THOUGHTS ON QuAL:
DAN MOONHAWK ALFORD, 4/99,
DRAFT FORM -- quote only with permission
I. Introduction to QuAL
I usually hang out at the lonely intersection
of language, physics, Native America and consciousness, as those of you
who know my work know. I recently received enough validation from physicists
that my intersection may be useful for them, and decided to examine some
cross-over topics between linguistics and physics -- some of which merely
arise from shared structuralist concerns underneath the different data.
II. Topics for Physics/Linguistics Discussions:
Quantum linguistics is a term now used
by physicists on the moderated Quantum Mind discussion list; I add Anthropological
in honor of the fact that my guiding principles have been acquired cross-culturally
from indigenous people, who share concerns with many of the points I will
Long ago, after my acceptance into Native
American circles, I began simplifying my knowledge and focus by paying
attention to the theories and ideas, out of the millions were bombarded
with, that Native Americans pay attention to as the ones that fit in with
their philosophies -- using the Natives as cognitive guides the way we've
always used them as geographic guides in confusing territory.
All of my teachings, presentations, and
writings are about completing the cognitive circle, searching for that
which joins our most current thought with archaic thought, finding a balance
which honors both in respect, lifting us to a higher level of complementary
thinking, which dismisses neither.
So lets examine some cross-over points.
A. Parallel invisible realm
Linguists and physicists alike share recognition
of a parallel, invisible realm co-existing, dynamically interactive with,
and causal to the physical realm. The Mikmaqs of Nova Scotia, among others,
feature these two realms prominently in their fundamental teachings. In
Dr. Allison's work this invisible realm is called Thoughtspace, and Castaneda
called it the 'nagual'.
B. Languages of fragmentation and wholeness
In the 1980's Wholeness and the Implicate
Order, physicist David Bohm described the difference in mathematics
between languages of fragmentation and wholeness; Benjamin Whorf and I
have pointed to Native American languages being hitherto unknown examples
of human languages of wholeness. Simply put, its the difference between
paying attention to and reporting about the dancers in a primary way, or
to the dancing in a primary way. Ultimately this has to do with the language
of our narratives and the pictures and understandings our narratives engender,
of fragmentation or of wholeness.
C. Dichotomous and Complementary Thinking
In all my classes I teach the difference
between the rightness and respect levels of thinking -- our two-millennium
trip down the first road of yes/no, black/white, right/wrong, and our rediscovery
of the second, balancing opposites, a road indigenous people never left
D. Collapse of the wave function
This is the phrase physicists use when
describing the point at which a bunch of possibles become an actual reality
(note the attention to the dancers). Linguistics must similarly describe
how phonemes, all of the possible sounds taken to mean a /t/, for instance,
become one actual manifestation within a specific spacetime context. Compare
Whorf's Hopi word 'tunatya' (pp 59-62) meaning stopping one way of being,
in the non-physical realm and starting another at the same time in the
physical; it roughly means, "comes true, having been hoped for. This is
the kind of insight coming from Native America, from daily languages of
wholeness talking about the dancing rather than the dancers, that could
help physicists devise ways to talk about relationships and processes as
E. Hilbert space
What is called Hilbert space in physics,
a kind of mental scratch pad space, doesn't have a cool name in linguistics;
it's just mental space, in the meaning realm -- where systems of phonology,
morphology, syntax, semantics, etc., process meaning, where the essential
meanings exist as points in a pattern, relational. This is another example
of the similar form of structuralism underlying physics and linguistics.
I would hazard a guess that in Native America, this space would be called
F. Quantum jump/leap
In physics, this phrase describes how
an electron can be in one orbit and instantly in another without ever having
been anywhere between. In language we can analogize this to the 'flap'
in words such as 'latter/ladder', which is either /t/ or /d/ and nowhere
in-between as you try to figure out which was meant by context. In perception
this is like a Necker cube or other optical illusion, with focus and ground
first one way and then another, but it's almost impossible to see both
G. The need for telepathy
Physics this century has embraced the
need for something like telepathy, called non-local communication, in such
experiments as the EPR (Einstein/Podolsky/Rosen), in Bell's Theory, Aspect's,
etc. Non-physical communing is also a feature of Native American understandings,
as in my oft-quoted Cheyenne Tower of Babel Teaching:
"Long ago, people and animals and spirits
and plants all communicated in the same way. Then something happened. After
that we had to communicate with human speech. But we retained The Old Language
for dreams, and for communicating with spirits and animals and plants."
