An History of Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

Construction of the Tower of Babel, a 16th Century painting by an unknown Flemish artist

When we mistake words for reality, we are subject to the tyranny of words.

Taitetsu Unno

People have been verbalizing their thoughts – a complicated way of describing the act of “speaking”– since before the beginnings of recorded history. We know that oral traditions predate written records by several millennia, so the use of language as a form of communication dates back at least until the prehistoric first ever spoken word.

Language and the Tower of Babel

The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel is a myth describing the origins of language and linguistic communication which attempts to account for the diversity of language in our world today. The story recounts a time apparently before language was a thing – or, at least, when there was a common language throughout all of humanity. As the legend goes, when the Babylonian ruler Nimrod attempted to build a tower reaching the heavens, God punished the people of the earth so that they could no longer communicate coherently with one another, thereby subverting their overreaching ambitions. This eventually led to the linguistic and cultural diaspora that we now understand as the languages and cultures of the world.

Have we ever paused to consider why human beings need to use spoken or written language at all? Why do we need to express ourselves using words in order to communicate with each other? Why do we need to formulate words in order to capture and express our knowledge and experiences? What are we doing when we use words and language?

Language and Control Systems

In essence, the act of verbalizing is, I would argue, an attempt to exert a measure of control over reality. When we define a word, what we are doing, in essence, is taking an experience and isolating it from its broader context in order to circumscribe and limit its broader meaning. We are, in effect, limiting its meaning – the infinite variety of subtle denotative and connotative nuances, and layers of hidden meaning behind the emotion or experience it describes – in order to assign a highly simplified, limited sense to it. This is, metaphorically, akin to shooting an endangered animal in the wilderness, stuffing and mounting its carcass as a taxidermist would and displaying it in the Smithsonian with a simplified label describing what it once used to be when it roamed alive and free in its natural habitat!

In our “enlightened” 21st Century society, we decry the use of “labels and stereotypes”

In our “enlightened” 21st Century post-modern society, we decry the use of “labels and stereotypes” which may broadly be used to categorize people and things into narrow groups and subgroups. What we fail to recognize is that the very use of language – the act of verbalizing – is, essentially, equivalent in its nature to the process of “labelling and stereotyping” that we all decry and despise so much. Through the use of language – any language – and words, we take an infinitely complex and heterogeneous universe and apply simplified labels to its more significant or apparent aspects in order to simplify our comprehension of an infinitely profound and complex reality.

The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel may, therefore, be understood as a fable describing the devolution (not evolution) of Man – from a pre-linguistic originary state – in which words were unnecessary for empathic communication – to a linguistic state of verbal, technological communication. I refer to this as a “devolution” because if non-verbal communication was the norm in the pre-linguistic era of human civilization, that is tantamount to suggesting that, at some time in our prehistory, human beings were able to communicate telepathically.

Let’s try to understand what it is to communicate verbally. The act of verbalizing is, as I previously mentioned, an act of attempting to exert control over reality – of human perceptions of reality. It is, in essence, an attempt to define and, thereby, to circumscribe or place limitations on our understanding of reality – to control and limit the human perception of a reality that is inherently limitless, infinite and proundly complex in nature. When we describe reality using words – or words in different languages – we are subtly shifting and influencing our perception and understanding of reality depending on which words we use, which language we speak in and how we use the words.

Language and Empire

The use of words and language is a left-brained “conscious” activity, designed and intended to serve the purposes of left-brained consciousness. The earliest written records are Sumerian cuneiform tablets that were primarily used in agrarian bookkeeping and accounting though, in some cases, they were used to record astronomical calculations as well. This suggests that from its very inception, written language (at least) was tied to processes of record-keeping serving the interests of an agrarian economy that presumably organized itself around land-ownership and the trade of agrarian commodities. From its very inception, therefore, the use of words and language fed into the development of left-brain oriented control systems – feudal property, cities, kingdoms and empires.

An 1,800 year old Roman road in Africa

Imperialists seek to define reality – to circumscribe and limit the extent of the perceived universe – in order to control it and its inhabitants. This control of perception is essential for the perpetuation of empires, because the moment that peoples’ perceptions expand beyond what they are dictated to by their control systems, these control systems begin to collapse and fall apart. The moment you think beyond the definitions of the words you use – in other words, the moment you start to think outside the box – the moment you begin to question your reality – you have, in effect, taken the first steps towards breaking free of the imperialistic control systems that enslave you, often without you even being aware of them.

Empires are built on words and the definitions of words – by extension, they are built on language, on narratives, on systems of communication such as roads, railways, radio, telephony and the internet, and on the technology that builds and maintains them. All these serve to construct and establish the systems – the pyramids – of authoritarian control on which civilization is built.

Empathy and Telepathy

In sharp contrast to these systems of verbal communication and control is the sphere of non-verbal expression – the domain of right-brained thinkers and feelers. This is the realm of non-judgmental being – of acceptance and surrender to the universe and the experience of reality, as opposed to the left-brain impulse to limit and control it. It is the domain of creative thinkers, artists, philosophers, musicians and empaths – of feeling and imagination and, ultimately, of direct, non-verbal (the operative word), telepathic communication – a form of direct expression and communication that predates verbal expression, I would suggest.

