Crow Mind

Urdu is a South Asian language and is the national the language of Pakistan.  Urdu was one of my graduate school languages and a bit of a struggle for me because it uses the Arabic script.  Though up until then I had learned Roman (of course), Greek and Devanagri (Hindi) scripts, Arabic script blurred together and changed form depending on position.

After a year of study,  I won a fellowship to study Urdu in Pakistan.   When I arrived in Pakistan my Urdu was very weak and I could only have minimal conversations with my home-stay family.  But after three months of study something happened that showed me that my Urdu skills had reached a new level.

One morning on my usual bike commute from my home to the school I rode past a local garbage dump.  As I rode close to the dump, I saw a crow picking at some rotten food scraps and when I got close, the crow flew off.  I tracked him as he flew across the sky and off into the distance when all of a sudden a voice in my head said: “Your lips will be a beautiful red!

I was puzzled.  “Where did that come from?” I thought.  Then as I looked back toward the garbage dump I saw that the crow had flown past a billboard advertising for lipstick and the sentence on the billboard in Urdu said “Your lips will be a beautiful red!”

My mind had read and translated the Urdu without my conscious participation.  And then I heard the broadcast of the translation.  Wow, and all this without me doing I thing.  This is how I realized I had finally reached a new level in this language — an automaticity.  But more importantly, I also had another concrete lesson of how my mind works without me.  My sense of “self” was chiseled down a little further.


Filed under Linquistics, Philosophy & Religion

35 responses to “Crow Mind

  1. Now if I could just get the image of a crow with lipstick out of my head. 😉

    I love when things just click. It reminds me of the first book I ever read on Zen, Zen in the Martial Arts, by Joe Hyams. It spoke of “it”, which was basically the point where something you had been practicing just happened naturally. Sadly, I threw that book out in one of my more pious phases of Christianity. :-/

    Come to think of it, that part might have been from Zen in the Art of Archery, which I read around the same time, also tossed out.

  2. @ Mike — LOL, I was tempted to go put lipstick on that picture.

  3. coooolll… the mind is a crazy wonderful thing! for me as a deluded theist it makes me wonder at the subconscious and God’s activity there. sometimes i get ideas seemingly out of no where, or make connections that i wouldn’t normally. i label these things some sort of providential synchronism but they could also be just the process of my mind. which ever, they’re pretty f’n cool when they happen! i just exude a sense of wonder and awe after these moments, kinda stop you in your tracks type stuff. however you explain it, it’s freak’n cool!

  4. @ Zero
    The “deluded theist” line is getting a bit old. I know of lots of deluded theists”, please don’t try to steal their thunder. You are so liberal that you give “deluded” a bad name.

    But in that light, you just seemed to do the old hackneyed theist move of: “Wow, I can’t understand it, so there must be a god!”

    Lots of folks are getting clear pictures of our complex neuro-networks can do co-processing like the simple case in my story. The only thing that the makes the above story “cool” to the experiencer is the illusion of one, consistent, always-in-control, self/consciousness. That was the point of the story. That perception of self is an illusion, thus the surprise. No god need be imagined to contain the awe — instead more fundamental insights are ripe to be gained.

  5. don’t misunderstand me: i said however you explain it, it should result in a feeling of wonder and awe. my world has God in it, your’s doesn’t, yet the feeling is the same regardless.

  6. i was noting more on the shared feeling, not so much on the differing metaphysic. we can have the conversation if you really want, but i would prefer to let that rabbit go.

  7. Oh, I agree that a shared feeling of awe exists. Theists often tend to pile up every bit of awe into their god and thus legitimize gods. So this conversation was not about “awe” but instead understanding an “awe” without inventing spooks, spirits or gods.

    And sure, we can “let the rabbit go” if you wish.

  8. ooohhh, understanding awe. yeah, i don’t think you can do that totally or put it into words without losing much of the quality of the experience. so in a sense spooks, spirits, and/or gods will always be invoked directly or indirectly in these experiences.

    while your words convey a narrative story, your awe is not conveyed, the spirit of the moment is lost on the audience and we’re left only guessing at what that felt like for you. it’s a very subjective thing.

