le 20 juillet 2014
Sixteen years is a long time in some scientific fields, and it sure is for this book that has aged so fast that it looks like an ancestor, not a precursor, of modern age. And that is why it is worth reading. As the author says, everything is a question of faith and that is his shortcoming. He believes one hypothesis, his, is right and he does not see other elements that would not prove his hypothesis wrong but that would challenge the uniqueness of his hypothesis. I am going to consider some of these challenging elements.
1- The Bible
He quotes – or rather refers to – John’s Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2)
and he does not see the ternary structure in the first verse and the shift to the binary structure in the second verse. This shift from ternary to binary escapes him and he builds a whole book on the binary principle without seeing it is the basic principle of the Old Testament with in Genesis, the fact that God is seen as double, God and his spirit, and that the universe is seen as triple, God, his spirit and the immensity of water under them. But at once God is going to divide everything into dual pairs.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis, 1:1-2)
We could say John is Genesis, and we would be wrong. That was at the beginning. But in the New Testament God is ternary and John is clear about it: God, the Word and the final Son of God or Son of Man.
And I saw and bore record that this is the Son of God.” Again the next day John stood with two of his disciples, and looking upon Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. […] Nathanael answered and said unto Him, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.” […] 51 And He said unto him, “Verily, verily I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John, 1:34-37; 1:49; 1:51)
John the Baptists and his two disciples make three. Then Jesus and John’s two disciples make three. And finally God and the Word of the beginning plus the Son of Man (or Son of God) make three again. And that makes three times three, hence nine, the hour of Jesus’ death, the number of the Beast that will come after the Second Coming with the Apocalypse.
2- Ternarism and binarism
Jeremy Narby misses this ternary principle and he cannot see that a double-headed snake is a ternary principle since there are the snake and its two heads. Note his favorite reference to Avireri, the “Great Transformer” who created life on earth is “accompanied sometimes by his sister, at others by his nephew” (page 106) and this fact introduces the ternary element we are speaking of but evacuates the twin principle he is referring to and brings up the dual sexual connection that is often incestuous in mythologies. The ternary principle is basically “pagan” to remain within the Judeo-Christian tradition, though it is also true in many other traditions like Egyptian and Hindu (Buddhism is very different as for that and three is the real world whereas the eightfold path to enlightenment is governed by four and eight, which are, be it said in passing, the crucifixion and the Second Coming in the Judeo Christian tradition). And I would say this Avireri is oscillating between three and two, according to what Jeremy Narby says. But the symbolism cannot be reduced to two and binarism. It is immensely more complicated in ALL mythologies.
We should note here a ternarism he does not exploit, he does not see as significant, in his description of DNA page 135: “The genetic code contains 64 three-letter “words,” all of which have meaning, including two punctuation marks.” Three letter words like the Semitic three consonantal roots. We will come back to Hebrew later. And yet he uses this linguistic and computer science metaphor extensively page 137 as an example of “anthropocentric and technological metaphors” used “to describe DNA” (that sounds like a criticism in his text and probably is):
“DNA is a text, or a program, or data, containing information, which is read and transcribed into messenger-RNAs. The latter feed into ribosomes which are molecular computers that translate the instructions according to the genetic code. They build the rest of the cell’s machinery, namely the proteins and enzymes, which are miniaturized robots that construct and maintain the cell." (we wonder why he has not emphasized “construct” and “maintain” on the model of “build.”)
3- Hebrew DBR
This quotation is surprising because he never really considers language as an issue. He misses for example the value of what he calls “word,” “verb,” “language” and even “logos” with a Greek reference in John’s Gospel he quotes. But never does he go back to Hebrew. The root is DBR and the “basic” form is “dabar” but though it is identified to the noun “word” it is not basically a noun, nor as for that a verb, but a root that can develop in the verbal direction or in the nominal direction. Generally dictionaries tend to give a verbal meaning considering the word is not static (nominal) but dynamic (action, hence verbal). To approach this dynamic meaning we would, in our languages, use verbs such as
Outline of Biblical Usage
I. to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, warn, threaten, sing
a. (Qal) to speak
b. (Niphal) to speak with one another, talk
i. to speak
ii. to promise
d. (Pual) to be spoken
e. (Hithpael) to speak
f. (Hiphil) to lead away, put to flight
King James Version Translation Count — Total: 1,143. The KJV translates Strongs H1696 in the following manner: speak (840x), say (118x), talk (46x), promise (31x), tell (25x), commune (20x), pronounce (14x), utter (7x), command 4 misc (38x). [...]
