Imagine

By Lee Strauss (Copyright @ 2012)

 

As part of gen-culture coevolution, culture is reconstructed each generation collectively in the minds of individuals. When oral tradition is supplemented  by writing and art, culture can grow indefinitely large and it  can even skip generations. But the fundamental biasing influence of the epigenenetic rules, being genetic and ineradicable, stays constant.

                                                                                                                                 E.O. Wilson

 

 Imagine that. Imagine that the first thing a story or essay does, after starting with a title and some suitably impressive and suggestive quote (in this case one by E. O. Wilson), is to reference the quote itself, rather than just let its impressiveness swirl around in the head of the reader. Just for fun and to be different, let’s do that. In fact, let’s reference both the title and the quote.

 

Imagine ineradicable.

 

Sounds pretty definite, doesn’t it?  Originally, this short piece was going to be mainly about analyzing  the word “imagine,” or at least start with that.  The opening quote and everything in it was supposed to be just a launching pad, not an obstacle to getting going. But the writer, nothing if not self-conscious, and living in the moment as is his wont, seems to be initially getting dragged back into a focus on the opener. Ok , fine, let’s  see where this leads.

 

Imagine ineradicable.

 

“Ineradicable . . . rules.” What makes something, anything, “ineradicable?” Or makes it a “rule?” The same thing? Or something different? First off, it would seem right that, by definition, anything a person can invent (imagine?)  a person could conceivably also “eradicate.” Or erase, as the case may be, particularly pertinent if the thing in question is a word, like “eradicate,” for example.

 

Which begs the question,  if  you can eradicate “eradicate,” can anything really be “eradicated?” And so on.

 

A similar quandary could be propounded regarding “rules,” about which one could easily surmise,  if one can “make them up,”  one can “unmake” them as well—thereby throwing the point and even the concept of the entire enterprise into question.

 

Come to think of it now, perhaps the purpose of this unanticipated opening digression has been to make the essay’s original purpose, the analysis of the word “imagine,” look easy and comprehensible by comparison. Well, anyway, let’s see if it now does.  Onward.

 

The analysis of “imagine” has been motivated by the thought that the word and concept it represents are obviously pervasive within and central to human cultural activity. Even at the most rudimentary level of human interaction, the second time anything happens, if not the first, its communication beyond the realm of isolated memory requires a degree of imagination in somebody’s brain. One could even argue that memory itself, by which the sentient organism communicates with itself, requires some iota of imagination, however slight, fleeting or introspective the medium and method.

 

At this point, however, one rightfully begins to question whether the term “imagine” isn’t rather an overstatement of the activity actually occurring. After all, can an amoeba “imagine?” Just try imagining that.

 

But maybe this is ok, too, if, as yet only another human construct, the word “imagine,” once analyzed, turns out to actually set the implicit bar for the level of the activity it refers to rather high. It might go like this:

 

Let’s assume (as we regularly do in our bioenergetic word analyses) that all vowel and consonant sounds lend themselves toward fairly universal, subliminal emotional impacts upon the people using the words they constitute.

 

Further, that the short i sound, resonating as it does gently down into the belly, is, all else remaining equal,  among the most pleasureable of all the language-oriented sounds we make.

 

And notice that it occurs twice in the word imagine.

 

The m sound and the soft g sound are both, also, clearly on the easy and pleasureable to express end of that same spectrum (as distinct from sounds like “st” and “k”). Moreover, m and soft g, while both pleasurable, are themselves different in that mmmm is much more purely a sound that starts and finishes within the body and vocal tract, while the soft g starts within but ends with an outward release.  In “imagine,” they are bridged by what is arguably the flatest and most colorless of all the “a” sounds, if not all the vowel sounds, which in this context could be well construed to strongly infer its inverse. That is,  the lack of specificity of the bridge imparts a sense of universality. We can test this supposition out by substituting various other vowel sounds, including all the other forms of the “a” (e.g., try the a in hay, or in ahh). None seem to connect the m and soft g so unobtrusively as the sound we’ve got, right? Is this effect what it is just because it’s what we’re “used to”(that old social relativity/arbitrariness argument again), and not because there might be some more significantly more physical and culturally universal factors at work?

