In The Beginning Was The Sentence

Creation by Selfish Eden (

Creation by Selfish Eden (

Human beings have an incredible sense of perseverance when you think about it. We will take complex tasks, think them through, experiment, learn and then try to be prepared for the next time we use things. Now, on the one hand, this can lead to some unhealthy behaviors of hoarding or becoming pack rats but, at the same time, we don’t discard a tool that has become useful like animals will do. A chimpanzee may realize that it works well, for example, to use a stick to poke into an ant mound but they don’t store sticks for this use, when the chimpanzee comes upon the need he finds a stick and the same way with other tool using animals. Humans are unique in their ability to predict a future need based upon a past need and within language this also is a crucial development. (Bronowski, 1978, p. 32f.)

Now it is possible that there have been breakthroughs in animal communication that I am unaware of, but the way Bronowski illustrates this breakthrough is the concept that animals communicate not in words but sentences or ideas. For example a chipmunk may has a different signal based on danger from a snake, danger from the air, or danger from a large ground animal, but you can’t deconstruct and recombine these signals into components of danger and the type of animal-they are one unit. They paint in a way a limited verbal picture of their environment and the immediate need they need to respond to. Yet human language is different, and the way our language is structured relying on words and not sentences as the building block of communication allows for the sharing of knowledge and imagination in ways not possible otherwise. For example “Jack loves Jill” and “Jill loves Jack” even though they share the same components do not mean the same thing. Language becomes an incredibly powerful tool for conveying and sharing images, thoughts and even worldviews, a picture may be worth a thousand words but only if it is done well and the person viewing the picture can understand what it is. It is not a coincidence that early languages began with characters that represented pictorially the ideas they were trying to express, but as ideas became more and more complex and the communication of thoughts and ideas contained more and more words language evolved to use letters to create words reflecting the sound of the word. For a word either read or heard to be transformed into a visual image is an act of imagination and it may evoke different images for different readers/hearers. For example if I say “bird” someone may think of a sparrow or an eagle or an ostrich, or perhaps even an obscene gesture, words on their own begin to paint the picture and then when combined within a sentence with actions and descriptions we refine the picture.

Imagination and creativity may help with survival and with creating new tools and ideas that help an individual, but if they are going to make any lasting impression they need to be able to be communicated. The evolution of language, first spoken and later written, has made it possible to pass on and build upon the ideas of others. But there is always a process of taking the information we receive in terms of letters and sounds and reconstituting them in our mind in terms of images (and these images are often moving images-videos if you will) as we translate representations into a mental vision.

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