  9. I think this is a very important point.
    I think for dialogue purposes it is important for me to know that you acknowledge that theism has a long history of attributing “god” to things they did not understand with either fear or awe: thunder, draught, diseases, floods etc … All these were from the hand of God. So if I hear you acknowledge that too much has been attributed to gods, we have common ground.

    But if you still want to say, “Well, thunder, diseases and floods are still really a mystery and since God is everything then we can’t take God out of these.” Then I know we can just stop this conversations.

    That would be just the first step. Otherwise I feel we are just talking past each other.

  10. excellent idea, this is why i hang around you! very systematic mind. i acknowledge too much has been attributed to gods/God. we have common ground. we are both in apophatic mode in this aspect when it comes to attributing things to spirits and such when we have perfectly natural explanations (and by natural i mean we can reason out A lead to B which resulted in C).

    where i hesitate is in my use of kataphatic imagery and i’m reluctant to do so often as while i believe in a panenthestic monotheistic God, i’m rather agnostic about how that God interacts with us. and by agnostic i mean i really don’t know how that looks or takes place and i can only understand it backwards.

  11. OK, great.

    You agree that too much awe is attributed to God/gods/spirits …

    OK, so, I observe that my mind passes a sign and my mind reads it without my conscious intervention. Many experiments and examples just like this have been shown over and over and are explaining parts of how the mind works.

    Do you agree that there is no reason to run to god/spirits etc to explain why I heard a voice in my head telling me about the Urdu sentence after looking past a sign?

    I am hoping you say “Yes”. Then, though that may be awe inspiring phenomena, we can again admit that though awe inspiring, there is no need to run to god-explanations here.


  12. “Do you agree there’s no reason to run god/spirits…?”
    -based on the story and the narrative you’ve given, yes. i agree there’s no reason to insert that in this particular instance. however, are there other narratives where a God-explanation will fit? i say yes emphatically. just not in this instance based on the evidence at hand.

  13. OK, so here is my impression of your first comment.
    “OK, maybe that is amazing, but GOD, GOD, GOD there still is a GOD!”

    Science has had to fight theists for centuries to get them to let go of everything that awed them. So your comment felt like that same tendency — which on this site felt odd.

    As to whether there are God-fit narratives, I have never seen one. But that is not my point here. Why don’t you tell us a “God-explanation” narrative?

    I was trying to loosen the grip theists have of a “God-explanation” on self. It is an illusion I feel they share with Atheists too, ironically.

  14. you’re impression is your impression, i can’t change how you take it.

    doesn’t science work on some sense of awe too? i mean, if something doesn’t grab the attention of a scientist and awe them, then why study it? i read that like you’re trying to rule out wonder and awe in science, but this is my impression.

    i’ll work on a God-explanation narrative.

  15. Again, I am not running from “awe” — but for me, GOD is the last thing I need to have “awe”. The ability to have real “awe” without coloring it with a god is the measure of freely tasting reality, IMHO. As my blog illustrated many times, I love awe. But I see absolutely no need to layer it with God thoughts or feelings. It is that, to which I am pointing.

    You know, if there were a god, I don’t think someone would have to “work” on finding an example of a “God-explanation narrative”. You’d think they would roll off your tongue. After all, it is God, so they should be abundant, clear and dumb-striking with “awe” so that no one could imagine explaining. But I look forward to your example to show me why my bias on that must be wrong.

  16. You know, if there were a god, I don’t think someone would have to “work” on finding an example of a “God-explanation narrative”. You’d think they would roll off your tongue. After all, it is God, so they should be abundant, clear and dumb-striking with “awe” so that no one could imagine explaining.

    Sabio, this is one of the greatest things that lead to me deconversion. One day it dawned on me that I didn’t have to come up with a “mailman-explanation narrative” or one for anyone else. Shouldn’t the most powerful being in the universe be more tangible than some stranger on the street?

