Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Following in Theurj's recent mention of RAW's E-Prime, I was inspired to resurrect an old blog on my own creative language experiments, and perhaps to start a new discussion.
I used to feel quite alone in this odd conlang obsession, but two other Integral writers have recently been writing and publishing on this topic. Stuart Davis has created an artificial language, and according to this blog entry, he apparently has been collaborating with Wilber in its further evolution. And Joe Perez, well-known Integral blogger and writer and a member here at IPS, has created a universal constructed language that he calls Lingua-U. In this blog, he discusses the cognitive (perspective-stretching and loosening) benefits of learning / exploring constructed languages, which is a point I also made in the very first "workshop" I ever gave (on Creative Language Evolution, in which I introduced my constructed language and argued for the benefits I felt I'd derived from creating it and from exploring very alien natural languages, such as Navajo and Lakota).
I would like to open a discussion on creative experimentation with language forms, particularly as that might relate to the “postmetaphysical” project.
Often, in exploring “postmetaphysical” and “enactive” approaches, we concentrate on the content of particular visions. But to realize the potential of these visions, might it not be important also to consider the forms of our natural languages – to explore the metaphysical presuppositions that underlie our grammatical systems, for instance; to deconstruct them and possibly reconstruct something new?
Benjamin Whorf was one of the early thinkers to raise the question of the relationship between language and thought:
We are inclined to think of language simply as a technique of expression, and not to realize that language first of all is a classification and arrangement of the stream of sensory experience which results in a certain world-order, a certain segment of the world that is easily expressible by the type of symbolic means that language employs. In other words, language does in a cruder but also in a broader and more versatile way the same thing that science does..... We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way - an agreement that holds through our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language (Whorf, Language, Thought, and Reality).
Although strong linguistic determinism or relativism no longer holds water, neither does the universalist rejection of it: the influence of language and grammar on thought, perception, and behavior is an accepted fact in linguistics, and the debate now centers around the extent of this influence. Is this something that merits exploring? How can we approach it?
David Bohm took up this question in his book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order. He was concerned, in particular, with the limitations of the relatively static subject-object structure of Western Indo-European (WIE) language, and suggested experimenting with a more verbally centered grammar:
We can ask in a preliminary way whether there are any features of the commonly used language which tend to sustain and propagate this fragmentation, as well as, perhaps, to reflect it. A cursory examination shows that a very important feature of this kind is the subject-verb-object structure of sentences, which is common to the grammar and syntax of modern languages. This structure implies that all action arises in a separate entity, the subject, and that, in cases described by the transitive verb, this action crosses over the space between them to another separate entity, the object… Is it not pssible for the syntax and grammatical form of language to be changed so as to give a basic role to the verb rather than to the noun? This would help to end the sort of fragmentation indicated above, for the verb describes actions and movements, which flow into each other and merge, without sharp separations or breaks. Moreover, since movements are in general always themselves changing, they have in them no permanent pattern of fixed form with which separately existent things could be identified. Such an approach to language evidently fits in with the overall world view discussed in the previous chapter, in which movement is, in effect, taken as a primary notion, while apparently static and separately existent things are seen as relatively invariant states of continuing movement (e.g., [as in] the example of the vortex)…
One way he explored this was through the creation of an experimental, more explicitly verbal mode of English, which he called the rheomode. According to Bohm, "One of the best ways of learning how one is conditioned by habit (such as the common usage of language is, to a large extent) is to give careful and sustained attention to one’s overall reaction when one ‘makes the test’ of seeing what takes place when one is doing something significantly different from the automatic and accustomed function." His experiment, in other words, was to attempt to explore the enactive potential of language by altering its present structure and examining the results, rather than simply (or primarily) promoting an idealized form of language. The goal of the new structure was to create a grammar “in which movement is to be taken as primary in our thinking and in which this notion will be incorporated into the language structure by allowing the verb rather than the noun to play a primary role,” but his approach to this was open-ended and exploratory -- "making the test" and seeing what happens.
The rheomode project never developed much beyond the initial proposal in his book, but Bohm remained interested in the subject of language and thought up until the end of his life. Something that is not very well-known is that, shortly before he died, Bohm helped to organize a meeting between physicists, linguists, and speakers of several (highly verbal) American Indian languages. He was interested to see if these verbally centered languages might provide a more suitable medium for expressing more dynamic, holistic modes of thinking. Similar meetings have been taking place on an annual basis since then.
