Cosmic Consciousness - 3 - On the Plane of Self Consciousness
Sir Charles Lyell, in the "Antiquity of Man" , pointed out the parallelism which exists between the origin, growth, decline and death of languages and of species in the organic world. In order to illustrate and at the same time broaden the present argument let us extend the parallel backward to the formation of the worlds and forward to the evolution of words and concepts.
The accompanying table will serve this purpose as well as, or better then, an elaborately reasoned exposition, and will serve at the same time as a summary of the evolution argument which runs through this volume.
A short study of this tabular statement will make plain how orbs, species, languages and words branch, divide and multiply; will make intelligible Max Mueller's estimate that " every thought that has ever passed through the mind of India "may be reduced to one hundred and twenty--one root concept-that is, to one hundred and twenty-one root words [ 115. 401]; will make us agree with him that, probably, that number might be still further reduced.
If we consider for a moment that this means that the millions of Indo-European words now in use as well as many times the number long since dead and forgotten, nearly all sprang from about one hundred roots and that these in their turn probably from half a dozen, and at the same time remember that reason and speech are one, we shall obtain a glimpse of what the human intellect once was in comparison with what it is to-day;and likewise it becomes apparent at a glance that the evolution not only of the species, languages and words is strictly parallel but that the scheme has probably a still wider, perhaps universal, application.
As regards the present thesis the conclusion to be drawn from this comparison is that words, and that therefore the constituent elements of the intellect which they represent and which we call concepts, grow by division and branching, as new species branch off from older, and it seems clear that a normal growth is encouraged and an excessive and useless development checked by the same means in the one case as in the other-that is, by natural selection and the struggle for existence.
New concepts, and words expressing them, which correspond with some external reality (whether this is a thing, an act, state, or a relation0, and which are therefore of use to man, since their existence places him in more complete relation with the outer world, on which relation his life and welfare depend, are preserved by the process of natural selection and survival of the fittest. Some again which either do not correspond at all, or only imperfectly, with an objective reality are replaced by others which do correspond or correspond better with the reality which these aimed to express, and so in the struggle for existence fall into disguise and die out.
For it is with words as with every other living thing, thousands are produced for one that lives. Towards whatever object the mind is especially turned it throws out words often with marvellous profusion. When some thousands of years ago, Sanscrit being still a living language and the sun and fire looked upon either as actual gods or at least as especially sacred, fire had (instead of a very few names as now) thirty-five and the sun thirty-seven [115. 437].
But much more remarkable examples are those drawn from Arabic, as, for instance, the eighty names for honey, the two hundred for serpent, the five hundred for lion, the one thousand for sword and the five thousand seven hundred and forty-four words all relating to the camel, these being subjects upon which the Arab mind is strongly and persistently bent [115. 438] So again Max Mueller tells us; "We can hardly form an idea of the boundless resources of dialects. When literary languages have stereotyped one general term their dialects will supply fifty, though each one with its special shade og meaning.
If new combinations of thoughts are evolved in the progress of society, dialects will readily supply the required names from the store of their so-called superfluous words. There are not only local and provincial but also class dialects. There is a dialect of shephers, of sportsmen, of soldiers, of farmers. I suppose there are few persons here present who could tell the exact meaning of a horse's poll, crest, withers, dock, hamstring, cannon, pastern, coronet, arm, jowl and muzzle. Where the literary language speaks of the young of all sorts of animals, farmers, shepherds, and sportsmen would be ashamed to use so general a term.
The idiom of nomads, as Grimm says, contain an abundant wealth of manifold expressions for sword and weapons, and for the different stages in the life of cattle. In a more highly cultivated language these expressions become burthensome and superfluous. But in a peasant's mouth the bearing, calving, falling and killing of almost every animal has its own peculiar term, as the sportman delights in calling the gait members of game by different names.
Thus Dame Juliana Berners, lady prioress of the nunnery of Sopwell, in the fiftenth century, the reputed author of the 'Book of St. Albans,' informs us that we must not use names of multitudes promiscuously, but we are to say: A congregcyon of people, a hoost of men, a felyshyppynge of women, and a bevy of ladyes, we must speak of a herde of hartys, swannys, cranys, or wrennys, a sege of herons, or bytourys, a muster of peacockys, a watch of nyghtyngalys, a flyghte of doves, a claterynge of chouughes, a pryde of lyons, a slewthe of beerys, a gagle of geys, a skulke of foxes, a sculle of frerys, a pontyfycalate of prelates, a bomynable syght of monkes.
A dronkenshyp of cobblers, and so of other human and brute assemblages. In like manner in dividing game for the table the animals were not carved, but a dere was broken, a gose reryd, a chekyn frussed, a cony unlacyd, a crane dysplayed, a curlewe unjointyd, a quale wynggyd, a swanne lyfte, a lambe sholderyd, a heron dysmemmbryd, a pecocke dysfygured, a samon chynyd, a hadoke sydyd, a sole loynyd, and a breme splayed" [115. 70].
These instances will serve to show how the human intellect feels along the face of the outer world presented to it, attempting a lodgment in each cranny it finds, however slight and precarious may be the hold that it gets. For the mind of man from age to age ceaselessly seeks to master the facts of the outer world; its growth indeed consists in talllying or covering these as ivy spreads over, tallies and covers the stones of a wall; the twig that secures a hold strengthens and puts out other twigs; that which does not secure hold after a time ceases to grow and eventually dies.
From these few or that one the enormous number of concepts and words that have since come into existence have proceeded; nor will the evolution of the entire human intellect from a single initial concept seem incredible or even very marvellous, to those who bear in mind that the whole complex human body, with all its tissues, organs and parts, is built up of hundred of millions of cells, each one of which, however much it may differ in structure and function from those belonging to other organs and tissues than its own, is yet lineally descended from the one single primordial cell in which each one of us (and only a few years ago had its origin.
As we reach back into the past, therefore, we find language, and with it the human intellect, drawing into a point, and we know that within a measurable distance from where we stand to-day they must have both had their beginning. The date of that beginning has been approximately fixed by many writers and from may indications, and we cannot be far astray in placing it ( provisionally) about three hundred thousand years anterior to our own times.
Reference: Cosmic Consciousness: A study in the Evolution of the Human Mind; Richard Maurice Bucke