  17. i read you as someone who loves awe, i think that’s a personality trait that we share. what i layer it with is a generosity, whether to existence, for the events that led to the moment and this thanksgiving i send to is to God. whether God is an energy field best panetheistically understood (NOT a being) or just the cognizant echoes of humanity’s history, hopes, dreams, and wishes coming back to us through the halls of history and the infinite space;, it is to this i give thanks to and had i felt that this was the forum in which to share a story of this type i would have. instead i will post on my own blog as this one has no need of spooks, spirits, or gods. it is the wrong forum and i don’t want to come across as if i’m seeking to convert you and state that your bias is wrong, rather, to explore my own bias and worldview. sorry if i wasn’t clear enough.

  18. Do you agree with these two observations:

    (a) Awe can be for positive emotions or negative or neutral. A cancer cell uncontrolled dividing and an HIV structure are awe inspiring. I don’t equate Awe with thankfulness, gratitude, love or anything like that. Nature can be awesome and deadly.

    (b) We can feel thankful without needing to direct it anywhere

  19. a) in my own terms i define awe as positive. wonder would run the gambit for me. awe is “an overwhelming feeling of wonder or admiration; “he stared over the edge with a feeling of awe” while wonder is “One that arouses astonishment, surprise, or admiration; a marvel; A feeling of puzzlement or doubt.”

    b) sure. seems counter-productive IMO.

  20. (a) OK, I am still a little confused, but I see that you want “awe” to be a positive feeling. OK that is fine. It sounds like “awe” is a subset of “wonder” in your book.
    But the important point it the positive feeling for you.
    To me, it seems you want “God” to be your positive feelings — toward certain emotions of yours, your Mother’s cultural upbringing and more. So you have made a god of what pleases you at a deep level (not just superficially). But you’d probably want to think it the other way around: “God is what pleases me at a Deep Level”. Which came first, you or your God?

    (b) I think that layering a feelings of thankfulness, awe (yours is fine) and such with an abstraction so you can claim them all as eternal, everlasting and loving is an attempt to stave off fear and uncertainty. I think it is possible to enjoy positive feelings without trying to eternalize them and personalize them because of fear of the ambiguous and uncertain.

    You saw my post on evening grace, didn’t you?

  21. Very interesting. Words are everywhere, and our brains process them whether we know it or not. I’ve had this fantasy for decades that one day I’ll go off to a cabin in the woods and live for a month in a place where there are absolutely no words. Absolutely none — none on the labels on the food cans, none on logos, no tags on clothing, none on tools, etc. I want to see how my brain changes when it doesn’t have words involuntarily permeating it from every visible surface.

    As a child, my deepest sense of wonder was at times that didn’t involve words. My best thinking doesn’t use words. The words just get in the way and crowd out the beauty. I’ve felt the words encroach more each year I’m alive.

    FWIW, I think that using God as an explanatory hypothesis is, almost by definition, superstition. I don’t think the authors of the Bible thought of God that way. I think they were codifying what they felt were metaphysical truths; not explanations about natural occurrences.

  22. It is interesting how two Christians (JS & Zero) can have such different perspective on God-as-explanation. Or perhaps they don’t. JS, you are also a non-literalist like Zero, right? (I think those are the only kind of Christians who would ever stay as visitors on this site)

  23. a.) awe is a subset of wonder, awe is positive, wonder is the bigger emotion. God isn’t limited to one or the other, often both. God came first btw.

    b.) how long have we known each other? if you think i’m using God to strive off feelings of ambiguity or uncertainty you have misread me from the start. when i’m thankful, i’m thankful for that moment. i hope that others have experiences like this and that emotion causes me to help others. it’s not about enternalizing as it’s very much locked in the present (hence why it’s so hard for me to write about as the present is so fleeting and i’ve never really had to put it into words as such as it’s largely unnamable as JS states) and it’s a subjective feeling yet it can’t just stay there, the feelings of thankfulness should be spread around the community.

    i think JS and i are on the same page here. reminds me of 1 Kings 19:12 where God isn’t in the earthquake or other natural things, but after all of this there comes a “still small voice” or “a gentle whisper” which can also be translated as “the nothing.” God is in the nothing?! wait wait. i take this as the authors taking the exact stand JS is talking about. which is what i’m trying to get at and failing.