The right-brained process of non-judgmental surrender to and acceptance of the experience of reality – as embodied in the practice of meditation, for example – without the judgmental need to define, limit and control reality – is, ultimately, the doorway to a much more nuanced and expansive experience and understanding of reality than one may previously have been aware of or exposed to. It is a process of heightened perceptive awareness of the nuances and subtleties of the universe that one inhabits and towards greater empathy and understanding of one’s fellow human beings and one’s environment.

Greater heart-felt empathy towards others ultimately leads to shared consciousness
Greater heart-felt empathy towards others ultimately leads to shared consciousness

Empathy is the key here, for, from greater heart-felt empathy towards others arises greater sensitivity to the feelings of others which, ultimately, leads to non-verbal understanding and communication with others – i.e. telepathy – which ultimately leads to shared consciousness – Unity consciousness.

From this perspective, the story of the Tower of Babel, I would suggest, recounts the history of the progressive (or, should I say, “regressive”) deadening of human consciousness – of how human beings deteriorated from a collective of highly intelligent, intuitive, empathic beings enjoying a shared consciousness and a non-verbal communicative common understanding, to a dense, unintuitive, heartless, insensitive group of boorish individuals requiring a technological intervention in the form of language and communications technology in order to express themselves and communicate their ideas.

The Telepathy of Music

Music, I would suggest, is the purest medium of communication that we have today. For one thing, it is non-verbal – as such, it is universally understood regardless of linguistic barriers. For another, it is a pure expression of emotion in the expressive medium of sound. Finally, sound itself is the conveyance of wave-form frequencies as they resonate through the air or other medium of transmission. As such, music – sound and the wave-form frequencies that it represents – is the most direct, heartfelt and readily understood form of communication and self-expression that we currently have. It is probably the closest thing to telepathy that is available to us – in that it is non-verbal, direct and immediately heartfelt.

Music is universally understood regardless of linguistic barriers

Sound conveys emotion in any form – even dissonant noise conveys emotion – the emotion of chaos, discord and disharmony – whereas harmonious music conveys the infinite range of human emotions more subtly and perfectly than any other medium. This profound, ethereal quality of music is why, I would argue, it enjoys an exalted status in human culture and religious practices since the dawn of time – from the musical Psalms of King David, to Buddhist chants, to the Gregorian chants of Medieval monks, to the compositions of Bach and Mozart, and to modern popular ballads – music is the most universally agreeable medium of communication that we have – and when played at the right frequencies – for example, the Solfeggio frequencies – it is the closest that we can get to a transcendental mystical experience in this tangible, material universe.

The Logos Made Flesh

The Gospel of St. John begins with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) Does this seminal religious text fundamentally contradict all that I have suggested thus far about the tyrannical nature of verbal language and words? Only at first glance. Digging deeper, it must be noted that John’s gospel was originally written in Greek. In the original form, John 1:1 reads as follows:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

En arkhêi ên ho lógos, kaì ho lógos ên pròs tòn theón, kaì theòs ên ho lógos. 

John’s gospel was originally written in Greek

St. John uses the word “Logos” in the original Greek, which has been loosely translated into “Word” in the English language translations of the Bible. The word “Logos” is much more nuanced and profound in its meaning than the English “Word”:

Ancient Greek philosophers used the term [i.e. Logos] in different ways. The sophists used the term to mean discourse. Aristotle applied the term to refer to “reasoned discourse” or “the argument” in the field of rhetoric…. Pyrrhonist philosophers used the term to refer to dogmatic accounts of non-evident matters. The Stoics spoke of the logos spermatikos (the generative principle of the Universe) which foreshadows related concepts in Neoplatonism.

Within Hellenistic Judaism, Philo (c. 20 B.C. – c. 50 A.D.) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy. Philo distinguished between logos prophonikos (“the uttered word”) and the logos endiathetos (“the word remaining within”).

The Gospel of John identifies the Christian Logos, through which all things are made, as divine (theos), and further identifies Jesus Christ as the incarnate Logos. Early translators of the Greek New Testament such as Jerome (in the 4th century A.D.) were frustrated by the inadequacy of a single Latin word to convey the meaning of the word logos as used to describe Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John…. The term is also used in Sufism, and the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.

Despite the conventional translation as “word,” logos is not used for a word in the grammatical sense – for that, the term lexis (λέξις, léxis) was used. However, both logos and lexis derive from the same verb légō (λέγω) meaning “(I) count, tell, say, speak.”

Wikipedia entry on “Logos

It is quite apparent that St. John’s use of the Greek word “Logos” to refer to the originary creative principle of the Universe is not the same thing as “Words,” which I use to refer to verbal language. In fact, I would even go so far as to suggest that what St. John was referring to, is a primordial sound or music frequency from which the universe arose – perhaps in the sense applied by Pythagorean mystery schools – who perceived sound and music frequencies as the originary organizing principle of the universe, as opposed to spoken words or written language. 

From the Pythagorean angle, it would appear, the words “In the Beginning was the Word” take on a whole new meaning – perhaps it is better translated as, “In the Beginning was the primordial sound frequency or musical note” – perhaps similar to the primordial “Om” (ॐ) described in ancient Vedic Hindu philosophical texts!

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