This means it has little to do with “logos” which is a noun, a static noun. This gives him a false vision of what he is speaking of. He does not consider the language of man, the fact that there is no human being without an articulated language. He evacuates the question by speaking of communication. Then everything communicates with everything, but only human beings use an articulated language to communicate. If he had considered this point he would not have used the purely circumstantial argument that “The word twist has the same root as two and twin.” (page 98) It is obvious English linguistic imperialism when used to “prove” (???) the veracity of the Yaminahua shamans’ metaphorical language called by these shamans tsai yoshtoyoshto that he translates “language-twisting-twisting” and that is translated by Townsley as “twisted language.” He could also have noticed the doubling of “yoshto” implying an emphasized and aggrandized approach of this “twisting” which is definitely an action and not a noun, nor a past participle, because it is a verbal process leading to the image of “something twisting itself onto something else that is twisting itself on the first something,” and that would be a lot better translated by “twining” or “intertwining,” which would even reinforce the English linguistic imperialism. It is amazing he does not use this linguistic argument of the doubling of one lexical element to reinforce its meaning, so common in many languages, including Indo-European languages, because it goes his way: the attempt to build up a parallel between the DNA structure in the standard scientific model of it and the intertwined two snakes we are going to see. But the fact that twist (or twine), two and twin have the same root is purely English. Since this book had a French version before written by the same author, I just wonder what this argument could have been (tordre, deux, jumeau, and note the last word is exclusively an adjective and in the case it is a masculine noun it is always in the plural, except when possessively referred to another second being: “il est son jumeau.”).
4- Who is Homo Sapiens?
The next element which is tremendously impairing his approach is the fact that he is not clear on who and what Homo Sapiens is. He speaks of man in the state of development man has reached in the various parts of the world, identified as civilizations or cultures and that does not go back beyond the first millennium BCE. That is tremendously short. But he states that human knowledge and culture appeared then. It is clear if you start from let’s say two or one thousand years BCE you have a humanity that is greatly exploded among many civilizations and some of those are entirely isolated like the Amazonian Aborigenes. In the present state we inherit from this rather short period of three or four thousand years a mosaic of different cultures that we are absolutely justified to compare. We can find some common motifs or patterns in those various cultures but to just say: “this pattern is common to traditional cultures that have had no known contact at all for millennia may mean they are connected,” which is maybe justified, but to explain that connection we cannot remain within this narrow time span. Unluckily Jeremy Narby does and he goes further in this comparative search of similarities and then compares snakes, intertwined snakes to DNA and intertwined DNA. I do not pretend to have the answer to why these similarities can be found in such distant cultures. The main similarities at stake are the twin motif, the snakes, the two intertwined snakes, etc. Strangely enough he does not consider the Plumed Serpent from the bird side of its nature and thus does not consider the association of bird and snake that is so common too in many mythologies and cultures starting with the Egyptian Gods, or god-like pharaohs, and then moving to dragons for ONE example, which is by the way the association of a snake, of a bird and of a fire-spitter, which is ternary and not binary.
What he forgets is that a similarity does not prove there is a relation between the two elements because to prove it we have to find the path that one element followed to produce the other. When the same element is attested in two civilizations at the same time there cannot be any path. Then Jeremy Narby is in a fix and he refers to something common to the human beings of the two civilizations, viz. DNA, but that is at least tentative.
5- Four hypotheses
Let’s look at the problem from the longer time span of the emergence of Homo Sapiens. Then we are speaking of phylogeny and we go back to 300,000 years ago. If today in two separate traditional cultures there is a similarity we can come to four hypotheses (at least).
1- Since all human beings come from the same nest in Africa and all civilizations in the world are the results of the migration of these Africa Homo Sapiens OUT OF Africa, they must have kept something from this common origin. The case of “snake” is typical. It is the 49th item on the Swadesh list for English, Swadesh lists being the most frequent words in all languages, and we know it is the reasoning used by Joseph Greenberg and his school of linguistics to prove the fact that all languages have a common source. There is a fair chance “snake” is one of these words who have been inherited from the African source. We have to be careful about this reasoning since what is important is the cluster of words derived from this root in languages of different families and we could then speak of the “saraph” in Hebrew Old Testament that has to do with “burning” (the fire-spitting dragon again) as much as with “snake.” And we can be surprised with the presence of “sarpant” in Breton, “sarf” in Cornish and “sarff” in Welsh, for one similarity that would have to be explained. In fact the presence of this snake-dragon in practically all civilization could be seen as the proof of the common origin of all Homo Sapiens, their languages and their mythologies.
ONE ORIGIN = ONE HERITAGE, long before the Ice Age.
2- The similarity may come from a common traumatic event all Homo Sapiens after their migrations out of Africa have gone through. And there is such an event: the Ice Age. First the receding level of water (120 meters in all, we can assume since it rose 120 meters after the Ice Age) going along with the drop in temperature, the advancing ice line and the obligation to migrated South to find some shelter and down on the continental platform that has been freed of ocean water. And we have to speak of a climatic change that is a lot more dramatic than what we can imagine up to the peak of that Ice Age around 19,000 years BCE. Then the reverse movement that will take 19,000 years to bring the sea level to what it is today, that will reclaim the continental platforms swallowed up by the sea and oceans whose level rose 120 meters in about 12,000 years and we would have to speak of the climatic change, the flooding of rivers, plains, and continental platforms, etc. That represents more than 14,000 years of Ice Age and probably 10,000 to 12,000 years before and after of slow and progressive change to and away from the Ice Age itself.
