The Problem With “The”: Do We Use Language – Or Does Language Use Us?
One of my favorite videos online is Rupert Spira speaking on the Subject-Object assumption that is a function of language.
He shows how saying something like “I am hungry” provides a presumed reality to each word, and yet we never really question, who is the “I,” who is it that’s “hungry” and most of all, what is “I am.”This sort of deconstruction –also done by my friend Michael Jeffreys –is extremely helpful in identifying a truth that neuroscience has only recently begun to confirm: that no physiological definable self exists in the brain, or in any other part of the body. Of course the growth of language, is probably an evolutionary byproduct of natural selection – those that could accurately label “the poisonous plant” from “the nutritional plant” survived. But English is just one way to use language, written and spoken, to make “sense” of what appears as “the world.” The word “the” is called a Definite article. “A definite article indicates that its noun is a particular one (or ones) identifiable to the listener. It may be something that the speaker has already mentioned, or it may be something uniquely specified.
The definite article in English, for both singular and plural nouns, is the.” (From Wikipedia) “The children know the fastest way home.” It literally “singles out” a specific part of “the world.” This one aspect of our language is a way of labeling things that appear to be separate from our-“selves.” We continue to refine the specific with the word “this” – like this “table.” As Michael has also said in the Eckhart Tolle Meetup group, as he bangs his hand on it, where is “this table”? It is obviously a collection of “parts” which can be “deconstructed” as well –from top and legs down to presumably atoms or “pieces of wood.” But the term “table” is a purely conceptual term that we apply to this collection of objects for practical purposes. We think dolphins have language –but they would have no idea of a word for “table” because that form would be of no practical use for them. Recall that the Native Americans had no concept of the word “my” –so that when the government asked them to deed over “their” land for peanuts, they did so without hesitation because they didn’t understand how any natural part of “the world” could actually be owned. Of course you could make the point that the table exists as the intentional form created by a builder for the purpose of holding objects—and so the word represents a utilitarian function. This gets us into the area of mind, thought and intelligence—and what seems unmistakable is that language and number is great for accumulating information – or data. Here too there is an important distinction. Amassing information can make one seem “intelligent” –like the IBM machine that could go through Google at astronomical speed to “win” at Jeopardy. But that machine would never “invent” a table. That level of intentional, creative energy is unique to humans –or is it? With the advent of computer software humans have become aware of how intentional thought can begin to accomplish tasks – via computer code. Nature has “known” this forever – DNA which operates precisely the same way as our computer code has instructed Life’s bodily functions since before humans existed. The four letters A, C, T and G can be sequenced to represent the chemicals that run our digestion, circulation, respiration and of course reproduction. So Intelligence or Mind has always existed. But as Eckhart Tolle writes, we have confused this vast Mind with the chatter of words that goes on in our heads—constructing what we have taken on, in our culture, as the individual Self. And of course ultimately a name is also applied to the “Self” and understood as such, so that “the person” labeled Tom is experienced as “me” – and this is never really questioned – partly because in many ways it forms the bedrock of our social system. In the U.S. in particular the cult of the individual rules; and it has brought us some real benefits in terms of achievement. We take for granted that the incentive for the individual to become powerful is what accounts for invention and “progress.” Our founding fathers are credited with preserving the rights of individuals in our founding documents—but when examined more closely all of these rights are also tied to responsibilities—to the earth and to other beings. In fact our founders were mostly Deists, a philosophy that believed in a higher purpose but not necessarily an anthropomorphic God, but rather the purpose of all humans to align with the intelligence of the world itself. See The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders by Jacob Needleman Besides the native Americans, or the famous Eskimos with many words for “snow” (how many words do we have for thought – for us all thought or mind is the same), the farther back we go we find that ancient wisdom has used language differently. One can speculate as to the world view of the Egyptians who kept records with hieroglyphs, that their language did not have the word “the” – a so-called definite article. In fact the Egyptian “Neters” were sacred forces (which we have trivialized as Gods) which they worshipped as significant parts of nature – the Nile, floods which irrigated crops, wind, rain and so on. A profound difference in Egyptian culture was that there was no clear separation between Science and Religion –the study of what is (science) presumed a humility before Nature itself. It was conscious of the difference in scale between the intelligence of Life and the intellect of man. One may speculate that in the earliest groups one of the first people to be identified as a separate entity was the biggest and most powerful personage of the tribe, who became “The Pharoah.” And so the word “the” was born? But again as some have speculated, the Egyptians saw Pharoah less as a God or person but rather as a Royal force of nature—a Being that reflected the power of the Sun, stars and Life itself. If one reads the legend of Moses, one learns that on Mt. Sinai when he asks God what to call Him, God replies, “I am that I am.” This is the essence of monotheism, which we interpret as the reality of only One God, but which can also be viewed as the reality of Only One Being—Being Itself. This is the deepest wisdom of the oldest religion—an awareness of awareness or Consciousness as the bedrock, the foundation of All. But perhaps as Buckminster Fuller once famously said, “I seem to be a verb” – because what we ARE, consciousness itself, or Life itself, is what Eckhart Tolle refers to as “no thing” –it is the essence of all things –their intelligent and mental component –or in Platonic terms –their “formless” identity. In our language, the closest thing to this would be a thought, or an idea. This resonates well with the branch of philosophy — Epistemology “ — concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge and is also referred to as “theory of knowledge.” In our science, we take knowing for granted. Once we name something with “the” –we seem to know it. But going deeper what do we really know about anything, particularly our “selves” –merely by naming some “thing?” If we are honest we must recognize that like touching “the table” we are only pointing to the very surface of true knowledge. .
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