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As a writer, words carry a special significance for me. I collect unusual ones, appreciate it when someone writes something that strikes a chord, and take pleasure in crafting a piece of work that entertains, enlightens, or challenges others.
But is it really the words, letters, or grammatical markings that make the magic? Or does magic really happen in the brain?
I just finished a book called The First Signs by Genevieve von Petzinger. The premise of the book is essentially that the symbols, i.e. letters etc., are meaningless. It is our understanding of those symbols that give them meaning. Without the context of understanding what the symbols represent, there is no meaning.
For example, if an English-speaking person were to read the following, they might think it beautifully written, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” But if we changed the symbols out for, say, Chinese, it might appear as just gibberish 我如何愛你？ 讓我來計算一下 to us.
There is no meaning without a fundamental understanding of the symbolic nature of the lines and squiggles; a b c to our English speaker and 在一開 to our Chinese speaker.
The symbols merely trigger brain processes, they have no innate meaning. The meaning lies not in the symbols themselves but in the magic of the mind’s ability to transform them into thoughts. And our thoughts are conversations with ourselves. (I often listen to the voices, don’t you?)
Written language is a consensus where we reach a collective understanding to use symbols to trigger the shared meaning of concepts found only in our minds.
The magic of everything we see, hear, or feel happens only in our minds. Everything outside is without meaning or form without the magic in our brain. It is merely light reflected off the surface of an object and translated into concepts within our minds. Thus Plato’s allegory of the cave, questioning the need for the real world.
Reality happens when we think it into existence. Beyond a matrix. Beyond any imaginary concepts. The quantum reality of existence. Symbols, be they letters or glyphs, are just that without the magic.
A clever way to think of this is the Babblefish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. (Please tell me you read this—the movie didn’t do it justice.) For those of you who may have missed the story, a babblefish is a creature capable of translating any language into one understood by the person equipped with such a companion. It is inserted in the ear where the babblefish leads a happy and useful life translating many languages. But what it really does is understand the universal concepts and questions,
Where is the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?
Where can I get something to eat?
How much for a vodka martini?
Where is the bathroom?
Thus it would seem while humanity has made great strides in populating the earth, it is still in the dark ages when it comes to a common language and system of writing. This, like all things, will change eventually. Even the doomed concept of Esperanto had its moments. It turned out to be the Beta tapes of language (look it up if you must) but it did spark some discussion.
To illustrate how things are constantly changing, think about the balance between spoken and written communication. In our earliest history primitive humans—Sapiens, Neanderthal, Heidelbergensis—developed language, simple yet effective as it was, to communicate information.
Where the Aurochs were. How far to water. Etc.
As human communication progressed, people developed written symbols (painted, etched, or carved into stone) to provide a more permanent “data storage” solution. A way to “record” their voice. But for the first millennia of human communication, it was almost exclusively spoken.
We lost these communications in the mists of history.
All through my generation on the earth, almost all of my communication with others was verbal. Of course, there are letters, notes, and other paper remnants of things we wrote , but we lost the majority to time.
Today, that balance between words spoken and written is changing. Social media has diminished the use of speaking to each other in favor of text, snapchats, and social media postings. I dare say that as the efficiency, reach, and speed of such systems increases, we may lose our ability for conversation.
Almost every conversation I had with friends and family growing up is forever lost to the past, inevitably altered by the fluidity of memory. In the case of today’s generation, there are petabytes (one thousand terabytes) of data storage with almost everything they’ve ever “said” online preserved for posterity.
Imagine everything you’ve ever said being available to recall and view all over again. I don’t know about you but the concept is chilling. While I’ve said some things I’m very proud of, there are an equal if greater amount better lost forever.
I couldn’t write things for people to read if there was no way to put it in front of them, be it on a screen or in a printed book. But conversation is an art. It is something intimate to be shared with our fellow humans, either a casual conversation with fellow traveler on a plane or in a coffee shop or with a child, lover, or friend.
Universities give out honorary degrees to people of note. They often entitled the degrees Doctor of Humane Letters. This is a formal way of saying a person whose words, actions, and/or writings have affected people and history.
What the title really implies is someone who has spoken to his fellow humans in the most profound way. It is the epitome of being human. It is the ultimate form of caring about your fellow beings. To spend time in conversation is to share one’s fundamental humanity.
Language lets us enter into another person’s thoughts and share the experience; We can never replace it with a symbol no matter how beautifully written. When you learned to speak, then read, then write, there was a reason speech had to come first. It is the foundation of all communication. Everything else is just a method of transmission.
It can never be the message itself. That requires magic.
JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services. Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-533-3988.