Saturday, February 9, 2008


What, I wonder, would my life be like without language, to be like Helen Keller, possessed of a human brain, replete with its innate potentialities, yet disabled from full functioning for lack of visual and audial stimulation?

Even so, Helen craved that larger experience of her humanity which was denied her, and she was fortunate for the patient tutelage of Annie Sullivan, who instilled language in her and thereby opened to her a world of vicarious seeing and hearing.

This makes me wonder what inoperative capacities our “normal” brains contain that “fust in us unused” (as Hamlet said). Somehow human brains have evolved with latent, unlocked abilities, like upper stories in a mansion we inhabit but haven’t yet explored.

We have learned as a species many tongues and dialects, each of which enables us to perceive the world through the unique refraction and tint of its own lens. Likewise, we’ve learned the ‘languages’ of music and mathematics, giving us access to other wings in our brains’ mansions. Even writing is a different ‘language’ than is speaking.

These languages are, more generally, technologies, and with every technology we invent, we flip a switch that lights up a new room of consciousness, previously invisible to us, after which we’re never the same. Learning a new technique, a new art, is like growing a new limb, a new organ, one that lets you do something you couldn’t do before. You are enlarged, enhanced, transformed.

All of which understanding points to what seems our implicit imperative as a species: to grow into the whole scope of our potentialities, to explore the complete terra incognita of what we might become. Theodore Roszak once dubbed us “the unfinished animal” because of our open-ended capacity to grow and grow, ever more realizing new aspects of our humanity, making them manifest, while probing our intellect farther and farther into the cosmos at large.

As our organic intelligence amplifies itself by coupling with the new artificial intelligences we invent, who knows what marvelous creatures we’ll evolve into? But what a ride that will be as the human enterprise becomes the Starship Enterprise exploring the furthest reaches of our mental microcosmos.