By Glenn Aparicio Parry
The Language of Spirituality is a fascinating documentary film that emerges out of an ongoing dialogue between Western scientists and Native American elders, initially begun in 1992, when Blackfoot elder Leroy Little Bear approached physicist David Bohm, exactly five hundred years after Columbus had set foot on this continent. It represents the first time in the post colonial era where Indigenous ways of knowing and leading edge science meet on truly equal footing. The film reveals little known parallels between Indigenous world views and quantum theory, such as the recognition that everything that exists vibrates, and that "process and relationship" underlie reality rather than discrete building blocks of "things." Native elders Little Bear and Joseph Rael are featured in the film, along with physicist Fred Alan Wolf, physicist/author F. David Peat, linguist Dan Moonhawk Alford and others. The film is dedicated to Alford, who was invited by his mentor, Sakej Youngblood Henderson, to participate in the original 1992 dialogue and was the driving force in helping set up annual dialogues now run by SEED Graduate Institute in Albuquerque www.seedgraduateinstitute.org
Among many themes, the film explores the limits of Indo-European languages, such as English, which depend heavily on nouns to comprehend reality, and by definition, stop movement - and juxtaposes this with certain Native languages, which see the world as a fluid place of dynamic interaction and speakers can go "all day long without uttering a single noun." Alford describes himself as standing at the "lonely crossroads of Quantum theory, Native America, consciousness and linguistics." He reintroduces the theories of the much maligned linguist Benjamin Whorf, and does an excellent job defending Whorf against the straw man arguments that limited his work to the so-called Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. He does this by positioning Whorf's linguistics in the context of emerging quantum theory in the twentieth century.
We are introduced to the intriguing possibility that Native languages and Native consciousness may provide a more suitable window for understanding the ramifications of leading edge science. Science itself has been limited by its blind spot that mostly failed to recognize the similarity in logic between the grammar of Indo-European languages and the structure of Western scientific formulations. David Bohm was an exception in that he painfully understood this limitation and even tried to create a language composed exclusively of verbs, which he called the "rheomode" - from the Greek "rheo", to flow. At the time Bohm was attempting to create the rheomode, he was probably unaware of the already existing Native languages which already largely accomplished what he was trying to do. Bohm was blessed to participate in dialogue with Native elders in what turned out to be the last year of his life. Could it be that we have come full circle and that Native consciousness must be joined with Western consciousness if we are to understand reality and to make better choices of how to live our lives? The questions in the film are large, and the film maker wisely chooses to end the film with a song sung by Joseph Rael. For, when Rael sings, his voice contains volumes of spirit which can never be captured by words alone.