Organic life in the Earth's biosphere
requires organisms to relate to other organisms. Human beings are particularly dependent on establishing enduring relationships with other human beings, and thus on their highly developed ability to communicate with them. The ability to communicate also exists in animals, many of which use some kind of language for communicating within their own species and genera.
When we think of language we tend to have in mind communication based on the emission of sounds, specifically vocal sounds. The word language
etymologically refers to the tongue (la langue in French, lingua in Latin). But sounds used to communicate may also be produced by other parts of the body, and there are languages of gestures (for example the sign language used by some tribes and by deaf people).
The education of young animals, human infants, and adults depends upon the imitation of gestures and complex modes of behavior (for instance, playing musical instruments or sewing). The term education
, however, is not accurate here. Animal young and human babies are not led out (e-ducere) in the now-fashionable sense of the term. If they are led out, it is out of the psychic womb of the family to eventually take their places in an open environment. This is very different from learning. What occurs in childhood learning is that adults demonstrate the effective use of the nervous system controlling the muscles and sense organs. The adult's demonstration provides the young child with an image to reproduce exactly. Learning is thus primarily based on imitation, on images the learner observes and either is made or spontaneously wants and tries to imitate. These images and forms of behavior are memorized when the young are repeatedly exposed to the examples of parents or teachers.
Language, however, is meaningful speech and in order to understand the kind of information it conveys, more than mere learning is required. The development of what I call the "cultural mind" is required. The cultural mind is the mind of relatedness
. It is a mind able to integrate nouns (names) and verbs into sentences through the use of connective words or modifiers. It is a mind able to follow, understand, and memorize "stories" in which different types of persons or entities act, react, and interact according to significant kinds of behavior.
These stories are myths
. They transmit to the young mind the feeling-realization that certain types of activity are of primary significance and are worthy of imitation. Their value is conveyed to every member of the social community (and at first perhaps of the family unit) by rites
in which words
give an objective kind of information concerning the significant activity depicted in the myth (the events of the story); sounds
transmit a collective subjective psychodynamism acting directly upon the nerve centers of the people involved in the rite; and ritualistic gestures
underline and convey the symbolic nature of the personages and their actions in the mythic story.
Myths thus communicated convey to the members of the primordial human community events of the most fundamental importance to successful living and feeling together. This communication operates at three levels: the level of information, the level of psychism, and the level of activity. Information
is to be memorized and constantly held in mind; it deals with how to respond effectively to external physical occurrences or internal biological drives and feelings. Psychism
is a word I use to refer to the unifying force holding together the members of a community within a psychoactive field in which they experience their unity. (1
needs to be cooperative and based on a close and constant attunement to the seasonal biorhythms of nature. These rhythms are said to reflect various phases of the creative activity of the gods, who are presented as mythic personifications of different aspects of the all-encompassing and ceaselessly active power, often spoken of as "the One Life" or the unfathomable "Mystery" (Brahman in India, wakinya skan in American Indian tribes, and the Godhead in the terminology of the medieval mystic, Meister Eckart).
Without these three levels of communication there could be no culture. As culture has a twofold meaning, subjective (as in "a man of culture") and objective (as in the development of a particular culture), I use the term culture-whole
when referring to what has been called (especially by the English historian, Arnold Toynbee) a society. A culture-whole is thus a complex web of interpersonal and intergroup relationships which operate at the biological, psychic, and eventually mental levels. In the broadest sense of the term, a culture-whole is an organism, or at least an organic system of activities, in which a number of human beings participate, united by a common psychism - psychism being for a culture-whole what the life-force (prana) is for physical bodies. (2
Toynbee distinguishes between primitive societies and societies in the process of developing what is generally called civilization. The latter have been very few in number, as far as modern historical records indicate, and they have appeared only within the last few millennia. Primitive societies, on the other hand, presumably have been extremely numerous since the totally unknown beginning of the type of humanity still in the process of development today. While hardly any trace of the earliest societies remains, some relatively primitive societies are still operating. Although they have been studied by many anthropologists and ethnologists, it is nevertheless questionable whether these studies have truly grasped the psychic character and special quality of the stage in human development primitive societies manifest.
The earliest societies which produced lasting records of their achievements in the form of architecture, artistic objects of great beauty, musical instruments, and manuscripts about religion, philosophy, science, and the operation of various social-political institutions are those of Sumeria, Egypt, India, China, and pre-Colombian America. The beginnings of these culture-wholes (which Toynbee calls civilizations) are still practically unknown. Historians assume they were once primitive societies that either contained the germ of dynamic growth or were spurred by special environmental challenges. On the other hand, religious and esoteric traditions claim that these culture-wholes were ruled by quasi-divine kings or were taught by divine teachers who were remnants of previous kinds of humanity which lived on continents that have now disappeared, or that they were beings who came to our planet from more advanced spheres. From the point of view I am taking in this book, it seems best to think of the development of a culture-whole as a process of natural growth, which may have been guided by the progeny of a previous culture-whole.
