Autistic Songs

Alan Griswold


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Language and Biological Immediacy

Language is the use of a biologically immediate artifact to represent something not biologically immediate.

All biological organisms, including humans, experience their existence only within biological immediacy. That which is removed in space, that which is remote in time, that which is not directly accessible through immediate biological capacity—such events cannot be directly engaged or experienced by any biological organism. Each sensation, each urge, each reaction transpires in the here and now—there is no alternative available, that is the fundamental nature of biological experience.

And indeed, until just recently on this planet, that has been the fundamental limit of biological experience.

Although a biological organism has no means to remove itself from its biological immediacy, humans have demonstrated that organisms can use the material of biological immediacy to represent something which is removed, to represent something not biologically immediate. In this manner, language serves as a bridge to conceptual realms that would be otherwise unreachable. Using language, a biological organism can remain within the compulsory confines of its biological immediacy while using the artifacts inside that biological immediacy—the material of language—to represent that which is beyond biological immediacy.

The material of language can be almost anything, the choice is entirely arbitrary. Humans began naturally enough with gestures and vocalizations but have recently adopted a wide assortment of materials that can be touched, seen, heard and transported across distance and interval. What remains transformational and crucial about language is not the material being used but instead the elements and structure being represented—events of space, time and other non-biological, patterned conceptualizations. Although a biological organism can never directly engage such elements (because they are biologically removed), it can use the representational accuracy of language to help navigate these elements nonetheless, and thereby change the course and circumstances of its own biological experience. Humans have been engaging in such activities with an ever increasing fervor over the past several thousand years, and with the aid of language, while still confined within the limits of their biological immediacy, humans have been rapidly freeing themselves from the restrictions of their evolutionary, animal past.

If one wants to understand the origins and structure of language, one must focus not exclusively on the material of language, since that material is completely arbitrary; and one goes even further afield to focus on mentalizations and brain processes, since these mentalizations are little more than the re-creation of the material of language itself. If one wants to understand the origins and structure of language, one focuses instead on the non-biological elements being represented, and wonders about their sudden appearance on this planet and about their peculiar form. After all, this planet passed more than four billion years without any species ever considering time, space or any other non-immediate concept; and humans too, they passed tens of thousands of years completely oblivious to anything outside their immediate biological experience.

Keep this in mind: that which is far removed from biological immediacy is also far removed from normal biological perception.

Copyright © 2011 by Alan Griswold
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