Plavan N Mentation by Form
Working with Arrows: a Linguistic Guide to Active Mentation Substantially revised on: 2003-10-21 Buddhism is the first religion which brought this message to the world: that your religions, your philosophies, are more grounded in your linguistic patterns than in anything else. And if you can understand your language better, you will be able to understand your inner processes better. He [Buddha] was the first linguist, and his insight is tremendously meaningful. (Osho, The Discipline of Transcendence, Vol. 1, #10)
Introduction In the beginning of "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, " Gurdjieff says that anyone who wishes to be a conscious thinker has to know that a man is capable of two types of mentation: "mentation by thought" and "mentation by form." Further he says that the exact meaning of all writing has to be grasped by both types of mentation. Linguists today are aware of this second type of mentation and associates it with general patterns of perception shared by all human beings and also by animals to a certain extent. Linguists call them "semantic structures" even though this naming is narrow and misleading. A semantic structure is not only semantic but also indicative of the geometrical configuration of our world perception, where "forms" (nouns) can exist only in their relationship with a certain type of action (verb): I --(Touch)--> You You --(Watch)--> Me Nouns such as "I" and "You" are labels that can be replaced by the mental pictures of "I" and "You". Verbs such as "touch" and "watch" point to our sensation-based memory of corresponding actions. Thus we can say that "mentation by form" is essentially a nonverbal task even though it can be assisted by the use of words as labels and pointers. When we make a statement about a definite perception, the following process takes place: Objective reality -(1)-> Perceived reality -(2)-> Verbally-formulated reality When someone else tries to understand the statement, the process is reversed: the listener infers the geometrical structure of the speaker's perception by analyzing the statement. With this acknowledgment of "mentation by form," a new branch of linguistics was born that is no more a boring study of grammatical rules. In this new branch of linguistics, linguists study the laws that govern the structure of our perception along with the grammatical rules applicable to the conversion of that structure into a sentence structure (Arrow 2 above). These studies also reveal the common limitations and errors of our mind that restrict the quality of the two reality-conversion processes (Arrows 1 and 2 above). In fact, the conventional way of using an arrow as shown below for describing a perception includes a serious error that linguists today are aware of: I --> the observed phenomenon Since Ouspensky chose this way of using an arrow when he described the "division of attention" as the characteristic feature of self-remembering, I will discuss about it in the
second half of this essay after showing you a different way of using arrows for describing perceptions adopted by linguists today. About 15 years ago, I was professionally involved in activities in this field, daily conducting the paid exercise of converting sentences (mentation by thought) into structures of perception (mentation by form) and vice versa. This exercise substantially changed the way I think, read, write, listen and speak; helped in my career as a translator and writer; and more recently shaped my unique way of using language in conducting a joint exploration of our true nature in a group format. This essay provides you with minimum information required for conducting a similar exercise.
Linguistics and "Mentation by Form" According to this information, it was customary in long-past centuries on Earth for every man bold enough to aspire to the right to be considered by others and to consider himself a "conscious thinker" to be instructed, while still in the early years of his responsible existence, that man has two kinds of mentation one kind, mentation by thought, expressed by words always possessing a relative meaning, and another kind, proper to all animals as well as to man, which I would call "mentation by form." (Gurdjieff, Beelzebubs Tales to His Grandson , p. 15)