Thus far, except for a few scattered remarks
by Whorf and my own Evolutionary BrainMind Model of Language, few linguists
this century have yet taken this astounding requirement of telepathy by
physicists and worked that into linguistics theories, thus linking to current
physics and archaic knowledge. Terms such as 'rapport' and 'synchrony'
are important here as well.
H. Ways of talking about talking
We generally use the container/conveyor
conceptual metaphors when we talk about talk: I put my thoughts into the
container of words, send them over to you, and you unpack my meaning from
the words. Physicist David Bohm in 1980 wrote of the physical, or explicate,
order of reality interacting with the non-physical or implicate order.
In his final years he suggested that deciding to say something, for instance,
results in sealing that intention into the implicate order, where everything
is interconnected. I continue his idea by suggesting that a person hearing
or reading me say something, such as you right now, does not have to build
the meaning word-by-word alone, but through the implicate interconnected
order can tap into the original intent and acquire a semantic target against
which the words can be compared. This is a direct application of quantum
thinking on language.
I. Imaginary plurals in describing reality
Because we can in English, we project
our notion of plural onto reality in the same way whether were talking
about real or imaginary objects: we say 'ten pencils' and 'ten years' the
same way, even though we could gather all of the former together at once
but never the latter. Physicists also do this when they say 'electronS'
in their narrative descriptions of the subatomic realm, since there is
absolutely no way known to science to tell whether there is really only
one Electron with gazillions of manifestations or really gazillions of
separate electrons, because 'same' and 'different' don't mean anything
when applied to electrons. By contrast, many Native American languages
label real and imaginary plurals in separate ways.
J. Quantum = Meaning = Spirit
The 1992 Bohmian Science Dialogue produced
a consensus that the ways physicists use the term 'quantum' is like the
way linguists use the term 'meaning' and Native Americans using the term
'spirit' (and, probably, when anthropologists use 'culture', biologists
use 'life', psychologists use 'mind', medical practitioners use 'health',
and others) -- as different labels for wholeness.
The similarity was noticed as soon as
physicists and Indians discovered fundamental properties in their respective
favorite realms: everything that exists vibrates; the only constant is
flux; everything is interconnected, in a part/whole relationship.
K. Non-space Time vs. Timing in Spacetime
While for thousands of years our Western
European cultures have gotten by just fine with daily and mathematical
languages which treat Space and Time as separate, we couldn't notice until
physics reunited them as 'spacetime' during this century that other cultures
had never separated them to begin with. These Native American language/culture
complexes are based on animacy and wholeness, as pointed out by Whorf and
verified by Native Americans I've discussed this with -- and there is only
integrated spacetime in their systems. The best word I've found to call
this is 'Timing', as in when to begin a ceremony in a certain space --
and our baggage-filled cultural notion of 'Time' does not seem to be present
anciently, including the tripartite past/present/future segmenting of reality;
what they have is more like a 2-value system of manifested stuff outside,
and the unmanifested futures inside. [If time, Time as a verbal hallucinatory
construct of culture: river of time for us vs. Ancient Greek notion, then
L. Annimate and ianimate worldviews
Worldview: animate or inanimate in essence?
Although the Newtonian worldview became excessively mechanistic, 20th century
physics seems headed toward the notion of an animate universe that looks
more like a great thought than a great machine, again a place Natives never
M. Back action
Sarfatti's back-action: does the physical
realm influence the non-physical as well as vice versa? Is there mutual
influence? Are quantum essences unchanging? In linguistics, we know that
changes in phonology causes changes in sounds, but also that changes in
sounds cause phonological system changes.
