Special presentation by Win Wenger, Ph.D. to the Oct. '94 N.Y. City Creativity Exposition

Evolution's "Next Step" Already Here?
Many have proclaimed to you evolution's next step, in relation to some particular involvement of theirs. --And many of these may be correct, in that we humans now can so profoundly alter and improve upon our own course of development--and so many positive opportunities now are open to us. Like it or not, we are the Responsible Generation, the choices we are making are the ones humanity will have to live with in more settled times.

--Yet we respectfully submit that by far the preponderant "next step of evolution," among the many before us, may be the resuming and continuing of the very first step which distinguished humanity from the rest of the ape family.

"First there was the Word...."

Recent years of accumulating anthropological evidence suggest that human speech functions emerged before any other of the traits which demark human from ape. --Even before upright walking freed the hands. --Even before prehuman brains began their huge expansion!

Even without this evidence, speech's importance in the emergence of humanity is clear in the fact that even the most primitive cultures western culture has ever contacted, if they've been settled for at least some years and are not a broken fragment, have complex, sophisticated languages in many instances more complex than our English.

The anthropologists' reading of this precedence, of speech in the development of humanity, is cultural. In their reading, apparently correct insofar as it goes, speech gave our remote ancestors the ability to pass on more complex experience to the next generation. This in turn, caused our species to begin to accumulate culture and with it tools, for thinking and perceiving in, which perceptual, conceptual and communicative tools were more and more effective.

The anthropologists' focus in that, however, has been the cultural transmission. In that context our current Information Age, seen by many as our "next evolutionary step," may also be regarded as resuming humanity's very first defining evolutionary step. How-ever, we confront a far more immediate, and possibly even more powerful, focus and context, as follows.

Speech, the MAGNIFYING LENS of perception:

Something we have known all along, but yet not known, is the role of speech in so magnifying anything, any aspect that it refers to that it is "loud" in our intellectual and brain circuitry and we can bring our full brain resources, such as they may be, to bear upon that referent. Without it, most stimuli would be far too faint to engage our attention at all, and like other animals we would be dependent upon simple straight conditioning to learn what behaviors "work" and which don't "work."

Lev Vygotsky demonstrated just how profoundly our perceptions depend upon our language. In his famous experiment where he had children to draw butterfly wings: those children who had words in their working vocabulary for "triangle," "dot," "slash," "stripe," etc., were able to draw butterfly wings well even from memory. Those children who did not have those words were unable to draw those wings in a way which they could them-selves days later recognize to have been meant to represent butterfly wings. In a later phase of the experiment, he took half the children who had been unable and, in a very different context, taught them those words. In the final phase of the experiment, the children who now had those words were able to draw the wings well even from memory, and those who still did not have those words as before, were unable to draw those wings in a way that even they could recognize several days later. "If we can't say it, we can't grasp it!" That profoundly does our language affect and facilitate our perception, even though.....

.....Even though the universe around us is so much greater than we have language with which to encompass it. As Jerome Bruner noted, for example, humans normally can distinguish by sight seven million different colors--but we only have a few dozen color names. As poet Archibald MacLeish once said, "A poem should be wordless - as a flight of birds."

--And the quality of our language, as Basil Bernstein demonstrated,powerfully shapes our ability to perceive, not only to reason. We can expect that those whose language is clumsy and disjoint, hardly able to follow and model upon other people's reasoning, are less likely to do reasoning of their own, as he found. But it goes further than that. Bernstein found that, despite a lot of individual differences and exceptions, that on the whole, people with clumsy and disjoint language are also disinclined to react to the evidence of their own senses, to what's in front of them. They tend to depend instead on the views of authority. "Who says," rather than what's right there in front of them to see. That, more than electromedia, may account for the decline of American politics and American democracy so sadly accompany the catastrophic decline of American language skills.

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It goes far further than that.

The power you have this very minute:

What you describe, you discover more and more about.

It is this aspect of language, even more than cultural transmission, which presents us with an awesome next step.

Language as a magnifying lens for perception, once it developed, placed a powerful premium for development of intelligence, and this is what accounts for the so-rapid expansion and emergence of the human brain. --And does still today:

In keeping with the most widely-recognized or "First Law" of Psychology (that "you get more of what you reinforce"): When you describe one of your own perceptions, you--

1. Reinforce that particular perception. What you describe, you discover more and more and more about, even to the point of the Whitman/Blake Effect we will mention shortly.

2. Reinforce the behavior of being perceptive! We are "a nation of sheep" because we reinforce going along with "what everyone knows," rather than one's seeing matters with his or her own eyes, firsthand, and rather than responding in some way to (and thereby reinforcing) to what one can see for him or herself.

And to the extent that the perception being described is subtle, and so arising in parts of the brain less immediately engaged with our left temporal lobe verbal consciousness, we--

3. Reinforce those parts of the brain more onto line with consciousness. Onto line with consciousness also, those brain-regions' resources and intelligence!

This is a cumulative effect. Our own present intelligence is, to large extent, reflective of our personal history of how much of our own perceptions we got to express or to other-wise act upon.

Small children, especially little boys, are not that far removed yet in nature from our ape cousins and other animals. All sorts of awarenesses and impressions are going on all the time in their heads, just as they are ion ours. But that little boy sitting in class with paper blank before him because "he can't think of anything to say," or with just a few clumsy words on it for that reason, never has it occur to him that much of what's going on in all those sidebands of his awareness is rich with material appropriate for that terribly blank paper on his desk. Indeed, just like us, he is mostly unconscious even of having this continuous susurrus of thoughts, perceptions, reflections, images, associations and other impressions even though it's very much there.