Based on the writings of researchers such as Levy-Bruhl and Vygotsky, however, I wonder whether Bohm might have been failing to make pre/trans distinctions. This essay, for instance, suggests that while many Amerindian and other languages from "primitive" cultures are indeed highly verbal and relational, they are also very concrete (as in concrete operational). For instance, from the essay:
Lévy-Bruhl and Pensch rightly point out that there is a close link between these dual characteristics of the language of primitive man and his extraordinary memory. The first thing that impresses about the language of primitive man is precisely the vast wealth of designations at his disposal. Concrete designations pervade such languages; concrete details are expressed by means of a vast quantity of words and expressions.
Gatschet writes, “We intend to speak precisely, whereas an Indian draws as he speaks; we classify, he individualizes.”  For these reasons, the speech of primitive man, in comparison with our language, truly resembles an endlessly complex, accurate, plastic and photographic description of an event, with the finest details.
The development of language is accordingly characterized by a gradual tendency for this enormous abundance of concrete terms to disappear. The languages of the Australian peoples, for example, have practically no word: denoting general concepts, whereas they are inundated with a huge number of specific terms, painstakingly distinguishing the features and the individuality of objects.
Ayer, referring to the Australians, says, “They have no general words, such as tree, fish, bird, and so on, but exclusively specific terms applicable to each species of tree, fish and bird.” The same absence of words for tree, fish and bird, accompanied by the use of proper nouns for all objects and creatures occurs in other primitive peoples.
From what I've seen in my amateur linguistic investigations, most modern linguists would probably argue that, contrary to the above, there is no such thing as a 'primitive language,' at least not among any of the ones spoken in the world today. The argument is that all human languages exhibit comparable complexity and expressive power – with some 'tribal' languages far exceeding (in some ways) the complexity of languages like English or French. But in making this claim, it seems to me that linguists may be looking primarily at certain grammatical elements and relationships, rather than at, say, Piagetian developmental orders of cognition. The examples in this essay do seem to strongly suggest that both the content and structure of many of these languages reflect features of concrete operational thinking. It also appears to support, however, the basic thesis that underlies this thread: the (enactive) relationship between language/grammar and thought/experience, indicating that Bohm's project (or related ones, such as %3C/span%3Ehttp%3a//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Prime">e-Prime or Lojban/Loglan) may have merit or be worth pursuing further.
In discovering the highly verbal, embodied/concrete languages of the Americas, I believe Bohm glimpsed, at least, the possibility, not of a return to concrete operational thinking (a pre/trans fallacy, something I believe he would have rejected had he recognized it), but an opening beyond the horizons of the presupposed structures of our thought, towards a higher-order grammar that is similarly verbal and embodied -- in post- form, not pre-.
In my discussion above, I mentioned the examples of e-Prime (a modification of English which does away with the 'to be' verb) and Lojban (an entirely new constructed language). Both of these languages were inspired by the thesis that language forms do indeed influence thinking and perception, and Lojban in fact was first created as a way of testing this hypothesis. To my knowledge, neither project has demonstrated this influence conclusively, in part because of the difficulties of actually testing this; but a number of speakers of Lojban do report that they feel the language has opened new creative vistas for them. (If you're interested in hearing Lojban, there is a several-part movie in the language which is available for viewing on Youtube, beginning here.)
When I first read Whorf's and Bohm's writings on thought and language, which was about 20 years ago, I was inspired to experiment with this myself. The task I set myself, after Bohm, was to create a more verbally centered, process-oriented mode of speaking and thinking. Although I did end up creating a fairly workable (though imperfect and incomplete) language, with a new grammar and writing system and about 500 words of vocabulary, I think the value of the experiment was more in the doing than in the final product. It forced me, over the course of several months of reflection and inquiry, to face some of the deep presuppositions that underlie my habitual modes of thinking, of organizing and languaging experience. In the process, I found the quality of my perceptions and even the nature of everyday experience would momentarily shift into new, more open and flowing states.
Perhaps one reason for this was I had set myself a nearly impossible task: how to think and speak without nouns and pronouns (using verbs and other structures instead).
If you're interested, here's an example of the language I created:
Om-alu yε deoš amas ymer undεš mal šai uĵerište.
Le amεš ðirymer de'ilustote, aiu ymer ilustütu, le unas yð-ilist'auluš.
Le emas aĵ-ilus'emyš, aiu le an'yð-ilust-emüš erεgai.
Om-erĵuš ram ĵui emb-ur'emuš virðai, aiu ram ĵas yð-elθuš yr-aumai.
