound waves emerging within a musical instrument, but adapted to the anatomy of the brain. Translating fMRI data into this harmonic language is actually not different than decomposing a complex musical piece into its musical notes”. “What LSD does to your brain seems to be similar to jazz improvisation” says Atasoy, “your brain combines many more of these harmonic waves (connectome harmonics) spontaneously yet in a structured way, just like improvising jazz musicians play many more musical notes in a spontaneous, non-random fashion”.

“The presented method introduces a new paradigm to study brain function, one that links space and time in brain activity via the universal principle of harmonic waves. It also shows that this spatio-temporal relation in brain dynamics resides at the transition between order and chaos.” says Prof Gustavo Deco.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris adds: “Our findings reveal the first experimental evidence that LSD tunes brain dynamics closer to criticality, a state that is maximally diverse and flexible while retaining properties of order. This may explain the unusual richness of consciousness experienced under psychedelic drugs and the notion that they ‘expand consciousness’.”

Did Psilocybin Mushrooms Lead to Human Language?
by Chris Rhine

Numerous archaeological finds discovered depictions of psilocybin mushrooms in various places and times around the world. One such occasion found hallucinogenic mushrooms from works produced 7,000 to 9,000 years ago in the Sahara Desert, as stated in Giorgio Samorini’s article, “The Oldest Representations of Hallucinogenic Mushrooms in the World.” Samorini concluded, “This Saharan testimony would demonstrate that the use of hallucinogens originates in the Paleolithic period and is invariably included within mystico-religious contexts and rituals.”

Some of early man’s first drawings include the ritualization of a plant as a sign—possibly a tribute to the substance that helped in the written sign’s development.

Are Psychedelic Hallucinations Actually Metaphorical Perceptions?
by Michael Fortier

The brain is constantly attempting to predict what is going on in the world. Because it happens in a dark environment with reduced sensory stimulation, the ayahuasca ritual dampens bottom-up signaling (sensory information becomes scarcer). If you are facing a tree in daylight and your brain wrongly guesses that there is an electric pole in front you, bottom-up prediction errors will quickly correct the wrong prediction—i.e., the lookout will quickly and successfully warn the helmsman. But if the same happens in the dark, bottom-up prediction errors will be sparser and vaguer, and possibly not sufficient enough to correct errors—as it were, the lookout’s warning will be too faint to reach the helmsman. As ayahuasca introduces noise in the brain processes,6 and because bottom-up corrections cannot be as effective as usual, hallucinations appear more easily. So, on the one hand, the relative sensory deprivation of the environment in which the ayahuasca ritual takes place, and the absence of bodily motion, both favor the occurrence of hallucinations.

Furthermore, the ayahuasca ritual does include some sensory richness. The songs, the perfume, and the tobacco stimulate the brain in multiple ways. Psychedelic hallucinogens are known to induce synesthesia7 and to increase communication between areas and networks of the brain that do not usually communicate with each other.8 It is hence no surprise that the shamans’ songs are able to shape people’s visions. If one sensory modality is noisier or fainter than others, its role in perception will be downplayed.9 This is what happens with ayahuasca: Given that not much information can be gathered by the visual modality, most of the prediction errors that contribute to the shaping of conscious perception are those coming from the auditory and olfactory modalities. The combination of synesthetic processing with the increased weight attributed to non-visual senses enables shamans to “drive” people’s visions.

The same mechanisms explain the shamans’ recommendation that perfume should be sprayed or tobacco blown when one is faced with a bad spirit. Conscious perception—e.g., vision of a spirit—is the result of a complex tradeoff between top-down predictions and bottom-up prediction errors. If you spray a huge amount of perfume or blow wreaths of smoke around you, your brain will receive new and reliable information from the olfactory modality. Under psychedelics, sensory modalities easily influence one another; as a result, a sudden olfactory change amounts to sending prediction errors to upper regions of the brain. Conscious perception is updated accordingly: as predicted by the shamans’ recommendation, the olfactory change dissolves the vision of bad spirits.

In its classical sense, hallucination refers to sensory content that is not caused by objects of the world. The above description of the ayahuasca ritual demonstrates that psychedelic visions are not, in the classical sense of the term, hallucinations. Indeed, the content of the visions is tightly tied to the environment: A change of melody in a song or an olfactory change can completely transform the content of the visions. Ayahuasca visions are not caused by hypothetical supernatural entities living in a parallel world, nor are they constructed independently of the mundane objects of the world. What are they, then? They are metaphorical perceptions.

In everyday life, melodic and olfactory changes cannot affect vision much. However, because ayahuasca experience is profoundly synesthetic and intermodal, ayahuasca visions are characteristically metaphorical: A change in one sensory modality easily affects another modality. Ayahuasca visions are not hallucinations, since they are caused by real objects and events; for example, a cloud of perfume. It is more accurate to define them as metaphorical perceptions: they are loose intermodal interpretations of things that are really there.

Michael Pollan on the science of how psychedelics can ‘shake your snow globe’
interview with Michael Pollan

We know that, for example, the so-called classic psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, and DMT, mescaline, these activate a certain receptor a serotonin receptor. And so we know that are the key that fits that lock. But beyond that, there’s a cascade of effects that happens.

The observed effect, if you do brain imaging of people who are tripping, you find some very interesting patterns of activity in the brain – specifically something called the default mode network, which is a very kind of important hub in the brain, linking parts of the cerebral cortex to deeper, older areas having to do with memory and emotion. This network is kind of a regulator of all brain activities. One neuroscientist called it, ‘The conductor of the neural symphony,’ and it’s deactivated by psychedelics, which is very interesting because the assumption going in was that they would see lots of strange activity everywhere in the brain because there’s such fireworks in the experience, but in fact, this particular network almost goes off line.

Now what does this network responsible for? Well, in addition to being this transportation hub for signals in the brain, it is involved with self reflection. It’s where we go to ruminate or mind wander – thinking about the past or thinking about the future – therefore worrying takes place here. Our sense of self, if it can be said to have an address and real, resides in this particular brain network. So this is a very interesting clue to how psychedelics affect the brain and how they create the psychological experience, the experience in the mind, that is so transformative.

When it goes off line, parts of the brain that don’t ordinarily communicate to one another, strike up conversation. And those connections may represent what people feel during the psychedelic experience as things like synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is when one sense gets cross wired with another. And so you suddenly smell musical notes or taste things that you see.

It may produce insights. It may produce new metaphors – literally connecting the dots in new ways. Now that I’m being speculative – I’m going a little beyond what we’ve established – we know there are new connections, we don’t know what’s happening with them, or which of them endure. But the fact is, the brain is temporarily rewired. And that rewiring – whether the new connections actually produce the useful material or just shaking up the system – ‘shaking the snow globe,’ as one of the neuroscientists put it, is what’s therapeutic. It is a reboot of the brain.

If you think about, you know, mental illnesses such as depression, addiction, and anxiety, many of them involve these loops of thought that we can’t control and we get stuck on these stories we tell ourselves – that we can’t get through the next hour without a drink, or we’re worthless and unworthy of love. We get stuck in these stories. This temporarily dissolves those stories and gives us a chance to write new stories.

Terence McKenna Collection

The mutation-inducing influence of diet on early humans and the effect of exotic metabolites on the evolution of their neurochemistry and culture is still unstudied territory. The early hominids’ adoption of an omnivorous diet and their discovery of the power of certain plants were decisive factors in moving early humans out of the stream of animal evolution and into the fast-rising tide of language and culture. Our remote ancestors discovered that certain plants, when self-administered, suppress appetite, diminish pain, supply bursts of sudden energy, confer immunity against pathogens, and synergize cognitive activities. These discoveries set us on the long journey to self-reflection. Once we became tool-using omnivores, evolution itself changed from a process of slow modification of our physical form to a rapid definition of cultural forms by the elaboration of rituals, languages, writing, mnemonic skills, and technology.

Food of the Gods
by Terence McKenna
pp. 24-29

Because scientists were unable to explain this tripling of the human brain size in so short a span of evolutionary time, some of the early primate paleontologists and evolutionary theorists predicted and searched for evidence of transitional skeletons. Today the idea of a “missing link” has largely been abandoned. Bipedalism, binocular vision, the opposable thumb, the throwing arm-all have been put forth as the key ingredient in the mix that caused self-reflecting humans to crystallize out of the caldron of competing hominid types and strategies. Yet all we really know is that the shift in brain size was accompanied by remarkable changes in the social organization of the hominids. They became users of tools, fire, and language. They began the process as higher animals and emerged from it 100,000 years ago as conscious, self-aware individuals.

THE REAL MISSING LINK

My contention is that mutation-causing, psychoactive chemical compounds in the early human diet directly influenced the rapid reorganization of the brain’s information-processing capacities. Alkaloids in plants, specifically the hallucinogenic compounds such as psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and harmaline, could be the chemical factors in the protohuman diet that catalyzed the emergence of human self-reflection. The action of hallucinogens present in many common plants enhanced our information processing activity, or environmental sensitivity, and thus contributed to the sudden expansion of the human brain size. At a later stage in this same process, hallucinogens acted as catalysts in the development of imagination, fueling the creation of internal stratagems and hopes that may well have synergized the emergence of language and religion.

In research done in the late 1960s, Roland Fischer gave small amounts of psilocybin to graduate students and then measured their ability to detect the moment when previously parallel lines became skewed. He found that performance ability on this particular task was actually improved after small doses of psilocybin.5

When I discussed these findings with Fischer, he smiled after explaining his conclusions, then summed up, “You see what is conclusively proven here is that under certain circumstances one is actually better informed concerning the real world if one has taken a drug than if one has not.” His facetious remark stuck with me, first as an academic anecdote, later as an effort on his part to communicate something profound. What would be the consequences for evolutionary theory of admitting that some chemical habits confer adaptive advantage and thereby become deeply scripted in the behavior and even genome of some individuals?

THREE BIG STEPS FOR THE HUMAN RACE

In trying to answer that question I have constructed a scenario, some may call it fantasy; it is the world as seen from the vantage point of a mind for which the millennia are but seasons, a vision that years of musing on these matters has moved me toward. Let us imagine for a moment that we stand outside the surging gene swarm that is biological history, and that we can see the interwoven consequences of changes in diet and climate, which must certainly have been too slow to be felt by our ancestors. The scenario that unfolds involves the interconnected and mutually reinforcing effects of psilocybin taken at three different levels. Unique in its properties, psilocybin is the only substance, I believe, that could yield this scenario.

At the first, low, level of usage is the effect that Fischer noted: small amounts of psilocybin, consumed with no awareness of its psychoactivity while in the general act of browsing for food, and perhaps later consumed consciously, impart a noticeable increase in visual acuity, especially edge detection. As visual acuity is at a premium among hunter-gatherers, the discovery of the equivalent of “chemical binoculars” could not fail to have an impact on the hunting and gathering success of those individuals who availed themselves of this advantage. Partnership groups containing individuals with improved eyesight will be more successful at feeding their offspring. Because of the increase in available food, the offspring within such groups will have a higher probability of themselves reaching reproductive age. In such a situation, the out breeding (or decline) of non-psilocybin-using groups would be a natural consequence.

Because psilocybin is a stimulant of the central nervous system, when taken in slightly larger doses, it tends to trigger restlessness and sexual arousal. Thus, at this second level of usage, by increasing instances of copulation, the mushrooms directly favored human reproduction. The tendency to regulate and schedule sexual activity within the group, by linking it to a lunar cycle of mushroom availability, may have been important as a first step toward ritual and religion. Certainly at the third and highest level of usage, religious concerns would be at the forefront of the tribe’s consciousness, simply because of the power and strangeness of the experience itself. This third level, then, is the level of the full-blown shamanic ecstasy. The psilocybin intoxication is a rapture whose breadth and depth is the despair of prose. It is wholly Other and no less mysterious to us than it was to our mushroom-munching ancestors. The boundary-dissolving qualities of shamanic ecstasy predispose hallucinogen-using tribal groups to community bonding and to group sexual activities, which promote gene mixing, higher birth rates, and a communal sense of responsibility for the group offspring.

At whatever dose the mushroom was used, it possessed the magical property of conferring adaptive advantages upon its archaic users and their group. Increased visual acuity, sexual arousal, and access to the transcendent Other led to success in obtaining food, sexual prowess and stamina, abundance of offspring, and access to realms of supernatural power. All of these advantages can be easily self-regulated through manipulation of dosage and frequency of ingestion. Chapter 4 will detail psilocybin’s remarkable property of stimulating the language-forming capacity of the brain. Its power is so extraordinary that psilocybin can be considered the catalyst to the human development of language.

STEERING CLEAR OF LAMARCK

An objection to these ideas inevitably arises and should be dealt with. This scenario of human emergence may seem to smack of Lamarckism, which theorizes that characteristics acquired by an organism during its lifetime can be passed on to its progeny. The classic example is the claim that giraffes have long necks because they stretch their necks to reach high branches.

This straightforward and rather common-sense idea is absolutely anathema among
neoDarwinians, who currently hold the high ground in evolutionary theory. Their position is that mutations are entirely random and that only after the mutations are expressed as the traits of organisms does natural selection mindlessly and dispassionately fulfill its function of preserving those individuals upon whom an adaptive advantage had been conferred.

Their objection can be put like this: While the mushrooms may have given us better eyesight, sex, and language when eaten, how did these enhancements get into the human genome and become innately human? Nongenetic enhancements of an organism’s functioning made by outside agents retard the corresponding genetic reservoirs of those facilities by rendering them superfluous. In other words, if a necessary metabolite is common in available food, there will not be pressure to develop a trait for endogenous expression of the metabolite. Mushroom use would thus create individuals with less visual acuity, language facility, and consciousness. Nature would not provide those enhancements through organic evolution because the metabolic investment required to sustain them wouldn’t pay off, relative to the tiny metabolic investment required to eat mushrooms. And yet today we all have these enhancements, without taking mushrooms. So how did the mushroom modifications get into the genome?

The short answer to this objection, one that requires no defense of Lamarck’s ideas, is that the presence of psilocybin in the hominid diet changed the parameters of the process of natural selection by changing the behavioral patterns upon which that selection was operating. Experimentation with many types of foods was causing a general increase in the numbers of random mutations being offered up to the process of natural selection, while the augmentation of visual acuity, language use, and ritual activity through the use of psilocybin represented new behaviors. One of these new behaviors, language use, previously only a marginally important trait, was suddenly very useful in the context of new hunting and gathering lifestyles. Hence psilocybin inclusion in the diet shifted the parameters of human behavior in favor of patterns of activity that promoted increased language; acquisition of language led to more vocabulary and an expanded memory capacity. The psilocybin-using individuals evolved epigenetic rules or cultural forms that enabled them to survive and reproduce better than other individuals. Eventually the more successful epigenetically based styles of behavior spread through the populations along with the genes that reinforce them. In this fashion the population would evolve genetically and culturally.

As for visual acuity, perhaps the widespread need for corrective lenses among modem humans is a legacy of the long period o “artificial” enhancement of vision through psilocybin use. After all, atrophy of the olfactory abilities of human beings is thought by one school to be a result of a need for hungry omnivores to tolerate strong smells and tastes, perhaps even carrion. Trade-offs of this sort are common in evolution. The suppression of keenness of tasty and smell would allow inclusion of foods in the diet that might otherwise be passed over as “too strong.” Or it may indicate some thing more profound about our evolutionary relationship to diet My brother Dennis has written:

The apparent atrophy of the human olfactory system may actually represent a functional shift in a set of primitive, externally directed chemo-receptors to an interiorized regulatory function. This function may be related to the control of the human pheromonal system, which is largely under the control of the pineal gland, and which mediates, on a subliminal level, a host of psycho-sexual and psycho-social interactions between individuals. The pineal tends to suppress gonadal development and the onset of puberty, among other functions, and this mechanism may play a role in the persistence of neonatal characteristics in the human species. Delayed maturation and prolonged childhood and adolescence play a critical role in the neurological and psychological development of the individual, since they provide the circumstances which permit the post-natal development of the brain in the early, formative years of childhood. The symbolic, cognitive and linguistic stimuli that the brain experiences during this period are essential to its development and are the factors that make us the unique, conscious, symbol-manipulating, language-using beings that we are.

Neuroactive amines and alkaloids in the diet of early primates may have played a role in the biochemical activation of the pineal gland and the resulting adaptations.

pp. 46-60

HUMAN COGNITION

All the unique characteristics and preoccupations of human beings can be summed up under the heading of cognitive activities: dance, philosophy, painting, poetry, sport, meditation, erotic fantasy, politics, and ecstatic self-intoxication. We are truly Homo sapiens, the thinking animal; our acts are all a product of the dimension that is uniquely ours, the dimension of cognitive activity. Of thought and emotion, memory and anticipation. Of Psyche.

From observing the ayahuasca-using people of the Upper Amazon, it became very clear to me that shamanism is often intuitively guided group decision making. The shamans decide when the group should move or hunt or make war. Human cognition is an adaptive response that is profoundly flexible in the way it allows us to manage what in other species are genetically programmed behaviors.

We alone live in an environment that is conditioned not only by the biological and physical constraints to which all species are subject but also by symbols and language. Our human environment is conditioned by meaning. And meaning lies in the collective mind of the group.

Symbols and language allow us to act in a dimension that is “supranatural”-outside the ordinary activities of other forms of organic life. We can actualize our cultural assumptions, alter and shape the natural world in the pursuit of ideological ends and according to the internal model of the world that our symbols have empowered us to create. We do this through the elaboration of ever more effective, and hence ever more destructive, artifacts and technologies, which we feel compelled to use.

Symbols allow us to store information outside of the physical brain. This creates for us a relationship to the past very different from that of our animal companions. Finally, we must add to any analysis of the human picture the notion of self-directed modification of activity. We are able to modify our behavior patterns based on a symbolic analysis of past events, in other words, through history. Through our ability to store and recover information as images and written records, we have created a human environment as much conditioned by symbols and languages as by biological and environmental factors.

TRANSFORMATIONS OF MONKEYS

The evolutionary breakouts that led to the appearance of language and, later, writing are examples of fundamental, almost ontological, transformations of the hominid line. Besides providing us with the ability to code data outside the confines of DNA, cognitive activities allow us to transmit information across space and time. At first this amounted merely to the ability to shout a warning or a command, really little more than a modification of the cry of alarm that is a familiar feature of the behavior of social animals. Over the course of human history this impulse to communicate has motivated the elaboration of ever more effective communication techniques. But by our century, this basic ability has turned into the all-pervasive communications media, which literally engulf the space surrounding our planet. The planet swims through a self-generated ocean of messages. Telephone calls, data exchanges, and electronically transmitted entertainment create an invisible world experienced as global informational simultaneity. We think nothing of this; as a culture we take it for granted.

