Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Language and Spiritual Realization

I am currently working on an editing project for Isabelle Quentin here in Montreal, revising a translation of a work on "listening reeducation," Mieux écouter pour mieux se réaliser by Lise Christophe Laverdière.

One of the interesting things about being a translator is that you are often challenged by texts that are in domains with which you have little familiarity or expertise, and often deal with fields that one would have little cause to learn about if the job did not make it obligatory. This can be quite demanding and difficult, as one has to learn the terminology of a particular specialized field from scratch, even when the book is, as in this case, intended to be a popularization meant for a more general audience. People tend to develop idiosyncratic vocabulary based on their own specialization. Just look at me! I am always being told I am incomprehensible to the "layman."

Anyway, even at the risk of making an idiot of myself, I will post this.

This book has taught me a number of interesting things. Some are, I suppose, common knowledge, but they made me think anyway.

  1. We hear through the right ear first. The left ear confirms what we heard through the right.
  2. The ear is the first sense to develop in the womb, but hearing is not limited to the activity of the ear, but is felt through the entire body.
  3. The ear not only provides a sense of physical equilibrium, but also is the original source of cerebral organization. The original reference points that orient a person come from hearing.
  4. The left brain (Organization, Logic , Language, Mathematics ) is connected to vision and the right brain (Imagination, Vision , Creativity, Affectivity ) to hearing.
  5. Overstimulation of the eyes disrupts the cerebral balance. Silence is necessary to restore the balance.
  6. Vision provides more information to the brain, more stimulus. Images can thus be addictive. Seeing is always a more passive activity that hearing. (This is also the basis of Marshall McLuhan's theory of "hot" and "cold" media.)
Laverdière's book is about education and kids with listening disorders. Her goal is to establish "central listening," which is first of all based on a reeducation of the ear, putting left and right ears in the correct balance. If the left ear dominates, it can disrupt one's capacity to process sound. The failure to process sound results in trouble learning to read, which is essentially a way of connecting sight to sound. Various imbalances in hearing also cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, dyslexia and other learning disorders. These can be exacerbated by the domination of visual stimuli over a culture based on hearing. More and more, visual aids are used at the expense of cultivating the ability to hear properly.

Today, the image is omnipresent. Children start playing video games in their very infancy. The screen provides them with images that instantaneously satisfy the brain’s need for answers. They no longer need to make use of engrams to create images, since these are presented to them externally, on a screen.

The implications of all this on spiritual life--the connection between hearing and the affective part of the brain, and in turn to spirituality--seems to be confirmed. I don't on the other hand, quite understand the relation of the image and visual sense to the rational part of the brain. The author states that this is because logical thought is "imagined" in the sense of being pictured in a logical structure.

Of course, the two sides of the brain are harmonized in the Corpus Callosum, and that should be warning enough against taking sides in any kind of intracerebral war.

But I guess what really gave pause to my inner reflections was Mme. Laverdière's depiction of the destablizing nature of a primarily visual culture at the cost of an aural one and the addictive nature of the image.

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