From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I've looked over the emails so far and would like to join into this
wonderful discussion, having had the pleasure of meeting and being with
you, David, at the 1992 Dialogue with David Bohm in Kalamazoo, as well as
at further ones with you in Banff.
I don't know whether this is a long
email or a paper for discussion.
As you know, I'm a linguist: one whose professional mind was shaped by
Chomskyan linguistics during its heyday at UCLA -- only to be shaped again
by an encounter with Algonkians of the Plains, the Northern Cheyennes, for
four years, and then fine-tuned for the next 25 by a mixed-Algonkian
(Cheyenne/Mikmaq) couple and some of their other Algonkian
Along the way, I helped some students, speakers of
Sahaptin and Navajo languages, achieve PhDs. They were grateful that I'd
been a good enough student of my Native mentors to not only get them all
to meet together, but to base my differentness as a linguist on the effect
that the following "Cheyenne Tower of Babel" teaching, among others, had
"Long ago, people and spirits and animals and plants all communicated in
the same way.
Then something happened; after that, we had to talk to each
other in human speech. But we retained 'the Old Language' for dreams, and
for communicating with spirits and animals and plants." (Sakej Henderson,
More than anything, this teaching convinced me of the relativity of
languages in a consciousness context: that different languages are
appropriate to different states or rhythms of consciousness. And that led
me into the depths of the magnificent academic smokescreen of ideas I call
the Great Whorf Hypothesis Hoax (see my webpage; URL at end).
are the most important mystery of our universe, it seems to me, and no
conception of language is complete unless it includes the Old Language,
which can also be called telepathy or prayer.
This past summer, at a quantum physics of consciousness conference, I
launched a concept of quantum (anthropological) linguistics based on
consciousness, non-locality and relativity. where speaking from the heart
is qualitatively different than speaking from the head. (See Roundtable
Discussion on my webpage.)
Concerning items you've discussed in email correspondence, I'd like to
discuss: 1) what the Dialogues mean to me as a linguist, teacher and human
being; 2) me as a western scholar with indigenous roots wondering about
indigenous intellectual property rights; 3) what language can show us
about realities -- even beyond what David said to Inti recently in
1) The Science Dialogues are among the most important events of my
life. In the first one, in 1992, when I first met David Bohm, David Peat,
Leroy Little Bear and Amethyst First Rider, it was like the two halves of
my brain finally had a corpus callosum and were talking together for the
That is, I'd been involved with Indians since 1971, and
reading about and pondering the insights of quantum physics for about as
long, but they'd never really had anything to do with each other -- just
as with anyone reading this, I'll wager. And all of a sudden, the mystical
beauty of Native simplicity was found to be like that of the quantum
realm. There seemed to be a consensus in the Dialogue that in the
invisible, non-physical realm, by whatever name, *everything that exists
vibrates, the only constant is flux, and everything is interrelated in a
part/whole relationship*. The physicists call that realm "quantum," while
Indians call it "spirit" and we linguists call it "meaning" -- each with
our labels, like blind men and the elephant.
The BIG questions on leaving had to do with how it was that Indians had
pre-knowledge of a realm they weren't supposed to know anything about --
and even more bizarre, why it was that some Native American languages we
discussed were structurally better equipped for talking about quantum
events than are English and other European languages!? How? Sakej
Henderson said that when talking in, say, Mikmaq, he could talk all day
long and never utter a single noun, and that is eerily similar,
structurally, to Whitehead saying about the atom that all we know of it is
its radiating, but there is no 'thing' there radiating! A language without
nouns and a realm without things, both just flowing, as Bohm's Rheomode. Seeing all this come together was kind of an intellectual orgasm for me,
and it changed the course of my teaching and my friendships forever.
first Science Dialogue showed me once and for all that Benjamin Whorf had
been absolutely right about the relativity of languages, and over the next
few years I further nailed down the fact that Einstein got the idea of
relativity from the same general source that Whorf did -- Humboldtian
linguistic relativity, from the founder of linguistics! Whorf got it
through Sapir, and Einstein through Jost Winteler, his mentor and rooming
house owner , who was a Humboldtian-trained relativity linguist. At
bottom, Einstein's physics version was also linguistic, showing that you
can't describe a 4D universe with a 3D (Euclidean) language.
2) I lived with the Northern Cheyennes for four years in the early
'70s. During that time I rediscovered my own heritage, that I had a small
part Cherokee and Osage blood from both sides of my family being in
Arkansas. As a linguist, I worked on the Cheyenne language, developing an
alphabet and writing system, beginning a dictionary -- but after four
years of working daily on learning the language, I could not freely speak
it, could not 'generate' new sentences.
As someone who'd learned
(passably, at any rate) such languages as Spanish, Latin, German, Luganda,
and Igbo in foreign language classes from junior high school through
graduate school, not being able to really speak Cheyenne after four years
was a wake-up call that something really different was going on here.
