A lot has happened since our last get-together, but I trust everyone made it across the Great Calendar Divide safely and sanely. May the ensuing year bring you health, happiness, and peace.
Even though the “course” itself may be over, the thinking it initiated certainly isn’t, at least not for me, and I’ve read two books since then that I wanted to share with the rest of you as you have shown deep interest in the general topic of “language”. These are
Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages (London: Arrow Books, 2010) and
John McWorter’s The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Lanaguage (Oxford, et al.: Oxford University Press, 2014).
If I had written a term paper for the “course”, mine would have been a synairetic critique of these two texts. Deutscher obviously tends to lean towards some form of Neo-Whorfianism (though he actually advocates a form of Boas-Jakobsonism), whereas McWorter apparently rejects the whole notion (which would be unfair as he doesn’t deny a connection between culture and language, only the Whorfian-implied specificity, if you will).
Both books are simply well-written and – believe it or not – entertaining, which seems an odd thing to say about scholarly works in linguistics, but it’s appropriate nevertheless. In other words, if you are interested in exploring the relationship between language and reality, these two works are a good place to start. Regardless of your own “position” on the matter, you’ll come away from both of them with a new sense of awe of the phenomenon we know as human language.
Thanks for the greeting…though not sure there is an “other side” yet! How about you?
I love language and linquistics, but…whenever the view breaks into a divide reminiscent of "culture or nature (genetics/phenotypics?) I immediately feel the answer lies here: BOTH and MORE.
However, it can, indeed, be fun, to explore the ends (and middles) of the spectrum.
This year so far has been very reminiscent of the old song … “second verse, same as the first”!
Funny you should mention it, but Deutscher does bring up the “nativist-culturalist” dichotomy; McWhorter focuses more on nuancing the Sapir-Whorf/Neo-Whorfianism/Boas-Jakobson “position”. It is surprising in the end how much “BOTH and MORE” seeps through both of them (which would have been one of the points my term paper would have made ). Unfortunately, for the rest of us, acadamics live by taking positions, and arts-and-culture journalists thrive from highlighting them. Both books’ redeeming characteristic, though, is how well written they are – not necessarily a given these days.
In Workshop 4 of our series on Consciously Evolving Language, @MarcoMasi suggested a text that might be relevant to those of us interested in perhaps another view of language. This was
Henri Bortoft (1996), The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science, Edinburgh, Floris Books, 6th Printing, 2018.
For one, I’d like to thank Marco deeply for this suggestion; but further, I would like to underscore it and highly recommend the book myself.
Although Bortoft’s focus is on elucidating Goethe’s approach to science and how it is essentially diametrically opposed to the one advanced by current Western science, it does so by highlighting two topics raised in our CEL discussions.
First of all, it describes Goethe’s approach to wholeness, a topic which we touched up on our discussions around the notions of speaking from wholness as opposed to speaking about wholeness. The practical suggestions Bortoft makes, if taken seriously, can lead the reader to Goethe’s experience of wholeness, which formed the basis of his way of science and which makes it perhaps the way forward for science as a whole, a way that could certainly support our efforts to get ourselves off the path to the destruction of the planet which we are currently treading.
More to the point of our discussions, though, he uses language as an example and vehicle for coming to realize and recognize wholeness by means of our capacity to understand and interpret language generally. In other words, language itself, in all its activities – listening, speaking, reading, and writing – is one of the most intimate examples we have for actually understanding language and the role it plays in our existence as human beings. He does so in a way much more accessible than those upon whom he builds (e.g., Heidegger, Gadamer, etc.). That is, he shows quite clearly how the process of interpreting and understanding texts (in its most general sense) is analogous to Goethe’s approach to wholeness and science.
As it turns out, we may be “closer” to wholeness than we have long suspected, and it is possible to experience wholeness more directly than through introducing external tools. Whereas Newton, for example, used a prism to come to his explanation for the spectrum of colors (which it turns out, in the end, is not correct), Goethe attempted to understand color by penetrating more deeply into the phenomenon itself. I personally think Goethe’s approach is more rewarding, but that’s just me.