ONE TRAUMA = ONE HERITAGE.
3- We can then speak of some ingrained biological and genetic elements in all Homo Sapiens as the result of slow evolution of the species that emerged out of Homo Faber in Africa 300,000 years ago. These elements make man’s body very similar in all its later derived versions and these common structures and capabilities constitute a processing machine that each one of us more or less control in our bodies.
ONE PROCESSING ORGANISM = ONE HERITAGE.
4- This fourth approach takes into account the psychogenesis of the human individual. As soon as Homo Sapiens emerged from Homo Faber in one phylogenetic process, the first characteristics are visible at birth: a long dependence for the children of three to five years at least (about 16% or one sixth of an individual’s life expectancy at the time). The trauma of birth and the trauma/potential of language amplified by the trauma/potential of mirror neurons and empathy (we can see these various processes as traumas or as potentials, but they are tremendous long and painful processes nevertheless) that determine a similar psychogenesis for all Homo Sapiens children, probably a lot more traumatic and stringent 300,000 years ago, not to speak of the long migrations they went through as soon as 200,000 years ago within Africa at first and out of Africa.
ONE PSYCHOGENETIC PROCESS = ONE HERITAGE.
6- Retrospective Creative Conceptualization
The last point I would like to show is what I call Creative Conceptualization that becomes Retrospective Creative Conceptualization with Jeremy Narby.
Creative Conceptualization is typical of Homo Sapiens because it requires an articulated language to be effective. An individual (a community with mirror neurons and communication) goes through sensations from the stimuli coming from the outside world, that then become perceptions after the first processing by the brain that isolates, recognizes or identifies patterns. Then the mind intervenes (the virtual construct the brain develops as soon as the perceptive level is reached) to actually identifies these patterns and give them names. This is the first level of linguistic conceptualization. From here Homo Sapiens experiments with the development of techniques that are often accidental but not always (since Homo Sapiens is going to transfer previous experience to the new experiments), which leads Homo Sapiens to speculate on what he experiences and that is the level of scientific or religious or mythological or artistic conceptualization that requires language though it also requires other elements that could not be autonomous nor active if it did not have a linguistic basis.
That’s how Homo Sapiens invented agriculture all over the world at about the same time after the Ice Age and after the waters were liberated to speak like the Zoroastrians of Sumerian literature. That’s how the Mesoamericans produced the modern cultivated maize that cannot reproduce itself naturally from several different wild species that can reproduce themselves naturally. If we take this process into account and the fact that language multiplies the speed of evolution we can very well accept the idea of Mesoamericans inventing a vegetal variety of one wild vegetal species whose path from the wild to the cultivated varieties we still cannot identify genetically, and what’s more important technically: how did these Mesoamericans do it? How could wild maize contain in its different varieties of DNA the knowledge of a species that did not exist yet and that was naturally condemned to be rejected by being unable to reproduce itself? We would have to state that the DNA of wild maize was able to invent a new species to satisfy the needs of local Homo Sapiens. That sounds iffy to me. But if we could tell time in generations the invention of cultivated maize took something like 5,000 years, that is to say 120 generations or maybe even more. If Homo Sapiens, with the fully developed languages they had there (and we know a few since they were written, like Maya) at the time and with the virtual mind they had developed thanks to this language they had developed at the same time as their mind, could not succeed in that invention we would not be speaking of Homo Sapiens but of some Homo Neanderthals that we know could not cope with that change.
But Jeremy Narby invents Retrospective Creative Conceptualization. The direct procedure I have just described produces a final mental, imaginative, scientific, mythological, religious or artistic conceptualization of the model that emerges from the long process of observation, experimentation and speculation. Jeremy Narby states that the speculative beings they come too are the truth, hence that these speculative beings are real beings in real nature.
“Why are these metaphors so consistently and so frequently used unless they mean what they say?” (page 102)
And why should they mean what they say? If I tell my son he is the apple of my eye, he is neither an apple nor part of my eye. It is just what it is, a metaphor, but it shapes if not format my mind.
This book is quite important in the way Homo Sapiens today is still unable to cope with the question of the origin of life. There is no answer to this question. If we consider the “directed panspermia” of Francis Crick, that Jeremy Narby turns from the earth to the cosmos to its reversal from the cosmos to the earth to explain the apparition of life on earth, it does not answer the question of where from? Because where did that living element arriving from the Cosmos come from and how was it devised from non living elements, or shouldn’t I say how did it devise itself from non living elements? We have to remain modest and consider what we can consider and not hypotheses about which we have no material element to support them and that only push the initial question one step further away.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU