The world is instead some kind of a linguistic construct. It is more in the nature of a sentence, or a novel, or a work of art, than it is in the nature of these machine-models of interlocking law that we inherit out of a thousand years of rational reductionism.
At this point, if you didn’t bargain for this, you’re probably very concerned about your mental condition—and if you aren’t, your friends are—because what you’re saying at this point is: the rivers talk to me, the trees whisper in my ear. What you’re recovering is the meaning, that’s all: the meaning that is self-evident in nature, but that we block. The meaning is so pregnant in everything that it can actually articulate itself in your native English tongue. And talking rocks, talking trees, talking boulders—we define this as pathology. It means in technical jargon: a severely diminished ego is in danger of overwhelmement by material from the inchoate and disorganized unconscious. But what’s actually happening is that, for the first time in somebody’s life or experience, they are meeting the resident meaning in reality with its force unblunted by conditioning and denial.
I’ve made this example before: a child lying in a crib, and a hummingbird comes into the room, and the child is ecstatic, because this shimmering iridescence of movement and sound and attention—it’s just wonderful. I mean, it is an instantaneous miracle when placed against the background of the dull wallpaper of the nursery and so forth. But then mother, or nanny, or someone, comes in and says, “It’s a bird, baby. Bird. Bird.” And this takes this linguistic piece of mosaic tile and places it over the miracle and glues it down with the epoxy of syntactical momentum. And from now on the miracle is confined within the meaning of the word. And by the time a child is four or five or six, no light shines through. They have tiled over every aspect of reality with a linguistic association that blunts it, limits it, and confines it within cultural expectation.
Take a spiritual X-ray of the material universe and then say: if matter is merely the vehicle of the transformations that we call “the life of the universe”, well, then, what is the inner dynamic composed of? What is it that is striving? What is it that bootstraps itself forward? What is it that self-reflects? Well, I think what it is, is: it’s actually information. Information is some kid of ontological modality that is capable of organizing any system in which it inhabits into self-reflection.
McLuhan—who’s a very interesting figure as a radical thinker in communications theory, and a devout Catholic—believed that the manifestation of the Holy Ghost was electricity. And to him the ringing of the planet by electronic media was the enfolding arms of an archangel. I mean, he literally saw electricity as God’s love made manifest. And he may not—he hasn’t been proven wrong yet. I mean, it may yet knit us all together, and make us one, and lift us off, and send us to the stars. It’s some wonderful stuff, electricity.
Electricity as information, as the lógos, as the freeing and rarefaction of thought—it’s credible. It’s credible. I mean, when you think about electricity in and of itself, as modern inventions go, it must be the most benign there is. Because other than seating criminals in electric-wired chairs, it is not a weapon of mass destruction. You cannot rain it down on your enemy’s cities. It’s pure energy in the service of light (one thing) and information. And it’s generated—I don’t know how many of you know this—but it’s generated out of stable magnetic fields. I mean, when we were in the fifth grade we made engines by wrapping nails with wires and setting them delicately balanced between permanent magnets. And you coax this stuff into being. We take it for granted because we don’t understand it, but if you’re down close to where it’s coming into being, it’s like coaxing some kind of demon out of the matrix and into the service of thought and light.
But the problem with the small mouth noises form of communication is: I have a thought. I look in a dictionary that I have created out of my life experience. I map the thought onto the dictionary. I make the requisite small mouth noises. They cross physical space. They enter your ear. You look in your dictionary, which is different from my dictionary. But if we speak what we call the same language, it will be close enough that you will sort of understand what I mean. Now, if I don’t say to you, “What do I mean?” you and I will go gaily off in the assumption that we understand each other. But if I say to you, “Did you understand what I said then?” You say, “Yes, you meant that you don’t want to sit with Harry and Sally because their pending divorce makes you uncomfortable.” I say, “No, that’s not what I meant. I meant—” So there’s misunderstanding because the dictionaries are not matched.