Describing our own perceptions, especially our subtler, inner perceptions, brings more and more of our own intelligence online and there may be no end to it! Even a few hours' practice of this describing makes the whole of our conscious perception, the quality of our surroundings, the entirety of our existence, remarkably richer, forever. Illumining your life with this numinous quality is far more significant than the 40 "I.Q." points for 50 hours practice found for Image Streaming,one of many forms of this describing of inner, subtler perceptions which was tested in several independently conducted state university studies. For now we'll let others argue over whether this was an actual absolute increase in intelligence or "merely" a switching-on transference of intelligence already there but never previously engaged.

Whitman/Blake Effect:

Describe in enough detail even the most ordinary object in perception, as you describe one feature other aspects occur to you to describe and as you describe these, yet others. Often this suddenly surges into one of those moments of transcendent illumination when you perceive or "know" everything all at once at the same time.

The American poet Walt Whitman said, if you look closely enough at even an ordinary blade of grass, you will discover therein the entire universe. The British poet William Blake said, if you look closely enough at even an ordinary grain of sand, you will discover therein the entire universe. Poetic metaphor? No. The simple instruction for how to "look closely enough:" while examining it describe that object of perception, in close detail, to a live or potential listener. Your chances of triggering the full Whitman/Blake Effect, also known as Maslow's "peak experiences" and "peak learning experiences," also known as Socratic "miracle leaps," is a rapid flow of description, sustained without letup, a kind of continuing onrushing brainstorm of finding fresh things to say about the object of perception which somehow describe it.

Even mere association, as distinct from description, sometimes will still bring about major effects. A favorite method in Europe for training ordinary people into becoming sophisticated, sensitive wine tasters and perfume testers, is: to give the person a sample. Have him immediately, rapid fire, describe everything that comes into awareness with that sample and continue this torrent of description for some minutes, even an hour or so. Then the next sample, which he then likewise torrentially reports his awarenesses in relation to. And then the next sample accordingly. Three days of this practice and an ordinary person has become so sensitized as to serve as a professional wine taster or perfume tester!

Socratic method, in essence, is to get someone to describe his or her perceptions, inner and/or outer, and to describe what he or she discovered there. Traditional Socratic method was not as strong in producing Whitman/Blake Effect as it might have been, because Socrates did not distinguish perception from knowledge. By not focusing on first-hand perception, Socratic method produced Whitman/Blake Effect less often than it could have. Even so, that was often enough that for 2200 years, Socratic miracle leaps convinced virtually all practitioners of Socratic method that all knowledge and understanding are somehow already within each learner and need merely be "drawn forth" (trans. "educare," root word for "education"), and basis during that interval for all respected "education." During the past century our schools, trying to be "scientific," became uncomfortable with the metaphysical implications of that notion, of all knowledge and understanding being already within each learner. They dropped Socratic method and turned instead to didactically teaching passive learners, with results now far too familiar to us. --Though most of our schools and school systems are legally chartered to "educate the public."

Now we know, whatever the metaphysics of the matter, that we no longer need to assume all knowledge and understanding to be already within each learner. Socratic miracles and the rest of these Whitman/Blake Effects can, if need be, be fully accounted for by the phenomenon of intermodulation of the flow of our description with the intrinsic feedbacks we receive, even from ourselves, when we are describing to a live or a potential listener. Both interference-pattern physics and the larger science of which it is a subset, chaos/fractile theory, richly show how even slight changes in one or another inputs into such intermodulation produce enormous, systematic differences in outcome, basis for storing, retrieving, processing universes-full of information and/or structure. Both chaos theory and general systems theory show how the physical universe necessarily has literally organized itself in this manner. Literally the entire universe does become apparent within the standing waves between our attention or description and its feedbacks!

The increased perceptiveness, increased intelligence, increasingly numinously rich awareness and tremendously increased capacity for and richness of life itself, up to and including recurrent Whitman/Blake episodes, all is immediately open before us, to any one of us who can denote or attach a word and then other words to something in his or her own perception and who makes a practice, at least some of the time, of going on doing so for awhile. It is clear from this perspective how the first emergence of language itself drove ape brains up to humanity. It is clear that resuming this first defining step of humanity, by describing to live or potential listeners our own first-hand perceptions and especially our subtler perceptions, profoundly extends much of what made us human in the first place. It is clear that resuming this first defining step of humanity, in this descriptive manner, allows each and every one of us to immediately share in the experience of being what indeed may fairly be termed "the next major step in human evolution."
Copyright 1994 by Win Wenger, Ph.D., Project Renaissance, Box 332, Gaithersburg, MD 20884. This paper may, however, be freely copied--in whole, including this notice, but not in part--to share with persons whom you care about.

©1998 by Project Renaissance (regarding this internet version only, other copyrights may apply). While we encourage the free distribution of this article (complete text only, including this notice and acknowledgement of source), we do require that expressed permission be granted by Project Renaissance for any major republication. For minor printing and sharing, we only request that you notify us.

To reach Win Wenger, please visit his website at Project Renaissance.

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©1996-2004 Matthew Turco unless otherwise noted

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