 

I suppose, not to be too facetious, our answer to that would depend on how accurately we wind up imagining our imaginings.

 

Back to the analysis, we now have most of the word done, and consisting of an impressive bunch   of “feel good” sounds, starting on the “inside” and moving to the “outside,” bridged by the hypothetically flat (yes, we know the world is round, but can you give us a break here, huh?) universalizing sound of the a. The soft g is followed by an encore of the soft i, reinforcing, if need be, the already obvious sense that “imagining” stuff is--again, all else being equal--essentially fun and desirable. The word then ends with the “n,” another more or lesssoft and pleasurable sound. But not quite so soft or pleasurable as the m, and ending by resonating higher up in the head, setting less of the mouth and throat, and more of the brain atingle, and thereby arguably suggesting "reason" and thus a better chance for the endurance or practical value of whatever this word/sound refers to, i.e.  both the thing imagined and the act of imagining it.

 

So, once we become aware of the word in this way, understanding tactile and cognitive correspondences within the word becomes pretty (a little bit too?) simple, eh? Particularly when compared with trying to figure out whether we could eradicate the ineradicable, etc.

 

That’s another good reason for focusing on the analysis of words like “imagine:” to show how,  at its best, our language can be so wonderfully effective and economical on this all-important subliminal level, brilliantly and simply tying together meaning and feeling. And right, as it were, under our very noses.

Comments

Long ago I read a study of musicians that showed considerable predictability in what color they associated with what notes. Green was commonly associated with F, intersting because that is the commonest key for pastoral music (e.g., Beethoven's Pastorale) and for most horns (which were early shepherd's instruments). But does this mean there is an innate greenness to pastorale music, or is it a historical development with musicians becoming trained to experience F as green?

 

Similarly with words and word-sounds. It the flat a so neutral because this is the innate nature of a flat a, or have we learned to consider it neutral because of how we have experienced it?

 

Does it matter? Probably not, unless one is going to use these linkages as the underpinnings of philosophical musings.

Chickens and Eggs

 

My general answer to the old "chicken and egg" question (which came first?), in the context of this work has usually been both, if not the exact same time, then reciprocally over a certain period of time.

For "pastorally inclined" musicians to typically associate the key of F with the color green (quite interesting by the way) suggests just as much of a physically(sensory)-based learning as anything somehow more immutably innate. (An important and difficult word, by the way, and one I've spent much time dealing with in this work, cf. A Global New Deal).

As for the connection between this and alphabetical language per se, here I would just suggest the answer lies in aspects of our experience that are, on one hand, very simple and crude, and on the other quite complex. On the simpler side, though, "geometrically" compare the differences in the various vowel sounds as you pronounce them, long and short. A, a (ahh),e,i, o,u,y.

The long a sound, for example, ends up farther out from the body of the speaker and higher up in his or her head then the short a (ahh) -- the sound, by the way, that both medical workers and their patients have historically come to associate with the doctor taking a reading of the patient’s "inner" well-being. Why has the short, more inwardly directed, ahh sound taken precedence over the long a (or some other vowel sound)?  For that matter, how do we explain why all of the "short" vowel sounds seem, geometrically speaking, more inwardly directed than the corresponding "long" vowel sounds, and does that have anything to do with why we have come to call them long and short?

Are the psychophysiological features more or less the explanation? Or is there some more purely sociological factor or event (analogous to green fields and shepherds playing their pipes) that explains it better?

Whatever the reason, simple or complex, just by our having begun to focus on this usually purely subliminal tactile aspect of language begins to deepen our awareness in an area where, in my view, it increasingly counts to our benefit. Not only that, but once one gets that knack for it, it becomes increasingly obvious that anyone can enhance their awareness in this respect, and not just artists and linguists.

Lee