We take a trip inside the mind in this week’s pod.
How much is human consciousness shaped by language? Somewhat, says theoretical psychologist Nicholas Humphrey. He’s more interested in the other things that shape it, like what he calls the “lake of sensation” — colors, lights and sounds. I guess you could argue that those sensations themselves comprise the elements of a language of consciousness.
Humphrey views this kind of raw feeling as predating language in infants. Maybe, but recent research on the bilingual brain suggests that we may begin our language development as early as in the womb. I talk with the host of the Big Show’s Science podcast Rhitu Chatterjee about this. She did her own podcast on the subject. One of the takeaway results of the research is that babies reared in a bilingual setting can distinguish between the two languages, and also between those familiar languages and unfamiliar ones.
Finally, we consider poetry. Some poems might be seen as attempts to revert to a pre-linguistic form of communication. Others try to bridge the gulf between consciousness and language. And then there’s the language of former Turkmenistan leader Saparmurat Niyazov. He liked to call himself Turkmenbashi or Leader of Turkmens (he was the self-appointed president of the Association of Turkmens of the World). His poetry was less engaged with issues of consciousness or language, and more with his own stupendously elevated place in the world. Not so much a lake of sensation as an ocean of self-regard:
I am the Turkmen spirit
And I was reborn
To bring you a golden age and happiness
I came here as a envoy of prosperity
And the music of the melody of life.
Photos: Joseph Pons, Wikimedia Commons