Bortoft’s text is not overly difficult to follow nor dense. It is a lucid, informative, yet highly insightful look at an exceedingly elusive capability that all of us have, whether we readily recognize it or not. Reading this book is truly time well spent.
Thanks for starting this extra discussion, Ed. Although I haven’t read McWhorter, I have listened to him on YouTube. Perhaps it’s time to buy another book. (When is it NOT time to get another book? I mean, really!) A friend had sent me the Bortoft way back in June, but I only glanced at it then. Time to read that too. When the universe keeps putting something in front of me, I take it as a synchronicity, a sign to really pay attention to.
I have been in the process of writing an additional section at the end of each chapter. Much like the final chapter, these sections pull the original post into the present. I was reviewing the chapter on metaphor recently when it occurred to me to follow up on the links at the very end. They were about a military grant to study the implicit metaphors in other languages. I figured that the grant must have produced something in the way of publications. Indeed, it had. Here is one of the things that came from it–a metaphor wiki. Here is part of my update of that chapter.
The article referenced at the end of the post, by Paul Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky, is a now well-known study about how people use metaphors to frame crime and thereby influence people’s attitudes about criminals. In a nutshell, they found that, if crime was described as a beast preying on one’s city or as a virus infecting the city, it shaped people’s attitudes toward how to deal with it. The latter was met with ways to determine the root causes and treat the problem through social reform, the former with ways to catch and jail. Even just a one-word difference (beast vs. virus) in the experimental scenarios resulted in different solutions to the problem of crime.
The Atlantic article is based on that study and describes a military program to understand the metaphoric bases of other languages, particularly languages of people we spy on. It might help us better understand intelligence intercepts. Fortunately, it also helps us better understand our own language and its implicit metaphors and assumptions.
That funded research resulted in the creation of the MetaNet Wiki. Structured like Wikipedia, this wiki lists metaphors and frames, maps them to each other, for example, as a subcase of another metaphor or one that makes use of another metaphor; it also gives variants of the metaphors (e.g., NATION IS A VEHICLE is the main metaphor and NATION IS A CAR is a variant). This wiki is available at https://metanet.icsi.berkeley.edu/metanet/. Here is a screenshot.
The MetaNet Wiki documents hundreds of commonly used metaphors. To invent new ones, scroll through the list and think about alternatives. For example, it lists ADVOCACY IS PHYSICAL COMBAT. When you click on it, you learn that this metaphor is a variant of ARGUMENT IS PHYSICAL COMBAT. If I were an advocate for, say, the rights of Nature, maybe I do not want to describe my efforts as fighting for Nature. So what kind of new metaphor might I invent? Perhaps ADVOCACY IS HUGGING (“Let us embrace the sovereignty of forests/oceans/the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge…”) or ADVOCACY IS NOURISMENT (“Feed the Earth, feed your soul”).
When I searched “GAME” I expected to get a long list of metaphors in the form of X IS A GAME, but there were just a few, including ELECTION IS A GAME and CONSIDERING THE IMPORTANCE OF RIGHTS IS PLAYING A GAME, as well as related metaphors like BUSINESS COMPETITION IS COMPETITIVE SPORTS and the variant ELECTIONS ARE COMPETITIVE SPORTS EVENTS. Perhaps since this project was funded by the military, it didn’t focus on more general metaphors such as LIFE IS A GAME. Or maybe because life is an infinite game, it didn’t fit with the usual types of finite games.
We can distinguish here between elections as finite games but politics itself as an infinite game. If that distinction made its way into the mainstream, perhaps we would restructure those games to be played differently than they are now. We might ask not only “what are the rules of the game” but also “what are the goals of the game.” If the goal is not to win, then what becomes possible?
My experience is that it’s always better to go with it than fight it. I’ve never been to keen on taking on the whole Cosmos. I’ve also found the synchronistic paths have always been the more fruitful and rewarding, but that’s just me.
Heh, heh, heh … the military. What don’t they want to study? But it is never for life-enhancing reasons. They have an agenda, to be sure, and it certainly isn’t one I’m very much in tune with. Truth be told, if they wanted to understand, they wouldn’t have to resort to spying, would they?
