Is Language a Delivery Device for the Virus of Culture? (Perceptual Warfare 19)

“[The] notion of outwitting nature literally splits our mind-brain system because it poses one half of the brain as the enemy of the other half and turns what should be a splendid synergy into warring camps. Would a 3-billion-year experiment in genetic coding really have produced as its finest product a brain whose only purpose is to outwit itself? Yet, we believe, apparently with a tenacious passion, that the purpose of human intelligence is to predict and dominate the infinitely contingent and interacting balances of a universal system. We call our supposed successes in this venture progress…”
—Joseph Chilton Pearce, Magical Child

So is there an alternative to culture, socialization, and mimesis? The answer may be right in front of us, but it may be so obvious that we fail to notice it. First of all, let’s take a look at what culture is. Of seven meanings attributed to the word “culture,” there is one that stands out from the others (emphasized).

1. a particular society at a particular time and place

2. the tastes in art and manners that are favored by a social group

3. all the knowledge and values shared by a society

4. (biology) the growing of microorganisms in a nutrient medium (such as gelatin or agar)

5. a highly developed state of perfection; having a flawless or impeccable quality

6. the attitudes and behavior that are characteristic of a particular social group or organization

7. the raising of plants or animals

In his groundbreaking 1977 book, Magical Child (pg. 49), Joseph Chilton Pearce cites studies that showed how “so-called random movements immediately co-ordinated with speech when speech was used around the infants.” These and subsequent studies further revealed that “each infant had a complete and individual repertoire of body movements that synchronized with speech: that is, that each had a specific muscular response to each and every part of his culture’s speech pattern” (my emphasis). By adulthood, Pearce notes, “the movements have become microkinetic, discernible only by instrumentation, but nevertheless clearly detectable and invariant. The only exception found was in autistic children, who exhibited no such body-speech patterning.”

If Pearce’s summation is accurate, then the idea that culture is a kind of learned social language may be more than just a figure of speech. Culture may literally be language, and vice versa, and spoken language may be a kind of “delivery device” for culture. Similar to how an operating system runs a computer (via code) or a virus adopts a host, does culture “install” itself in the human organism through language?

This idea is not especially new. It has been around in philosophical circles, and more recently science-fiction ones, since the early days of both, and is perhaps most famously depicted by the movie, The Matrix. But if, outside of philosophical and fictional speculations, there is a solid biological basis for the idea, then the notion of culture as a kind of biological invader becomes more compelling.*

* If this were so, we might expect deaf, as well as autistic, children to be (at least somewhat) immune to culture. Deaf people do tend to have their own subculture, while autistic children are often mistaken for deaf ones (and vice versa) in early diagnoses. The immunity would only be partial, however, since sign language is the means to socialize children and, as in Pearce’s description, entails body movements matching specific “sounds” (words). In the research report, “Representing Inner Worlds: Theory of Mind in Autistic, Deaf, and Normal Hearing Children,” similar results are obtained from autistic and deaf children. “These results point to an interplay among biology, conversation and culture in the development of a theory of mind.”


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