N. What lies beyond quantitative measurement?
Qualitative patternment, as Whorf declared
(Linguistics as an Exact Science, p230-1): "Linguistics is ... an experimental
science. ... Experimental need not mean quantitative. Measuring, weighing,
and pointer-reading devices are seldom needed in linguistics, for quantity
and number play little part in the realm of pattern, where there are no
variables but, instead, abrupt alternations from one configuration to another.
The mathematical sciences require exact measurement, but what linguistics
requires is, rather, exact patternment -- an exactness of relation irrespective
of dimensions. Quantity, dimension, magnitude are metaphors since they
do not properly belong in this spaceless, relational world. ... I might
perhaps liken the case to the state of affairs within the atoms, where
also entities appear to alternate from configuration to configuration,
rather than to move in terms of measurable positions. As alternates, quantum
phenomena must be treated by a method of analysis that substitutes a point
in a pattern under a set of conditions for a point in a pattern under another
set of conditions -- a method similar to that used in analysis of linguistic
Beyond the more popular Tao of Physics
and Dancing Wu Li Masters, I guess my biggest surprise since subscribing
to the Quantum Mind moderated list is that consciousness is a red-hot topic
within physics these days. -- just as it is, in its own way, in Native
America, a consequence of living in an animate universe, and as it is with
the anthropologists gathered here. Unfortunately for me, linguists in general
seem to be way at the back of the line.
Quantum linguistics is no more than a
nascent idea at the moment, and I'm offering the above thoughts as ways
of focusing on points of crossover where linguists and physicists might
dialogue without the actual disciplines getting too much in the way. But
it's something that's grown out of SAC, which is why the fuller phrase
is QuAL -- meant to suggest the 'qualia' I'm after by using language to
link the futique with archaic.
IV. Appendix -- Origin of term Quantum
Last year I joined the Quantum Mind list,
run by physicists. These thoughts arise out of what I'm now pushed to as
a consequence of opening my big mouth, because after four tentative postings,
they up and invited me to moderate a roundtable discussion on Quantum Linguistics
at their conference this summer (1999) in Flagstaff AZ. I've arranged with
my former students, now PhD Navajos, Nancy Maryboy and David Begay, to
meet with the Quantum Linguistics Roundtable participants a couple of days
before the conference starts, on the res, talking about the above issues.
With that and the planned purification lodges, Blessingway Ceremony, and
camping out overnight in Canyon de Chelley and listening to stories and
teachings over a campfire, these participants will show up at the Roundtable
with some real EXPERIENCE to talk about and from, rather than just everyone
making it up as they go along.
Wish me luck! I hope I've added equally
to the excellent quality of papers presented so far at this conference!
As far as I know, the first usage of the
term Quantum Linguistic occurred in an acronym I coined in the early '80s
for a piece in a newsletter I was publishing at the time (Not Just Words:
The Newsletter of Transpersonal Linguistics), occurring in the acronym
QLAOT (pronounced clout), standing for "Quantum Linguistic Aspects of Telepathy".
Vol 1, No 1, Summer 1981
How can telepathy, with no physical words
spoken, be a topic for linguistics? Well, that depends on whether linguistics
investigates only speech, or also that nebulous concept language which
underlies it. Telepathy epitomizes why I think linguistics should be concerned
with more than just words -- or, in this case, less: silence ... dynamic,
vibrating, supporting communication.
Vol 1, No2, Autumn/Winter 1981/2
Alas, telepathy simply doesn't fit into
the modern worldview, and so its subtle workings are generally ignored.
The ancients know about it [see my Origins of Speech in a Deep Structure
of Psi] and its modern proponents include academics in physics (Einstein,
Bohm, Sirag, Wolf, Sarfatti -- see QLAOT next issue], parapsychology (Tart,
Honneger, etc.), biology and other disciplines. Oxford biologist Sir A.
Hardy saw telepathy as an evolutionary missing link for explaining genetic
species-specific communication. Whorf referred to in indirectly on p239,
and that mysterious entity Seth claims that speech couldn't happen without
it. In both its dramatic conscious manifestations (emotionally laden, as
in accidents and certain experimental situations) and its milder variety
of emotional rapport, telepathy is and always has been an everyday occurrence
-- one which we have been enculturated not to notice. ...