As you can also imagine, I’m not sure just how it " helps us better understand our own language and its implicit metaphors and assumptions." After all, their “research” is based on their assumptions about language (for I’m not sure language itself has any of which we would be aware). I’m still convinced that our state of mind – in Gebser’s terms, our dominant structure of consciousness (in this case, Rational) – influences which metaphors we gravitate toward and most definitely which assumptions we make about language. My guess is that they are approaching the whole program in the belief that language is a tool, a mere medium of communication, a system which can be controlled like any other system … all you have to do is find the right places to tweak it. Don’t get me wrong: this is a way of looking at it, and you can go a long way toward achieving your goals taking this approach, but I can’t help but thinking it has its limits, and also that it will in the end cause more harm than good. Nevertheless, thanks for the links and references. It’s always good to know what they’re up to. I never like to lose sight of them for very long.
This caught my eye, particularly because it is precisely what I would have expected. As you point out:
… a notion that is obviously not on their radar. But it is indicative of a different way of mentating (not just thinking, but also feeling and imagining) about games. It opens up a number of other possibilities. One would think that it shouldn’t be all that tough to nudge past the win/lose aspect of games, but all that 90s and Naughties talk of play seems to have played itself out for the most part. Still, I think the direction is a good one, and maybe reviving some of it wouldn’t be the worst thing either.
About inventing metaphor. As I know you are familiar, Lisa, with my approach, I feel confident that you will receive the positive intention behind my questions.
And when ADVOCACY at your best…
And whereabouts is ADVOCACY?
And when ADVOCACY at your best…does ADVOCACY have a size or shape?
These clean questions invite you to find a location in your perceptual space the implicit, tacit, somatic knowing you already have. The questions are to be asked slowly. The written word is quite inadequate, for we need face to face contact, rhythm and tone. Typed words do not suffice. I offer these questions not as a pop quiz but as Steven Rosen might say an invitation to proprioception.
And space I hasten to add is not empty. Our perceptual spaces ( around and within us) are packed with information and energy before it gets cognitive, undetected by the fast, focused, everyday mind which tends to think in prose.
I recall, Lisa, during one of our dialogues using Clean Language, when you visited New York, you said something enigmatic about the process. You said" It feels like it is all already there." You pointed at the space around you where you had located your embodied metaphors.
I wish we had been able to develop this further but maybe we will get around to it someday. I would have suggested then the following, " Yes it is already there AND it is never complete. We are always adding new metaphors, symbols, analogues, and we are deleting the old ones that no longer serve us."
What do I know now that I didn’t know then? The world is falling apart faster than I imagined it could. After our course, and witnessing recent, world events, I can advocate for new metaphors. This is what many of us are working with already. Metaphors are poetic, implicit, and come out of oscillations between language, proprioception, visuals, cultural rhythms and vast, interstellar space. Metaphors enfold and unfold, transverse and transpose, turn us inside out, vibrate and create conditions for a new style.
Having recently read Steven Rosen’s correspondence with physicist David Bohm, I’m glad to say our mutual love of Moebius strips and Klein bottles has paid off. Reading these two very, good minds, is a treasure trove of good things to think about. And what kind of treasures are in that treasure trove?
" Reality is a totality of active meaning. Wholeness is never complete… perhaps we could say that the totality to be grasped is non-symbolic, concrete, grounded in being, and at the same time symbolic, abstract, transcendent knowing ( it is both immanent, eternally within, there to be discovered, yet, also, emergent, novel, an outcome of the creative advance of human consciousness. I’m proposing that the status of knowing be elevated to equal partnership with being, by working through knowing down to its deepest roots, out to its farthest frontiers, where we may discover/create its old/new entwinement with being.
I further feel that the planetary healing now so badly needed might occur if enough of us could so realize totality. Here we would find, not man supremely wise, but " superman supremely ignorant"- a whole new vista of the unknown world would open to the self-created, novel species."-David Bohm
By the way, I am reading Sand Talk. Thanks for the recommendation.
