Tugging a rhythm to the vision that’s in my head
Tugging a beat to the sight of you lying
So delighted with a new understanding
Something about a little evil that makes that
Unmistakable noise I was hearing
Unmistakable sound that I know so well
Spent and sighing with a look in your eye
Spent and sighing with a look on your face like
Sweet revelation sweet surrender
sweet, sweet surrender
A Perfect Circle, Thinking of You
Last week*, one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century embarked on his final journey. Bon Voyage, Mr Wilson!
I very much enjoyed (while being endlessly perplexed by) The Illuminatus! Trilogy , co written by Wilson and Robert Shea. A mix of modern day conspiracy theory, mythology, new age spiritualism and raw eroticism, Illuminatus! seemed very much like a Douglas Adams novel which forgot to be a joke. Unfortunately, amongst all of the wonderful things I could say about it, my most significant memory remains my inability to keep it on my bookshelf. Always in demand, I frequently found myself loaning the Trilogy to a friend, and then never seeing it again.
Today, whilst surfing the ‘net, I stumbled upon an article by Robert Anton Wilson, published in “To Be or Not: An E-Prime Anthology,” back in 1991: TOWARD UNDERSTANDING E -PRIME
As a fan of his fiction as well as his perception about our modern world, and as a proponent of E-Prime, I decided to take this concurrence of events as a sign that I could not allow his passing to go unremarked here on eros. I also decided that I would take this opportunity to attempt writing a complete article about E-Prime, using E-Prime. (If anyone notices a mis-step, please point it out to me.)
The term E-Prime represents an alternative form of the English language, sans the verb ‘to be’. Philosophically (or semantically), the argument for dropping to be follows two primary paths. First, when one uses ‘is’ between two objects (“The dog is Yellow”) there follows an implication that ‘the dog’ equates to ‘yellow’ when in fact, the intention is to describe the color of the dog. With E-Prime, the proper expression of this observation looks like this: “The yellow dog…” or “The dog appears yellow.” Second, when used to describe an upcoming event, the verb to be implies certainty (“We are eating beef for dinner”) when, in fact, many things could occur to alter this intention. Properly phrased this would be related as “I plan to eat beef for dinner.”
In some cases, as above, this may seem somewhat anal. However, in the cases of science, logical argument or persuasion, the difference between the two forms becomes obvious. As Wilson writes in his article, using “is” to describe the behavior of a photon creates confusion and apparently irreconcilable dichotomies:
lA. The electron is a wave.
lB. The electron appears as a wave when measured with instrument-l.
2A. The electron is a particle.
2B. The electron appears as a particle when measured with instrument-2.
The “A” statements, written in standard English express contradictory information, whereas the “B” statements, written in E-Prime, clearly explain the behavior of a photon in such a way that there is no disconnect between the two (otherwise contradictory) results. As he noted in the article, if Physicist’s in previous centuries used E-Prime as opposed to Standard English, it becomes conceivable that particle behavior might have appeared obvious to scientists rather than requiring an epic breakthrough to become part of our scientific heritage.
The question then arises, how might the use of E-Prime affect our day to day lives? Although most proponents of the system do not suggest this, I find the possibility quite compelling. As Jim Walker notes in the addendum to Wilson’s article, E-Prime reduces ones ability to lie easily:
The little word “is” gets used more than any other word in the English language. This gives politicians, advertisers and scam artists the ability to fool and lie to the public. Since “is” and “be” contain only two letters (or only one letter in contractions), the advertisers can make their lies short and concise. Falsehoods don’t need lengthy explanations, and they tend to survive best when shortened to their easiest remembered forms.
My interest in effective and honest communication perked right up on reading this: after all, I feel that my honey and I have developed exceptional communication skills, yet for all that, we both recognize that sometimes, the biggest challenge to honest communication involves the lies we tell ourselves. I never suspect him of lying to me, but on occasion I do get concerned that he has convinced himself of something not quite true. Expressing those not quite true bits become quite easy when one can mask them with these little overlooked verbs and the frames they invoke.
(Originally Posted January 19, 2007)