2012 AND THE TWO LANGUAGES?
Just to prove here we are all vaguely nuts, the next Phoenix Ark Cultural essay is on 2012 itself and the much muted Mayan ‘Prophecy’. Much as there is a delight in boyish Professor Brian Cox being so much to the fore at the moment, and all the wonders of Science too – closing your eyes a second to the horror of those Chemical cataclysms like the First World War – it was slightly irritating to hear him say on the Jonathan Ross Show the other day, who like Madonna is of course simply divine, darling, that the end of that calendar is just garbage. Not of course because it is the End of the World, although for someone, somewhere, it always is, and for another a new beginning too. But because of the general interest in it, and the idea it represents some end or change, in the dawn of a new age for Human Consciousness. The Mayans believed in cycles of being, and strange new worlds, until The Spanish and West discovered their old world, or the rival Aztecs, and got away with pretending to be Gods, in their nasty hunt for gold and Christian servitude, in its formalised understanding of it. Well, human consciousness is a very nice idea, as Ghandi said of Western Civilisation, especially new dawns of it, while we need good narrative stories. Tell it to Assad in Syria, by close accounts just the crony of a family regime who have no interest in a political solution, and whose ‘Intelligence Services’ deny the very meaning of language in their horror and stupidity. But in the horrors we have witnessed in the last decade, especially out of unreformed Islam, is there not something more enlightening to be said on the language of God, religions, or at least the Spirit, that might be more helpful than Richard Dawkins going on and on about how Religion is just a virus? Even for Rushdie to write the Satanic Verses, or Phillip Pullman to so astoundingly go to the heart of fantasy and science, but with his final communion still being in some ‘republic of heaven’ demands a certain appreciation of the language, although perhaps a rule of thumb might be when anyone overtalks Science, talk Spirit or imagination, and when they overtalk God, talk Science.
The Mayan end date for jolly old us relates to a Stella, a carved stone, that has the start of what is called one of their Long Counts on it, ending in 2012. Actually the Mayans had various calendars, that worked in complex cycles, and relate both to their astrological and religious years. They were also able to count, and therefore supposedly conceive, in terms of vast periods of time, backwards and forwards, at least their controlling Priests or Royal initiates were, which is supposedly more sophisticated and true than the Christian West’s Six Days Creation, or Archbishop Usher setting the start date of the Earth as Sunday, 23 October 4004 BC. The Mayans knew a little something then, 1200 years before the language, discovery and awareness of modern Science, a word coined in the Eighteenth century, tipped the scales into our realisation of the elements, the fossil record, dinosaurs, Darwin’s rather upsetting Natural Selection, although Evolution is an intrinsic concept in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and seismic geological activity on Earth. That accumulated knowledge allowing us to contemplate staggering Deep Time, with understandable vulnerability at being so tiny, and now has us peering out into the furthest reaches of spacetime too. Freeing us from the crosses of Sin, guilt and ignorance, perhaps, but at times leaving us just as lost in the void, or unnconnected with one another. So of course did the Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks know things, looking up and out, and round about. But that is one up for the Mayans, even if, in the 1066 and All That vein of history, human sacrifice is a BAD IDEA.
When you think about it is also a Christian idea, in that very troubling story that reaches back to Abraham and Isaac, in any search for any loving God the Father, and in the eucharistic practice of ‘God Swallowing’, that goes back to very primitive societies. Perhaps drinking the wine and breaking the bread in memory is a gentler way of talking about the feast of life and good fellowship, if you do not want to argue the magic of transubstantiation, but if the Mayans intuited the Gods of their Underworld from the huge underground wells and chasms of Mexico, they also seem to have intuited a bloody great asteroid that may have wiped out the Dinosaurs, and ended their particular lizardy stint on the planet. Now those Underground pools are being threatened by building rods from holiday homes, so there’s one down for Science, or its oversuccesful children.Not wanting to be arcane, but still wanting to resist the contempt some scientists launch at the spiritual and cultural history of tricky, brilliant Mankind, and its journey out of what it could not know, because you can only inhabit the language and knowledge you have – or perhaps, if you like books like The Tao of Physics, always sensed somewhere, like waking up – it is delightful to see scientists like Cox, with Darah O’brien at his side, on telly and looking up, live, at the night sky and the marvellous stars and sharing it with the rest of us. Though we seem so driven by the TV or Internet, and the eye cannot easily resist a moving object, perhaps we wouldn’t need to be instructed on it, if we stopped watching TV and looked up in the night in person instead. Good too to see Brian Cox on the very celebrity driven Royal Society Lecture attacking ‘mumbo jumbo’ in talking about how certain theories in Quantum Mechanics are overused or misquoted. His example was the likelihood of electrons suddenly jumping out of their ‘box’, though not impossible, being billions and billions to one, so in fact we are stuck with various kinds of reality, even if at certain levels matter exhibits a simultaneous wave and particle form. Yet at the same time he said to Mr Ross that ‘that everything can happen in the Universe will happen’ , obviously stressing the possible, and the number of tilts we have at Parallel Universes nowadays would please the Buddha in his supposed love of numbers, or suspicion at the ‘10,000 things’. But if it is a fundamental Law that electrons cannot occupy the same space, so any movement affects any other on ‘the other side’ of the Universe, can Scientists not speak up and say what that might mean to human action, or even thought, and whether we should look again at ideas like Koestler’s psi functions of the mind, kinds of telepathy, Jung’s notion of a connected Universal Unconscious, or some really very wacky theories indeed like, dare we say, Holistic Relativity. When Doctors rightly talk of quacks, fakes and manipulators, though who was the quack in the 17th Century, they also frown at the fully acknowledged effectiveness of sugar pills and placebos, and now seem to acknowledge the vitally important interrelation between the mind and the human immune system.
