If I had to guess I’d say it started somewhere between 50 and 100 thousand years ago.
For nearly four billion years we, or our proto-human ancestors, were fully immersed and enfolded in the generational Flow of Life.
It, Life, probably awoke again when conditions on nascent planet earth became suitably amenable. The uni-cellular seeds that had drifted dormant in space for billions of years were included in the agglomerating matter and body that would become planet earth during the formation of what we call ‘our’ solar system, some four and a half billion years ago. Being the right distance from the sun and having the right atomic and molecular make up, conditions on planet earth arose favourable to a new awakening, and the long dormant cells broke from their shells or casings and began the Flow once more.
At first it Flowed in the oceans. Was it only one type or specie of Flow at the outset, or had differing types of seeds been planted so to speak on planet earth? At any rate, early on there would have only been a few channels in which to Flow, a few means of accomplishing the Great Passing Through from one generation on. But as the Flow gained momentum the means would have increased too: from gathering sustenance from the light and energy of the sun to vents on the ocean floor spewing minerals to taking in pre-packaged packets of energy, Life would have diversified into the proto-plant and proto-animal kingdoms.
Now the game is underway. We’re already billions of years into this new awakening of the Flow, and with the proliferation of means, of the channels—of species—planet earth is transforming itself. The Flow is emerging from the oceans, getting a toehold on land, enriching itself.
A great change occurs somewhere around 550 million years ago. That sounds long ago but it’s already something like 3.5 billion years into this new awakening. Stephen Jay Gould describes it in his book, Wonderful Life. It’s a crazy, wild, over-exuberant pullulation of channels, rivulets, streams and rivers of Flow. Species multiply prodigiously, experiment with all manner of means of Passing Through. Somewhere in that torrential cataract of Flowing Life our tiny voraciously adaptive ancestors are making their way, Flowing downwards or upwards or however you choose to see it.
The game Flows on for millions upon millions more years. Life is one but it has taken on uncountable aspects, it Flows in so many different ways, and we—our ancestors—are part of that Flow.
More years. The rivulets, streams and courses we call the dinosaurs come and go and our ancestors navigate that epoch with aplomb too. By now they Flow from generation to generation in groups, dynamically adaptive groups hunting and foraging for food and shelter in an increasing array of environments.
Being so inclined to dynamic adaptation, communication within these groups must have become increasingly complex. It would have proved their adaptive Flowing edge in the ever ongoing game. Glance, grunt, sign, rhythm, beat, all would have served these simple communities in their struggle to feed, shelter and Flow. Offspring are born and grow into the ways and means of the group, while others die off of sickness, injury or old age. Always it is the group that Flows on.
And then, as I said at the beginning of this piece, something changes I’d guess between 50 and 100 thousand years ago. Communication within the group has developed, flowered, but here it takes a magical, epochal, game changing step forward.
Up to now everything communicated has been expressed, conveyed and comprehended in the moment and then largely forgotten or dropped until the next moment arises. Now, something happens, internally, and the sign is retained. That is, the figure, whether gesture, sign, drawing or grunt, is sort of wrapped in a tiny little synaptic package or folder and tucked away in our brains for future use.
A rock, stick, or food-like animal exists in the outer world but there came a day when our ancestors possessed and stored away the IMAGE of that rock, stick, and potential food-like animal in their heads. They held on to it and what’s more, learned to communicate it, that is, by making a sign, signal, grunt or sound, the synaptic package stored in someone else’s brains could be invoked! Which is, by the way, exactly what I’m doing now with you the reader. But not only that, multiple packages could be ordered and even rearranged inside a brain suggesting new relationships, new avenues of action, new ideas! Oh the possibilities!
Life, what had Flowed for billions of years through countless channels and continues to Flow through this very instant, what lies all around us everyday comprising the world as we know it, has become word. ‘And the Word became flesh’ was a metaphor first used long ago; here I say Life would better be served if we said “… and Flesh became Word.”
Anyway, at the beginning there was no Word, only Flow. For four billion years the Flow of Life was ALL there was… until something else came along.
That something else is word, idea.
And now, where we find ourselves today, perhaps a hundred thousand years into its career, word and idea threaten the very Flow that engendered it.
Blessings to you who are part of the ever ongoing Flow…
You who Flow, before word, idea, or name.