Our unique and feverish love of word and symbol has given us a collective gnosis, a collective understanding of ourselves and our world that has survived throughout history until very recent times. This collective gnosis lies behind the faith of earlier centuries in “universal truths” and common human values. Ideologies can be thought of as meaning-defined environments. They are invisible, yet they surround us and determine for us, though we may never realize it, what we should think about ourselves and reality. Indeed they define for us what we can think.

The rise of globally simultaneous electronic culture has vastly accelerated the rate at which we each can obtain information necessary to our survival. This and the sheer size of the human population as a whole have brought to a halt our physical evolution as a species. The larger a population is, the less impact mutations will have on the evolution of that species. This fact, coupled with the development of shamanism and, later, scientific medicine, has removed us from the theater of natural selection. Meanwhile libraries and electronic data bases have replaced the individual human mind as the basic hardware providing storage for the cultural data base. Symbols and languages have gradually moved us away from the style of social organization that characterized the mute nomadism of our remote ancestors and has replaced that archaic model with the vastly more complicated social organization characteristic of an electronically unified planetary society. As a result of these changes, we ourselves have become largely epigenetic, meaning that much of what we are as human beings is no longer in our genes but in our culture.

THE PREHISTORIC EMERGENCE OF HUMAN IMAGINATION

Our capacity for cognitive and linguistic activity is related to the size and organization of the human brain. Neural structures concerned with conceptualization, visualization, signification, and association are highly developed in our species. Through the act of speaking vividly, we enter into a flirtation with the domain of the imagination. The ability to associate sounds, or the small mouth noises of language, with meaningful internal images is a synesthesic activity. The most recently evolved areas of the human brain, Broca’s area and the neocortex, are devoted to the control of symbol and language processing.

The conclusion universally drawn from these facts is that the highly organized neurolinguistic areas of our brain have made language and culture possible. Where the search for scenarios of human emergence and social organization is concerned, the problem is this: we know that our linguistic abilities must have evolved in response to enormous evolutionary pressures-but we do not know what these pressures were.
Where psychoactive plant use was present, hominid nervous systems over many millennia would have been flooded by hallucinogenic realms of strange and alien beauty. However, evolutionary necessity channels the organism’s awareness into a narrow cul-desac where ordinary reality is perceived through the reducing valve of the senses. Otherwise, we would be rather poorly adapted for the rough-and-tumble of immediate existence. As creatures with animal bodies, we are aware that we are subject to a range of immediate concerns that we can ignore only at great peril. As human beings we are also aware of an interior world, beyond the needs of the animal body, but evolutionary necessity has placed that world far from ordinary consciousness.

PATTERNS AND UNDERSTANDING

Consciousness has been called awareness of awareness’ and is characterized by novel associations and connections among the various data of experience. Consciousness is like a super nonspecific immune response. The key to the working of the immune system is the ability of one chemical to recognize, to have a key-in-lock relationship, with another. Thus both the immune system and consciousness represent systems that learn, recognize, and remember.’

As I write this I think of what Alfred North Whitehead said about understanding, that it is apperception of pattern as such. This is also a perfectly acceptable definition of consciousness. Awareness of pattern conveys the feeling that attends understanding. There presumably can be no limit to how much consciousness a species can acquire, since understanding is not a finite project with an imaginable conclusion, but rather a stance toward immediate experience. This appears self-evident from within a world view that sees consciousness as analogous to a source of light. The more powerful the light, the greater the surface area of darkness revealed. Consciousness is the moment-to-moment integration of the individual’s perception of the world. How well, one could almost say how gracefully, an individual accomplishes this integration determines that individual’s unique adaptive response to existence.

We are masters not only of individual cognitive activity, but, when acting together, of group cognitive activity as well. Cognitive activity within a group usually means the elaboration and manipulation of symbols and language. Although this occurs in many species, within the human species it is especially well developed. Our immense power to manipulate symbols and language gives us our unique position in the natural world. The power of our magic and our science arises out of our commitment to group mental activity, symbol sharing, meme replication (the spreading of ideas), and the telling of tall tales.

The idea, expressed above, that ordinary consciousness is the end product of a process of extensive compression and filtration, and that the psychedelic experience is the antithesis of this construction, was put forward by Aldous Huxley, who contrasted this with the psychedelic experience. In analyzing his experiences with mescaline, Huxley wrote:

I find myself agreeing with the eminent Cambridge philosopher, Dr. C. D. Broad, “that we should do well to consider the suggestion that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive.” The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful. According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large. But in so far as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funnelled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call languages. Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born. That which, in the language of religion, is called “this world” is the universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language. The various “other worlds” with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the awareness belonging to Mind at Large …. Temporary by-passes may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate “spiritual exercises,”. . . or by means of drugs.’

What Huxley did not mention was that drugs, specifically the plant hallucinogens, can reliably and repeatedly open the floodgates of the reducing valve of consciousness and expose the individual to the full force of the howling Tao. The way in which we internalize the impact of this experience of the Unspeakable, whether encountered through psychedelics or other means, is to generalize and extrapolate our world view through acts of imagination. These acts of imagination represent our adaptive response to information concerning the outside world that is conveyed to us by our senses. In our species, culture-specific, situation-specific syntactic software in the form of language can compete with and sometimes replace the instinctual world of hard-wired animal behavior. This means that we can learn and communicate experience and thus put maladaptive behaviors behind us. We can collectively recognize the virtues of peace over war, or of cooperation over struggle. We can change.

As we have seen, human language may have arisen when primate organizational potential was synergized by plant hallucinogens. The psychedelic experience inspired us to true self-reflective thought in the first place and then further inspired us to communicate our thoughts about it.

Others have sensed the importance of hallucinations as catalysts of human psychic organization. Julian Jaynes’s theory, presented in his controversial book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,’ makes the point that major shifts in human self-definition may have occurred even in historical times. He proposes that through Homeric times people did not have the kind of interior psychic organization that we take for granted. Thus, what we call ego was for Homeric people a “god.” When danger threatened suddenly, the god’s voice was heard in the individual’s mind; an intrusive and alien psychic function was expressed as a kind of metaprogram for survival called forth under moments of great stress. This psychic function was perceived by those experiencing it as the direct voice of a god, of the king, or of the king in the afterlife. Merchants and traders moving from one society to another brought the unwelcome news that the gods were saying different things in different places, and so cast early seeds of doubt. At some point people integrated this previously autonomous function, and each person became the god and reinterpreted the inner voice as the “self” or, as it was later called, the “ego.”

Jaynes’s theory has been largely dismissed. Regrettably his book on the impact of hallucinations on culture, though 467 pages in length, manages to avoid discussion of hallucinogenic plants or drugs nearly entirely. By this omission Jaynes deprived himself of a mechanism that could reliably drive the kind of transformative changes he saw taking place in the evolution of human consciousness.

CATALYZING CONSCIOUSNESS

The impact of hallucinogens in the diet has been more than psychological; hallucinogenic plants may have been the catalysts for everything about us that distinguishes us from other higher primates, for all the mental functions that we associate with humanness. Our society more than others will find this theory difficult to accept, because we have made pharmacologically obtained ecstasy a taboo. Like sexuality, altered states of consciousness are taboo because they are consciously or unconsciously sensed to be entwined with the mysteries of our origin-with where we came from and how we got to be the way we are. Such experiences dissolve boundaries and threaten the order of the reigning patriarchy and the domination of society by the unreflecting expression of ego. Yet consider how plant hallucinogens may have catalyzed the use of language, the most unique of human activities.

One has, in a hallucinogenic state, the incontrovertible impression that language possesses an objectified and visible dimension, which is ordinarily hidden from our awareness. Language, under such conditions, is seen, is beheld, just as we would ordinarily see our homes and normal surroundings. In fact our ordinary cultural environment is correctly recognized, during the experience of the altered state, as the bass drone in the ongoing linguistic business of objectifying the imagination. In other words, the collectively designed cultural environment in which we all live is the objectification of our collective linguistic intent.

Our language-forming ability may have become active through the mutagenic influence of hallucinogens working directly on organelles that are concerned with the processing and generation of signals. These neural substructures are found in various portions of the brain, such as Broca’s area, that govern speech formation. In other words, opening the valve that limits consciousness forces utterance, almost as if the word is a concretion of meaning previously felt but left unarticulated. This active impulse to speak, the “going forth of the word,” is sensed and described in the cosmogonies of many peoples.

Psilocybin specifically activates the areas of the brain concerned with processing signals. A common occurrence with psilocybin intoxication is spontaneous outbursts of poetry and other vocal activity such as speaking in tongues, though in a manner distinct from ordinary glossolalia. In cultures with a tradition of mushroom use, these phenomena have given rise to the notion of discourse with spirit doctors and supernatural allies. Researchers familiar with the territory agree that psilocybin has a profoundly catalytic effect on the linguistic impulse.

Once activities involving syntactic self-expression were established habits among early human beings, the continued evolution of language in environments where mushrooms were scarce or unavailable permitted a tendency toward the expression and emergence of the ego. If the ego is not regularly and repeatedly dissolved in the unbounded hyperspace of the Transcendent Other, there will always be slow drift away from the sense of self as part of nature’s larger whole. The ultimate consequence of this drift is the fatal ennui that now permeates Western civilization.

The connection between mushrooms and language was brilliantly anticipated by Henry Munn in his essay “The Mushrooms of Language.” Language is an ecstatic activity of signification. Intoxicated by the mushrooms, the fluency, the ease, the aptness of expression one becomes capable of are such that one is astounded by the words that issue forth from the contact of the intention of articulation with the matter of experience. The spontaneity the mushrooms liberate is not only perceptual, but linguistic. For the shaman, it is as if existence were uttering itself through him.

THE FLESH MADE WORD

The evolutionary advantages of the use of speech are both obvious and subtle. Many unusual factors converged at the birth of human language. Obviously speech facilitates communication and cognitive activity, but it also may have had unanticipated effects on the whole human enterprise.

Some neurophysiologists have hypothesized that the vocal vibration associated with human use of language caused a kind of cleansing of the cerebrospinal fluid. It has been observed that vibrations can precipitate and concentrate small molecules in the spinal fluid, which bathes and continuously purifies the brain. Our ancestors may have, consciously or unconsciously, discovered that vocal sound cleared the chemical cobwebs out of their heads. This practice may have affected the evolution of our present-day thin skull structure and proclivity for language. A self-regulated process as simple as singing might well have positive adaptive advantages if it also made the removal of chemical waste from the brain more efficient. The following excerpt supports this provocative idea:

Vibrations of human skull, as produced by loud vocalization, exert a massaging effect on the brain and facilitate elution of metabolic products from the brain into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) . . . . The Neanderthals had a brain 15% larger than we have, yet they did not survive in competition with modern humans. Their brains were more polluted, because their massive skulls did not vibrate and therefore the brains were not sufficiently cleaned. In the evolution of the modern humans the thinning of cranial bones was important.’

As already discussed, hominids and hallucinogenic plants must have been in close association for a long span of time, especially if we want to suggest that actual physical changes in the human genome resulted from the association. The structure of the soft palate in the human infant and timing of its descent is a recent adaptation that facilitates the acquisition of language. No other primate exhibits this characteristic. This change may have been a result of selective pressure on mutations originally caused by the new omnivorous diet.

WOMEN AND LANGUAGE

Women, the gatherers in the Archaic hunter-gatherer equation, were under much greater pressure to develop language than were their male counterparts. Hunting, the prerogative of the larger male, placed a premium on strength, stealth, and stoic waiting. The hunter was able to function quite well on a very limited number of linguistic signals, as is still the case among hunting peoples such as the !Kung or the Maku.

For gatherers, the situation was different. Those women with the largest repertoire of communicable images of foods and their sources and secrets of preparation were unquestionably placed in a position of advantage. Language may well have arisen as a mysterious power possessed largely by women-women who spent much more of their waking time together-and, usually, talking-than did men, women who in all societies are seen as group-minded, in contrast to the lone male image, which is the romanticized version of the alpha male of the primate troop.

The linguistic accomplishments of women were driven by a need to remember and describe to each other a variety of locations and landmarks as well as numerous taxonomic and structural details about plants to be sought or avoided. The complex morphology of the natural world propelled the evolution of language toward modeling of the world beheld. To this day a taxonomic description of a plant is a Joycean thrill to read: “Shrub 2 to 6 feet in height, glabrous throughout. Leaves mostly opposite, some in threes or uppermost alternate, sessile, linear-lanceolate or lanceolate, acute or acuminate. Flowers solitary in axils, yellow, with aroma, pedicellate. Calyx campanulate, petals soon caducous, obovate” and so on for many lines.

The linguistic depth women attained as gatherers eventually led to a momentous discovery: the discovery of agriculture. I call it momentous because of its consequences. Women realized that they could simply grow a restricted number of plants. As a result, they learned the needs of only those few plants, embraced a sedentary lifestyle, and began to forget the rest of nature they had once known so well.

At that point the retreat from the natural world began, and the dualism of humanity versus nature was born. As we will soon see, one of the places where the old goddess culture died, fatal Huyuk, in present-day Anatolian Turkey, is the very place where agriculture may have first arisen. At places like fatal Huyuk and Jericho, humans and their domesticated plants and animals became for the first time physically and psychologically separate from the life of untamed nature and the howling unknown. Use of hallucinogens can only be sanctioned in hunting and gathering societies. When agriculturists use these plants, they are unable to get up at dawn the morning after and go hoe the fields. At that point, corn and grain become gods-gods that symbolize domesticity and hard labor. These replace the old goddesses of plant-induced ecstasy.

Agriculture brings with it the potential for overproduction, which leads to excess wealth, hoarding, and trade. Trade leads to cities; cities isolate their inhabitants from the natural world. Paradoxically, more efficient utilization of plant resources through agriculture led to a breaking away from the symbiotic relationship that had bound human beings to nature. I do not mean this metaphorically. The ennui of modernity is the consequence of a disrupted quasisymbiotic relationship between ourselves and Galan nature. Only a restoration of this relationship in some form is capable of carrying us into a full appreciation of our birthright and sense of ourselves as complete human beings.

HABIT AS CULTURE AND RELIGION

At regular intervals that were probably lunar, the ordinary activities of the small nomadic group of herders were put aside. Rains usually followed the new moon in the tropics, making mushrooms plentiful. Gatherings took place at night; night is the time of magical projection and hallucinations, and visions are more easily obtained in darkness. The whole clan was present from oldest to youngest. Elders, especially shamans, usually women but often men, doled out each person’s dose. Each clan member stood before the group and reflectively chewed and swallowed the body of the Goddess before returning to his or her place in the circle. Bone flutes and drums wove within the chanting. Line dances with heavy foot stamping channeled the energy of the first wave of visions. Suddenly the elders signal silence.

In the motionless darkness each mind follows its own trail of sparks into the bush while some people keen softly. They feel fear, and they triumph over fear through the strength of the group. They feel relief mingled with wonder at the beauty of the visionary expanse; some spontaneously reach out to those nearby in simple affection and an impulse for closeness or in erotic desire. An individual feels no distance between himself or herself and the rest of the clan or between the clan and the world. Identity is dissolved in the higher wordless truth of ecstasy. In that world, all divisions are overcome. There is only the One Great Life; it sees itself at play, and it is glad.

The impact of plants on the evolution of culture and consciousness has not been widely explored, though a conservative form of this notion appears in R. Gordon Wasson’s The Road to Eleusis. Wasson does not comment on the emergence of self-reflection in hominids, but does suggest hallucinogenic mushrooms as the causal agent in the appearance of spiritually aware human beings and the genesis of religion. Wasson feels that omnivorous foraging humans would have sooner or later encountered hallucinogenic mushrooms or other psychoactive plants in their environment:

As man emerged from his brutish past, thousands of years ago, there was a stage in the evolution of his awareness when the discovery of the mushroom (or was it a higher plant?) with miraculous properties was a revelation to him, a veritable detonator to his soul, arousing in him sentiments of awe and reverence, and gentleness and love, to the highest pitch of which mankind is capable, all those sentiments and virtues that mankind has ever since regarded as the highest attribute of his kind. It made him see what this perishing mortal eye cannot see. How right the Greeks were to hedge about this Mystery, this imbibing of the potion with secrecy and surveillance! . . . Perhaps with all our modem knowledge we do not need the divine mushroom anymore. Or do we need them more than ever? Some are shocked that the key even to religion might be reduced to a mere chug. On the other hand, the chug is as mysterious as it ever was: “like the wind that comes we know not whence nor why.” Out of a mere chug comes the ineffable, comes ecstasy. It is not the only instance in the history of humankind where the lowly has given birth to the divine.’

Scattered across the African grasslands, the mushrooms would be especially noticeable to hungry eyes because of their inviting smell and unusual form and color. Once having experienced the state of consciousness induced by the mushrooms, foraging humans would return to them repeatedly, in order to reexperience their bewitching novelty. This process would create what C. H. Waddington called a “creode, “z a pathway of developmental activity, what we call a habit.

ECSTASY

We have already mentioned the importance of ecstasy for shamanism. Among early humans a preference for the intoxication experience was ensured simply because the experience was ecstatic. “Ecstatic” is a word central to my argument and preeminently worthy of further attention. It is a notion that is forced on us whenever we wish to indicate an experience or a state of mind that is cosmic in scale. An ecstatic experience transcends duality; it is simultaneously terrifying, hilarious, awe-inspiring, familiar, and bizarre. It is an experience that one wishes to have over and over again.

For a minded and language-using species like ourselves, the experience of ecstasy is not perceived as simple pleasure but, rather, is incredibly intense and complex. It is tied up with the very nature of ourselves and our reality, our languages, and our imagings of ourselves. It is fitting, then, that it is enshrined at the center of shamanic approaches to existence. As Mircea Eliade pointed out, shamanism and ecstasy are atroot one concern:

This shamanic complex is very old; it is found, in whole or in part, among the Australians, the archaic peoples of North and South America, in the polar regions, etc. The essential and defining element of shamanism is ecstasy the shaman is a specialist in the sacred, able to abandon his body and undertake cosmic journeys “in the spirit” (in trance). “Possession” by spirits, although documented in a great many shamanisms, does not seem to have been a primary and essential element. Rather, it suggests a phenomenon of degeneration; for the supreme goal of the shaman is to abandon his body and rise to heaven or descend into hell-not to let himself be “possessed” by his assisting spirits, by demons or the souls of the dead; the shaman’s ideal is to master these spirits, not to let himself be “occupied” by them.’

Gordon Wasson added these observations on ecstasy:

In his trance the shaman goes on a far joumey-the place of the departed ancestors, or the nether world, or there where the gods dwell-and this wonderland is, I submit, precisely where the hallucinogens take us. They are a gateway to ecstasy. Ecstasy in itself is neither pleasant nor unpleasant. The bliss or panic into which it plunges you is incidental to ecstasy. When you are in a state of ecstasy, your very soul seems scooped out from your body and away it goes. Who controls its flight: Is it you, or your “subconscious,” or a “higher power”? Perhaps it is pitch dark, yet you see and hear more clearly than you have ever seen or heard before. You are at last face to face with Ultimate Truth: this is the overwhelming impression (or illusion) that grips you. You may visit Hell, or the Elysian fields of Asphodel, or the Gobi desert, or Arctic wastes. You know awe, you know bliss, and fear, even terror. Everyone experiences ecstasy in his own way, and never twice in the same way. Ecstasy is the very essence of shamanism. The neophyte from the great world associates the mushrooms primarily with visions, but for those who know the Indian language of the shaman the mushrooms “speak” through the shaman. The mushroom is the Word: es habla, as Aurelio told me. The mushroom bestows on the curandero what the Greeks called Logos, the Aryan Vac, Vedic Kavya, “poetic potency,” as Louis Renous put it. The divine afflatus of poetry is the gift of the entheogen. The textual exegete skilled only in dissecting the cruces of the verses lying before him is of course indispensable and his shrewd observations should have our full attention, but unless gifted with Kavya, he does well to be cautious in discussing the higher reaches of Poetry. He dissects the verses but knows not ecstasy, which is the soul of the verses.’

The Magic Language of the Fourth Way
by Pierre Bonnasse
pp. 228-234

Speech, just like sacred medicine, forms the basis of the shamanic path in that it permits us not only to see but also to do. Ethnobotany, the science that studies man as a function of his relationship to the plants around him, offers us new paths of reflection, explaining our relationship to language from a new angle that reconsiders all human evolution in a single movement. It now appears clear that the greatest power of the shaman, that master of ecstasy, resides in his mastery of the magic word stimulated by the ingestion of modifiers of consciousness.

For the shaman, language produces reality, our world being made of language. Terence McKenna, in his revolutionary endeavor to rethink human evolution, shows how plants have been able to influence the development of humans and animals. 41 He explains why farming and the domestication of animals as livestock were a great step forward in our cultural evolution: It was at this moment, according to him, that we were able to come into contact with the Psilocybe mushroom, which grows on and around dung. He supports the idea that “mutation-causing, psychoactive chemical compounds in the early human diet directly influenced the rapid reorganization of the brain’s information-processing capacities.” 42 Further, because “thinking about human evolution ultimately means thinking about the evolution of human consciousness,” he supports the thesis that psychedelic plants “may well have synergized the emergence of language and religion.” 43

Studies undertaken by Fischer have shown that weak doses of psilocybin can improve certain types of mental performance while making the investigator more aware of the real world. McKenna distinguishes three degrees of effects of psilocybin: improvement of visual acuity, increase of sexual excitation, and, at higher doses, “certainly . . . religious concerns would be at the forefront of the tribe’s consciousness, simply because of the power and strangeness of the experience itself.” 44 Because “the psilocybin intoxication is a rapture whose breadth and depth is the despair of prose,” it is entirely clear to McKenna that shamanic ecstasy, characterized by its “boundary-dissolving qualities,” played a crucial role in the evolution of human consciousness, which, according to him, can be attributed to “psilocybin’s remarkable property of stimulating the language-forming capacity of the brain.” Indeed, “[i]ts power is so extraordinary that psilocybin can be considered the catalyst to the human development of language.” 45 In response to the neo-Darwinist objection, McKenna states that “the presence of psilocybin in the hominid diet changed the parameters of the process of natural selection by changing the behavioral patterns upon which that selection was operating,” and that “the augmentation of visual acuity, language use, and ritual activity through the use of psilocybin represented new behaviors.” 46

Be that as it may, it is undeniable that the unlimiters of consciousness, as Charles Duits calls them, have a real impact upon linguistic activity in that they strongly stimulate the emergence of speech. If, according to McKenna’s theories, “psilocybin inclusion in the diet shifted the parameters of human behavior in favor of patterns of activity that promoted increased language,” resulting in “more vocabulary and an expanded memory capacity,” 47 then it seems obvious that the birth of poetry, literature, and all the arts came about ultimately through the fantastic encounter between humans and the magic mushroom—a primordial plant, the “umbilical cord linking us to the feminine spirit of the planet,” and thence, inevitably, to poetry. Rich in behavioral and evolutionary consequences, the mushroom, in its dynamic relationship to the human being, propelled us toward higher cultural levels developing parallel to self-reflection. 48

This in no way means that this level of consciousness is inherent in all people, but it must be observed that the experience in itself leads to a gaining of consciousness which, in order to be preserved and maintained, requires rigorous and well-directed work on ourselves. This being said, the experience allows us to observe this action in ourselves in order to endeavor to understand its subtle mechanisms. Terence McKenna writes,

Of course, imagining these higher states of self-reflection is not easy. For when we seek to do this we are acting as if we expect language to somehow encompass that which is, at present, beyond language, or translinguistic. Psilocybin, the hallucinogen unique to mushrooms, is an effective tool in this situation. Psilocybin’s main synergistic effect seems ultimately to be in the domain of language. It excites vocalization; it empowers articulation; it transmutes language into something that is visibly beheld. It could have had an impact on the sudden emergence of consciousness and language use in early humans. We literally may have eaten our way to higher consciousness. 49

If we espouse this hypothesis, then speaking means evoking and repeating the primordial act of eating the sacred medicine. Ethnobotanists insist upon the role of the human brain in the accomplishment of this process, pinpointing precisely the relevant area of activity, which, in Gurdjieffian terms, is located in the center of gravity of the intellectual center: “Our capacity for cognitive and linguistic activity is related to the size and organization of the human brain. . . . The most recently evolved areas of the human brain, Broca’s area and the neocortex, are devoted to the control of symbol and language processing.” 50 It thus appears that these are the areas of the brain that have allowed for the emergence of language and culture. Yet McKenna adds, “our linguistic abilities must have evolved in response to enormous evolutionary pressures,” though we do not know the nature of these pressures. According to him, it is this “immense power to manipulate symbols and language” that “gives us our unique position in the natural world.” 51 This is obvious, in that speech and consciousness, inextricably linked, are solely the property of humans. Thus it seems logical that the plants known as psychoactive must have been the catalysts “for everything about us that distinguishes us from other higher primates, for all the mental functions that we associate with humanness,” 52 with the primary position being held by language, “the most unique of human activities,” and the catalyst for poetic and literary activity.

Under the influence of an unlimiter, we have the incontrovertible impression that language possesses an objectified and visible dimension that is ordinarily hidden from our awareness. Under such conditions, language is seen and beheld just as we would ordinarily see our homes and normal surroundings. In fact, during the experience of the altered state, our ordinary cultural environment is recognized correctly as the bass drone in the ongoing linguistic business of objectifying the imagination. In other words, the collectively designed cultural environment in which we all live is the objectification of our collective linguistic intent.

Our language-forming ability may have become active through the mutagenic influence of hallucinogens working directly on organelles that are concerned with the processing and generation of signals. These neural substructures are found in various portions of the brain, such as Broca’s area, that govern speech formation. In other words, opening the valve that limits consciousness forces utterance, almost as if the word is a concretion of meaning previously felt but left unarticulated. This active impulse to speak, the “going forth of the word,” is sensed and described in the cosmogonies of many peoples.

Psilocybin specifically activates the areas of the brain concerned with processing signals. A common occurrence with psilocybin intoxication is spontaneous outbursts of poetry and other vocal activity such as speaking in tongues, though in a manner distinct from ordinary glossolalia. In cultures with a tradition of mushroom use, these phenomenons have given rise to the notion of discourse with spirit doctors and supernatural allies. Researchers familiar with the territory agree that psilocybin has a profoundly catalytic effect on the linguistic impulse. 53

Here we are touching upon the higher powers of speech—spontaneous creations, outbursts of poetry and suprahuman communications—which are part of the knowledge of the shamans and “sorcerers” who, through years of rigorous education, have become highly perceptive of these phenomena, which elude the subjective consciousness. In his essay “The Mushrooms of Language,” Henry Munn points to the direct links existing between the states of ecstasy and language: “Language is an ecstatic activity of signification. Intoxicated by the mushrooms, the fluency, the ease, the aptness of expression one becomes capable of are such that one is astounded by the words that issue forth from the contact of the intention of articulation with the matter of experience. . . . The spontaneity they liberate is not only perceptual, but linguistic . . . For the shaman, it is as if existence were uttering itself through him.” 54

In the 1920s, the Polish writer S. I. Witkiewicz, who attributed crucial importance to verbal creation, showed how peyote (he was one of the first people in Europe to experiment with it, or, at least, one of the first to give an account of doing so) acts upon the actual creation of words and also intervenes in the structure of sentences themselves: “. . . [I]t must also be remarked that peyote, perhaps by reason of the desire one has to capture with words that which cannot be captured, creates conceptual neologisms that belong to it alone and twists sentences in order to adapt their constructions to the frightening dimensions of its bizarrification . . .” 55 Peyote also gives those who ingest it a desire to create “new combinations of meanings.” Witkiewicz distinguishes three categories of objects in his visions: dead objects, moving objects, and living creatures. Regarding this last category, he distinguishes the “real” living creatures from the “fantastical” living creatures, which “discourage any attempt at description.” This is the moment when peyote intervenes: when those who wish to describe find themselves facing the limits of language. Peyote does not break through these limits; it simply shows that they do not exist, that they are hallucinations of the ordinary consciousness, that they are illusory, a mirage of tradition and the history of language.

The lucidogen—as it is called by Charles Duits, who created other neologisms for describing his experience with the sacred cactus—shows that life is present in everything, including speech, and he proves it. Sometimes, peyote leads us to the signifiers that escape us, always in order better to embrace the signified. Witkiewicz, pushing the phenomenon to the extreme limits of the senses and the sensible, insists:

I must draw attention to the fact that under the influence of peyote, one wants to make up neologisms. One of my friends, the most normal man in the world where language is concerned, in a state of trance and powerless to come to grips with the strangeness of these visions which defied all combinations of normal words, described them thus: “Pajtrakaly symforove i kondjioul v trykrentnykh pordeliansach.” I devised many formulas of this type on the night when I went to bed besieged by visions. I remember only this one. There is therefore nothing surprising in the fact that I, who have such inclinations even under normal conditions, should sometimes be driven to create some fancy word in order to attempt to disentangle and sort out the infernal vortex of creatures that unfurled upon me all night long from the depths of the ancient world of peyote. 56

Here, we cannot help but remember René Daumal’s experience, reported in “Le souvenir déterminant”: Under the influence of carbon tetrachloride, he pronounced with difficulty: “approximately: temgouf temgouf drr . . .” Henry Munn makes a similar remark after having taken part in shamanic rituals: “The mushroom session of language creates the words for phenomena without name.” 57 Sacred plants (and some other substances) are neologens, meaning they produce or generate neologisms from the attempts made at description by the subjects who consume them. This new word, this neologism created by circumstance, appears to be suited for this linguistic reality. We now have a word to designate this particular phenomenon pushing us against the limits of language, which in fact are revealed to be illusory.

Beyond this specific case, what is it that prevents us from creating new words whenever it appears necessary? Witkiewicz, speaking of language and life, defends the writer’s right to take liberties with the rules and invent new words. “Although certain professors insist on clinging to their own tripe,” he writes, “language is a living thing, even if it has always been considered a mummy, even if it has been thought impermissible to change anything in it. We can only imagine what literature, poetry, and even this accursed and beloved life would look like otherwise.” 58 Peyote not only incites us to this, but also, more forcefully, exercising a mysterious magnetic attraction toward a sort of supreme meaning beyond language and shaking up conventional signifiers and beings alike, peyote acts directly upon the heart of speech within the body of language. In this sense, it takes part actively and favorably in the creation of the being, the new and infinitely renewed human who, after a death that is more than symbolic, is reborn to new life. It is also very clear, in light of this example, that psilocybin alone does not explain everything, and that all lucidogenic substances work toward this same opening, this same outpouring of speech. McKenna writes:

Languages appear invisible to the people who speak them, yet they create the fabric of reality for their users. The problem of mistaking language for reality in the everyday world is only too well known. Plant use is an example of a complex language of chemical and social interactions. Yet most of us are unaware of the effects of plants on ourselves and our reality, partly because we have forgotten that plants have always mediated the human cultural relationship to the world at large. 59

pp. 238-239

It is interesting to note this dimension of speech specific to shamans, this inspired, active, healing speech. “It is not I who speak,” Heraclitus said, “it is the word.” The receptiveness brought about by an increased level of consciousness allows us not only to understand other voices, but also, above all, to express them in their entire magical substance. “Language is an ecstatic activity of signification. Intoxicated by the mushrooms, the fluency, the ease, the aptness of expression one becomes capable of are such that one is astounded by the words that issue forth from the contact of the intention of articulation with the matter of experience. . . . The spontaneity they liberate is not only perceptual, but linguistic, the spontaneity of speech, of fervent, lucid discourse, of the logos in activity.” 72

The shamanic paroxysm is therefore the mastery of the word, the mastery of the sacred songs very often inspired by the powers that live in plants—which instruct us, making us receptive to phenomena that escape the ordinary consciousness. The shaman becomes a channel through which subtle energies can pass. Because of the mystic intoxication, he becomes the instrument for spirits that express themselves through him. Hence the word tzo —“says”—which punctuates the phrases of the Mazatec shaman in her communication with the “little growing things”: “Says, says, says. It is said. I say. Who says! We say, man says, language says, being and existence say.” 73 “The inspired man,” writes the Mexican poet Octavio Paz in an essay on Breton, “the man who speaks the truth, says nothing that is his own: Through his mouth, it is the language that speaks.” 74

The language thus regains its primordial power, its creative force and Orphic value, which determine all true poetry, for, as Duits writes, poetry—which is born in the visionary experience—is nothing other than “the language of the gods.” There is nothing phantasmagoric, hallucinated, or illusory about this speech. “[W]ords are materializations of consciousness; language is a privileged vehicle of our relation to reality,” writes Munn. Because poetry carries the world, it is the language of power, a tool in the service of knowledge and action. The incantatory repetition of names, for example, an idea we have already touched upon in our discussion of prayer, acts upon the heart of the being. “The shaman has a conception of poesis in its original sense as an action: words themselves are medicine.” 75 The words—used in their sacred dimension —work toward the transmutation of being, the healing of the spirit, our development, but in order for it be effective, the magic word must be born from a direct confrontation with the experience, because experience alone is a safe reserve for truth. Knowledge is not enough; only those who have eaten are in a position to understand, only those who have heard and seen are in a position to say. If speech goes farther than the eye, it is because it has the power of doing. “Though the psychedelic experience produced by the mushrooms is of heightened perceptivity,” Munn writes, “the I say is of privileged importance to the I see .” 76 Psychedelic speech is speech of power, revealing the spirit.

Darwin’s Pharmacy
by Richard M. Doyle
pp. 8-23

Rhetoric is the practice of learning and teaching eloquence, persuasion, and information architecture by revealing the choices of expression or interpretation open to any given rhetor, viewer, listener, or reader. Robert Anton Wilson offers a definition of rhetoric by example when he focuses on the word “reality” in his book Cosmic Trigger:

“Reality” is a word in the English language which happens to be (a) a noun and (b) singular. Thinking in the English language (and in cognate Indo-European languages) therefore subliminally programs us to conceptualize “reality” as one block-like entity, sort of like a huge New York skyscraper, in which every part is just another “room” within the same building. This linguistic program is so pervasive that most people cannot “think” outside it at all, and when one tries to offer a different perspective they imagine one is talking gibberish. (iii) […]

Mitchell’s vision offers perhaps an equally startling irony: it was only by taking on a literally extraterrestrial perspective that the moon walker overcame alienated perception.5 […]

Thus, perception is not an object but rather the label for a nonlinear process involving an object, a percipient and information.” (Mitchell n.d.; emphasis mine) […]

Like the mind apprehending it, information “wants to be free” if only because it is essentially “not an object,” but rather “the label for a nonlinear process involving an object, a percipient and information.”6 It is worth noting that Mitchell’s experience induces a desire to comprehend, an impulse that is not only the desire to tell the story of his ecodelic imbrication but a veritable symptom of it.7 […]

What are psychedelics such that they seem to persuade humans of their interconnection with an ecosystem?

Terence McKenna’s 1992 book recursively answered this query with a title: Food of the Gods. Psychedelics, McKenna argued, were important vectors in the evolution of consciousness and spiritual practice. In his “shaggy primate story,” McKenna argued that psilocybin mushrooms were a “genome-shaping power” integral to the evolution of human consciousness. On this account, human consciousness—the only instance we know of where one part of the ecosystem is capable of reflecting on itself as a self and acting on the result—was “bootstrapped” by its encounter with the astonishing visions of high-dose psilocybin, an encounter with the Transcendental Other McKenna dubbed “a glimpse of the peacock angel.” Hence for McKenna, psychedelics are both a food fit for the gods and a food that, in scrambling the very distinction between food and drug, man and god, engenders less transcendence than immanence—each is recursively implicated, nested, in the other. […]

Evolutionarily speaking the emergence of widespread animal life on earth is not separable from a “mutualistic” economy of plants, pollinators, and seed dispersers.

