It implies that the origins of language are not rooted in grunt and sign references to objects – perhaps a banana to eat or a leopard to avoid – that were then loaded up with extra meanings by fanciful human brains. Instead, words were from the get-go loaded with the inner and outer meanings that… Continue reading What does this mean about the evolution of human consciousness?
FAQ Group: Life and thought
Why did C.S. Lewis call Barfield his “anti-self”?
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis calls Barfield his “anti-self”. Barfield was to dedicate one of his key books to Lewis with William Blake’s adage: “Opposition is true friendship.” Soon after they met, they launched into a series of embattled discussions that they came to call their “Great War”. It was the time during which Barfield… Continue reading Why did C.S. Lewis call Barfield his “anti-self”?
What’s it got to do with the Hebrews, Greeks and Jesus?
That’s the subject of my book. In short, ancient Hebrews and Greeks underwent the shift in consciousness Barfield describes, and that prepared the way for Jesus. Amongst the ancient Hebrews, the change began in the momentous century that featured the northern and southern kingdoms exiles in Babylon and ended with the return to Jerusalem. It… Continue reading What’s it got to do with the Hebrews, Greeks and Jesus?
Does this have anything to do with the Axial Age?
This account of the evolution of consciousness raises a fascinating question. When did it begin to unfold? When did the new consciousness take root? In whom did it find its first flowering? Barfield realised that there will be eras when, looking back through the prism of words, we can see original participation dominating and, then,… Continue reading Does this have anything to do with the Axial Age?
How might consciousness shift again?
In fact, the withdrawal of participation need not result in an alienated, meaningless, empty dead end. It can lead to what Barfield called “reciprocal participation”. This is a phase in which the inner life of the individual is felt to reflect, and be reflected in, the rediscovered inner life of the cosmos and, possibly, of… Continue reading How might consciousness shift again?
What happened next to the human experience of life?
In time, a different sense of life emerged. It came in a new phase of the development of consciousness. To stories and myths was added literature and abstract thought, then the detached meaning of words and, with that, finally, the inwardness of individuality. It brought the self-awareness that is familiar to us, of a mental… Continue reading What happened next to the human experience of life?
What was the earlier consciousness like?
If what has been said about the spiritual origins of language is right, along with its intimate connection to the emergence of human consciousness, that mentality must originally have been very different from now. Barfield called this earlier experience of things, “original participation”. It’s similar to what the French ethnologist, Lucien Lévy-Brühl, called participation mystique,… Continue reading What was the earlier consciousness like?
Aren’t these just “metaphors we live by”?
There is a more instrumental thesis that tries to explain the evolution of words and this shifting of sense. It treats them as soulless signs that gain meaning from human empirical experience, and human empirical experience alone. It insists that, at root, words are just labels for objects, or to put it a little more… Continue reading Aren’t these just “metaphors we live by”?
But his ideas don’t end with poetry, do they?
No. Barfield had noticed something further about the inner meanings of words. It has to do with the evolving relationship between that sense and the outer meaning. Just to recap: the outer meaning of a word is its literal or surface meaning. It typically refers to something tangible that exists in the external, physical world.… Continue reading But his ideas don’t end with poetry, do they?
What did the other Inklings make of the idea?
Poetic Diction was warmly received by the Inklings. It persuaded Lewis that poetry and metaphor are a means, and perhaps the main means, to the discovery of new insights. In fact, the book may lie indirectly behind Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, which came in 1931. He was then convinced by Tolkien’s argument that the historical… Continue reading What did the other Inklings make of the idea?