Re: Levels of Consciousness

Jesse S. Cook III (jcook@AWOD.COM)
Wed, 2 Oct 1996 16:02:53 -0400

On 2 October 1996, Ronald Kephart replied:

>In message <> Jesse S. Cook III writes:
>> Dear Ron,
>> It came to my attention yesterday, through a book I am reading, that
>> Marshall McLuhan's "quips and aphorisms were not simply wiscracks about
>> the media, they were expressions of a theory of the evolution of
>> At each stage...a new medium of communication comes forth...We begin
>> with the origin of language...and we end up with...the Internet. For
>> McLuhan there were five evolutionary stages or quantum jumps:
>> 1. Oral
>> 2. Script
>> 3. Alphabetic
>> 4. Print
>> 5. Electronic"
>Jesse et al.,
>This is an interesting hypothesis, and I believe some anthropologists
>(Jack Goody, maybe?

Yes. Jack Goody is one who does.

>again, I'm at home and at a disadvantage) have suggested that
>literacy creates a different type of or "level of" mental processing. I
have to
>say I'm not convinced yet. Reading, of whatever sort, seems to involve the
>sort of mental processing involved in the processing of oral language (or sign
>language, for that matter).

Yes, of course, "the same sort of mental processing [is] involved". But
that is beside the point.

>The only "quantum leap" it seems to me is the
>ability to interact with people, thru their writing, who are either somewhere
>else or even dead.

It's a little difficult to "interact" with anyone who is dead! Be that as
it might, the only way that one can "interasct with people thr[ough] their
writing" is on the Internet, which comes last in the series.

>Again, this implies that "consciousness" means something
>like "knowledge of a world beyond the immediate environment." Does this
>necessarily imply a different organization of the WAY the brain works?

Every brain is orgaized differently, but all normal brains work in the same
way. But, again, this is beside the point.

>Also, I think McLuhan is wrong about "script" being first after "orality".
>Doesn't the first (known) writing occur among the Sumerians, in the form of
>symbols which are logographic and eventually evolve into cuneiform?

He was, obviously I think, using the word "script" to cover the earliest as
well as the latest forms of writing. He was "wrong" only in a very narrow
and resticted sense.

This raises another point, however, which I thought of after posting the
above. None of the items in the series have disappeared. We have people
who live in a predominantly oral culture to this day. We have people who
use ideographic, consonantal, logographic, and/or syllabic scripts to this day.

>And, the
>earliest alphabetic writing, I believe, is found among Semitic speaking
>the Greeks borrowed the alphabet from them, modified it to fit Greek, and added
>symbols for vowels, a real innovation. And, of course, the Romans borrowed the
>whole thing from the Greeks and modified it for Latin, and here we are.
The earlest *alphabetic* writing is found only among the Greeks. The
Semitic-speaking Phoenicians, from whom the Greeks borrowed presumably, had
a consonantal script, not an *alphabetical* script.

Please note that the word "alphabet" is composed of the names of the first
two letters of the *Greek* alphabet (less the final "a" of "beta"), the
first of which is a vowel. A consonantal script has no vowels and,
therefore cannot be an alphabet. It could be an "alephbeth", however.

To forestall at least one objection: I am, among others, being "narrow and
restrictive" here. I believe there is justification in this case for being
so. The invention of the alphabet is too important a milestone in the
evolution of human consciousness to allow it to be glossed over by those who
don't see its importance.

>"script" I think is a special way of writing alphabetically, not a separate
>means of writing.

This is the common, nontechnical definition of the word found in any modern
dictionary, but it is not the technical usage among scholars of writing systems.

>One interesting thing is that, as far as the evidence shows, phonemic
>(alphabetic) writing was only invented once, by those Semitic speaking

Phonemic and alphabetic are not synonyms.

>Also important to point out is that "orality" is not a passing fad or a "stage"
>on the way to something else. Evolution is not a ladder; it is a bush.
It is "important to point out" that even a bush has a stem. In this case
the stem is orality, which gave off shoots that became all of the other ways
that language is manifested.

>is still the most important means of linguistic interaction for most of the
>people on the planet.

Trivially true but of what value?

Jesse S. Cook III E-Mail:
Post Office Box 40984 or
Charleston, SC 29485 USA

" is not for our faults that we are disliked and even hated,
but for our qualities."--Bernard Berenson (1865-1959)