Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Necessary Evil

During the natural birth process (and for the rest of life), sensory receptors in the baby's skin transduce the skin's mechanical distortion into electrical signals that travel up the spinal chord to the thalamus deep inside the brain. Similar sensory receptors found in the ear are sensitive to vibration, which is transduced to sound.

Tactile stimulation and subsequent stimulation of the infant's somatosensory system, as when the infant suckles and the mother holds and caresses it, is the beginning of the development of sensory perception.

During this period, the child becomes accustomed to hearing the quality of its mother's voice. Tactile, acoustic, and vibration communication are basic and critical to the child's development, and to conscious awareness in adulthood.

Normally the child develops hearing and speech functions from this intimate contact with its mother, and with other family members and friends. In the first year of life, the child learns to make sounds to which others respond, beginning its ability to communicate with others in vocal expression. In this way, oral-aural communication in words becomes the basic mode of human communication common to all, facilitating common sense.

We learn to speak, use appropriate words, and make coherent sentences in verbal interaction in the oral/aural environment. But within a couple of years our eyes are presented with the visual coding system that shifts the primary sensory-communication mode from the ear to the eye, confounding common sense.

The alphabet and the ability to read, interpret, and write using its 26 symbols has been imbued with enormous importance though we begin literacy programming before we have fully developed oral communication skills. We call it a "phonetic" alphabet, as compared to an ideographic one, but the speech sounds that are transcribed using this system are limited to 26 meaningless symbols seen with the eyes. The acquisition of literacy skill depends on interpretation of the specific arrangement of letters into a meaningful word. An ideograph directly represents the idea.

The phonetic alphabet usually is credited with being a causal factor in the emergence and evolution of Western civilization, having been initiated in Ancient Greece with Plato and his influence. When the printing press was invented in Europe in the 15th century and the alphabet shifted from script to print, literacy rates exploded destroying Medieval culture and the authority of the Church.

Because literacy programming begins at an early age and is pervasive, we blindly appreciate its benefits and remain ignorant of its side effects. Until the mid 20th century, we believed that literacy made us smart and that illiteracy was a sign of ignorance and stupidity. Literacy gives a sense of objectivity and detachment from experience that is important to scientists and other detectives. In doing so, however, literacy induces in the mind an artificial visual perspective that we tend to impose on all experience, universally.

As we continue to use print literacy, we are used by it: we create structures in the external environment that represent its mechanisms and that reinforce its programming in us. In this way it predetermines perception.

Once we have acquired basic literacy skill, we cannot unlearn it. Presented with words from our learned language, we are compelled to read. Literacy engenders a cognitive bias: it selects for a left-to-right linear arrangements of facts, leads us to believe that complex systems can be understood by breaking them down into smaller parts, and lets us assume that all phenomena can be transcribed and recorded using its letters. Literacy distorts the way we see the world.

Our technologies, including the alphabet and print, are mirrors that keep us hypnotized and anesthetized.

The more conditioned we are by print literacy, the more we believe in its artificial perspective, which has evolved into the so-called "virtual reality". Unfortunately, virtual reality is neither virtuous nor real. In it we are Narcissus.

According to the mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his reflected image but did not know the image was his own. Meanwhile, Echo, whose love is true yet unrequited, beckons from the wood just beyond.

Echo was a nature spirit. The word "echo" comes from a Greek word that means "sound".

But we cannot abandon literacy - it is the trunk of our technology tree and, as we are committed to it by it, it is necessary. Even our electric media are supported by phonetic alphabet literacy.

The popular 1999 movie The Matrix proposed that the world perceived by its inhabitants was an artificially created virtual reality. Interestingly, a matrix in printmaking is the form that holds the imprinting material and, in typesetting, is the mold used to make type. Matrix is from the Latin "mater", which means mother. With the "x" ending, we might identify it as the evil Techno-mother that gives birth to deluding human artifice engendered by the spoken word. And we might distinguish this Techno-mother from every living thing's Mother Nature.