The basis for the spectacular radiations of animals on earth today is clearly the resources provided by plants. They are the major primary producers, autotrophically energizing planet Earth…the new ecological relationships of flowering plants resulted in colonizing species with population structures conducive to rapid evolutionary change. (Price, 4)

And if mammalian and primate evolution is enmeshed in a systemic way with angiosperms (flowering plants), so too have humans and other primates been constantly constituted by interaction with plants. […]

Navigating our implication with both plants and their precipitates might begin, then, with the startling recognition of plants as an imbricated power, a nontrivial vector in the evolution of Homo sapiens, a power against which we have waged war. “Life is a rhizome,” wrote Carl Jung, our encrypted ecological “shadow” upon which we manifest as Homo sapiens, whose individuation is an interior folding or “involution” that increases, rather than decreases, our entanglement with any given ecosystem. […]

In other words, psychedelics are (a suppressed) part of evolution. As Italian ethnobotanist Giorgio Samorini put it “the drug phenomenon is a natural phenomenon, while the drug problem is a cultural problem“ (87). […]

Indeed, even DMT, an endogenous and very real product of the human brain, has been “scheduled” by the federal government. DMT would be precisely, by most first person accounts, “the most potent hallucinogen on sale in Haight or Ashbury or Telegraph Avenue” and is a very real attribute of our brains as well as plant ecology. We are all “holding” a Schedule One psychedelic—our own brains, wired for ecodelia, are quite literally against the law. […]

The first principle of harm reduction with psychedelics is therefore this: one must pay attention to set and setting, the organisms for whom and context in which the psychedelic experience unfolds.For even as the (rediscovery of psychedelics by twentieth-century technoscience suggested to many that consciousness was finally understandable via a molecular biology of the brain, this apex of reductionism also fostered the recognition that the effects of psychedelics depend on much more than neurochemistry.23 If ecodelics can undoubtedly provoke the onset of an extra-ordinary state of mind, they do so only on the condition of an excessive response-ability, a responsiveness to rhetorical conditions—the sensory and symbolic framework in which they are assayed. Psychologists Ralph Metzner and Timothy Leary made this point most explicitly in their discussion of session “programming,” the sequencing of text, sound, and sensation that seemed to guide, but not determine the content of psychedelic experiences:

It is by now a well-known fact that psychedelic drugs may produce religious, aesthetic, therapeutic or other kinds of experiences depending on the set and setting…. Using programming we try to control the content of a psychedelic experience in specific desired directions. (5; reversed order)

Leary, Metzner, and many others have provided much shared code for such programming, but all of these recipes are bundled with an unavoidable but difficult to remember premise: an extraordinary sensitivity to initial rhetorical conditions characterizes psychedelic “drug action.” […]

Note that the nature of the psychedelic experience is contingent upon its rhetorical framing—what Leary, Metzner, and Richard Alpert characterized in The Psychedelic Experience as “the all-determining character of thought” in psychedelic experience. The force of rhetorical conditions here is immense— for Huxley it is the force linking premise to conclusion:

“No I couldn’t control it. If one began with fear and hate as the major premise, one would have to go on the conclusion.” (Ibid.)

Rhetorical technologies structure and enable fundamentally different kinds of ecodelic experiences. If the psychonaut “began” with different premises, different experiences would ensue.

pp. 33-37

Has this coevolution of rhetorical practices and humans ceased? This book will argue that psychedelic compounds have already been vectors of tech-noscientific change, and that they have been effective precisely because they are deeply implicated in the history of human problem solving. Our brains, against the law with their endogenous production of DMT, regularly go ecodelic and perceive dense interconnectivity. The human experience of radical interconnection with an ecosystem becomes a most useful snapshot of the systemic breakdowns between “autonomous” organisms necessary to sexual reproduction, and, not incidentally, they render heuristic information about the ecosystem as an ecosystem, amplifying human perception of the connections in their environment and allowing those connections to be mimed and investigated. This increased interconnection can be spurred simply by providing a different vision of the environment. Psychologist Roland Fischer noted that some aspects of visual acuity were heightened under the influence of psilocybin, and his more general theory of perception suggests that this acuity emerges out of a shift in sensory-motor ratios.

For Fischer the very distinction between “hallucination” and “perception” resides in the ratio between sensory data and motor control. Hallucination, for Fischer, is that which cannot be verified in three-dimensional Euclidean space. Hence Fischer differentiates hallucination from perception based not on truth or falsehood, but on a capacity to interact: if a subject can interact with a sensation, and at least work toward verifying it in their lived experience, navigating the shift in sensory-motor ratios, then the subject has experienced something on the order of perception. Such perception is easily fooled and is often false, but it appears to be sufficiently connective to our ecosystems to allow for human survival and sufficiently excitable for sexually selected fitness. If a human subject cannot interact with a sensation, Fischer applies the label “hallucination” for the purpose of creating a “cartography of ecstatic states.”

Given the testimony of psychonauts about their sense of interconnection, Fischer’s model suggests that ecodelic experience tunes perception through a shift of sensory-motor ratios toward an apprehension of, and facility for, interconnection: the econaut becomes a continuum between inside and outside. […] speech itself might plausibly emerge as nothing other than a symptom and practice of early hominid use of ecodelics.

pp. 51-52

It may seem that the visions—as opposed to the description of set and setting or even affect and body load—described in the psychonautic tradition elude this pragmatic dynamic of the trip report. Heinrich Klüver, writing in the 1940s and Benny Shannon, writing in the early twenty-first century, both suggest that the forms of psychedelic vision (for mescaline and ayahuasca respectively) are orderly and consistent even while they are indescribable. Visions, then, would seem to be messages without a code (Barthes) whose very consistency suggested content.

Hence this general consensus on the “indescribableness” (Ellis) of psychedelic experience still yields its share of taxonomies as well as the often remarkable textual treatments of the “retinal circus” that has become emblematic of psychedelic experience. The geometric, fractal, and arabesque visuals of trip reports would seem to be little more than pale snapshots of the much sought after “eye candy” of visual psychedelics such as LSD, DMT, 2C-I, and mescaline. Yet as deeply participatory media technologies, psychedelics involve a learning curve capable of “going with” and accepting a diverse array of phantasms that challenge the beholder and her epistemology, ontology, and identity. Viewed with the requisite detachment, such visions can effect transformation in the observing self, as it finds itself nested within an imbricated hierarchy: egoic self observed by ecstatic Atman which apprehends itself as Brahman reverberating and recoiling back onto ego. Many contemporary investigators of DMT, for example, expect and often encounter what Terence McKenna described as the “machine elves,” elfin entities seemingly tinkering with the ontological mechanics of an interdimension, so much so that the absence of such entities is itself now a frequent aspect of trip reportage and skeptics assemble to debunk elfin actuality (Kent 2004).

p. 63

While synesthesia is classically treated as a transfer or confusion of distinct perceptions, as in the tactile and gustatory conjunction of “sharp cheese,” more recent work in neurobiology by V. S. Ramachandran and others suggests that this mixture is fundamental to language itself—the move from the perceptual to the signifying, in this view, is itself essentially synesthetic. Rather than an odd symptom of a sub-population, then, synesthesia becomes fundamental to any act of perception or communication, an attribute of realistic perception rather than a pathological deviation from it.

pp. 100-126

Rhetorical practices are practically unavoidable on the occasion of death, and scholars in the history of rhetoric and linguistics have both opined that it was as a practice of mourning that rhetoric emerged as a recognizable and repeatable practice in the “West.” […] It is perhaps this capacity of some rhetorical practices to induce and manage the breakdown of borders—such as those between male and female, life and death, silence and talk—that deserves the name “eloquence.” Indeed, the Oxford English Dictionary reminds us that it is the very difference between silence and speech that eloquence manages: a. Fr. éloquent, ad. L. loquent-em, pr. pple., f. loqui to speak out.2 […]

And despite Huxley’s concern that such an opening of the doors of (rhetorical) perception would be biologically “useless,” properly Darwinian treatments of such ordeals of signification would place them squarely within the purview of sexual selection—the competition for mates. If psychedelics such as the west African plant Iboga are revered for “breaking open the head,” it may be because we are rather more like stags butting heads than we are ordinarily comfortable putting into language (Pinchbeck 2004, cover). And our discomfort and fascination ensues, because sexual selection is precisely where sexual difference is at stake rather than determined. A gradient, sexuality is, of course, not a binary form but is instead an enmeshed involutionary zone of recombination: human reproduction takes place in a “bardo” or between space that is neither male nor female nor even, especially, human. Indeed, sex probably emerged as a technique for exploring the space of all possible genotypes, breaking the symmetry of an asexual reproduction and introducing the generative “noise” of sexuality with which Aldous Huxley’s flowers resonated. In this context, psychedelics become a way of altering the context of discursive signaling within which human reproduction likely evolved, a sensory rather than “extra-sensory” sharing of information about fitness.

Doctors of the Word

In an ecstatic treatment of Mazatec mushroom intoxication, Henry Munn casts the curandera as veritable Sophists whose inebriation is marked by an incessant speaking:

The shamans who eat them, their function is to speak, they are the speakers who chant and sing the truth, they are the oral poets of their people, the doctors of the word, they who tell what is wrong and how to remedy it, the seers and oracles, the ones possessed by the voice. (Munn, 88)

Given the contingency of psychedelic states on the rhetorical conditions under which they are used, it is perhaps not surprising that the Mazatec, who have used the “little children” of psilocybin for millennia, have figured out how to modulate and even program psilocybin experience with rhetorical practices. But the central role enjoyed by rhetoricians here—those doctors of the word—should not obscure the difficulty of the shaman/ rhetorician’s task: “possessed by the voice,” such curanderas less control psychedelic experience than consistently give themselves over to it. They do not wield ecstasy, but are taught by it. Munn’s mushroom Sophists are athletes of “negative capability,” nineteenth-century poet John Keats’s term for the capacity to endure uncertainty. Hence the programming of ecodelic experience enables not control but a practiced flexibility within ritual, a “jungle gym” for traversing the transhuman interpolation. […]

Fundamental to shamanic rhetoric is the uncertainty clustering around the possibility of being an “I,” an uncertainty that becomes the very medium in which shamanic medicine emerges. While nothing could appear more straightforward than the relationship between the one who speaks and the subject of the sentence “I speak,” Munn writes, sampling Heraclitus, “It is not I who speak…it is the logos.” This sense of being less in dialogue with a voice than a conduit for language itself leads Munn toward the concept of “ecstatic signification.”

Language is an ecstatic activity of signification…. Intoxicated by the mushrooms, the fluency, the ease, the aptness of expression one becomes capable of are such that one is astounded by the words that issue forth from the contact of the intention of articulation with the matter of experience. At times it is as if one were being told what to say, for the words leap to mind, one after another, of themselves without having to be searched for: a phenomenon similar to the automatic dictation of the surrealists except that here the flow of consciousness, rather than being disconnected, tends to be coherent: a rational enunciation of meanings. Message fields of communication with the world, others, and one’s self are disclosed by the mushrooms. (Ibid., 88-89)

If these practices are “ecstatic,” they are so in the strictest of fashions. While recent usage tends to conjoin the “ecstatic” with enjoyment, its etymology suggests an ontological bifurcation—a “being beside oneself” in which the very location, if not existence, of a self is put into disarray and language takes on an unpredictable and lively agency: “words leap to mind, one after another.”3 This displacement suggests that the shaman hardly governs the speech and song she seemingly produces, but is instead astonished by its fluent arrival. Yet this surprise does not give way to panic, and the intoxication increases rather than retards fluency—if anything, Munn’s description suggests that for the Mazatec (and, perhaps, for Munn) psilocybin is a rhetorical adjunct that gives the speaker, singer, listener, eater access to “message fields of communication.” How might we make sense of this remarkable claim? What mechanisms would allow a speaker to deploy intoxication for eloquence?

Classically speaking, rhetoric has treated human discourse as a tripartite affair, a threefold mixture of ethos, an appeal based on character; logos, an appeal based on the word; and pathos, an appeal to or from the body.4 Numerous philosophers and literary critics since Jacques Derrida have decried the Western fascination with the logos, and many scholars have looked to the rich traditions of rhetoric for modalities associated with other offices of persuasion, deliberation, and transformation. But Munn’s account asks us to recall yet another forgotten rhetorical practice—a pharmacopeia of rhetorical adjuncts drawn from plant, fungus, and geological sources. In the context of the Mazatec, the deliberate and highly practiced ingestion of mushrooms serves to give the rhetor access not to individually created statements or acts of persuasion, but to “fields” of communication where rhetorical practice calls less for a “subject position” than it does a capacity to abide multiplicity—the combination and interaction, at the very least, of human and plant.

Writer, philosopher, and pioneering psychonaut Walter Benjamin noted that his experiments with hashish seemed to induce a “speaking out,” a lengthening of his sentences: “One is very much struck by how long one’s sentences are” (20). Longer sentences, of course, are not necessarily more eloquent in any ordinary sense than short ones, since scholars, readers, and listeners find that eloquence inheres in a response to any given rhetorical context. Indeed, Benjamin’s own telegraphic style in his hashish protocols becomes extraordinary, rare, and paradoxical given his own claim for long sentences in a short note. Yet Benjamin’s account does remind us that ecodelics often work on and with the etymological sense of “eloquence,” a “speaking out,” an outburst of language, a provocation to language. Benjamin reported that it was through language that material forms could be momentarily transformed: “The word ‘ginger’ is uttered and suddenly in place of the desk there is a fruit stand” (ibid., 21).

And yet if language and, indeed, the writing table, is the space where hashish begins to resonate for Benjamin, it does so only by making itself available to continual lacunae, openings and closings where, among other things, laughter occurs. For precisely as they are telegraphic, the hashish protocols of Benjamin create a series of non sequiturs: […]

Hashish, then, is an assassin of referentiality, inducing a butterfly effect in thought. In Benjamin, cannabis induces a parataxis wherein sentences less connect to each other through an explicit semantics than resonate together and summon coherence in the bardos between one statement and another. It is the silent murmur between sentences that is consistent while the sentences continually differentiate until, through repetition, an order appears: “You follow the same paths of thought as before. Only, they appear strewn with roses.”

For a comparable practice in classical rhetoric linking “intoxication” with eloquence, we return to Delphi, where the oracles made predictions persuasive even to the always skeptical Socrates, predictions whose oracular ecodelic speech was rendered through the invisible but inebriating “atmosphere” of ethylene gases—a geological rhetoric. Chemist Albert Hofmann, classicist Carl Ruck, ethnobotanist Jonathan Ott, and others have made a compelling case that at Eleusis, where Socrates, well before Bartleby, “preferred not” to go, the Greek Mysteries were delivered in the context of an ecodelic beverage, perhaps one derived from fermented grain or the ergotladen sacrament kykeon, chemically analogous to LSD.5 These Mystery rites occasioned a very specific rhetorical practice—silence—since participants were forbidden from describing the kykeon or its effects. But silence, too, is a rhetorical practice, and one can notice that such a prohibition functions rhetorically not only to repress but also to intensify a desire to “speak out” of the silence that must come before and after Eleusis.

And Mazatec curandera Maria Sabina is explicit that indeed it is not language or even its putative absence, silence, that is an adjunct or “set and setting” for the mushrooms. Rather, the mushrooms themselves are a languaging, eloquence itself, a book that presents itself and speaks out:

At other times, God is not like a man: He is the Book. A Book that is born from the earth, a sacred Book whose birth makes the world shake. It is the Book of God that speaks to me in order for me to speak. It counsels me, it teaches me, it tells me what I have to say to men, to the sick, to life. The Book appears and I learn new words.6

Crucial to this “speaking” is the way in which Maria Sabina puts it. Densely interactive and composed of repetition, the rhetorical encounter with the mushroom is more than informative it is pedagogical and transformative: “The Book appears and I learn new words.” The earth shakes with vitality, manifesting the mushroom orator.7 Like any good teacher, the mushrooms work with rhythms, repetitions that not only reinforce prior knowledge but induce one to take leave of it. “It counsels me, it teaches me.” The repetition of which and through which Maria Sabina speaks communicates more than knowledge, but allows for its gradual arrival, a rhythm of coming into being consonant and perhaps even resonant with the vibrations of the Earth, that scene of continual evolutionary transformation.

More than a supplement or adjunct to the rhetor, the mushroom is a transformer. Mary Barnard maps out a puppetry of flesh that entails becoming a transducer of the mushroom itself: “The mushroom-deity takes possession of the shaman’s body and speaks with the shaman’s lips. The shaman does not say whether the sick child will live or die; the mushroom says” (248).

Nor are reports of psilocybin’s effects as a rhetorical adjunct peculiar to Munn or even the Mazatec tradition. Over a span of ten years, psychologist Roland Fischer and his colleagues at Ohio State University tested the effects of psilocybin on linguistic function. Fischer articulated “the hallucination-perception continuum,” wherein hallucinations would be understood less as failed images of the real than virtual aspects of reality not verifiable in the “Euclidean” space projected by the human sensorium. Fischer, working with the literary critic Colin Martindale, located in the human metabolism of psilocybin (and its consequent rendering into psilocin) linguistic symptoms isomorphic to the epics of world literature. Psilocybin, Fischer and Martindale argued, provoked an increase in the “primary process content” of writing composed under the influence of psilocybin. Repetitious and yet corresponding to the very rhetorical structure of epics, psilocybin can thus be seen to be prima facie adjuncts to an epic eloquence, a “speaking out” that leaves rhetorical patterns consistent with the epic journey (Martindale and Fisher).

And in this journey, it is often language itself that is exhausted—there is a rhythm in the epic structure between the prolix production of primary process content and its interruption. Sage Ramana Maharshi described mouna, a “state which transcends speech and thought,” as the state that emerges only when “silence prevails.” […]

A more recent study conducted of high-dose psilocybin experience among international psychonauts suggested that over 35 percent of subjects heard what they called “the logos” after consuming psilocybin mushrooms.

