Language is Compressed Evolution

Sometimes a person reads a book and the ideas are so foreign that it takes hours of re-reading a paragraph, and in the end you still are unsure of the intent or the direction. It is as unsettling as sand beneath your feet.

If the opposite occurs, if the words on the page are so familiar that you know exactly what the next sentence will be, or the next paragraph, or G-d forbid the next chapter, then you might as well stop reading. You have already written this book, and it is boring, and a waste of time.

The sweet spot of language/literature/communication is when you follow the linear progression, and the concept of the individual pieces of data are understood, but the gestalt of that data is a brand new thought, or a familiar thought that you haven’t yet expressed. This is the glorious power of transferred information, whether is is acting, story telling, literature, or artwork.

My latest example of this, is a book first published in 1998, written by Leonard Shlain, titled, “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess”. It had me absolutely hooked in the first twelve pages. What is important is that I am not saying that I agree with his premise. I am not even certain of the boundaries of his premise. But I am completely enthralled with the problem, and the willingness to study the issue.

As I understand the problem, Shlain points out that women lost equality in the social structure, due to the development of written communication. He brings in a number of concepts that show a linear path to this conclusion. It is definitely worth reading more to verify what he believes.

One concept that he brings out, is the evolutionary development of the “opposable thumb”. It’s an old, yet compelling, discussion. Familiar, but not boring. Then he writes about the evolutionary development of “the heel”. I had never heard anyone write about this! It would be in the literature, but it hasn’t been in general discussion.

Two developments, due to environmental changes, the connectivity of the tree canopy disappeared. This forced some tree-based mammals to descend to the ground, and begin to walk. The grasping nature of the hind limbs, evolved into having a simple, hard, heel. Instead of four hands, they had two hands and two feet. This heel gave the former tree dwellers the ability to stand upright, and walk, and even run.

When the amazing hands no longer were forced to engage in limb grasping for climbing, they developed fine motor skills that allowed for tool making. This created larger brains in the mammal, but that was problematic for birthing. The evolutionary response was to make the pelvis wider in women, which made her walk different. If the brain size continues to grow then the women’s walk would become a “waddle”, so the brain size remained stable but certain developed areas became added later, after getting through the birth canal.

Al this makes perfect sense, even if all the dots hadn’t been connected. Evolution is marvelous and works amazingly. But it takes hundreds of thousand years, even millions of years.

At some point, when communication became strong enough, information important to the survival of the species, could be passed in less than a generation. That which depended upon a million years of experience, could be applied in less that a week. Communication compresses evolution!

Can’t wait for Chapter Two! Thank you Clay for recommending this author.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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