This is the third part of the ‘Real Talk’ series, The Logos and the Sacred Word. Read Part II here:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
-John 1:1 (NASB)
This is the phrase that opens the fourth canonical gospel, that of John. The ‘Word’ is the accepted translation of the Greek word ‘λόγος’ (logos,) which, aside from word, can be translated to mean ‘reason’ or ‘cause,’ and forms the basis for the word ‘logic.’ Remember this, we’ll come back to it in a bit.
The brilliant but strange ethnobotanist Terence McKenna spent a large part of his career studying psychedelics and their role in primitive societies. One of his theories is referred to as the “Stoned Ape” hypothesis, or the idea that early hominid species evolved in the manner that they did as a result of symbiosis with the naturally-occurring psychedelic ‘Psilocybe Cubensis’ mushrooms in their environment. I won’t go too far into this theory (which is fascinating but fairly out-there,) the important aspect to note is the fact that at higher doses of psychedelics, a symptom exhibited is ‘Glossolalia,’ (more commonly known as ‘speaking in tongues.’) McKenna theorized that this glossolalia, which stimulates the language-forming centers of the brain, would have led to the development (or enhancement) of primitive language.
While I would recommend taking everything McKenna says with a grain of salt, let’s assume that his theory is correct in the instance of language development. I personally hypothesize that the glossolalia arises as an attempt to explain the subjective experiences brought on by psychedelics to others. There’s a famous (but slightly inaccurate) quote stating “that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.” While not perfect numbers, the important takeaway is that a huge component of communication is nonverbal, and a large amount is tonal.
This is likely the result of the fact that humans have had to communicate for much longer than we’ve had spoken language. Imagine the human experience pre-language (or the use of very simple language, like grunts or other significant sounds.) You would communicate primarily through facial expressions, posture, gesture, hand signals, and simple sounds like shouts and cries. However, there’s only so much that could be conveyed. Now, imagine having a profound (potentially religious or spiritual) experience without the capacity to explain it to others in the nonverbal language you know- it would be impossible. Thus, glossolalia- the attempt to build on the small amounts of vocalization and tone of voice developed into the primitive language of mankind.
Now, the development of language is all well and good- but if you’re piecing together what I’ve discussed in the last part of the series, you may have already guessed where we’re headed. As I said before, I am the kind of person who thinks in words- my thoughts are a silent internal monologue. Now, imagine being a creature that previously lacked words and now developed the capacity to think in them? It would be a profound and completely separate experience from what you had prior- and it is certainly a one-way trip. You can’t just stop thinking in words once you’ve started.
Where once the nonverbal language was a form of communication between two separate beings, now it becomes an internal, private process. On top of that, now you have the capacity to think of things that don’t currently exist. The development of the ‘Word’ marks the true birth of Mankind. McKenna himself believed that the origin of the story of the Garden of Eden had its roots in the ‘forbidden fruit’ that was psychedelics.
Is that really so far-fetched? Let’s imagine that the Genesis story is a mythologized form of history. In the original Jewish texts, the race of Man is called ‘Adam Kadmon,’ which translates literally to ‘primordial man.’ Adam Kadmon was created before Adam, the first man, (literally translated from Adam Ha-Rishon,) who was fashioned individually from dust. I think this is significant to note- and often ignored. Whereas the race of Man existed, here we see that the first true Man was in fact somehow different as a result of his direct creation in the image of God.
Now, let’s return to the start. We’ll imagine here that Adam being made in the image of God meant that the first true Man was made in the image of the Logos, or the Word. This distinguishes the early hominid race from the first Homo Sapiens by showing that Adam was the first man capable of true language.
If you’ve read my article about Solomon and the structure of the mind,
you’ll remember that in my conception of the mind, the true core of what constitutes the Self or consciousness is separate from the other components of the brain. In that vein, we can imagine that Adam, the first true Man is the first person to possess consciousness.
(Now, where the prohibition from God against eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge fits into this narrative, I am not sure. It’s interesting to consider, however, that element of the story has always seemed to be more of a metaphor for the loss of innocence than a historically analogous element.)
At this point, the first conscious Man has eaten of the fruit and gained the capacity for thought constrained to the medium of language. This is significant, and in this conception represents the ‘Fall.’ Because the mind and thoughts of Man are now constrained in language, whatever state existed prior is now completely inaccessible to him. (I believe the Buddhist idea of striving to achieve ‘no-mind’ are likely attempts to reach this pre-language state.)
The introduction of the Word to the human experience is where individuality and the self originate. With language now an internal activity, the internal experience of Man develops. Personality and private thoughts are now a reality- and from private thought, it would seem that knowledge of good and evil arise. Whereas prior to the Word, experience was immediate, now Man’s existence is mediated through language before he processes it. Through this gap, Man enters the flow of time- now aware that there is a difference between the persistent Self of conscious experience and the transient events that happen. Before, life was likely timeless- and you can imagine this if you’ve ever experienced ‘flow’ or have been ‘in the zone.’
This is the reason that the Word is sacred. The development of language is what separates us from all of the other creatures on this planet. Through the Word, we can convey things that before could only be imagined- and through this conveyance our ideas can be brought to life. As you read this, you process and conceptualize ideas that otherwise would never have left the confines of my mind. Through the Word, we understand and experience the world.