Based on the responses to the question of the number of times psilocybin was taken, the study examined approximately 3,427 reported psilocybin experiences (n = 118). Of the total questionnaire responses (n = 128), 35.9% (n = 46) of the participants reported having heard a voice(s) with psilocybin use, while 64.0% (n = 82) of the participants stated that they had not. (Beach) […]

Inevitably, this flow fluctuates between silence and discourse. Michaux’s experiments with psychedelics rendered the now recognizable symptoms of graphomania, silence, and rhetorical amplification. In Miserable Miracle, one of the three books Michaux wrote “with mescaline,” Michaux testifies to a strange transformation into a Sophist:

For the first time I understood from within that animal, till now so strange and false, that is called an orator. I seemed to feel how irresistible must be the propensity for eloquence in certain people. Mesc. acted in such a way that it gave me the desire to make proclamations. On what? On anything at all. (81)11

Hence, while their spectrum of effects is wide ranging and extraordinarily sensitive to initial rhetorical conditions, psychedelics are involved in an intense inclination to speak unto silence, to write and sing in a time not limited to the physical duration of the sacramental effect, and this involvement with rhetorical practice—the management of the plume, the voice, and the breath—appears to be essential to the nature of psychedelics; they are compounds whose most persistent symptoms are rhetorical. […]

Crucial to Krippner’s analysis, though, is the efficacy of psychedelics in peeling away these strata of rhetorical practice. By withering some layers of perception, others are amplified:

In one experiment (Jarvik et al. 1955), subjects ingested one hundred micrograms of LSD and demonstrated an increase in their ability to quickly cancel out words on a page of standardized material, but a decreased ability to cancel out individual letters. The drug seemed to facilitate the perceptions of meaningful language units while it interfered with the visual perception of non-meaningful ones. (Krippner, 220)

Krippner notes that the LSD functioned here as a perceptual adjunct, somehow tuning the visual perception toward increased semantic and hence rhetorical efficacy. This intensified visual perception of language no doubt yielded the familiar swelling of font most associated with psychedelic art and pioneered by the psychedelic underground press (such as the San Francisco Oracle.) By amplifying the visual aspect of font—whose medium is the psychedelic message—this psychedelic innovation remixes the alphabet itself, as more information (the visual, often highly sensory swelling of font) is embedded in a given sequence of (otherwise syntactic and semantic) symbols. More information is compressed into font precisely by working with the larger-scale context of any given message rather than its content. This apprehension of larger-scale contexts for any given data may be the very signature of ecodelic experience. Krippner reports that this sensory amplification even reached dimensional thresholds, transforming texts:

Earlier, I had tasted an orange and found it the most intense, delightful taste sensation I had ever experienced. I tried reading a magazine as I was “coming down,” and felt the same sensual delight in moving my eye over the printed page as I had experienced when eating the orange. The words stood out in three dimensions. Reading had never been such a sheer delight and such a complete joy. My comprehension was excellent. I quickly grasped the intent of the author and felt that I knew exactly what meaning he had tried to convey. (221)

Rather than a cognitive modulation, then, psychedelics in Krippner’s analysis seem to affect language function through an intensification of sensory attention on and through language, “a complete joy.” One of Krippner’s reports concerned a student attempting to learn German. The student reported becoming fascinated with the language in a most sensory fashion, noting that it was the “delicacy” of the language that allowed him to, well, “make sense” of it and indulge his desire to “string” together language:

The thing that impressed me at first was the delicacy of the language.…Before long, I was catching on even to the umlauts. Things were speeding up like mad, and there were floods of associations.…Memory, of course, is a matter of association and boy was I ever linking up to things! I had no difficulty recalling words he had given me—in fact, I was eager to string them together. In a couple of hours after that, I was even reading some simple German, and it all made sense. (Ibid.)

Krippner reports that by the end of his LSD session, the student “had fallen in love with German” (222). Krippner rightly notes that this “falling” is anything but purely verbal, and hypothesizes that psychedelics are adjuncts to “non-verbal training”: “The psychedelic session as non-verbal training represents a method by which an individual can attain a higher level of linguistic maturity and sophistication” (225).

What could be the mechanism of such a “non-verbal” training? The motor-control theory of language suggests that language is bootstrapped and developed out of the nonlinguistic rhythms of the ventral premotor system, whose orderly patterns provided the substrate of differential repetition necessary to the arbitrary configuration and reconfiguration of linguistic units. Neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran describes the discovery of “mirror neurons” by Giaccamo Rizzolati. Rizzolati

recorded from the ventral premotor area of the frontal lobes of monkeys and found that certain cells will fire when a monkey performs a single, highly specific action with its hand: pulling, pushing, tugging, grasping, picking up and putting a peanut in the mouth etc. different neurons fire in response to different actions. One might be tempted to think that these are motor “command” neurons, making muscles do certain things; however, the astonishing truth is that any given mirror neuron will also fire when the monkey in question observes another monkey (or even the experimenter) performing the same action, e.g. tasting a peanut! (Ramachandran)

Here the distinction between observing and performing an action are confused, as watching a primate pick up a peanut becomes indistinguishable from picking up the peanut, at least from the perspective of an EEG. Such neurological patterns are not arbitrary, linked as they are to the isomorphic patterns that are the developmentally articulated motor control system of the body. This may explain how psychedelics can, according to Krippner, allow for the perceptual discernment of meaningful units. By releasing the attention from the cognitive self or ego, human subjects can focus their attention on the orderly structures “below” conscious awareness and distributed across their embodiment and environments. Robin Allot has been arguing for the motor theory of language evolution since the 1980s:

In the evolution of language, shapes or objects seen, sounds heard, and actions perceived or performed, generated neural motor programs which, on transfer to the vocal apparatus, produced words structurally correlated with the perceived shapes, objects, sounds and actions. (1989)

These perceived shapes, objects, sounds, and actions, of course, include the sounds, smells, visions, and actions continually transmitted by ecosystems and the human body itself, and by focusing the attention on them, we browse for patterns not yet articulated by our embodiment. Significantly, as neuroscientist Ramachandran points out, this “mirror neuron” effect seems to occur only when other living systems are involved:

When people move their hands a brain wave called the MU wave gets blocked and disappears completely. Eric Altschuller, Jamie Pineda, and I suggested at the Society for Neurosciences in 1998 that this suppression was caused by Rizzolati’s mirror neuron system. Consistent with this theory we found that such a suppression also occurs when a person watches someone else moving his hand but not if he watches a similar movement by an inanimate object.

Hence, in this view, language evolves and develops precisely by nonverbal means in interaction with other living systems, as the repetitions proper to language iterate on the basis of a prior repetition—the coordinated movements necessary to survival that are coupled to neurological patterns and linked to an animate environment. By blocking the “throttling embrace of the self,” ecodelics perhaps enable a resonance between the mind and nature not usually available to the attention. This resonance creates a continuum between words and things even as it appears to enable the differentiation between meaningful and nonmeaningful units: […]

This continuum between the abstract character of language and its motor control system is consistent with Krippner’s observation that “at the sensory level, words are encoded and decoded in highly unusual ways” (238). This differential interaction with the sensory attributes of language includes an interaction with rhythms and puns common to psychedelic experience, a capacity to become aware of a previously unobserved difference and connection. Puns are often denounced as, er, punishing a reader’s sense of taste, but in fact they set up a field of resonance and association between previously distinct terms, a nonverbal connection of words. In a highly compressed fashion, puns transmit novel information in the form of a meshed relation between terms that would otherwise remain, often for cultural or taboo reasons, radically distinct.12 This punning involves a tuning of a word toward another meaning, a “troping” or bending of language toward increased information through nonsemantic means such as rhyming. This induction of eloquence and its sensory perception becomes synesthetic as an oral utterance becomes visual: […]

Hence, if it is fair to characterize some psychedelic experiences as episodes of rhetorical augmentation, it is nonetheless necessary to understand rhetoric as an ecological practice, one which truly works with all available means of persuasion (Aristotle), human or otherwise, to increase the overall dissipation of energy in any given ecology. One “goes for broke,” attempting the hopeless task of articulating psychedelics in language until exhausting language of any possible referential meaning and becoming silent. By locating “new” information only implicit in a given segment of language and not semantically available to awareness, a pun increases the informational output of an ecosystem featuring humans. This seems to feedback, […]

Paired with an apprehension of the logos, this tuning in to ecodelia suggests that in “ego death,” many psychonauts experience a perceived awareness of what Vernadsky called the noösphere, the effects of their own consciousness on their ecosystem, about which they incessantly cry out: “Will we listen in time?”

In the introduction, I noted that the ecodelic adoption of this non-local and hence distributed perspective of the biosphere was associated with the apprehension of the cosmos as an interconnected whole, and with the language of “interpellation” I want to suggest that this sense of interconnection often appears in psychonautic testimony as a “calling out” by our evolutionary context. […]

The philosopher Louis Althusser used the language of “interpellation” to describe the function of ideology and its purchase on an individual subject to it, and he treats interpellation as precisely such a “calling out.” Rather than a vague overall system involving the repression of content or the production of illusion, ideology for Althusser functions through its ability to become an “interior” rhetorical force that is the very stuff of identity, at least any identity subject to being “hailed” by any authority it finds itself response-able to. I turn to that code commons Wikipedia for Althusser’s most memorable treatment of this concept:

Memorably, Althusser illustrates this with the concept of “hailing” or “interpellation.” He uses the example of an individual walking in a street: upon hearing a policeman shout “Hey you there!”, the individual responds by turning round and in this simple movement of his body she is transformed into a subject. The person being hailed recognizes himself as the subject of the hail, and knows to respond.14

This sense of “hailing” and unconscious “turning” is appropriate to the experience of ecodelic interconnection I am calling “the transhuman interpellation.” Shifting back and forth between the nonhuman perspectives of the macro and the micro, one is hailed by the tiniest of details or largest of overarching structures as reminders of the way we are always already linked to the “evolutionary heritage that bonds all living things genetically and behaviorally to the biosphere” (Roszak et al., 14). And when we find, again and again, that such an interpellation by a “teacher” or other plant entity (à la the logos) is associated not only with eloquence but also with healing,15 we perhaps aren’t surprised by a close-up view of the etymology of “healing.” The Oxford English Dictionary traces it from the Teutonic “heilen,” which links it to “helig” or “holy.” And the alluvial flow of etymology connects “hailing” and “healing” in something more than a pun:

A Com. Teut. vb.: OE. hlan = OFris. hêla, OS. hêlian (MDu. hêlen, heilen, Du. heelen, LG. helen), OHG. heilan (Ger. heilen), ON. heil (Sw. hela, Da. hele), Goth. hailjan, deriv. of hail-s, OTeut. *hailo-z, OS. Hál <HALE><WHOLE>16

Hailed by the whole, one can become healed through ecodelic practice precisely because the subject turns back on who they thought they were, becoming aware of the existence of a whole, a system in which everything “really is” connected—the noösphere. Such a vision can be discouraging and even frightening to the phantasmically self-birthed ego, who feels not guilt but a horror of exocentricity. It appears impossible to many of us that anything hierarchically distinct, and larger and more complex than Homo sapiens—such as Gaia—could exist, and so we often cry out as one in the wilderness, in amazement and repetition.

Synesthesia, and Psychedelics, and Civilization! Oh My!
Were cave paintings an early language?

Choral Singing and Self-Identity
Music and Dance on the Mind
Development of Language and Music
Spoken Language: Formulaic, Musical, & Bicameral
“Beyond that, there is only awe.”
“First came the temple, then the city.”
The Spell of Inner Speech
Language and Knowledge, Parable and Gesture

The Power of Language Learning

“I feel that American as against British English, and English of any major dialect as against Russian, and both languages as against the Tarascan language of Mexico constitute different worlds. I note that it is persons with experience of foreign languages and poetry who feel most acutely that a natural language is a different way not only of talking but of thinking and imaging and of emotional life.”
~Paul Friedrich, The Language Parallax, Kindle Locations 356-359

“Marketing professor David Luna has performed tests on people who are not just bilingual but bicultural—those who have internalized two different cultures—which lend support to this model of cultural frames. Working with people immersed equally in both American and Hispanic cultures, he examined their responses to various advertisements and newspaper articles in both languages and compared them to those of bilinguals who were only immersed in one culture. He reports that biculturals, more than monoculturals, would feel “like a different person” when they spoke different languages, and they accessed different mental frames depending on the cultural context, resulting in shifts in their sense of self.”
~Jeremy Lent, The Patterning Instinct, p. 204

Like Daniel Everett, the much earlier Roger Williams went to convert the natives, and in the process he was deconverted, at least to the extent of losing his righteous Puritanism. And as with Everett, he studied the native languages and wrote about them. That could be an example of the power of linguistic relativity, in that studying another language could cause you to enter another cultural worldview.

On a related note, Baruch Spinoza did textual analysis, Thomas Paine did Biblical criticism, Friedrich Nietzsche did philology, etc. It makes one wonder how studying language might help shape the thought and redirect the life trajectory of certain thinkers. Many radicals have a history of studying languages and texts. The same thing is seen with a high number of academics, ministers, and apologists turning into agnostics and atheists through an originally faithful study of the Bible (e.g., Robert M. Price).

There is a trickster quality to language, something observed by many others. To closely study language and the products of language is to risk having one’s mind unsettled and then to risk being scorned by those locked into a single linguistic worldview. What Everett found was that, in trying to translate the Bible for the Piraha, he was destabilizing his place within the religious order and also, in discovering the lack of linguistic recursion, destabilizing his place within the academic order. Both organized religion and organized academia are institutions of power that maintain the proper order. For the same reason of power, governments have often enforced a single language for the entire population, as thought control and social control, as enforced assimilation.

Monolingualism goes hand in hand with monoculturalism. And so simply learning a foreign language can be one of the most radical acts that one can commit. The more foreign the language, the more radical the effect. But sometimes simply scrutinizing one’s own native language can shift one’s mind, a possible connection between writing and a greater potential for independent thought. Then again, knowledge of language can also make one a better rhetorician and propagandist. Language as trickster phenomenon does have two faces.

* * *

The Bilingual Mind
by Aneta Pavlenko
pp. 25-27

Like Humboldt and Sapir before him, Whorf, too, believed in the plasticity of the human mind and its ability to go beyond the categories of the mother tongue. This belief permeates the poignant plea for ‘multilingual awareness’ made by the terminally ill Whorf to the world on the brink of World War II:

I believe that those who envision a world speaking only one tongue, whether English, German, Russian, or any other, hold a misguided ideal and would do the evolution of the human mind the greatest disservice. Western culture has made, through language, a provisional analysis of reality and, without correctives, holds resolutely to that analysis as final. The only correctives lie in all those other tongues which by aeons of independent evolution have arrived at different, but equally logical, provisional analyses. ([ 1941b ] 2012 : 313)

Whorf’s arguments fell on deaf ears, because they were made in a climate significantly less tolerant of linguistic diversity than that of the late imperial Russia and the USSR. In the nineteenth century, large immigrant communities in the US (in particular German speakers) enjoyed access to native-language education, press and theater. The situation began to change during the period often termed the Great Migration (1880–1924), when approximately 24 million new immigrants entered the country (US Bureau of the Census, 1975 ). The overwhelming influx raised concerns about national unity and the capacity of American society to assimilate such a large body of newcomers. In 1917, when the US entered the European conflict declaring war on Germany, the anti-immigrant sentiments found an outlet in a strong movement against ‘the language of the enemy’: German books were removed from libraries and destroyed, German-language theaters and publications closed, and German speakers became subject to intimidation and threats (Luebke , 1980 ; Pavlenko, 2002a ; Wiley , 1998 ).

The advisability of German – and other foreign-language-medium – instruction also came into question, in a truly Humboldtian fashion that linked the learning of foreign languages with adoption of ‘foreign’ worldviews (e.g., Gordy , 1918 ). The National Education Association went as far as to declare “the practice of giving instruction … in a foreign tongue to be un-American and unpatriotic” (Fitz-Gerald , 1918 : 62). And while many prominent intellectuals stood up in defense of foreign languages (e.g., Barnes, 1918 ), bilingual education gave way and so did foreign-language instruction at the elementary level, where children were judged most vulnerable and where 80% of them ended their education. Between 1917 and 1922, Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota issued laws that prohibited foreign-language instruction in grades I through VIII, while Wisconsin and Minnesota restricted it to one hour a day. Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio made the teaching of German illegal at the elementary level, and so did several cities with large German-speaking populations, including Baltimore, New York City, and Philadelphia (Luebke , 1980 ; Pavlenko, 2002a ). The double standard that made bilingualism an upper-class privilege reserved for ‘real’ Americans is seen in the address given by Vassar College professor Marian Whitney at the Modern Language Teachers conference in 1918:

In so far as teaching foreign languages in our elementary schools has been a means of keeping a child of foreign birth in the language and ideals of his family and tradition, I think it a bad thing; but to teach young Americans French, German, or Spanish at an age when their oral and verbal memory is keen and when languages come easily, is a good thing. (Whitney , 1918 : 11–12)

The intolerance reached its apogee in Roosevelt ’s 1919 address to the American Defense Society that equated English monolingualism with loyalty to the US:

We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boardinghouse; and we have room for but one sole loyalty, and that is the loyalty to the American people. (cited in Brumberg, 1986 : 7)

Reprinted in countless Board of Education brochures, this speech fortified the pressure not only to learn English but to abandon native languages. This pressure precipitated a rapid shift to English in many immigrant communities, further facilitated by the drastic reduction in immigrant influx, due to the quotas established by the 1924 National Origins Act (Pavlenko , 2002a ). Assimilation efforts also extended to Native Americans, who were no longer treated as sovereign nations – many Native American children were sent to English-language boarding schools, where they lost their native languages (Morgan, 2009 ; Spack , 2002 ).

The endangerment of Native American languages was of great concern to Boas, Sapir , and Whorf , yet their support for linguistic diversity and multilingualism never translated into reforms and policies: in the world outside of academia, Americanization laws and efforts were making US citizenry unapologetically monolingual and the disappearance of ‘multilingual awareness’ was applauded by academics who viewed bilingualism as detrimental to children’s cognitive, linguistic and emotional development (Anastasi & Cordova , 1953 ; Bossard, 1945 ; Smith, 1931 , 1939 ; Spoerl , 1943 ; Yoshioka , 1929 ; for discussion, see Weinreich, 1953 : 115–118). It was only in the 1950s that Arsenian ( 1945 ), Haugen ( 1953 , 1956 ), and Weinreich ( 1953 ) succeeded in promoting a more positive view of bilingualism, yet part of their success resided in the fact that by then bilingualism no longer mattered – it was regarded, as we will see, as an “unusual” characteristic, pervasive at the margins but hardly relevant for the society at large.

In the USSR, on the other hand, linguists’ romantic belief in linguistic rights and politicians’ desire to institutionalize nations as fundamental constituents of the state gave rise to the policy of korenizatsia [nativization] and a unique educational system that promoted the development of multilingual competence (Hirsch, 2005 ; Pavlenko , 2013 ; Smith , 1998 ). It is a little-known and under-appreciated irony that throughout the twentieth century, language policies in the ‘totalitarian’ Soviet Union were significantly more liberal – even during the period of the so-called ‘russification’– than those in the ‘liberal’ United States.

Political Right Rhetoric

The following is an accurate description of the political rhetoric, the labels and language in its use on the political right (from a Twitter thread). It is by Matthew A. Sears, an Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of New Brunswick.

1. “I’m neither a liberal nor a conservative.” = “I’m totally a conservative.”

2. “I’m a radical centrist.” = “I’m totally a conservative.”

3. “I’m a classical liberal.” = “I’m a neoliberal who’s never read any classical liberals.”

4. “I’m not usually a fan of X.” *Retweets and agrees with everything X says.*

5. “I’m a free speech absolutist.” = “I’m glad racists are now free to speak publicly.”

6. “I believe in confronting views one finds offensive.” *Whines about being bullied by lefties.*

7. “My views are in the minority and aren’t given a fair hearing.”*Buys the best-selling book in the world.*

8. “Where else would you rather live?” = “Canada is perfect for me, and it better not frigging change to be better for anyone else.”

