Sixty years ago, renowned Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner published one of the most important books ever written about language. Verbal Behavior offered a comprehensive account of our unique capacity for symbolic communication, arguing forcefully over nearly 500 pages that it was learned rather than innate. The culmination of years of work, it was certainly influential – although not in the way Skinner anticipated. Rather than propelling his ideas into the limelight, it sparked a counter-revolution that catapulted a rival theory to worldwide acclaim.
Now, though, that rival theory is in decline and some of Skinner’s ideas are making an unexpected comeback. In recent years, psychologists have discovered that language really is learned, emerging from some general skills that are taught to children in the first few years of life. Surprisingly, these are not grand intellectual feats. Rather they can appear almost trivial – as simple as grasping the relationships between things, such as a large ball and a small one. (1)
We tend to see people who talk nicely as cultivated.
We admire logos. Seeing it as the culmination of our civilization.
But the cosmos was born in silence.
A quiet universe bred us into existence.
Calm trees covered us from the sun while we were growing.
The silent Earth carried us in her bosom.
And in that world…
We came into existence crying loud.
Being torn apart from our mother.
Being separated from the cosmos into being.
The only way to return home is not via speaking.
But by staying silent.
Just listen to the rustling of the leaves.
There is a cave underneath.
There is nothing there.
Only the things you bring with you…