Science’s liberating power from superstition and Religion, or bizarre moralities, in showing us how the world really works is vital to what we are now, and yet, what about those who feel a kind of impoverishment at the all dominating and often extremely arrogant language of scientists, many who just learn it as a given, and could never themselves have cracked the weird counter intuitions of Relativity? It is good to be ‘rational’ but sometimes not too rational, and while we are animals as well, Coleridge believed there was no great thought without feeling. It was of course that marvellous scientist and wild haired man, Einstein, who said that “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed” and on professor Cox’s part he is trying to share the wrapt awe, like a new religion. Although quotes are just that, out of context from the difficult or extraordinary labour or journey, Einstein also said that you can either see “everything as a miracle or nothing as“, because he understood the double-edged sword of language and probably the need to encompass full, even ancient meanings, not close them down, or banish.
So, being a tad brilliant, like mathematical Wittgenstein stressing language itself is a tool, and not the thing itself, Einstein knew how we are also contained within communicating, reaching languages, if we don’t grunt too much. Science is a language too though, or direction for one, sometimes easily provable, and vital in that methodology to prove and reprove, but very often guided by ‘quantum’ or visionary leaps into the unknown, that are quite as bizarre as imagining God or Gods. In Newton’s and Einstein’s cases couched in the specific language of reaching for ‘God’, like some magnificent seeing out, or seeing in. In saying “God does not play dice with the Universe“, with the confidence of some creating God, he grasped the power and ambition to know absolutes. As mathematics is a language, perhaps aspiring to the language of music, but as ‘religion’ and spirituality were or are a valid language too, if well used, especially in the long emergence of human emotional identity. As Arthur C Clarke said though “To any primitive society any advanced technology will appear as magic’, and 400 hundred years ago, and in places today, they would have burnt you for Witchcraft, for coming up with the science of now, which is exactly why Rome had to be pitched off its infallibility ledge. But on the other hand, perhaps anyone nowadays who travels in time back to that very reaching towards other, the constant push to truth or a whole, is publicly ‘burnt’ for being ridiculous. That is not to encourage David Ike believing the Royal Family are all lizards. Perhaps the very success of Harry Potter though is that bright sparks know we don’t always have to start from scratch and, like muggles, reinvent the wheel.
Yet the very history of Science has seen those absolute steadily pushed from their perches, or at least rearranged, which is not quite the same as encouraging ‘magical thinking’. First Newton’s clockwork vision of the heavens and Gravity, then in the grasping of light, relativity and spacetime, and now the suggestion that a quark may have arrived at one end of the CERN Large Hadron collider faster than the speed of light, which according to Einstein is impossible. To which, by the way, we would dearly love an invite, so we can share some glimpsable meanings with the rest of the laymen in the office, or get out of the box of our heads, where we ‘see’ things too. Meanwhile the gurus of abstract physics chatter with excitement at the muted discovery of the so-called ‘God Particle’ – the Higgs Boson Field. So what is the point, or the wave, of this article? Perhaps it is simply to remind about language, and its connecting vibration of metaphors and multiple meanings too. Perhaps to say too that without art, poetry, music, spirit, the vastly powerful tradition of mythological storytelling, even mumbo jumbo, we are not what we should be, and are reduced to particles and units that can drive us all mad. Like the scientist in William Boyd’s stunning Brazzeville Beach, having a nervous breakdown, as his lover goes off to Africa to discover the brutality of cannibalistic chimpanzees, and the corrupt need for cuddly Flagship species to bring in those popular research grants, as he tries to get his head around the Mandelbrot Set. It is a very beautiful play like Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, which out of so much cleverness really starts to dance to the music of time, that suggests the aching mystery of how genius is always ahead of its time and can appear completely out-of-place.