9. “Nazis should be able to speak and given platforms so we can debate them.” *Loses mind if someone says ‘fuck’ to a Nazi.*

10. “The left has taken over everything.” *Trump is president and the Republicans control Congress.*

And, finally, the apex of Twitterspeak:

11. “The left are tyrants and have taken over everything and refuse to hear other perspectives and pose a dire threat to the republic and Western Civilization.” *Ben Shapiro has over a million followers.*

I’d say treat this thread as an Enigma Machine for Quillette-speak/viewpoint-diversity-speak/reverse-racism-speak/MRA-speak, but none of these chaps are enigmas.

I can’t believe I have to add this, but some are *outraged* by this thread: I don’t mind if you’re *actually* centrist or conservative. I just mind if you *pretend to be* left/centrist for rhetorical/media cred/flamewar purposes, while *only* taking conservative stances. Sheesh

Like, I’m pretty left-wing on many issues these days. It would be sneaky of me to identity as “conservative” or “classical liberal” or whatever only to dump on all their ideas and always support opposing ideas. A left-winger or centrist is what a left-winger or centrist tweets.

James Taoist added:

12. “I’m a strict Constitutionalist” = “I’m as racist as fuck.”

Spoken Language: Formulaic, Musical, & Bicameral

One could argue for an underlying connection between voice-hearing, formulaic language, and musical ability. This could relate to Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind, as this has everything with the hemispheric division of neurocogntive functioning.

It is enticing to consider the possibility that language originally developed out of or in concert with music, the first linguistic expression having been sing-song utterances. And it is fascinating to imagine that the voices of gods, ancestors, etc might have spoken in a formulaic musicality. I remember reading about a custom, as I recall in pre-literate Germany, of people greeting each other with traditional (and probably formulaic) poems/rhymes. When I came across that, I wondered if it might have been a habit maintained from an earlier bicameralism.

Maybe poetic and musical language was common in most pre-literate societies. But by the time literacy comes around to write down languages, those traditions and the mindsets that go with them might already be severely on the decline. That would mean little evidence would survive. We do know, for example, that Socrates wanted to exclude the poets from his utopian Axial Age (i.e., post-bicameral) society.

Spoken language with rhymes or rhythm is dangerous because it has power over the human mind. It speaks to (or maybe even from) something ancient dwelling within us.

* * *

Rajeev J Sebastian: “Found this very interesting paper that suggests differences between grammatical language and so-called “formulaic” language and the link between melody/music and “formulaic” language … echoes of [Julian Jaynes’] theory in there.”

Ed Buffaloe: “It makes me wonder if communication in bicameral men may have been largely through right-brain-controlled formulaic language.”

Tapping into neural resources of communication: formulaic language in aphasia therapy
by Benjamin Stahl & Diana Van Lancker Sidtis

Decades of research highlight the importance of formulaic expressions in everyday spoken language (Vihman, 1982; Wray, 2002; Kuiper, 2009). Along with idioms, expletives, and proverbs, this linguistic category includes conversational speech formulas, such as “You’ve got to be kidding,” “Excuse me?” or “Hang on a minute” (Fillmore, 1979; Pawley and Syder, 1983; Schegloff, 1988). In their modern conception, formulaic expressions differ from newly created, grammatical utterances in that they are fixed in form, often non-literal in meaning with attitudinal nuances, and closely related to communicative-pragmatic context (Van Lancker Sidtis and Rallon, 2004). Although the proportion of formulaic expressions to spoken language varies with type of measure and discourse, these utterances are widely regarded as crucial in determining the success of social interaction in many communicative aspects of daily life (Van Lancker Sidtis, 2010).

The unique role of formulaic expressions in spoken language is reflected at the level of their functional neuroanatomy. While left perisylvian areas of the brain support primarily propositional, grammatical utterances, the processing of conversational speech formulas was found to engage, in particular, right-hemisphere cortical areas and the bilateral basal ganglia (Hughlings-Jackson, 1878; Graves and Landis, 1985; Speedie et al., 1993; Van Lancker Sidtis and Postman, 2006; Sidtis et al., 2009; Van Lancker Sidtis et al., 2015). It is worth pointing out that parts of these neural networks are intact in left-hemisphere stroke patients, leading to the intriguing observation that individuals with classical speech and language disorders are often able to communicate comparably well based on a repertoire of formulaic expressions (McElduff and Drummond, 1991; Lum and Ellis, 1994; Stahl et al., 2011). An upper limit of such expressions has not yet been identified, with some estimates reaching into the hundreds of thousands (Jackendoff, 1995). […]

Nonetheless, music-based rehabilitation programs have been demonstrated to directly benefit the production of trained expressions in individuals with chronic non-fluent aphasia and apraxia of speech (Wilson et al., 2006; Stahl et al., 2013; Zumbansen et al., 2014). One may argue that the reported progress in the production of such expressions depends, at least in part, on increased activity in right-hemisphere neural networks engaged in the processing of formulaic language, especially when considering the repetitive character of the training (cf. Berthier et al., 2014).

* * *

Music and Dance on the Mind

Over at Ribbonfarm, Sarah Perry has written about this and similar things. Her focus is on the varieties and necessities of human consciousness. The article is “Ritual and the Consciousness Monoculture“. It’s a longer piece and packed full of ideas, including an early mention of Jaynesian bicameralism.

The author doesn’t get around to discussing the above topics until about halfway into the piece. It’s in a section titled, “Hiving and Rhythmic Entrainment”. The hiving refers to Jonathan Haidt’s hive hypothesis. It doesn’t seem all that original of an understanding, but still it’s an important idea. This is an area where I’d agree with Haidt, despite my other disagreements elsewhere. In that section, Perry writes that:

Donald Brown’s celebrated list of human universals, a list of characteristics proposed to be common to all human groups ever studied, includes many entries on music, including “music related in part to dance” and “music related in part to religion.” The Pirahã use several kinds of language, including regular speech, a whistling language, and a musical, sung language. The musical language, importantly, is used for dancing and contacting spirits. The Pirahã, Everett says, often dance for three days at a time without stopping. They achieve a different consciousness by performing rituals calibrated to evoke mental states that must remain opaque to those not affected.

Musical language is the type of evidence that seems to bridge different aspects of human experience. It has been argued that language developed along with human tendencies of singing, dance, ritual movement, communal mimicry, group bonding, and other social behaviors. Stephen Mithen has an interesting theory about the singing of early hominids (The Singing Neanderthal).

That brings to mind Lynne Kelly’s book on preliterate mnemonic practices, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies. Kelly goes into great detail about the practices of the Australian Aborigines with their songlines, which always reminds me of the English and Welsh beating of the bounds. A modern example of the power of music is choral singing, which research has shown to create non-conscious mimicry, physical synchrony, and self-other merging.

* * *

Development of Language and Music

Did Music Evolve Before Language?
by Hank Campbell, Science 2.0

Gottfriend Schlaug of Harvard Medical School does something a little more direct that may be circumstantial but is a powerful exclamation point for a ‘music came first’ argument. His work with patients who have suffered severe lesions on the left side of their brain showed that while they could not speak – no language skill as we might define it – they were able to sing phrases like “I am thirsty”, sometimes within two minutes of having the phrase mapped to a melody.

Theory: Music underlies language acquisition
by B.J. Almond, Rice University

Contrary to the prevailing theories that music and language are cognitively separate or that music is a byproduct of language, theorists at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) advocate that music underlies the ability to acquire language.

“Spoken language is a special type of music,” said Anthony Brandt, co-author of a theory paper published online this month in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience. “Language is typically viewed as fundamental to human intelligence, and music is often treated as being dependent on or derived from language. But from a developmental perspective, we argue that music comes first and language arises from music.”

* * *

Music and Dance on the Mind

In singing with a choral group or marching in an army, we moderns come as close as we are able to this ancient mind. It’s always there within us, just normally hidden. It doesn’t take much, though, for our individuality to be submerged and something else to emerge. We are all potential goosestepping authoritarian followers, waiting for the right conditions to bring our primal natures out into the open. With the fiery voice of authority, we can be quickly lulled into compliance by an inspiring or invigorating vision:

[T]hat old time religion can be heard in the words and rhythm of any great speaker. Just listen to how a recorded speech of Martin Luther King jr can pull you in with its musicality. Or if you prefer a dark example, consider the persuasive power of Adolf Hitler for even some Jews admitted they got caught up listening to his speeches. This is why Plato feared the poets and banished them from his utopia of enlightened rule. Poetry would inevitably undermine and subsume the high-minded rhetoric of philosophers. “[P]oetry used to be divine knowledge,” as Guerini et al states in Echoes of Persuasion, “It was the sound and tenor of authorization and it commanded where plain prose could only ask.”

Poetry is one of the forms of musical language. Plato’s fear wasn’t merely about the aesthetic appeal of metered rhyme. Living in an oral culture, he would have intimately known the ever-threatening power and influence of the spoken word. Likewise, the sway and thrall of rhythmic movement would have been equally familiar in that world. Community life in ancient Greek city-states was almost everything that mattered, a tightly woven identity and experience.

How Universal Is The Mind?

One expression of the misguided nature vs nurture debate is the understanding of our humanity. In wondering about the universality of Western views, we have already framed the issue in terms of Western dualism. The moment we begin speaking in specific terms, from mind to psyche, we’ve already smuggled in cultural preconceptions and biases.

Sabrina Golonka discusses several other linguistic cultures (Korean, Japanese, and Russian) in comparison to English. She suggests that dualism, even if variously articulated, underlies each conceptual tradition — a general distinction between visible and invisible. But all of those are highly modernized societies built on millennia of civilizational projects, from imperialism to industrialization. It would be even more interesting and insightful to look into the linguistic worldviews of indigenous cultures.

The Piraha, for example, are linguistically limited in only speaking about what they directly experience or about what those they personally know have directly experienced. They don’t talk about what is ‘invisible’, whether within the human sphere or beyond in the world, and as such they aren’t prone to theoretical speculations.

What is clear is that the Piraha’s mode of perception and description is far different, even to the point that what they see is sometimes invisible to those who aren’t Piraha. There is an anecdote shared by Daniel Everett. The Piraha crowded on the riverbank pointing to the spirit they saw on the other side, but Everett and his family saw nothing. That brings doubt to the framework of visible vs invisible. The Piraha were fascinated by what becomes invisible such as a person disappearing around the bend of a trail, although their fascination ended at that liminal point at the edge of the visible, not extending beyond it.

Another useful example would be the Australian Aborigine. The Songlines were traditionally integrated with their sense of identity and reality, signifying an experience that is invisible within the reality tunnel of WEIRD society (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic). Prior to contact, individualism as we know it may have been entirely unknown for Songlines express a profoundly collective sense of being in the world.

If any kind of dualism between visible and invisible did exist within the Aboriginal worldview, it more likely would have been on a communal level of experience. In their culture, ritual songs are learned and then what they represent becomes visible to the initiated, however this process might be made sense of within Aboriginal language. A song makes some aspect of the world visible, which is to invoke a particular reality and the beings that inhabit that reality. This is what Westerners would interpret as states of mind, but that is clearly an inadequate understanding of the fully immersive and embodied experience.

Western psychology has made non-Western experience invisible to most Westerners. There is the invisible we talk about within our own cultural worldview, what we perceive as known and familiar, no matter how intangible. But even more important is the unknown and unfamiliar that is so fundamentally invisible that we are incapable of talking about it. This doesn’t merely limit our understanding. Entire ways of being in the world are precluded by the words and concepts we use. Our sense of our own humanity is lesser for it and, as cultural languages go extinct, this state of affairs worsens with the near complete monocultural destruction of the very alternatives that most powerfully challenge our assumptions.

* * *

How Universal Is The Mind?
by Sabrina Golonka

So, back to the mind and our current view of cognition. Cross-linguistic research shows that, generally speaking, every culture has a folk model of a person consisting of visible and invisible (psychological) aspects (Wierzbicka, 2005). While there is agreement that the visible part of the person refers to the body, there is considerable variation in how different cultures think about the invisible (psychological) part. In the West, and, specifically, in the English-speaking West, the psychological aspect of personhood is closely related to the concept of “the mind” and the modern view of cognition. But, how universal is this conception? How do speakers of other languages think about the psychological aspect of personhood? […]

In a larger sense, the fact that there seems to be a universal belief that people consist of visible and invisible aspects explains much of the appeal of cognitive psychology over behaviourism. Cognitive psychology allows us to invoke invisible, internal states as causes of behaviour, which fits nicely with the broad, cultural assumption that the mind causes us to act in certain ways.

To the extent that you agree that the modern conception of “cognition” is strongly related to the Western, English-speaking view of “the mind”, it is worth asking what cognitive psychology would look like if it had developed in Japan or Russia. Would text-books have chapter headings on the ability to connect with other people (kokoro) or feelings or morality (dusa) instead of on decision-making and memory? This possibility highlights the potential arbitrariness of how we’ve carved up the psychological realm – what we take for objective reality is revealed to be shaped by culture and language.

I recently wrote a blog about a related topic. In Pāli and Sanskrit – ancient Indian languages – there is no collective term for emotions. They do have words for all of the basic emotions and some others, but they do not think of them as a category distinct from thought. I have yet to think through all of the implications of this observation but clearly the ancient Indian view on psychology must have been very different to ours.

Han 21 December 2011 at 17:06

Very interesting post. Have you looked into Julian Jaynes’s strange and marvelous book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”? Even if you regard bicameralism as iffy, there’s an interesting section on the creation of metaphorical spaces — body-words that become “containers” for feelings, thoughts, attributes etc. The culturally distinct descriptors of the “invisible” may be related to historical accidents that vary from place to place.

Simon 9 January 2012 at 06:33

Also relevant might be Lakoff and Johnson’s “Philosophy in the Flesh” looking at, in their formulation, the inevitably metaphorical nature of thought and speech and the ultimate grounding of (almost) all metaphors in our physical experience from embodiment in the world.

Verbal Behavior

There is a somewhat interesting discussion of the friendship between B.F. Skinner and W.V.O. Quine. The piece explores their shared interests and possible influences on one another. It’s not exactly an area of personal interest, but it got me thinking about Julian Jaynes.

Skinner is famous for his behaviorist research. When behaviorism is mentioned, what immediately comes to mind for most people is Pavlov’s dog. But behaviorism wasn’t limited to animals and simple responses to stimuli. Skinner developed his theory toward verbal behavior as well. As Michael Karson explains,

“Skinner called his behaviorism “radical,” (i.e., thorough or complete) because he rejected then-behaviorism’s lack of interest in private events. Just as Galileo insisted that the laws of physics would apply in the sky just as much as on the ground, Skinner insisted that the laws of psychology would apply just as much to the psychologist’s inner life as to the rat’s observable life.

“Consciousness has nothing to do with the so-called and now-solved philosophical problem of mind-body duality, or in current terms, how the physical brain can give rise to immaterial thought. The answer to this pseudo-problem is that even though thought seems to be immaterial, it is not. Thought is no more immaterial than sound, light, or odor. Even educated people used to believe, a long time ago, that these things were immaterial, but now we know that sound requires a material medium to transmit waves, light is made up of photons, and odor consists of molecules. Thus, hearing, seeing, and smelling are not immaterial activities, and there is nothing in so-called consciousness besides hearing, seeing, and smelling (and tasting and feeling). Once you learn how to see and hear things that are there, you can also see and hear things that are not there, just as you can kick a ball that is not there once you have learned to kick a ball that is there. Engaging in the behavior of seeing and hearing things that are not there is called imagination. Its survival value is obvious, since it allows trial and error learning in the safe space of imagination. There is nothing in so-called consciousness that is not some version of the five senses operating on their own. Once you have learned to hear words spoken in a way that makes sense, you can have thoughts; thinking is hearing yourself make language; it is verbal behavior and nothing more. It’s not private speech, as once was believed; thinking is private hearing.”

It’s amazing how much this is resonates with Jaynes’ bicameral theory. This maybe shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Jaynes was trained in behaviorism and early on did animal research. He was mentored by the behaviorist Frank A. Beach and was friends with Edward Boring who wrote a book about consciousness in relation to behaviorism. Reading about Skinner’s ideas about verbal behavior, I was reminded of Jaynes’ view of authorization as it relates to linguistic commands and how they become internalized to form an interiorized mind-space (i.e., Jaynesian consciousness).

I’m not the only person to think along these lines. On Reddit, someone wrote: “It is possible that before there were verbal communities that reinforced the basic verbal operants in full, people didn’t have complete “thinking” and really ran on operant auto-pilot since they didn’t have a full covert verbal repertoire and internal reinforcement/shaping process for verbal responses covert or overt, but this would be aeons before 2-3 kya. Wonder if Jaynes ever encountered Skinner’s “Verbal Behavior”…” Jaynes only references Skinner once in his book on bicameralism and consciousness. But he discusses behaviorism in general to some extent.

In the introduction, he describes behaviorism in this way: “From the outside, this revolt against consciousness seemed to storm the ancient citadels of human thought and set its arrogant banners up in one university after another. But having once been a part of its major school, I confess it was not really what it seemed. Off the printed page, behaviorism was only a refusal to talk about consciousness. Nobody really believed he was not conscious. And there was a very real hypocrisy abroad, as those interested in its problems were forcibly excluded from academic psychology, as text after text tried to smother the unwanted problem from student view. In essence, behaviorism was a method, not the theory that it tried to be. And as a method, it exorcised old ghosts. It gave psychology a thorough house cleaning. And now the closets have been swept out and the cupboards washed and aired, and we are ready to examine the problem again.” As dissatisfying as animal research was for Jaynes, it nonetheless set the stage for deeper questioning by way of a broader approach. It made possible new understanding.

Like Skinner, he wanted to take the next step, shifting from behavior to experience. Even their strategies to accomplish this appear to have been similar. Sensory experience itself becomes internalized, according to both of their theories. For Jaynes, perception of external space becomes the metaphorical model for a sense of internal space. When Karson says of Skinner’s view that “thinking is hearing yourself make language,” that seems close to Jaynes discussion of hearing voices as it develops into an ‘I’ and a ‘me’, the sense of identity split into subject and object which asserted was required for one to hear one’s own thoughts.

I don’t know Skinner’s thinking in detail or how it changed over time. He too pushed beyond the bounds of behavioral research. It’s not clear that Jaynes’ ever acknowledged this commonality. In his 1990 afterword to his book, Jaynes’ makes his one mention of Skinner without pointing out Skinner’s work on verbal behavior:

“This conclusion is incorrect. Self-awareness usually means the consciousness of our own persona over time, a sense of who we are, our hopes and fears, as we daydream about ourselves in relation to others. We do not see our conscious selves in mirrors, even though that image may become the emblem of the self in many cases. The chimpanzees in this experiment and the two-year old child learned a point-to-point relation between a mirror image and the body, wonderful as that is. Rubbing a spot noticed in the mirror is not essentially different from rubbing a spot noticed on the body without a mirror. The animal is not shown to be imagining himself anywhere else, or thinking of his life over time, or introspecting in any sense — all signs of a conscious life.