Le amεš čeu sumai, yð-daur'auluš, aiu yð- auluš ram de'uĵerošte ymer gelašte.
The straightforward English translation of the first sentence is as follows: “We ask you, God, to be with us here in our house this morning."
And the literal translation of the first sentence runs something like the following: "Speaking to request: Divine Presencing (first-person plural experience) here where sheltering (first-person plural experience) while now dawning (first-person plural witnessing)."
An interesting consequence of the experiment -- of avoiding my habitual English habit of appealing to nouns and pronouns -- was that, not only did the language end up being process centered, but perspective-taking came to fore. Instead of using pronouns, this language allows you to modify verbs according to a wide range of perspectives. With the emphasis on perspectives and holistically unfolding processes in AQAL theory, I am interested in exploring how I might retool my language to be even more consonant with the emerging Integral vision...
Here's an example of my script. (It says, "Bruce is a geek.")
In my blog above, besides my own project, I mentioned a logical constructed language called Lojban. Another interesting project -- the construction of a logical language on philosophical principles -- is Ithkuil, created by John Quijada.
Ithkuil was designed with the following goals in mind:
Relevant to some of our recent discussions, here's a brief description of the role of the holistic / philosophical notion of "complementarity" as a basic grammatical featue of Ithkuil:
Another principle underlying the formation of words in Ithkuil is complementarity. Western thought and language generally reflect Aristotelian logic in the way they conceptualize the world and the interrelationships between discrete entities in that world. Ithkuil, on the other hand, views the world as being based on complementary principles, where, instead of discrete independence between related entities, such concepts are seen as complementary aspects of a single holistic entity. Such complementarity is in turn reflected in the derivation of word-roots. By “complementarity” is meant that the manifestation of a concept appears in any given context as either one sort of entity or another, but never both simultaneously; yet, neither manifestation can be considered to be a discrete whole without the existence of the other. A simple illustration of complementarity is the flip of a coin: the coin can only land on one side or the other, yet without both sides being part of the coin, any given coin toss has no meaning or contextual relevance no matter which side is face-up.
For example, in Western languages, words such as male, night, limb, sit, and happen are all autonomous words, linguistically representing what are inherently considered to be basic mental concepts or semantic primitives. However, in Ithkuil, none of these words is considered to be a semantic primitive. Instead, they are seen to be parts of greater, more holistic semantic concepts, existing in complementary relationship to another part, the two together making up the whole.
Thus, Ithkuil lexical structure recognizes that the word male has no meaning in and of itself without an implicit recognition of its complementary partner, female, the two words mutually deriving from a more basic, holistic concept, translatable into English as living being. Similarly, the word night(time) derives along with its complement day(time) from the underlying concept translatable as day (24-hour period), while limb, along with its complement trunk or torso, derives from the stem (corporeal) body.
Actions, too, are not exempt from this principle of complementarity, an example being the relationship between sit and seat; one has no meaning without an implicit and joint partnership with the other, i.e., one cannot sit unless one sits upon something, and whatever one sits upon automatically functions as a seat. We see the awkward attempt of English to convey these jointly dependent but mutually exclusive perspectives when comparing the sentences Please sit down and Please be seated. Another example involves the word happen or occur, which Ithkuil recognizes as having no real meaning without the attendant implication of consequence or result, the two being complementary components of a holistic concept roughly translatable as event or situation.
I enjoy this topic, but I’ve been hesitant to share anything because it’s so speculative, or perhaps anecdotal. How does one go about studying whether language has a cognitive-spiritual effect? I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of evidence would count. Still, for what it’s worth, my own feeling is that RAW’s advice, coupled with my own insights, has had a large and very positive effect on my own development.
With regards to creating a new language, I have two pieces of general advice. Firstly, Korzybski’s famous line (now a cliché, sadly): the map is not the territory. Language can be likened to a map in that it distils conscious experience, ideas, predictions, etc., into a simplified form that can be readily communicated. It therefore always has problems with ambiguity, by definition.
The only “perfect” language would require multiple disclaimers for each sentence, and then each disclaimer would in turn require more disclaimers, ad infinitum. Consider the line “perfection is not a reasonable goal”. We can get rid of the blatant use of absolute essences, as with General Semantics, by changing it to “perfection does not seem like a reasonable goal”; but that leaves out perspective, so we’d need to add to it: “perfection does not seem like a reasonable goal to me”. But what is this “me” that I refer to? Better define that, too...
Any attempt to create a perfect language will therefore ultimately fail. But although perfection does not seem like a reasonable goal (to me), we can still have relatively more or less clear forms of communication, so I’ll happily take part in your experiment.