But that spiritual and emotional tradition is a langauge absolutely vital to human beings, and a parallel language, that should walk boldly side-by-side the language and purpose of Science. Two super languages trying to be one, and not so much at war, perhaps. They meet, they interconnect, they fight, and hopefully they vie to illuminate, but we for one, if such a thing is possible, do not want to live in a Universe that does not have the language of the human heart, of blessings, love, of the spirit, even sacred and profane, and the extraordinary mystery that still lies on the edge of spacetime, inside and outside the box of beginnings and endings, that it is even possible we have to evolve out of Ovidian nature in order to even comprehend fully. How do you become the thing itself, to understand yourself, or as Yeats put it, “How can we tell the dancer from the dance?” Then you have to be careful how you use that language, and what it transmits to the hearer, because perhaps someone very ill in hospital might not want to hear that the Universe is composed of so much Dark Matter, it can be far too frightening, but their spirit or heart wants to hear that they are going straight to Heaven instead. We are certainly convinced the only Hell is one we make for ourselves or each other, here on earth, inside or out, so fear not dreary death. Scientists are now the high priests, but sometimes they might be less smug about it, or reduce it to silly electrical experiments, that had Jonathan Ross’s hair literally standing on end. We did that in mid school science classes, but if the old madmen and Alchemists did talk garbage, like the Mayans, as well as helping to discover the elements in their cooking pots, Mendeleev also cracked the Periodic table in a dream. Go up to Linton in Devon, with a poet like Shelley in your heart, long before they harnessed the water and streams to create the early hydro-electric dams, and you will sense those immortal intuitions that produced the likes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Or sit on a Tripod over the Delphic Oracle and contemplate the real vapours that brought psychedelic visions to the Sybles, as they dealt in a reaching abstract language of Gods, that also counted the clock and marked the seasons. But then, yet again, Cox talked of high psychics being real because it was ‘beautiful’, as Crick and Watson said they cracked the structure of the Double Helix because it was beautiful, or New York super scientists speak of the Symmetry theory of particle physics. So perhaps the struggling spirit of a poet like Keats did have something right in his “Beauty is Truth, Truth beauty, that is all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know.”
Or take the mutative and enormously fertile language of Shakespeare, where, out of the ‘dialectic’, to touch a pun, of changing Chaucerian, you can hear the origins of English itself being translated into a new awareness, and a genius was born who might find it impossible to come today, in all our linguistic systematization, that certainly produces accuracy and precision, but can also create profound human impoverishment and separation. In comparison Shakespeare had the most connective imagination of all because there was not split between gods, art and science. Perhaps Scientists need to tell us to keep believing in the phenomenally extraordinary too, but like Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream, we love to be translated, and flourish in finding new languages to translate us, and new cultures to be cross fertilised on too. But Shakespeare still has so much to teach about the creative power or the tragic agony of the whole or divided Self. Richard Dawkins may sometimes be inspiring on Unweaving Rainbows, but he ain’t Shakespeare, and for Newton, Einstein, Hubble, so many, it was and is a far, far bigger and more fascinating and, as Einstein said, mysterious journey, born in both Art and Science, than celebrity tricks, and usually wrong to patronize different kinds of searchers through the ordinary miracle of everything.
So, at this end, with Two Languages in the kitbag, and trying to remember a child’s wonder at looking up and reaching out with confidence into the stars, Phoenix Ark are making the Mayans some kind of Flagship Species and thoroughly looking forward to the End of the World – around the December Solstice, although it would be, wouldn’t it, because they liked solstices – and hope you are too.
PHOENIX ARK PRESS
The picture shows the Crystal Skull in the Wellcome Trust gallery at the British Museum, one of several such skulls in London, the Smithsonian in Washington and the Musee de Quay Branly in Paris. It was bought from Tiffany and Co in New York in the 19th Century by the French collector Eugene Boban and is connected to the writings of the English ‘explorer’ Frederick Mitchell Hedges, who sued The Daily Mail in the 1920’s for libel when they accused him of being a fraud, and lost. The British Museum have tested it and far from being pre-Columbian, metal tool wheel scorings prove it is 19th Century, although original pre-columbian skulls exist. It would have been the centre of a world plot in ‘The God Game’, for all to enjoy, if the forces had massed, or perhaps George Lucas had not got there first, in the rather overblown and silly Indianna Jones and The Crystal Skulls, much as Spielburg is a god.