“This less interesting, more primitive interpretation was made even clearer by an ingenious experiment done in Skinner’s laboratory (Epstein, 1981). Essentially the same paradigm was followed with pigeons, except that it required a series of specific trainings with the mirror, whereas the chimpanzee or child in the earlier experiments was, of course, self-trained. But after about fifteen hours of such training when the contingencies were carefully controlled, it was found that a pigeon also could use a mirror to locate a blue spot on its body which it could not see directly, though it had never been explicitly trained to do so. I do not think that a pigeon because it can be so trained has a self-concept.”

Jaynes was making the simple, if oft overlooked, point that perception of body is not the same thing as consciousness of mind. A behavioral response to one’s own body isn’t fundamentally different than a behavioral response to anything else. Behavioral responses are found in every species. This isn’t helpful in exploring consciousness itself. Skinner too wanted to get beyond this level of basic behavioral research, so it seems. Interestingly, without any mention of Skinner, Jaynes does use the exact phrasing of Skinner in speaking about the unconscious learning of ‘verbal behavior’ (Book One, Chapter 1):

“Another simple experiment can demonstrate this. Ask someone to sit opposite you and to say words, as many words as he can think of, pausing two or three seconds after each of them for you to write them down. If after every plural noun (or adjective, or abstract word, or whatever you choose) you say “good” or “right” as you write it down, or simply “mmm-hmm” or smile, or repeat the plural word pleasantly, the frequency of plural nouns (or whatever) will increase significantly as he goes on saying words. The important thing here is that the subject is not aware that he is learning anything at all. [13] He is not conscious that he is trying to find a way to make you increase your encouraging remarks, or even of his solution to that problem. Every day, in all our conversations, we are constantly training and being trained by each other in this manner, and yet we are never conscious of it.”

This is just a passing comment in using one example among many, and he states that “Such unconscious learning is not confined to verbal behavior.” He doesn’t further explore language in this immediate section or repeat again the phrase ‘verbal behavior’ in any other section, although the notion of verbal behavior is central to the entire book. But a decade after the original publication date of his book, Jaynes wrote a paper where he does talk about Skinner’s ideas about language:

“One needs language for consciousness. We think consciousness is learned by children between two and a half and five or six years in what we can call the verbal surround, or the verbal community as B.F Skinner calls it. It is an aspect of learning to speak. Mental words are out there as part of the culture and part of the family. A child fits himself into these words and uses them even before he knows the meaning of them. A mother is constantly instilling the seeds of consciousness in a two- and three-year-old, telling the child to stop and think, asking him “What shall we do today?” or “Do you remember when we did such and such or were somewhere?” And all this while metaphor and analogy are hard at work. There are many different ways that different children come to this, but indeed I would say that children without some kind of language are not conscious.”
(Jaynes, J. 1986. “Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind.” Canadian Psychology, 27, 128– 148.)

I don’t have access to that paper. That quote comes from an article by John E. Limber: “Language and consciousness: Jaynes’s “Preposterous idea” reconsidered.” It is found in Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness edited by Marcel Kuijsten (pp. 169-202).

Anyway, the point Jaynes makes is that language is required for consciousness as an inner sense of self because language is required to hear ourselves think. So verbal behavior is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the emergence of consciousness as we know it. As long as verbal behavior remains an external event, conscious experience won’t follow. Humans have to learn to hear themselves as they hear others, to split themselves into a speaker and a listener.

This relates to what makes possible the differentiation of hearing a voice being spoken by someone in the external world and hearing a voice as a memory of someone in one’s internal mind-space. Without this distinction, imagination isn’t possible for anything imagined would become a hallucination where internal and external hearing are conflated or rather never separated. Jaynes proposes this is why ancient texts regularly describe people as hearing voices of deities and deified kings, spirits and ancestors. The bicameral person, according to the theory, hears their own voice without being conscious that it is their own thought.

All of that emerges from those early studies of animal behavior. Behaviorism plays a key role simply in placing the emphasis on behavior. From there, one can come to the insight that consciousness is a neurocognitive behavior modeled on physical and verbal behavior. The self is a metaphor built on embodied experience in the world. This relates to many similar views, such as that humans learn a theory of mind within themselves by first developing a theory of mind in perceiving others. This goes along with attention schema and the attribution of consciousness. And some have pointed out what is called the double subject fallacy, a hidden form of dualism that infects neuroscience. However described, it gets at the same issue.

It all comes down our being both social animals and inhabitants of the world. Human development begins with a focus outward, culture and language determining what kind of identity forms. How we learn to behave is who we become.

Wordplay Schmordplay

What Do You Call Words Like Wishy-Washy or Mumbo Jumbo?

Words like wishy-washy or mumbo-jumbo, or any words that contain two identical or similar parts (a segment, syllable, or morpheme), are called reduplicative words or tautonyms. The process of forming such words is known as reduplication. In many cases, the first word is a real word, while the second part (sometimes nonsensical) is invented to create a rhyme and to create emphasis. Most reduplicative begin as hyphenated words, and through very common usage, eventually lose the hype to become single words. Regardless of their hyphenation, they underscore the playfulness of the English language.

Reduplication isn’t just jibber-jabber

There are several kinds of reduplication. One type replaces a vowel while keeping the initial consonant, as in “flip-flop,” “pish-posh,” and “ping-pong.” Another type keeps the vowel but replaces that first sound, as in “namby-pamby,” “hanky-panky,” “razzle-dazzle,” and “timey-wimey,” a word used by Dr. Who fans for time-travel shenanigans. Reduplication doesn’t get any simpler than when the whole word is repeated, like when you pooh-pooh a couple’s attempt to dress matchy-matchy. My favorite type is “schm” reduplication, though some might say “Favorite, schmavorite!” All the types show that redundancy isn’t a problem in word-making. Grant Barrett, host of the public radio show “A Way with Words,” notes via e-mail that even the word “reduplication” has an unnecessary frill: “I’ve always liked the ‘re’ in ‘reduplicate.’ We’re doing it again! It’s right there in the word!”

Reduplication

Reduplication in linguistics is a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word (or part of it) or even the whole word is repeated exactly or with a slight change.

Reduplication is used in inflections to convey a grammatical function, such as plurality, intensification, etc., and in lexical derivation to create new words. It is often used when a speaker adopts a tone more “expressive” or figurative than ordinary speech and is also often, but not exclusively, iconic in meaning. Reduplication is found in a wide range of languages and language groups, though its level of linguistic productivity varies.

Reduplication is the standard term for this phenomenon in the linguistics literature. Other terms that are occasionally used include cloningdoublingduplicationrepetition, and tautonym when it is used in biological taxonomies, such as “Bison bison”.

The origin of this usage of tautonym is uncertain, but it has been suggested that it is of relatively recent derivation.

Reduplication

The coinage of new words and phrases into English has been greatly enhanced by the pleasure we get from playing with words. There are numerous alliterative and rhyming idioms, which are a significant feature of the language. These aren’t restricted to poets and Cockneys; everyone uses them. We start in the nursery with choo-choos, move on in adult life to hanky-panky and end up in the nursing home having a sing-song.

The repeating of parts of words to make new forms is called reduplication. There are various categories of this: rhyming, exact and ablaut (vowel substitution). Examples, are respectively, okey-dokey, wee-wee and zig-zag. The impetus for the coining of these seems to be nothing more than the enjoyment of wordplay. The words that make up these reduplicated idioms often have little meaning in themselves and only appear as part of a pair. In other cases, one word will allude to some existing meaning and the other half of the pair is added for effect or emphasis.

New coinages have often appeared at times of national confidence, when an outgoing and playful nature is expressed in language; for example, during the 1920s, following the First World War, when many nonsense word pairs were coined – the bee’s knees, heebie-jeebies etc. That said, the introduction of such terms begin with Old English and continues today. Willy-nilly is over a thousand years old. Riff-raff dates from the 1400s and helter-skelter, arsy-versy (a form of vice-versa), and hocus-pocus all date from the 16th century. Coming up to date we have bling-bling, boob-tube and hip-hop. I’ve not yet recorded a 21st century reduplication. Bling-bling comes very close but is 20th century. ‘Bieber Fever’ is certainly 21st century, but isn’t quite a reduplication.

A hotchpotch of reduplication

Argy-bargy and lovey-dovey lie on opposite ends of the interpersonal scale, but they have something obvious in common: both are reduplicatives.

Reduplication is when a word or part of a word is repeated, sometimes modified, and added to make a longer term, such as aye-ayemishmash, and hotchpotch. This process can mark plurality or intensify meaning, and it can be used for effect or to generate new words. The added part may be invented or it may be an existing word whose form and sense are a suitable fit.

Reduplicatives emerge early in our language-learning lives. As infants in the babbling phase we reduplicate syllables to utter mama, dada, nana and papa, which is where these pet names come from. Later we use moo-moo, choo-choo, wee-wee and bow-wow (or similar) to refer to familiar things. The repetition, as well as being fun, might help children develop and practise the pronunciation of sounds.

As childhood progresses, reduplicatives remain popular, popping up in children’s books, songs and rhymes. Many characters in children’s stories have reduplicated names: Humpty Dumpty, Chicken Licken and Handy Andy, to name a few.

The language rule we know – but don’t know we know

Ding dong King Kong

Well, in fact, the Big Bad Wolf is just obeying another great linguistic law that every native English speaker knows, but doesn’t know that they know. And it’s the same reason that you’ve never listened to hop-hip music.

You are utterly familiar with the rule of ablaut reduplication. You’ve been using it all your life. It’s just that you’ve never heard of it. But if somebody said the words zag-zig, or ‘cross-criss you would know, deep down in your loins, that they were breaking a sacred rule of language. You just wouldn’t know which one.

All four of a horse’s feet make exactly the same sound. But we always, always say clip-clop, never clop-clip. Every second your watch (or the grandfather clock in the hall makes the same sound) but we say tick-tock, never tock-tick. You will never eat a Kat Kit bar. The bells in Frère Jaques will forever chime ‘ding dang dong’.

Reduplication in linguistics is when you repeat a word, sometimes with an altered consonant (lovey-dovey, fuddy-duddy, nitty-gritty), and sometimes with an altered vowel: bish-bash-bosh, ding-dang-dong. If there are three words then the order has to go I, A, O. If there are two words then the first is I and the second is either A or O. Mish-mash, chit-chat, dilly-dally, shilly-shally, tip top, hip-hop, flip-flop, tic tac, sing song, ding dong, King Kong, ping pong.

Why this should be is a subject of endless debate among linguists, it might be to do with the movement of your tongue or an ancient language of the Caucasus. It doesn’t matter. It’s the law, and, as with the adjectives, you knew it even if you didn’t know you knew it. And the law is so important that you just can’t have a Bad Big Wolf.

Jibber Jabber: The Unwritten Ablaut Reduplication Rule

In all these ablaut reduplication word pairs, the key vowels appear in a specific order: either i before a, or i before o.

In linguistic terms, you could say that a high vowel comes before a low vowel. The i sound is considered a high vowel because of the location of the tongue relative to the mouth in American speech. The a and o sounds are low vowels.

See-saw doesn’t use the letter i, but the high-vowel-before-low-vowel pattern still applies.

This Weird Grammar Rule is Why We Say “Flip Flop” Instead of “Flop Flip”

As to why this I-A-O pattern has such a firm hold in our linguistic history, nobody can say. Forsyth calls it a topic of “endless debate” among linguists that may originate in the arcane movements of the human tongue or an ancient language of the Caucasus. Whatever the case, the world’s English speakers are on-board, and you will never catch Lucy accusing Charlie Brown of being washy-wishy.

Reduplicative Words

Ricochet Word

wishy-washy, hanky panky – name for this type of word-formation?

argle-bargle

Easy-Peasy

Double Trouble

English Ryming Compound Words

Rhyming Compounds

Reduplicates

REDUPLICATION

English gitaigo: Flip-Flop Words

Research on Jayne’s Bicameral Theory

The onset of data-driven mental archeology
by Sidarta Ribeiro

For many years this shrewd hypothesis seemed untestable. Corollaries such as the right lateralization of auditory hallucinations were dismissed as too simplistic—although schizophrenic patients present less language lateralization (Sommer et al., 2001). Yet, the investigation by Diuk et al. (2012) represents a pioneering successful attempt to test Jaynes’ theory in a quantitative manner. The authors assessed dozens of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman texts from up to the second century CE, as well contemporary Google n-grams, to calculate semantic distances between the reference word “introspection” and all the words in these texts. Cleverly, “introspection” is actually absent from these ancient texts, serving as an “invisible” probe. Semantic distances were evaluated by Latent Semantic Analysis, a high-dimensional model in which the semantic similitude between words is proportional to their co-occurrence in texts with coherent topics (Deerwester et al., 1990; Landauer and Dumais, 1997). The approach goes well beyond the mere counting of word occurrence in a corpus, actually measuring how much the concept of introspection is represented in each text in a “distributed semantic sense,” in accordance with the semantic holism (Frege, 1884, 1980; Quine, 1951; Wittgenstein, 1953, 1967; Davidson, 1967) that became mainstream in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (Cancho and Sole, 2001; Sigman and Cecchi, 2002).

The results were remarkable. In Judeo-Christian texts, similitude to introspection increased monotonically over time, with a big change in slope from the Old to the New Testaments. In Greco-Roman texts, comprising 53 authors from Homer to Julius Cesar, a more complex dynamics appeared, with increases in similitude to introspection through periods of cultural development, and decreases during periods of cultural decadence. Contemporary texts showed overall increase, with periods of decline prior to and during the two World Wars. As Jaynes would have predicted, the rise and fall of entire societies seems to be paralleled by increases and decreases in introspection, respectively.

Diuk et al. show that the evolution of mental life can be quantified from the cultural record, opening a whole new avenue of hypothesis testing for Jaynes’ theory. While it is impossible to prove that pre-Axial people “heard” the voices of the gods, the findings suggest new ways of studying historical and contemporary texts. In particular, the probing of ancient texts with words like “dream,” “god” and “hallucination” has great potential to test Jaynesian concepts.

The featured study lends supports to the notion that consciousness is a social construct in constant flux. Quoting senior author Guillermo Cecchi, “it is not just the “trending topics,” but the entire cognitive make-up that changes over time, indicating that culture co-evolves with available cognitive states, and what is socially considered dysfunction can be tested in a more quantitative way.”

Useful Fictions Becoming Less Useful

Humanity has long been under the shadow of the Axial Age, no less true today than in centuries past. But what has this meant in both our self-understanding and in the kind of societies we have created? Ideas, as memes, can survive and even dominate for millennia. This can happen even when they are wrong, as long as they are useful to the social order.

One such idea involves nativism and essentialism, made possible through highly developed abstract thought. This notion of something inherent went along with the notion of division, from mind-body dualism to brain modules (what is inherent in one area being separate from what is inherent elsewhere). It goes back at least to the ancient Greeks such as with Platonic idealism (each ideal an abstract thing unto itself), although abstract thought required two millennia of development before it gained its most powerful form through modern science. As Elisa J. Sobo noted, “Ironically, prior to the industrial revolution and the rise of the modern university, most thinkers took a very comprehensive view of the human condition. It was only afterward that fragmented, factorial, compartmental thinking began to undermine our ability to understand ourselves and our place in— and connection with— the world.”

Maybe we are finally coming around to more fully questioning these useful fictions because they have become less useful as the social order changes, as the entire world shifts around us with globalization, climate change, mass immigration, etc. We saw emotions as so essentialist that we decided to start a war against one of them with the War on Terror, as if this emotion was definitive of our shared reality (and a great example of metonymy, by the way), but obviously fighting wars against a reified abstraction isn’t the most optimal strategy for societal progress. Maybe we need new ways of thinking.

The main problem with useful fictions isn’t necessarily that they are false, partial, or misleading. A useful fiction wouldn’t last for millennia if it weren’t, first and foremost, useful (especially true in relation to the views of human nature found in folk psychology). It is true that our seeing these fictions for what they are is a major change, but more importantly what led us to question their validity is that some of them have stopped being as useful as they once were. The nativists, essentialists, and modularists argued that such things as emotional experience, color perception, and language learning were inborn abilities and natural instincts: genetically-determined, biologically-constrained, and neurocognitively-formed. Based on theory, immense amounts of time, energy, and resources were invested into the promises made.

This motivated the entire search to connect everything observable in humans back to a gene, a biological structure, or an evolutionary trait (with the brain getting outsized attention). Yet reality has turned out to be much more complex with environmental factors such as culture, peer influence, stress, nutrition and toxins, along with biological factors such as epigenetics, brain plasticity, microbiomes, parasites, etc. The original quest hasn’t been as fruitful as hoped for, partly because of problems in conceptual frameworks and the scientific research itself, and this has led some to give up on the search. Consider how when one part of the brain is missing or damaged, other parts of the brain often compensate and take over the correlated function. There have been examples of people lacking most of their brain matter and still able to function in what appears to be outwardly normal behavior. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, such that the whole can maintain its integrity even without all of the parts.

The past view of the human mind and body has been too simplistic to an extreme. This is because we’ve lacked the capacity to see most of what goes on in making it possible. Our conscious minds, including our rational thought, is far more limited than many assumed. And the unconscious mind, the dark matter of the mind, is so much more amazing in what it accomplishes. In discussing what they call conceptual blending, Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner write (The Way We Think, p. 18):

“It might seem strange that the systematicity and intricacy of some of our most basic and common mental abilities could go unrecognized for so long. Perhaps the forming of these important mechanisms early in life makes them invisible to consciousness. Even more interestingly, it may be part of the evolutionary adaptiveness of these mechanisms that they should be invisible to consciousness, just as the backstage labor involved in putting on a play works best if it is unnoticed. Whatever the reason, we ignore these common operations in everyday life and seem reluctant to investigate them even as objects of scientific inquiry. Even after training, the mind seems to have only feeble abilities to represent to itself consciously what the unconscious mind does easily. This limit presents a difficulty to professional cognitive scientists, but it may be a desirable feature in the evolution of the species. One reason for the limit is that the operations we are talking about occur at lightning speed, presumably because they involve distributed spreading activation in the nervous system, and conscious attention would interrupt that flow.”

As they argue, conceptual blending helps us understand why a language module or instinct isn’t necessary. Research has shown that there is no single part of the brain nor any single gene that is solely responsible for much of anything. The constituent functions and abilities that form language likely evolved separately for other reasons that were advantageous to survival and social life. Language isn’t built into the brain as an evolutionary leap; rather, it was an emergent property that couldn’t have been predicted from any prior neurocognitive development, which is to say language was built on abilities that by themselves would not have been linguistic in nature.

Of course, Fauconnier and Turner are far from being the only proponents of such theories, as this perspective has become increasingly attractive. Another example is Mark Changizi’s theory presented in Harnessed where he argues that (p. 11), “Speech and music culturally evolved over time to be simulacra of nature” (see more about this here and here). Whatever theory one goes with, what is required is to explain the research challenging and undermining earlier models of cognition, affect, linguistics, and related areas.

Another book I was reading is How Emotions are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett. She is covering similar territory, despite her focus being on something so seemingly simple as emotions. We rarely give emotions much thought, taking them for granted, but we shouldn’t. How we understand our experience and expression of emotion is part and parcel of a deeper view that our society holds about human nature, a view that also goes back millennia. This ancient lineage of inherited thought is what makes it problematic, since it feels intuitively true in it being so entrenched within our culture (Kindle Locations 91-93):

“And yet . .  . despite the distinguished intellectual pedigree of the classical view of emotion, and despite its immense influence in our culture and society, there is abundant scientific evidence that this view cannot possibly be true. Even after a century of effort, scientific research has not revealed a consistent, physical fingerprint for even a single emotion.”

“So what are they, really?,” Barret asks about emotions (Kindle Locations 99-104):

“When scientists set aside the classical view and just look at the data, a radically different explanation for emotion comes to light. In short, we find that your emotions are not built-in but made from more basic parts. They are not universal but vary from culture to culture. They are not triggered; you create them. They emerge as a combination of the physical properties of your body, a flexible brain that wires itself to whatever environment it develops in, and your culture and upbringing, which provide that environment. Emotions are real, but not in the objective sense that molecules or neurons are real. They are real in the same sense that money is real— that is, hardly an illusion, but a product of human agreement.”

This goes along with an area of thought that arose out of philology, classical studies, consciousness studies, Jungian psychology, and anthropology. As always, I’m particularly thinking of the bicameral mind theory of Julian Jaynes. In the most ancient civilizations, there weren’t monetary systems nor according to Jaynes was there consciousness as we know it. He argues that individual self-consciousness was built on an abstract metaphorical space that was internalized and narratized. This privatization of personal space led to the possibility of self-ownership, the later basis of capitalism (and hence capitalist realism). It’s abstractions upon abstractions, until all of modern civilization bootstrapped itself into existence.

The initial potentials within human nature could and have been used to build diverse cultures, but modern society has genocidally wiped out most of this once existing diversity, leaving behind a near total dominance of WEIRD monoculture. This allows us modern Westerners to mistake our own culture for universal human nature. Our imaginations are constrained by a reality tunnel, which further strengthens the social order (control of the mind is the basis for control of society). Maybe this is why certain abstractions have been so central in conflating our social reality with physical reality, as Barret explains (Kindle Locations 2999-3002):

“Essentialism is the culprit that has made the classical view supremely difficult to set aside. It encourages people to believe that their senses reveal objective boundaries in nature. Happiness and sadness look and feel different, the argument goes, so they must have different essences in the brain. People are almost always unaware that they essentialize; they fail to see their own hands in motion as they carve dividing lines in the natural world.”

We make the world in our own image. And then we force this social order on everyone, imprinting it onto not just onto the culture but onto biology itself. With epigenetics, brain plasticity, microbiomes, etc, biology readily accepts this imprinting of the social order (Kindle Locations 5499-5503):

“By virtue of our values and practices, we restrict options and narrow possibilities for some people while widening them for others, and then we say that stereotypes are accurate. They are accurate only in relation to a shared social reality that our collective concepts created in the first place. People aren’t a bunch of billiard balls knocking one another around. We are a bunch of brains regulating each other’s body budgets, building concepts and social reality together, and thereby helping to construct each other’s minds and determine each other’s outcomes.”

There are clear consequences to humans as individuals and communities. But there are other costs as well (Kindle Locations 129-132):

“Not long ago, a training program called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques) taught those TSA agents to detect deception and assess risk based on facial and bodily movements, on the theory that such movements reveal your innermost feelings. It didn’t work, and the program cost taxpayers $ 900 million. We need to understand emotion scientifically so government agents won’t detain us— or overlook those who actually do pose a threat— based on an incorrect view of emotion.”

This is one of the ways in which our fictions have become less than useful. As long as societies were relatively isolated, they could maintain their separate fictions and treat them as reality. But in a global society, these fictions end up clashing with each other in not just unuseful ways but in wasteful and dangerous ways. If TSA agents were only trying to observe people who shared a common culture of social constructs, the standard set of WEIRD emotional behaviors would apply. The problem is TSA agents have to deal with people from diverse cultures that have different ways of experiencing, processing, perceiving, and expressing what we call emotions. It would be like trying to understand world cuisine, diet, and eating habits by studying the American patrons of fast food restaurants.

Barret points to the historical record of ancient societies and to studies done on non-WEIRD cultures. What was assumed to be true based on WEIRD scientists studying WEIRD subjects turns out not to be true for the rest of the world. But there is an interesting catch to the research, the reason so much confusion prevailed for so long. It is easy to teach people cultural categories of emotion and how to identify them. Some of the initial research on non-WEIRD populations unintentionally taught the subjects the very WEIRD emotions that they were attempting to study. The structure of the studies themselves had WEIRD biases built into them. It was only with later research that they were able to filter out these biases and observe the actual non-WEIRD responses of non-WEIRD populations.

Researchers only came to understand this problem quite recently. Noam Chomsky, for example, thought it unnecessary to study actual languages in the field. Based on his own theorizing, he believed that studying a single language such as English would tell us everything we needed to know about the basic workings of all languages in the world. This belief proved massively wrong, as field research demonstrated. There was also an idealism in the early Cold War era that lead to false optimism, as Americans felt on top of the world. Chris Knight made this point in Decoding Chomsky (from the Preface):

“Pentagon’s scientists at this time were in an almost euphoric state, fresh from victory in the recent war, conscious of the potential of nuclear weaponry and imagining that they held ultimate power in their hands. Among the most heady of their dreams was the vision of a universal language to which they held the key. […] Unbelievable as it may nowadays sound, American computer scientists in the late 1950s really were seized by the dream of restoring to humanity its lost common tongue. They would do this by designing and constructing a machine equipped with the underlying code of all the world’s languages, instantly and automatically translating from one to the other. The Pentagon pumped vast sums into the proposed ‘New Tower’.”

Chomsky’s modular theory dominated linguistics for more than a half century. It still is held in high esteem, even as the evidence increasingly is stacked against it. This wasn’t just a waste of immense amount of funding. It derailed an entire field of research and stunted the development of a more accurate understanding. Generations of linguists went chasing after a mirage. No brain module of language has been found nor is there any hope of ever finding one. Many researchers wasted their entire careers on a theory that proved false and many of these researchers continue to defend it, maybe in the hope that another half century of research will finally prove it to be true after all.

There is no doubt that Chomsky has a brilliant mind. He is highly skilled in debate and persuasion. He won the battle of ideas, at least for a time. Through sheer power of his intellect, he was able to overwhelm his academic adversaries. His ideas came to dominate the field of linguistics, in what came to be known as the cognitive revolution. But Daniel Everett has stated that “it was not a revolution in any sense, however popular that narrative has become” (Dark Matter of the Mind, Kindle Location 306). If anything, Chomsky’s version of essentialism caused the temporary suppression of a revolution that was initiated by linguistic relativists and social constructionists, among others. The revolution was strangled in the crib, partly because it was fighting against an entrenched ideological framework that was millennia old. The initial attempts at research struggled to offer a competing ideological framework and they lost that struggle. Then they were quickly forgotten about, as if the evidence they brought forth was irrelevant.

Barret explains the tragedy of this situation. She is speaking of essentialism in terms of emotions, but it applies to the entire scientific project of essentialism. It has been a failed project that refuses to accept its failure, a paradigm that refuses to die in order to make way for something else. She laments all of the waste and lost opportunities (Kindle Locations 3245-3293):

“Now that the final nails are being driven into the classical view’s coffin in this era of neuroscience, I would like to believe that this time, we’ll actually push aside essentialism and begin to understand the mind and brain without ideology. That’s a nice thought, but history is against it. The last time that construction had the upper hand, it lost the battle anyway and its practitioners vanished into obscurity. To paraphrase a favorite sci-fi TV show, Battlestar Galactica, “All this has happened before and could happen again.” And since the last occurrence, the cost to society has been billions of dollars, countless person-hours of wasted effort, and real lives lost. […]

“The official history of emotion research, from Darwin to James to behaviorism to salvation, is a byproduct of the classical view. In reality, the alleged dark ages included an outpouring of research demonstrating that emotion essences don’t exist. Yes, the same kind of counterevidence that we saw in chapter 1 was discovered seventy years earlier . .  . and then forgotten. As a result, massive amounts of time and money are being wasted today in a redundant search for fingerprints of emotion. […]

“It’s hard to give up the classical view when it represents deeply held beliefs about what it means to be human. Nevertheless, the facts remain that no one has found even a single reliable, broadly replicable, objectively measurable essence of emotion. When mountains of contrary data don’t force people to give up their ideas, then they are no longer following the scientific method. They are following an ideology. And as an ideology, the classical view has wasted billions of research dollars and misdirected the course of scientific inquiry for over a hundred years. If people had followed evidence instead of ideology seventy years ago, when the Lost Chorus pretty solidly did away with emotion essences, who knows where we’d be today regarding treatments for mental illness or best practices for rearing our children.”

 

Development of Language and Music

Evidence Rebuts Chomsky’s Theory of Language Learning
by Paul Ibbotson and Michael Tomasello

All of this leads ineluctably to the view that the notion of universal grammar is plain wrong. Of course, scientists never give up on their favorite theory, even in the face of contradictory evidence, until a reasonable alternative appears. Such an alternative, called usage-based linguistics, has now arrived. The theory, which takes a number of forms, proposes that grammatical structure is not in­­nate. Instead grammar is the product of history (the processes that shape how languages are passed from one generation to the next) and human psychology (the set of social and cognitive capacities that allow generations to learn a language in the first place). More important, this theory proposes that language recruits brain systems that may not have evolved specifically for that purpose and so is a different idea to Chomsky’s single-gene mutation for recursion.

In the new usage-based approach (which includes ideas from functional linguistics, cognitive linguistics and construction grammar), children are not born with a universal, dedicated tool for learning grammar. Instead they inherit the mental equivalent of a Swiss Army knife: a set of general-purpose tools—such as categorization, the reading of communicative intentions, and analogy making, with which children build grammatical categories and rules from the language they hear around them.

Broca and Wernicke are dead – it’s time to rewrite the neurobiology of language
by Christian Jarrett, BPS Research Digest

Yet the continued dominance of the Classic Model means that neuropsychology and neurology students are often learning outmoded ideas, without getting up to date with the latest findings in the area. Medics too are likely to struggle to account for language-related symptoms caused by brain damage or illness in areas outside of the Classic Model, but which are relevant to language function, such as the cerebellum.

Tremblay and Dick call for a “clean break” from the Classic Model and a new approach that rejects the “language centric” perspective of the past (that saw the language system as highly specialised and clearly defined), and that embraces a more distributed perspective that recognises how much of language function is overlaid on cognitive systems that originally evolved for other purposes.

Signing, Singing, Speaking: How Language Evolved
by Jon Hamilton, NPR

There’s no single module in our brain that produces language. Instead, language seems to come from lots of different circuits. And many of those circuits also exist in other species.

For example, some birds can imitate human speech. Some monkeys use specific calls to tell one another whether a predator is a leopard, a snake or an eagle. And dogs are very good at reading our gestures and tone of voice. Take all of those bits and you get “exactly the right ingredients for making language possible,” Elman says.

We are not the only species to develop speech impediments
by Moheb Costandi, BBC

Jarvis now thinks vocal learning is not an all-or-nothing function. Instead there is a continuum of skill – just as you would expect from something produced by evolution, and which therefore was assembled slowly, piece by piece.

The music of language: exploring grammar, prosody and rhythm perception in zebra finches and budgerigars
by Michelle Spierings, Institute of Biology Leiden

Language is a uniquely human trait. All animals have ways to communicate, but these systems do not bear the same complexity as human language. However, this does not mean that all aspects of human language are specifically human. By studying the language perception abilities of other species, we can discover which parts of language are shared. It are these parts that might have been at the roots of our language evolution. In this thesis I have studied language and music perception in two bird species, zebra finches and budgerigars. For example, zebra finches can perceive the prosodic (intonation) patterns of human language. The budgerigars can learn to discriminate between different abstract (grammar) patterns and generalize these patterns to new sounds. These and other results give us insight in the cognitive abilities that might have been at the very basis of the evolution of human language.

How Music and Language Mimicked Nature to Evolve Us
by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

Curiously, in the majority of our interaction with the world, we seem to mimic the sounds of events among solid objects. Solid-object events are comprised of hits, slides and rings, producing periodic vibrations. Every time we speak, we find the same three fundamental auditory constituents in speech: plosives (hit-sounds like t, d and p), fricatives (slide-sounds like f, v and sh), and sonorants (ring-sounds like a, u, w, r and y). Changizi demonstrates that solid-object events have distinct “grammar” recurring in speech patterns across different languages and time periods.

But it gets even more interesting with music, a phenomenon perceived as a quintessential human invention — Changizi draws on a wealth of evidence indicating that music is actually based on natural sounds and sound patterns dating back to the beginning of time. Bonus points for convincingly debunking Steven Pinker’s now-legendary proclamation that music is nothing more than “auditory cheesecake.”

Ultimately, Harnessed shows that both speech and music evolved in culture to be simulacra of nature, making our brains’ penchant for these skills appear intuitive.

The sounds of movement
by Bob Holmes, New Scientist

It is this subliminal processing that spoken language taps into, says Changizi. Most of the natural sounds our ancestors would have processed fall into one of three categories: things hitting one another, things sliding over one another, and things resonating after being struck. The three classes of phonemes found in speech – plosives such as p and k, fricatives such as sh and f, and sonorants such as r, m and the vowels – closely resemble these categories of natural sound.

The same nature-mimicry guides how phonemes are assembled into syllables, and syllables into words, as Changizi shows with many examples. This explains why we acquire language so easily: the subconscious auditory processing involved is no different to what our ancestors have done for millions of years.

The hold that music has on us can also be explained by this kind of mimicry – but where speech imitates the sounds of everyday objects, music mimics the sound of people moving, Changizi argues. Primitive humans would have needed to know four things about someone moving nearby: their distance, speed, intent and whether they are coming nearer or going away. They would have judged distance from loudness, speed from the rate of footfalls, intent from gait, and direction from subtle Doppler shifts. Voila: we have volume, tempo, rhythm and pitch, four of the main components of music.

Scientists recorded two dolphins ‘talking’ to each other
by Maria Gallucci, Mashable

While marine biologists have long understood that dolphins communicate within their pods, the new research, which was conducted on two captive dolphins, is the first to link isolated signals to particular dolphins. The findings reveal that dolphins can string together “sentences” using a handful of “words.”

“Essentially, this exchange of [pulses] resembles a conversation between two people,” Vyacheslav Ryabov, the study’s lead researcher, told Mashable.

“The dolphins took turns in producing ‘sentences’ and did not interrupt each other, which gives reason to believe that each of the dolphins listened to the other’s pulses before producing its own,” he said in an email.

“Whistled Languages” Reveal How the Brain Processes Information
by Julien Meyer, Scientific American

Earlier studies had shown that the left hemisphere is, in fact, the dominant language center for both tonal and atonal tongues as well as for nonvocalized click and sign languages. Güntürkün was interested in learning how much the right hemisphere—associated with the processing of melody and pitch—would also be recruited for a whistled language. He and his colleagues reported in 2015 in Current Biology that townspeople from Kuşköy, who were given simple hearing tests, used both hemispheres almost equally when listening to whistled syllables but mostly the left one when they heard vocalized spoken syllables.

Did Music Evolve Before Language?
by Hank Campbell, Science 2.0

Gottfriend Schlaug of Harvard Medical School does something a little more direct that may be circumstantial but is a powerful exclamation point for a ‘music came first’ argument. His work with patients who have suffered severe lesions on the left side of their brain showed that while they could not speak – no language skill as we might define it – they were able to sing phrases like “I am thirsty”, sometimes within two minutes of having the phrase mapped to a melody.

Chopin, Bach used human speech ‘cues’ to express emotion in music
by Andrew Baulcomb, Science Daily

“What we found was, I believe, new evidence that individual composers tend to use cues in their music paralleling the use of these cues in emotional speech.” For example, major key or “happy” pieces are higher and faster than minor key or “sad” pieces.

Theory: Music underlies language acquisition
by B.J. Almond, Rice University

Contrary to the prevailing theories that music and language are cognitively separate or that music is a byproduct of language, theorists at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) advocate that music underlies the ability to acquire language.

“Spoken language is a special type of music,” said Anthony Brandt, co-author of a theory paper published online this month in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience. “Language is typically viewed as fundamental to human intelligence, and music is often treated as being dependent on or derived from language. But from a developmental perspective, we argue that music comes first and language arises from music.”

– See more at: http://news.rice.edu/2012/09/18/theory-music-underlies-language-acquisition/#sthash.kQbEBqnh.dpuf

How Brains See Music as Language
by Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

What researchers found: The brains of jazz musicians who are engaged with other musicians in spontaneous improvisation show robust activation in the same brain areas traditionally associated with spoken language and syntax. In other words, improvisational jazz conversations “take root in the brain as a language,” Limb said.

“It makes perfect sense,” said Ken Schaphorst, chair of the Jazz Studies Department at the New England Conservatory in Boston. “I improvise with words all the time—like I am right now—and jazz improvisation is really identical in terms of the way it feels. Though it’s difficult to get to the point where you’re comfortable enough with music as a language where you can speak freely.”

Along with the limitations of musical ability, there’s another key difference between jazz conversation and spoken conversation that emerged in Limb’s experiment. During a spoken conversation, the brain is busy processing the structure and syntax of language, as well the semantics or meaning of the words. But Limb and his colleagues found that brain areas linked to meaning shut down during improvisational jazz interactions. In other words, this kind of music is syntactic but it’s not semantic.

“Music communication, we know it means something to the listener, but that meaning can’t really be described,” Limb said. “It doesn’t have propositional elements or specificity of meaning in the same way a word does. So a famous bit of music—Beethoven’s dun dun dun duuuun—we might hear that and think it means something but nobody could agree what it means.”