Secondly, I suggest that we try to adopt principles that modify English (but may also apply to some other languages) rather than creating something new. That way if it works, we can use it outside of this forum.
Thanks for your post. I agree that this topic is rather speculative. There have been a number of experiments done in this area -- and Lojban and Ithkuil were both created to test the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis -- but I am not aware of any such experiment offering anything really conclusive. However, from personal experience of exploring alien languages and working with the "koan" of creating one which transgresses my habitual ways of organizing the world, I believe I have benefitted positively from such exercises. At least to the extent that they helped me expose, explore, and loosen my presuppositions and to be able to expand my perspectives.
It probably doesn't need saying, but just in case, I want to stress that I am not interested in -- and am not proposing here -- a search for a "perfect" or "ultimate" language. That sort of orientation doesn't play any role in my thinking these days, nor did it at the time I first began experimenting with language 25 or 30 years ago.
Regarding modifying English, yes, I think that's a more "practical" way to proceed. I personally have been attracted to creating something "exotic" and fanciful, not out of an interest in having people actually take it up (so many such attempts by others in the past have fallen flat), but out of an interest just in really stretching my thought. I think discoveries from such an exercise could then possibly be translated back into new "modes" of, or orientations towards, English.
Tom: Genius move. Do something different and watch what happens inside.
Yes, this, for me, was the greatest value of my prior language experiments: an experiment in not-doing (a la Castaneda) which, by contrast, highlights and loosens or illuminates or 'transparentizes' habitual modes of thinking and ordering perception.
Tom: I thought long and hard about that proposition, and in the end I couldn't go with it. It didn't pass some intuitive test.
I'd like to hear more about this, if you're able to articulate it. From my perspective now, which differs from the time I attempted my language experiment 25 years ago, I no longer think it advisable or an "advance" to get rid of nominalization, but I still think the emphasis of a grammar could be profitably shifted towards process and perspective over substance and nominalization (or, better, simply beyond the nominal-as-base presupposition).
Tom: If you look at our current grammar, it combines noun and verb, or stasis (being) and movement (becoming), a dual structuring, in other words. Yes, our grammar does seem to favour the noun in some primary or temporally-first way. But that seems a natural priority of mental process, because whenever we talk of movement, we're talking of something moving. Without identifying that something up front, any reference to movement floats in an unidentified space.
I think the dual structure of language is with us to stay, and don't think there really is an alternative to duality. That's where I eventually landed on this issue.
Sure there is: non-duality. By this, I don't mean the elimination of duality, but a post-Aristotelian, post-Newtonian, complementary rendering of it.
Tom: Btw, I love that longer quote above from Quijada. He describes complementarity very well. Only one mutually exclusive aspect of a dual-aspect (contradictory) reality can be present in the foreground. The missing dual operates or sits by implication in the background. Without that background, the foreground is incomplete and by that incompletion has no meaning. That sums up complementarity in a nutshell.
Yes, I think he describes complementarity well. And one of his morphological conventions lines up with my current thinking on this (which actually would be compatible with Bohm's rheomode, I believe): a la Finkelstein, a movement past the 'idols' of nouns and verbs, towards a complementary rendering of both (built in to the grammar). Quijada doesn't mention Finkelstein, of course, but this is what I think he is doing when he elects, in his language, to start with certain basic morphological units which are neither "verb" or "noun" but both/and, e.g., which may manifest as one or the other depending on context. English already has "dual function" words like this, and Shakespeare was a master at inventing new ones; but a grammar could be built in which this was an essential "logic" or orientation.
There are several ways this could be done, which is one thing I'd be interested in exploring here. In my old language experiment, one of my conventions was to do away with prepositions as stand-alone words, and instead to modify or inflect words according to different types of 'perspective' (first-person, first-person shared, first-person inferred, third-person, etc). I also created a category of verbal endings to indicate various classes of action or expression (which would include 'stasis'). These conventions, together with morphological units which can "noun" or "verb" interchangeably, according to context, would go some ways, I think, towards creating a generative grammatical set of operators which embody some of the orientations we've been exploring here at IPS.
If I'm not mistaken "kennilingus" is a noun-verb.
Ah, I believe it is. But P2P pee is a grammatical sin.
Here's an experiment with an "Integral" pictographic language: Pattern Dynamics.
From the website introduction:
PatternDynamics™ is an Integral Pattern Language for Deep Sustainability Design.
Our key strategy is to integrate diverse perspective and patterns in the design of sustainability solutions.
We have developed and tested enough green technologies and ecologically literate strategies to create a sustainable world. Currently this potential is unrealized, not because we necessarily need more of these technologies and strategies, but because sustainability initiatives are not designed to be fully supported by the multiple perspectives and manifold world views making up our increasingly complex global community. That is, sustainability as a complex global challenge cannot be met until we integrate the technologies of the 'outside' world with effective initiatives that also take into account the 'inside' world of perceptions, meaning, values and culture. Developing this integrative capacity for solving complex global challenges is the next step in human evolution. The challenge now is to take sustainability to that next level by designing 'deep sustainability' initiatives–initiatives that ensure high levels of uptake through the opportunity to participate in sustainability in ways that bring understanding, meaning and integrity to everyone's lives.
PatternDynamics™ uses the design patterns of sustainable natural systems to create a set of "pattern" diagrams- the PatternDynamics™ Chart. Each pattern in the chart represents a principle of sustainability. Transforming natural patterns into cultural principles- the principles of sustainability—is the core of the PatternDynamics™ training method.
PatternDynamics™ is simple for beginners, scale-able for any size organization, and offers natural ‘systems thinkers’ and sustainability leaders a methodology to communicate, design and collaborate for sustainable futures.
And it looks like one of the creators of this gave a presentation at the most recent Integral Theory conference. I hadn't noticed it at the time.
For fun this evening, I re-did my video sample of my experimental conlang:
Stuart Davis has a new video out introducing some of the features of his experimental language, IS.
I'm against it!
Just to be clear: I grew up with Tolkien, Star Trek, Esperanto & Korzybski (the source of E-prime). So it is obvious that I am no enemy of experimentation with invented languages.
And I am also a great fan of computer programming, integral algebra, shamanic neo-verbal languaging, Gendlin-style implicate articulations & the impulse to ground integrative level thinking in some variant of universal grammar.
All that is great.
Now let me go on record as being not only skeptical but fundamentally opposed to the notion that new languages are at all relevant to the philosophical or cultural dimensions of the meta-theoretical or integrative universe.
I claim that the value of "new languages" lies almost exclusively in their ability to help their creators see a little more deeply into the poetics and implicit generative grammar which undergirds their own relationship to Language. Beyond that these things are destined to remain as toys and minor curiosities. Even the notion of a mutated English language is being rendered unnecessary and archaic by the production of increasingly competent digital translation software.
The higher (i.e. integrally and meta-integrally correlated) dimensions of language will not be found in either poetic or theoretical "new languages". Rather they are more likely to emerge from the factors which contribute to the convergent holding of one's natural language with speakers of other languages who have applied a similar degree of deconstructive and reconstructive investigation into their own languaging processes. New language experiments, much like "translating and translating back" or the adopting of spliced, interlinguistic terminology are ways to alter our holding of the existing forms of our language. There is only minor progress to be made in any intentional attempt to modify natural languages. And the bulk of those contributions will continue to be provided by technical confrontation with new life circumstances and the effervescence of pop culture as it extends colloquial thought patterns (e.g.-ish, -ness, LITERALLY!, etc.) into new aesthetic tools.
So while we SHOULD bathe ourselves deeply in the play of new and/or strange languages, we should not take very seriously the notion that these have a significant role to play in securing depth or generating new bio-cultural development.
After putting a lot of time and effort into such a project (when I was 20 or 21, I believe), I emerged also feeling that the creation of a new language was not necessary -- but felt that it was a fruitful vehicle for self-exploration, opening and shifting perspectives, etc. As I said in my comments to Tom earlier in this thread: its primary value for me was as an exercise in not-doing, and in doing differently.
With that said, though, I wouldn't take the hard position you do and stand in opposition to such exercises. Who knows what can grow out of them, for those who are pursuing these things in depth? Having enjoyed the exercise myself, and admiring the aesthetic and conceptual surprises in others' creations, I would never stand on a soap box and tell folks not to do it. I do not think the creation of new languages is necessary for the flourishing of meta-theory or integral culture, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that language experimentation and play has nothing relevant to show us, no value to contribute to integral culture (as art, as contemplative exercise, etc). In emerging post-linguistic-turn, construct aware forms of culture, it is not at all surprising to me, in fact, that we are seeing more of these kinds of creative projects. I am pretty skeptical about the idea that a conlang is capable of deeply transforming or developing culture, but am in no way opposed to Stuart's project, or to Lojban, Ithkuil, and other recent philosophical-language experiments.