In any case, what most specifically distinguishes the societies that have left records of their achievements from the ones that have not is the development of the kind of mind that established systems of communication not only between human beings living at the same time but, most significantly, between a relatively long series of generations. In primitive culture-wholes communication remains intracultural; only members of the same culture-whole can totally experience what the gestures, tones, and mythic, sacromagical words of its rites communicate. This communication requires the use of symbols
— symbolic gestures, symbolic sounds, symbolic activity (myths) — operating at the level of the culture-whole's psychism. With the development of the abstract mind
— the mind making use of numbers, geometric forms, and nonbiological relationships — communication spreads beyond the closed field of a tribal culture-whole and acquires
an intercultural character.
As this occurs, symbols become concepts. The psychism that had created a basic unanimity in the primitive community largely surrenders its integrative power to the intellect and reason; myths that established a spiritual-psychic communication are replaced by an event-oriented history providing mental information. Then also the study of exact musical intervals — that is, the mathematical ratios between the frequencies (the number of vibrations per second) of sounds in rigidly defined series (or scale) — tends to become a substitute for the direct experience of tones charged with psychoactive energy and used for sacromagical purposes. In the plastic arts (painting and sculpture), the exact reproduction of the appearance of objects and persons becomes the goal of artists, whose predecessors had been concerned only with sacromagical forms revealing not merely the ephemeral personality of people but their functional identity as participants in ritualistic and mythic activity.
Such a change of consciousness and activity within a culture-whole eventually radically transforms it; yet the transformation takes a long time to become entirely effective. At first only a few members of the culture-whole are affected. The mass of the people cling to the familiar biopsychic manner of living together and feeling together; they continue to think in terms of the traditional meanings given to words they had learned in childhood. Yet the transformation which a few inspired pioneers initiate - as semi-conscious agents of some mysterious evolutionary power rather than as individuals — displays an energy of its own, usually in socioeconomic circumstances favoring its spread. To accept it, at least intellectually, eventually becomes fashionable. It is formulated in new words, integrated in terms of more or less new concepts loaded with new feelings — at first mainly feelings of rebellion against authority, then the belief that one is very special and part of an elite. Sooner or later the new mental approach becomes socially and culturally organized, then institutionalized.
One can interpret such a basic yet gradual transformation in the consciousness and activities of the participants in a culture-whole in several ways. It has successive and simultaneous causes at several levels — biological, economic, political, intellectual, and religious, even planetary and "cosmic" (or spiritual). Here I wish to stress that the transformation involves a change not only in consciousness, but also in the level
at which human beings are expected to communicate when they transmit the experiences the culture considers most valuable and significant. Although many human experiences always have to be communicated at the more primitive biopsychic and feeling level, our intellectually developed Western culture-whole collectively and officially values communications requiring the specialized use of the highly developed abstract mind. The abstract mind operates most significantly on the basis of number and form — thus, in terms of quantitative measurements, statistics, and formal arrangement and development.
When its collective abstract mind develops sufficiently, a culture-whole reaches the stage of civilization. It then operates at three levels. Mental activity
operates at the most valued level as it leads to the perception of what is called truth. Psychism
operates at the level at which emotional responses are communicated. Ritualized gestures serving specific collective purposes operate at the level of physical activity
. These gestures include office work, movements employed on assembly lines, all traditional and legalized modes of business, government activity, and sports. All are rituals performed to keep the culture-whole functioning as an organized system. This system is rooted in a particular type or level of consciousness, which it also seeks to perpetuate and export.
In primitive culture-wholes, mind is essentially the servant of life. Mind stabilizes life-energy and increases the effectiveness of life's basic drives: the drive for survival, the drive for reaching optimum conditions of existence making possible the maintenance of the essential characteristics of the species, and the drive for expansion in space (conquest) and in time (progeny). As the stage of civilization is reached, mind increasingly draws energy from the life-force and psychism. But when a one-pointed and exclusive concentration on the development of the quantitative and analytical mind emphasizes measurements and form over the contents of the form, the results can be sterile — "elegant" perhaps in their simplicity and apparent universality (the ideal of modern science), but sterile, nevertheless.
Everything stated so far can be applied to music, or rather to the purposeful use culture-wholes make of sound. I say "sound" rather than "music" because the term music should be used only to refer to communication at the level of a culture's collective psychism. Even then the word music
does not usually mean what it does for at least relatively educated musicians and music lovers of our Euro-American society. The music of primitive societies is not music in our sense of the term; it is tone-magic. In order to understand what tone-magic means, we have to try to develop an empathetic kind of psychic resonance to the consciousness of primitive human beings and their instinctual responses to sound as a power of communication and creation.
See my recent book, The Rhythm of Wholeness
For easily understandable reasons, considering the academic mentality of the Western world, Toynbee insists that a "society" should not be called an organism. He sees society only as a "network of relations." But a physical body is also a network of relations between cells, and we may be quite wrong in thinking that cells are deprived of consciousness and of some degree of independence. Return