But there is another side: when I am having literary experiences, I am not having non-literary ones. While I am clearly gaining enrichment in one way, I may be impoverishing myself in another. If you subscribe to a left-brain-right-brain viewpoint, you see what I mean: when you and I are reading and writing, we are primarily operating in our left brain; the right brain is effectively on hold. If we allow this literacy function to greatly predominate, it might be that our right-brain becomes a stranger to us; or ignored; or even permanently atrophied in its capacity. Or, if you are right-brain-developed, your way of thinking might puzzle or frighten my over-exercised left brain; I might deny the validity of what you think and do. If I get carried away by fear or pride, I may even hate you and deny you the right to exist.
That sounds extreme, but let's consider.
I begin by introducing a writer named Leonard Shlain. Really, I should call him a polymath; besides being a talented writer he was a world-class surgeon. He wrote several books, and I have read only one of them: The Alphabet and the Goddess. In this book, he makes the case that the development of literacy (the Alphabet) can and does rewire the human brain in such a way that the loser is holistic-image thinking (the Goddess). (I recommend his website, alphabetvsgoddess.com, and his books, for further reading.) He sees in history a connection between the development of literacy and the outbreak of religious wars and witch-hunts. There is evidence to support his point of view.
As a Christian who has had several spiritual experiences, I would like to emphasize that I make a distinction between brain-function and mind, and between mind and spirit -- and indeed, between spirit and Holy Spirit. Unlike Shlain, I am not quite ready to assign masculinity primarily to the left brain, nor femininity to the right; but to me that point is minor. (To Shlain, it might not be; it may be essential to his case.) What matters most to me is the striking differences he proposes between these thinking modes, which I shall call modes of consciousness, in a loose sense if not a technical one. So in my vocabulary, we have two distinct modes so far: the literacy-mode, and the visual-mode.
What today we call reason is pretty heavily weighted to literacy-consciousness. Our reason deals primarily with verbal definitions and distinctions, propositions, rational comparisons, syllogistics, and cause-effect relations. This affects our way of thinking about reality and time. Reality is seen as prosaic; it proceeds linearly from causes; the past exists as history in documents and books; the present exists in verbal conversation and written and spoken analysis; and the future exists in the elaborations of a verbal ideology: whether marxist or religious or deterministic or quantum mechanical, the very-literate person tends to depend on the spoken and written word. Emphasis is on specifiable facts and principles. The river contains descending flowing water. In the beginning was the word.
Contrast this with a visual-holistic view of reality. The appearance of reality becomes important. Both simple and complex patterns take on special significance; linear time becomes less important, as the experience of time relates more to the persistence of image states, the vividness of memory or the strength of the imagination, and depends less on the clock and the calendar. Speech tends to the story, writing to the poetic and the imaginative and the narrative. Emphasis is on the visible and detectable. The river is a vital part of a landscape. In the beginning was sight.
These two modes -- which for convenience we are calling left and right -- might, in their union, be called the mind, the psyche. But could we press farther? Are there other fundamental modes available to us?
I would like to suggest the existence of at least two others. I will call them natural-life consciousness and spiritual-life consciousness. I believe that these modes can be assumed to actually exist, because I think that they are referred to in Holy Scripture; but I will not elaborate those references here. It is sufficient to note that if I am correct in calling them distinct modes, they should be distinguishable in their sensible sources as well as in their operations; and that each of them would be legitimate and valuable; in other words, that each contributes to the true wholeness of the human person.
Let us first consider the natural-life consciousness. Here, the fundamental realities are neither words nor visuals; rather, they are bodies, organs, cells; internal and external systems and states; feelings, sympathies, antagonisms; inherence, adherence, extensions; direct and indirect perceptions; neuronal, hormonal and pheromonal media; touch, boundary, surface, continuities, connections; male and female, seed and soil, root and branch; the relations of life to other life, and to non-life, and to semi-life, former-life, and potential-life. Deep, important, and even precise feelings and activities may exist that are never clothed with words or visibility. Some phenomena may be as wispy as vapor; others as strong as muscle and as solid as bone. Emphasis is on contact, growth, and motion. The river is the thirst-quencher, the essential water of life. In the beginning was life.
If there is a spiritual-life consciousness, the fundamental realities seem to me more difficult to identify with words. They might be perceived in abstract sensations of timelessness, connectedness, transcendence, meaningfulness, and so forth; or, if there are personal aspects of spirit, as I believe, then we might add those things which compare and contrast the personal with the less personal and the non-personal; good and evil; the chain of being; the temporal and eternal; the essential and the phenomenal; God and the world; archetypes, species, characteristics, names, symbols, and so on. Emphasis is on unity and its relation to particularity. In the words of Blake, "Eternity is in love with the productions of time." The river is the Tao. In the beginning was the spirit.
The point is this. If we focus too much on literacy-consciousness, and ignore any or all of the others, we might be doing ourselves and each other a great disservice. Our abilities to perceive and communicate begin to shrink to fit our dominant consciousness. This could have serious negative effects on our emotional lives, our visions, our health and longevity, our religious viewpoints, and our spiritual experiences.
The Lord of All Worlds has told us that Life Is More Than Food, and Body Is More Than Clothing. May I propose that Wisdom Is More Than Information, and Knowledge More Than School?
It is possible that literacy, as a dominant mode of thinking, is being over-sold.
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I realize I am breaking no new ground here; there is probably little to disagree with; and very little light shed. This is just a springboard for discussion and development. I hope to make a somewhat controversial assertion in a later post, and it depends on the general validity of the ideas expressed here.
Your thoughts and comments are very, very welcome.