I agree, Ed. I have read both of his books, they are underlined with notes. I am at a cross roads. As life is short, I have to decide once again to re-read what was over my head or start something new. If you want to start a study group, Ed, I am open to that. This book would fit the curriculum we have already initiated. As an added bonus I send Matt Segal’s recent lecture on Goethe, Plato, and Whitehead, which provides some very useful background to Bortoft’s work. During the winter of our discontent it might be fun to get into another deep dive. Here is the link to that talk and I would love to hear your response.
Very nice clip, John, thanks for this. It’s too bad that it’s one of a series; I’m sure the one before and the ones after would be of great interest as well.
What I liked most about it was Matt’s continuous attempt to mediate between Goethe’s way of science and the dominant, analytical approach of current science. We may not like its claim to exclusivity, which it has no real right making, but it is useful for many things, and we have gained a lot from it in spite of all its shortcomings. What Goethe offers is more a necessary, complementary enhancement which helps redirect the focus of our attention from the parts to the whole, to wholeness. What is becoming increasingly apparent is current science’s limits. Goethe opens a way to get past these.
The YouTube videos on light were very helpful in seeing what Bortoft, for example, presents when discussing Goethe’s theory of light and color. His polemic against Newton was quite direct, but this was, I think, due at least in part to the fact that Newton had already been raised upon a pedestal hence his word was more or less law … but only in a specific analytic sense. As Bortoft points out, it is possible to interpret Goethe analytically but it leads right past Goethe and what it is he actually achieved phenomenologically. At that point it is easy to discard Goethe, but as Matt points out in this short clip, that comes at a rather high cost.
That clip also points out a number of other themes that are worth cogitating about: the similarities/differences to Plato’s notion of ideal forms, the relationship between contingencies and necessity (especially in biological terms), but also the capacity to experience wholeness are the first to spring to mind. The latter really speaks to the question of speaking from wholeness that came up in our CEL sessions.
It is worth noting that Matt does reference Bortoft from the previous session, even if he doesn’t play much of a role here. I would be curious to know if he develops Bortoft’s emphasis (based on work by Ornstein) between the analytic and holistic modes of consciousness. This plays a very central role, I think, in grokking what Goethe was up to. It was an excellent little clip. Thanks again.
The content does in fact dovetail well with what we have been considering here. A coordinated close reading could also prove quite beneficial. The success of that undertaking, however, is highly dependent on who might be willing to undertake the project. Bortoft’s The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science is just over 300 pages, so depending on how motivated the participants are, sixty pages every two weeks doesn’t seem unreasonable, but that still means 10 - 12 weeks for the whole project. This is certainly a text where more could make it merrier (within limits, of course), so it would be good to know who might be willing to make the commitment.
You in the States are moving ahead more quickly with immunizations than we are here in Europe (no surprise there), and spring is coming, so I can also well imagine some folks are looking forward to making up for lost time and getting out which is also something to consider too.
Thanks for your insights, Ed. Matt is doing what he calls " wild philosophy". He is not performing for the professional academic class. That is why I find him so compatible. Obviously, he draws upon lots of thinkers, without getting bogged down in footnotes. And he uses the technology artfully. He is doing comparative philosophy.
As I am for a close reading of Bortoft’s important book, I would also like to invite a more “distant reading” as well. Can we zoom out and take in all the work we have already done? Some of us studied Bernardo Kastrup last year as well as Lisa’s work, We have also done The Consequences of the Axial Age, Bubbles, The Life Divine, The Ever Present Origin and many more. I wonder if there are any connections that anyone is making between these writers we have already done and what we are witnessing from wherever you are situated? Maybe a Café style coordination meeting could happen? We can then work out the details with the Big Picture.
This is a very tall order, and I am not proposing that we write about it but have a zoom conversation about where we have been, where are we going with these studies and what differences does what we may have learned make to the collective intelligence? Sort of like an informal history of this particular reading group.
Then we can proceed to muddle on through as best we can with whatever we do. I guess I want to appreciate the forest and the tree. What are the roots that clutch? Are we diverging, converging, or totally burned out?