QLAOT -- Quantum Linguistic Aspects
It is time for a serious examination into
the way theories in physics influence theories in linguistics. Only a handful
of linguists this century have understood the drastic worldview shifts
that have occurred in physics this century; only a few have told us that
relativity and quantum views of reality open the door to a new, post-Cartesian/Newtonian
kind of linguistics.
The most important theoretical news is
that quantum theory recognizes the existence of thought and mind in the
universe; there is room for thought space and for studying how that dimension
relates to and influences physical dimensions. Classical physics had no
room for mind, thoughts, emotions, intuitions, spirit; therefore, both
popular and theoretical models did not reflect their existence. We in linguistics
are still using models which do not allow for consciousness or telepathy
as active factors in human communication -- models which still implicitly
assume a dualistic, pre-Twentieth Century view of the world.
For instance, instead of assuming a simple
dichotomy of observer and observed, speaker and hearer, the [informed]
theorist must be willing to view the particle, wave, and field aspects
of the linguistic interaction, and the relationships between them. [The
way the speaker speaks the discourse to the hearer depends on the speakers
knowledge of the hearer.] This means we must study the context as well
as the structure of the language.
For another instance, we linguists have lost the
habit of writing about the spirit of language the way founders of linguistics
like Wm. v. Humboldt did. But now, in light of modern physics, we must look
again at our classic languaging individuals, Speaker and Hearer, and understand
that as well as being individuals, they are also quantumly connected to each
other, the historical spirit of the language they speak, and the universe at
It is towards incorporating this quantum connectedness,
the power as well as context and structure of language, that I last year coined
the word QLAOT ... to encapsulate a way of approaching the power of language
to influence human behavior and the personal reality structure. This label
integrates findings of quantum physics with new directions for linguistics.
Saul-Paul Sirag, a leading consciousness physicist,
told a 1979 Transpersonal Psychology plenary audience (in a talk entitled
Consciousness and Physics ) that Einstein spoke favorably of telepathy at
least three times in print (eg, Quantum theory seems to imply telepathy.)
Its existence is therefore recognized in physics (as was validated at a recent
Conference on The Nature, Role, and Power of Thought -- reviewed next issue],
independently of recognition in either psychology or linguistics. My favorite
quantum physics cartoon book, Spacetime and Beyond (Bob Toben, Fred
Wolf and Jack Sarfatti), gives an excellent and plausible account of how information
can move instantaneously through the wormholes of cosmic foam called space.
Sarfatti gives a simple diagram of how telepathy works in an appendix to Jeffrey
Mishlove's Roots of Consciousness, and elsewhere talks about the faster-than-light
Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen transmissions as information without transportation.
Finally, a somewhat technical but satisfying account of biological, structural,
mathematical, and other theoretical considerations of telepathy can be found
in Andrija Puharich's Beyond Telepathy.
For those readers still asking, So I still don't
understand -- what's the fuss about telepathy?. Well, WHAT IF linguistics
got re-grounded in a top-down semantic way -- one which took the multitudinal
facts of consciousness into account?
This really New Linguistics would realize that
our total bodymind is activated during communication, as reflected in the
gestalt and interplay of various brainwave rhythms in various parts of the
brain, and that one of these levels includes the ancient (though modernly
culturally repressed) species-specific linkage called telepathy. New Linguistics
would recognize the power of emotions in storing and accessing speech in memory,
and its power in organizing semantic fields ['linguistic fields' in David
Peats late-90's phrase] of words during speech. New Linguistics would recognize
that all words hypnotize, and put hearer/readers -- trance-like -- into somebody
else's verbally induced hallucination; would recognize, that is, the power
of language to induce altered states of consciousness in others. This new
linguistics, which is really a revival of aspects of pre-technological linguistics,
is already among us. The age-old question is: how many have the proverbial
eyes to see and ears to hear?