The linguistic study of "mentation by form" and its relationship with "mentation by thought" started about 20 years after Gurdjieffs death. Two linguists are known to have built the foundation of these studies: Noam Chomsky and Charles Fillmore. Chomsky studied the relationship between language and mind while Fillmore established the "case grammar" theory. The case grammar theory enabled linguists to determine the geometrical structure of corresponding perception by analyzing a sentence in terms of verb-noun relationships. "Mentation by form" is the process of perception that precedes verbal formulation. "Mentation by form" can be assisted effectively or ineffectively by the use of words as labels, pointers, and holders of attention. Nevertheless, "mentation by form" can be conducted without relying on or being constrained by grammatical rules. It is essentially a nonverbal task that depends more on our spatial awareness, movement awareness, relationship awareness, and selfawareness than on our linguistic proficiency. "Mentation by thought," on the other hand, corresponds to mental processes that involve language, which has much less capability for representing our potentially multi-dimensional perception of reality. The quality of "mentation by thought" depends on its connection with "mentation by form." Without this connection, thinking degenerates into "associations." In the last few decades, studies in this field were actively conducted by developers of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine translation methodologies. They have found that our languages are too subjective and idiosyncratic to be handled effectively as they are by a computer, and therefore looked for a way to convert our natural language into a more universal format. From 1988 to 1989, I was involved in activities in this field as a professional linguist supporting the development of a Japanese-English translation system at a major computer manufacturer in Japan. In the field of machine translation, the phrase-to-phrase conversion method proved to be successful only between languages that have identical grammatical structures. To effectively translate Japanese into English, it was found to be necessary to rely on "mentation by form" as had been predicted by Gurdjieff:
The second kind of mentation, that is, "mentation by form" through which, by the way, the exact meaning of all writing should be perceived and then assimilated . . . (ibid, p. 15)
The machine translation system developed by my former colleagues converts a Japanese sentence into a semantic structure (geometrical model of the corresponding perception) and then generates an English sentence out of it. In these processes, words disappear into a form of perception and then reappear from that form of perception. This method of translation, though handicapped by the limited ability of language in fully representing the geometrical structure of our perception, was theoretically proved to be quite effective. Thus, the toughest problem in translation was found to be the mismatch of concepts conveyed by words in different languages rather than the difference of grammatical structures between different languages. For example, the machine translation between English and French has reached a level of refinement satisfactory for practical use while the machine translation between English and Japanese is still of very poor quality. The main reason for this handicap is not the difference of grammatical structures but the mismatch of the meanings and concepts attached to words in the two different language systems. This problem is less likely to happen between two languages that share many words with common roots. The second kind of mentation, that is, "mentation by form" through which, by the way, the exact meaning of all writing should be perceived and then assimilated after conscious confrontation with information previously acquired is determined in people by the conditions of geographical locality, climate, time, and in general the whole environment in which they have arisen and in which their existence has flowed up to adulthood. Thus, in the brains of people of different races living in different geographical localities under different conditions, there arise in regard to one and the same thing or idea quite different independent forms, which during the flow of associations evoke in their being a definite sensation giving rise to a definite picturing, and this picturing is expressed by some word or other that serves only for its outer subjective expression. That is why each word for the same thing or idea almost always acquires for people of different geographical localities and races a quite specific and entirely different so to say "inner content." (ibid, pp. 15-16)
When there is no pressing need for communication as we face reality with clear awareness, "mentation by form" depends less on language. Verbal formulations can follow but will not precede "mentation by form." In this sense, Zen masters' insistence on "thinking without words" is not entirely absurd. Similarly, when Gurdjieff uses the word "thinking", it may not necessarily mean a verbal activity. Particularly in the context of some inner exercises associated with Gurdjieff, like the one coupled with his last Movement, it is hardly possible to connect the word "thinking" with an activity that involves verbal formulation. Nevertheless, if we aspire to be a "conscious thinker," we must maintain a stream of "mentation by form" while we are involved with words while thinking, reading, speaking, and writing. More specifically, it is a demand to maintain the spatial awareness of the conceptual universe we are paying attention to, along with the awareness of our current focus and the place of subjectivity.
