The Origins of the Alphabet: Part 4

The arc of all media

The view from Mount Sinai
The view from Mount Sinai

Whether or not one believes that the Hebrew alphabet was a divine revelation to Moses on Sinai, we can understand why the cultural moment of its invention would be recorded as one of the most transformative revolutions in history.

We can see how the conception of an omnipotent, omnipresent and invisible God is coeval with it. We can understand why a powerful leader would want to expel or eradicate those who possess this potent new tech, especially if they were slaves: there’s lots of them and they have an ax to grind with Pharaoh’s rule. We can understand why slaves attribute to it mythologies of redemption, revelation, and revolution. That it coincides with the best evidence we have for the actual historic origins of this new technology of the alphabet lends force to the argument.

As such, the origin of the alphabet becomes a model for other moments in history that were wrought by sudden eruptions and deployment of disruptive technologies, especially technologies of communication, since they inevitably bring a new ethos, new cognitive tools, new arts, new epistemologies, and new gods. Telegraph, telephone, radio, television, the Internet – all were born amid prophesies for their transformation of civilization and even the invention or summoning of new gods.

Today, I believe we stand on the verge of yet another such breakthrough, with new advances in the ongoing computer-cybernetic revolution.  We are rapidly taking steps towards the realization of mind-to-mind communication enabled by brain-to computer-to-brain technology. This journey to “Technologically-Mediated Telepathy” is latent in all the prior communications revolutions. From the time millions of years ago when early hominids started grunting symbols, or 50,000 years ago when we started painting on cave walls, through writing and computers, we were already on the road to telepathy.  After all, what are all media, what are all communications, all arts, all expressions, if not an attempt to trade subjectivities, to get what’s in my mind into yours faster, more faithfully, more sensationally, and to fulfill that universal human urge for intimacy and recognition?

This would be science fiction speculation or an interesting theory by a harebrained nutball if it didn’t seem so imminent today. Hundreds of parallel research projects are engaged in getting computers to hook directly into and “read” brains, either to record and decipher what is being experienced in the brain or to enable humans to control various devices with their “thoughts.” Others are involved in getting that reading into a format that can then be transmitted to other brains, brain-to-computer-to-brain communication, or what I’ve been calling technologically-mediated telepathy (TMT). On June 30, 2015, no less a prophet than Mark Zuckerberg announced that he envisions the future of Facebook as enabling people to read each others’ minds, a natural enough goal for a technology devised to help people share intimacies.

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5 thoughts on “The Origins of the Alphabet: Part 4

  1. […] If you piece the clues together, the Torah tells us pretty clearly that Moses received the alphabet from God on Sinai during the same first sequence of revelations that begin with the burning bush, his first encounter with God. Moses returns to Egypt and instructs the elders of Israel in “the signs” or “letters” that God showed him.  “If they don’t head the voice of the first sign, they will listen to the voice of the last sign” God assures Moses when he quails at his assignment. The first and last signs might be the sorceror’s tricks the pair enacted atop Sinai, or they could more sensibly refer to the aleph and the tav, which together also neatly spell ot or “letter.” […]


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