Consider this new video with Bernardo. I have read him for a decade and watched him engage in many debates but this is the first time he has hit a solid home run ( sorry for the sports metaphor). There are glimpses of truths during this speaking performance in dialogue that were not available in his writings. And he uses lots of fresh metaphors ( the pregnancy behind time and space, exploring the unknown room in the mansion of the mind…) He has considered suicide twice in recent years, and he shares why he has not done so. This very long conversation is illuminating. I share this brief bit after the middle, with the expectation that others who have an interest will watch all of it. While I like to read and write on this forum, I am mindful that the face and voice on a zoom call can assist each of us to embody our readings. Bernardo puts his philosophy into the first person, he embodies his philosophy.
It’s good to see the activity on this thread, and I’ve been meaning to check in—but have been getting really into editing for Untimely Books, which is a joy of close reading, deeply considering sentence construction, stylistic intent, rules and deviations from those rules; keeping a sense of the whole at heart even while getting persnickety and painfully detailed oriented with a text.
I am appreciating the necessarily slow pace of editing work, but there is also a fire of urgency, which feels like transformation desperately wanting to happen against stacked odds. The themes I keep coming back to all winter are Patience and Ritual. Slow and steady wins the day—but occasionally one still needs to fire up the engines. Moments of action ripen.
I once had a women who ‘friended’ me on Facebook remark that I reminded her of Goethe—which I suspected was delusional and didn’t really know how to reply to, since I was pretty sure I had a long way to “goethe” to get to any such level of genius, and besides, pride goethe before a fall. And besides that, I hadn’t seriously read any of Goethe’s work, though I was fascinated with his theory of color. The devil’s bargain of Dr. Faustus of course is well known. (But I also know I eventually want to study the poem.)
Yet ever since then I suspected that eventually I would have to come around to reading Goethe, since the universe had conspicuously put him in front of my face, and has continued to do so. There is also the interesting connection between Goethe and Rudolf Steiner. And I wonder if in some way the scientific lineage of Gregory Bateson carries on something of the Goethian spirit.
I think it is important to differentiate wholeness from completeness, comprehension, totality, and other primarily mental, spatializing concepts. Wholeness does not come from the sum of objective parts but embraces the reality of a living heart—a self and soul who can speak, observe, theorize, imagine, and act from a whole sphere of being in the process of real becoming.
Perhaps the Café would like to meet up for a preliminary dialogue on wholeness and possible avenues for deeper exploration and further reading, which could include Bortoft’s book or any other contributions? I think we’ve gotten a good grasp of what doesn’t work (even, what abjectly fails) in modern epistemology; now we might be responding to a call to regenerate future ontologies based on more wholesome models, which we already have available.
My schedule has shifted a bit this year and Thursdays around 11 am Mountain Time would work better for me than the old Tuesday time. I thought every other week as for the CEL course was a good rhythm. But if that’s not good, please feel free to coordinate a time that works best for the most participants. We could also add a note about whatever event or series of events might want to take shape in a future Metapsychosis newsletter, of which we are in the process of creating a new edition this week.
The main thing that would keep me from participating is if I fall behind on editing work. There is also a bunch I want to do on cooperative production, now that we are moving into book publishing. However, the purpose of Cosmos is to foster these kinds of conversations, this kind of learning, so I am eager to be of service however I can be, while building structures to support these collective efforts.
It seems that so much discussion is open (or closed) depending upon the direction the hinges of science swings. I like that our doors are double-acting, permitting the seeker to easily enter in (and out) from either side without much resistance. And, we can all benefit from the diffusion of highly concentrated ideas that stifle the atmosphere and that prevent a more natural aura from entering.
Please forgive me for my slowness in responding, but the truth of the matter is, I’m still not 100% back up-to-speed. Age and slowness go hand-in-hand, I’m finding out, but it can still be a bit frustrating at times. That old saw about willing spirit is spot-on, too.
I think this is an excellent idea, and it will come as no surprise if I suggest that you, John, organize this little get-together. It’s your idea and you know best what we can do about it.
Obviously, Marco agrees this could be a good place to start:
The timing (and rhythm) would work for me, and depending on the outcome of our jam session, I could envision being more active in coordinating a series of get-togethers, including alternate moderation roles, if desired or necessary. As far as I’m concerned, we could shoot for next Thursday … sort of kick of the new month and all.
And with a bit of added “marketing”, we could gather an potentially potent group to enhance whatever reading or approach we might decide upon.
" Nowadays, national literature doesn’t mean much: the age of world literature is beginning, and everyone should contribute to hasten that advent."-Goethe, 1827.
Let’s agree to do an orientation meeting for Bortoft’s book on March 4th at 11am MT. Unless there is an objection, can Marco set up an announcement with a link?
I would also like to think about ways of reading during this ongoing crisis. As the ratio between signal and noise is difficult to discern in our troubled times, what would you like to have happen in this particular study of Goethe’s Way?
I have read both of Bortoft’s books. During the 80s I spent many hours at the library of the Goethe House on Fifth Avenue, which is across the street from the Metropolitan Museum. It was a very grand place, with lot of aristocrats and poor scholars, the sparkle of champagne and chandeliers . Much of that world and that culture seems to me dead and gone. What can I dust off and bring my scattered attention to in the midst of the current chaos?
I have read a great deal of Goethe’s work over the years. I even took a course on Goethe’s science a decade ago but consider myself an advanced beginner. This would be an opportunity for me to recharge some old batteries in some old devices, which I haven’t used for a long time.
As insurrectionists have stormed the US capital, viruses are causing major economic fallout, and Texas went from freezing temperatures to a comfortable 79 degrees within a week, the ratios between signal and noise, the tensions between reality and imagination, are as challenging as they were in Goethe’s time. I think it might be useful to share what we each of us would like to learn from reading this book together at the beginning of the Anthropocene?
What is the relationship between theme, text, genre, and world-system? How do we decide what is noise, what is signal? Goethe studied plants out in the field for decades, studied skeletons, conducted chemistry experiments, started a theater company with his friend, Schiller, which was extremely popular, wrote international bestsellers. He knew how to tune into the field of all possibility while maintaining a center. That is what I find so compelling about him. I wonder if we who live in the world of Wi-Fi, where bookstores, libraries and theaters are shut down, , are we anywhere near the World Literature that Goethe predicted?
I would volunteer to moderate this orientation session. Ed can break down the chapters and create a schedule and Marco can do the tech support and anyone else who wants to join us I would invite to feel free to share your agenda. If Marco wants to float ideas about a Newsletter that would be great. I have invited Lisa to attend and hopefully others will get this message.
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope. In such an event, courage is the authentic form taken by love” Thomas Merton
Found this fascinating for many reasons. However, couldn’t find the rest of the interview.
Johnnie, do you have a url to the full length version?
A lot of what Bernardo was expressing dovetails with what I’ve been practicing/considering. Though I would word several things differently, I felt a strong resonance…
Thanks for posting, it was timely.
Here is the link to the full video. It’s over four hours but well worth the time. I hope you enjoy. Bernardo embodies his philosophy. This is exactly what Goethe’s project, at the beginning of the Modern era, was all about. Unfortunately, Goethe’s approach has been ignored with some notable exceptions. Bernardo’s remodeling of Idealism, seems to me to be the intellectual antidote to the nihilist materialism that has infected our mindworld. Theory is a net that can drown us if we get caught in it. Bernardo helps us get untanlged from that knot.
Infinite Conversations is a project of Cosmos Cooperative, a creative co-op for “people with visionary tendencies.” It’s like a YMCA for the mind and soul. Come in, exercise your imagination, write your heart out; let your mind play. Work your science and logic muscles, too: Conversation is the dojo of reason. It’s all welcome. And, check out our nifty guidelines, courtesy of the humans at Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., who develop (and host) the open-source software underlying this site. Thank you to everybody who makes this a great place!
Unless otherwise noted, all rights are reserved by the individual authors. Other website content is licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)