Though I'd been given two Indian names while I was there, when I left
there was very little I could have done that would have been considered
I certainly began using examples of the Cheyenne
language in my Introduction to Language and other classes, but I didn't
for instance hold classes to teach people how to speak Cheyenne -- which,
had I been able to do it, would have been appropriation; I didn't conduct
all-night Native American Church meetings, or Purification
("sweat") lodges, just because I'd been in a few of them; and I didn't
even use in any way my Indian name publically in any way until many years
had passed. I didn't want to be known as a 'wanna-be'.
The simplicity of truths in Native America takes a long time to wear down
through the accretions of our cultural knowledge. In the early '90s I
began letting my hair grow long enough to wear as a ponytail for the first
time, and began using my Indian name as my public teaching persona. After
20 years of staying in tune with Native America, I felt nobody could
accuse me of wannabe-ism -- the information and experiences had actually
stuck, and were an integral part of me.
Seeing quantum physics and
indigenous knowledge fall together gave me courage for what I knew, and
initiation as a pipe carrier gave me an authority to speak about what
little I actually knew from experience.
So while I myself have never been accused of violating intellectual
property rights, I know of those who have. They can often be easily
spotted, as with the man who came to the US from a foreign country to
study shamanism, and after attending some Purification lodges built one on
his land and began "doing sweats"; someone I know attended four of these
and said that not once did he ever hear this guy speak from his
heart! This gentleman had the outer manifestations of ceremony, but not
the essential inner ingredient -- which can be seen as the very essence of
3) Indigenous languages are the key to indigenous thought and worldview --
and, as alluded to above, they are as different from our European view of
reality as quantum is from the classical view of reality. Recently Leroy
Little Bear told the participants in the seventh Bohmian/Indigenous
Science Dialogue that there is no Blackfoot language, or Navajo language,
in the European sense of vocabularies and wordlists -- instead, there are
about 80 roots in Blackfoot [each of which stands for a kinesthetic prime
of animate motion, as far as I can tell], which are combined and
recombined on the fly to describe what-is as accurately as possible.
To help you understand this, take the word /Se?Se/ in Cheyenne, which by
itself can mean 'duck' in English. But when you add /-novote/ to the end
of it, meaning 'goes down into a hole,' you don't have a logical
connection of "duck goes down in hole" but RATTLESNAKE! That's because
/Se?Se/ doesn't really mean 'duck' at all -- it means the combined dry
scraping sound and zigzag motion both the duck and the rattlesnake make as
they're going away from you. It's an event of animate motion which
uniquely characterizes both the duck and the one that goes down in the
hole that makes that same noise/movement.
This is a unique way of using human language -- a kinesthetic base closer
to Sign Language than to our more visual/verbal base. Amethyst First Rider
has said on numerous occasions that when she says the simplest thing in
English, like "The man is riding a horse," she gets pictures coming up in
her head. But when she says the equivalent thing in Blackfoot, no pictures
come up in her head -- only body feelings of movement!
I'm sure this is
connected somehow to her other oft-made claim that no matter what it
sounds like when it's translated into English, when they're speaking their
own language they're NOT using metaphor. Actually, this is true because
the Indians are using categorization itself (like George Lakoff's *Women,
Fire, and Dangerous Things* as a lexical category in Dyrbal), while
metaphor is a different kind of categorizing used extensively -- some
might say nearly exclusively -- in Western European and other languages,
and which they like to fancy is universal.
While all of us have been subtly conditioned/brainwashed/socialized by our
European language/culture complex to believe in the "things" of reality as
being more real than the invisible connections between them, valuing the
dancers over the dancing, it's a highly important antidote and
counterbalance to know that Native American and other indigenous peoples
value the dancing over the dancers, believe that processes and
interrelationships are more real than the 'things' that grow out of them
-- that the physical is an epiphenomenon of the non-physical, and that
cyclical timing is more real than linear time.
We need both descriptions for a complete picture of how reality works for
everyone, as well how language works for everyone, on this planet.
Middle Way, as the Chinese termed it, is a difficult road to even FIND,
and especially in our newfangled, ultra-gadgety world. Yet finding it and
balancing ourselves will become even more important as we face what is to
come in the next decade or so as we approach what the Mayans called the
beginning of the Age of Consciousness.
I hope I haven't overstayed my welcome here. My intent is to bring up
questions, not to provide definitive answers. Indigenous knowledge brings
us questions for how we see fundamental reality, as when a Haida man,
Woody Morrison, walked up to me at a Dialogue and said, "In the Haida
language, the wind doesn't push a boat; it pulls it!" If you follow this
to its conclusion, considering it comes from a sea-faring culture, you
realize that the wind is more complex than the paltry labels various human
languages pin on its different aspects -- and so is just about everything
else in Nature.
Organisms are far more complex than machines, and
indigenous peoples are far ahead of us in understanding organisms since
that is their unbroken stream of knowledge while we diverted much of ours
warm regards, moonhawk
If you have a paper or article relevant to this discussion, please send it to me at email@example.com and I will post it to this space.
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