December 2, 2080, closed room in Houston.
An astronaut is back from a three-month voyage in space. He talks to the NASA men at the table.
“…See it, wasn’t just a planet. It was somewhere that made no sense at all. There were…things there, but I couldn’t identify them. I couldn’t put names to them. I thought it might be a puzzle. A game. So I just started walking. I don’t know how long I walked. You tell me I’ve been away for three months. All right. I can’t put any sort of time stamp on it. One thought came in on me, over and over again. I was in a different universe. And if it was organized, I couldn’t find the pattern. So for a very long time I rejected the whole place, the whole setup. That was my main experience. Who would ever imagine being in a locale where things were so strange he couldn’t find a single word to convey them to anyone else? And then, finally, I remembered something from years ago. A play being performed by crazy actors. They spoke in a language no one had ever heard of. It went on for almost an hour. I felt very angry. A few minutes before the end, I was hit by lightning. I suddenly understood everything they were saying. I don’t know how. And I couldn’t translate it back into English. I just understood. It was a one-time experience. And that was what it was like, being in that universe. When I remembered this, I felt a shift. I knew where I was. I knew what was going on. I knew that universe. But I can’t sit here and tell you what it was. That seems impossible to you. But it’s true. I’m stymied. One thing I can say. Everything I once thought I knew about beauty…that’s gone out the window. I’ve realized there were certain rules embedded in my mind. Maybe principles. Principles of harmony, symmetry, balance. Organization. I was living according to those rules or principles all my life, in all my choices, and now they’re gone. They don’t exist anymore. When they evaporated, I was able to understand what that universe was. All at once. On the trip home, I started to draw. You’ve seen my work. You’ve looked at it, and you wonder whether you can use it to decipher what happened to me. But you can’t. I was just inventing out of a vacuum. A wonderful vacuum. I was working from nothing, a void. I’m not asking you to understand it. I don’t feel you need to. I just know I stumbled across something. I never wanted it or looked for it. You’ve told me the drawings mean nothing to you. That’s fine. I didn’t do them for you. All the vast telemetry we have? The codes and symbols and shorthand, the measurements? The markers and the baselines and the scans? I’m not interested in them anymore. I don’t have the slightest bit of interest.”
There was silence in the room.
“Sounds like you got religion,” one man said.
“I feel,” the astronaut said, “like a tiger who just walked out of the zoo.”
Security men stepped into the room. They had their hands on their holsters.
But the ops chief held up his hand.
“It’s all right,” he said. “We’re fine. This man found something. Let him go. No one will understand him. We’re protected. We’re all inside the protocol.”
There is the little-known work of philosopher/linguist Ernest Fenollosa, the author of The Chinese Written Character as a Medium of Poetry. Fenollosa analyzed modern Chinese words back to older pictographs that minimized nouns. Instead, these ancient pictographs, at one time, presented a view of reality that was far more dynamic and shifting, in which action was the main event. The subject and object of a sentence were themselves of lesser importance, and were related to one another by their mutual participation in that action. “To be” verbs—is, are, am—were just dead ducks. Irrelevant.
Suppose we had a language in which every noun was also a verb, in the sense that it threw off rays and curves and vectors of action and energy.
What would we have then?
We might, at the extreme, have an endless supply of dynamic universes. No potted plants.
We would be communicating with each other in a way that instantly gave birth to possibilities beyond current meanings embedded in our style of speaking and writing. The implications of each word of text would jump and leap. Instead of peeling off layers to get at the precise definition of a word, we would automatically be proliferating it.
Language, created by consciousness, also feeds back to it. And this feedback informs our way of viewing reality. The structure of language becomes, in a true sense, a monitor on what we can see and what we can’t see. What we can imagine and what we can’t imagine.
It’s as if a psychologist, running one of those old inkblot tests, told the patient: “Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with you. Forget all that nonsense. Look at these shapes and imagine anything you want to. Tell me what you invent. Then I’ll do the same. Pretty soon we’ll be speaking a different language, and we’ll levitate out of this worn-out reality…”
Then they start speaking in a different way. They’re out in open water. Their operational concept of Understanding is undergoing a revolution.
They’re experiencing sensations of flying and soaring. These sensations are feeding back into their body processes and into their minds. The hard wiring is giving way.
You could say they’re astronauts training for a mission in which they’ll encounter an intelligence that’s completely alien to Earth.
There are analogues to what I’m discussing here. For example, microtonal music. You tune a piano so that, altogether, the 88 keys display the range of sounds contained within just one octave of a conventional piano. Going from the lowest note to the highest on the microtonal piano, you hear thin slices and gradations of notes that cover, all told, no more ground than one octave of a normal piano.
You sit at the microtonal piano and you play. And play. And play.
You listen to what you play.
At first, it’s repugnant. It’s not only dissonant, it’s absurdly muddy.
But after a few months of playing that piano every day, you begin to hear something. It comes through. And the sensations it brings might remind you of places you’ve been, experiences you’ve had. But they go further, into a void where new sensations and meanings you can’t name are possible, are happening. Are real. Eventually, super-real.
These sensations flood your endocrine system, and new proportions and sequences of hormones are produced. You experience feelings you’d forgotten or never had before.
The spectrum of feeling and thought expands.
Your whole notion of what you can experience and understand changes.
Your imagination is gearing up.
You never seriously considered there could be seven comprehensible sounds between any two keys on an ordinary piano. Now, you’re not only hearing them, they make sense. They convey emotion.
This would be like saying that, between each pair of words in a sentence, there are seven other words, and every one of them is an action verb.
When you understand that expanded and exploded sentence, you can talk to an alien from another universe. He can talk to you.
After your first conversation, when you walk out of the facility where he’s under heavy guard, ride the elevator up to the parking lot, and drive through the gate, you look at the desert and you see things you never saw before.
You understand why magic was hard to do. It was all supposed to be taking place in a tight reality of unbreakable connections. Impossible. But now those connections have snapped. The landscape, any landscape, is much more inclusive and malleable.
You’re reminded things were this way once: wide open, free. And now processes in your body open up. There is a reason for them to change. They secrete information and energy that have been dormant for a long time. Dormant, because there was no use for them.
The cells in your nervous system wake up to a remarkable degree. They’ve been waiting for this moment. They turn off the perverted game show called Life they’ve been glued to for 40 years. They project rays in all directions. Your physical aliveness shifts up exponentially.
Through the walls of the holding facility behind you, you can see the alien. He’s nodding at you. Yes, he’s thinking. You’re on the right track.