Movements and Objects: Basic Constituents of Perceived Reality
Many mystics from Heracleitus to Osho saw movement as the essence of reality. Gurdjieff also confirms this view with his emphasize on the Movements and his dynamic vision of the universe as expounded in the Beelzebubs Tales. The following words come from Osho: You see a river. Does a river really exist, or is it just a movement? If you take the movement out, will there be a river? Once the movement is taken out the river will disappear. It is not that the river is moving; the river is nothing but rivering . . . Life means living. Life is not a noun, it is a verb. And everything is a verb. Watch and you will be able to see: everything is becoming, nothing is static. (Osho, The Discipline of Transcendence, Vol. 1, #10)
Our ordinary mind, however, lacks capacity to focus on more than one movements at one time. Linguistically, this limitation is manifested by the fact that only a single verb functions as a hub of the whole sentence or of its each independent logical unit. This verb is called the main verb. If the sentence has two or more verbs, they usually form a hierarchy where the main verb is at the top, or the verbs are juxtaposed in a simplistic way in which they can been seen as forming a unit, or the sentence is divided into independent logical units individually presenting a separate perception. Our language is limited in its ability to present the manners of dynamic relationships among different verbs. A statement of a simple perception usually consists of a single verb and multiple nouns that are connected to the verb: I love you. I You In all types of statements including this one, the main verb in the sentence is like a hub that holds different types of relationships with nouns within the sentence. Nouns are the objects or concepts that are tentatively assumed to be static. In the mind of the perceiver, they are usually associated with a static image or "form." Even with the given limitation of our perception, a simple analysis of grammatical structures is enough to reveal that movements (verbs) are at the core of our world perception. In the above example, "love" is at the center of the structure of perception, which looks more important than "I" and "you. " In spite of this, we usually give less attention to movements/verbs than to objects/nouns. This is understandable because movements are less graspable than objects that can be held as mental images. Since you must be familiar with using computers, I take the following example to show a difference between verb-centered perception and noun-centered perception: MS-DOS command syntax: COPY X Y Windows: Select X, select COPY, and then select Y. Readers who have experienced the shift from the process-oriented interface (like MS-DOS) to the object-oriented interface (like Windows) will be able to recall the big difference it caused in our experience of using computers. While the object-oriented interface is closer to our habitual way of perception and therefore more user-friendly, its wide-spread use may further degenerate our ability to focus on movements. Verb-centered perception allows better appreciation of reality. Verb-centered perception can be very different from noun-centered perception. What would have happened if Descartes gave more attention to verbs than to nouns when he claimed: "I think, therefore I exist"? He must have felt ashamed instead of being proud in finding out that his famous "I" was nothing but a byproduct of his thinking, a false entity that appeared permanent only because of his limited perception. In other words, where are you when you are not thinking?
Case Grammar and the Structure of Our Perception
The case grammar theory is widely used for relating linguistic patterns with universal patterns of perception. The case grammar theory stands on the recognition that major components of our language fall into one of the following three categories: (1) Verbs and their subordinates; (2) Nouns and their subordinates; and (3) Words that define their relationships. This is similar to saying that our vision of reality consists of: (1) Movements; (2) Objects; and (3) Their Relationships. Semantic structure analysis using the case grammar theory reveals the paramount importance of verbs and movements in the structure of our language and perception. A few examples of semantic structure analysis are given below. An asterisk (*) indicates a connection to the same word given in a line above. Names attached to the arrows show a particular type of relationship between a verb and a noun (or sometimes between nouns). These different types of relationships are called "cases" (or "semantic cases") in linguistics. I love you. I You I will buy you beautiful flowers tomorrow at the flower shop. I You *-(target)-> Flowers Tomorrow * -(location)-> Flower shop I am glad to know that you love me. I [You Me] * To indicate negation, simply add a similar "negation" arrow to the verb. The style of speech (declarative, imperative, interrogative, etc.) can also be indicated by adding a similar arrow, even though this way of representation may not be quite correct. The "declarative" arrow is usually omitted. Do you love me? You I * -(interrogative)-> For more correct representation of the above, it is needed to add a deeper layer of analysis to address the state of the speaker whose presence may not be explicit in the text level: I You *-(content)->[ You I] Similarly, it may be more correct to interpret such words as "probably," "hopefully," and "arguably" as pertaining to the state of the speaker even though they are grammatically connected with a verb in the sentence. When we look at our perceived universe, we usually give most of our attention to one part of it. When we say "I love you," our emphasis can be on I, You, or Love. If you are aware of the
place of emphasis, you can underline that part or use an additional arrow called "focus." It is me who saw you yesterday. I You * Yesterday What we may call "the place of subjectivity" or "empathy" is a logical pair of the above concept of "focus." It shows the position of the speaker within or in relationship to his perceived universe. In other words, it shows a perspective the speaker is identified with. The place of subjectivity is not always identifiable in semantic structure analysis but is an important item to be aware of it if we aspire to be impartial in our thinking. This topic is also important in psychological application of the case-grammar perception model, which is already attempted by some psychologists and therapists. The perceptions formulated as "I am his son" and "He is my father" are objectively equivalent but can be very different from each other subjectively and psychologically. This reversal of vision should be an interesting topic of study in the context of the gestalt therapy and also in relationship to the double-headed arrow model of self-remembering. The verb "be" is usually analyzed in the following way: I am a man. I