  24. That’s correct; I am definitely not a literalist.

    The reference to 1 Kings 19:12 is interesting. It does underscore the point that the Biblical authors weren’t just superstitiously using God as an explanation for everything. But I think atheists could legitimately protest if we said, “There was a still, small voice — THAT must be God!”. I don’t have a problem with Christians who do that, but it’s not the way I think about the experiences of “awe”. I had them when I was an atheist, and had non-theistic explanations for them at the time.

  25. yeah, i do that, yet feel that these experiences are open to everyone and are up for their interpretation and explanation.. of which i usually find feasible. i guess that’s the blessing and curse of having an open mind. i make a piss-poor evangelist and an even worse doctrinalist/dogmatist.

  26. @ Zero

    This post did not mention anything about God or Atheism or No-gods or any such thing.

    Then your first comment was:

    for me as a deluded theist it makes me wonder at the subconscious and God’s activity there.

    You seem to want to tell us: “Look, when I am awed, I think of God!” (if I am translating correctly. Later you agree with me that it is interesting stuff but the point of this post is the illusory notion of “self”.

    But what I am saying, and I think JS Allen is saying, is there is no need to bring “God” into this conversation. Unless, of course, you felt my ideas where some sort of threat to your understanding of your god — in which case a more direct discussion on that issue would be cool.

    Instead, we get into you saying that “God-explanation Narratives” are possible. Mike jumps in here and states his objection too but you decide to post your “God narratives” on your own site.

    But you, like JS agree that all the wonder, awe and such is easily possible without god explanations. So why make them unless you are trying to make a point, and my post was looking at something very different — which you did not address. Thus my challenge on these issues.

    Is it possible for a theist and non-theist to dialogue about life, love, mind, biology and much much more without god-talk? Absolutely ! And I think you both wholeheartely agree. I think Zero jumped into God talk unnecessarily and I am curious why.

    You acknowledge that theists have long attributed too much to gods. I appreciate that. I think theists and non-theists do best in dialogue when not talking about gods when not needed. Now, for some theists, they can’t avoid it. I know you are not that type — so it felt it was odd when you did it here in this situation where it was not mentioned and not the point of the post.

    Then we explored “awe” and JS and I agree (I think) that adding “god” to the discussion really adds nothing.

    You said, “God came first, btw” — so of course we disagree on that, but I guess in depends on a definition of God but we need not go there. You are just doing your “GOD EXISTS!” stuff again. Again, that was never the point of this post. This thread has become a “God is there” thread – never touched on in the post.

    I think JS is pointing out his differences from you in handling these issues. I think it is important to hear those differences between you and him and not to assume you are both just saying the same thing because you are Christian brothers. I will let JS tell me if he feels I am reading him wrong on this or if my objections may be a bit off. I figure with two Christians discussing it here, it keeps from being an unfair food fight!
    Can you see my concerns? Am I missing something?

  27. that was more of a passing aside stated from my POV than it was directed remark at you. just noting that it’s interesting stuff no matter how you cut it. you pursued it, i commented back, so it goes. i don’t feel i made the jump to God talk at all, i remarked, and you jumped and pursued the topic, even after i stated “yeah, this narrative needs no god-talk.” guess i missed the concern and theme there.

  28. To me, the interesting point in your post is this:

    My sense of “self” was chiseled down a little further.

    Sadly, I imagine that had a younger version of me experienced what you did, I would have drawn the opposite conclusion: “I am so marvelous! I am so impressed with my amazing mind.” My sense of self would have been amplified a little further. Kudos to you to have taken it the way you did!

  29. @ Dan Gurney :
    Yes, thank you, that is exactly the point. I actually had not thought about going the other way, but I see your point — that is a real possibility. I am actually not sure why I went the way I did, but I am sure it was by the same process that I read the sign — not of my own volition. Thus, though I appreciate the kudos, they are certainly undeserved. 😉

  30. That you took it the way you did was your good karma, Sabio.

    I don’t know how to do smiley yellow emoticons, but if I did, it would go on this one.

  31. @ Dan

    (1) Icons, for use on WordPress blogs, can be found here — I know you will play with them now! 💡 😆

    (2) Again, your comment was refreshing because you saw the point of my post and of what I tried (poorly) to communicate to Ghost (the commentor):
    The CROW MIND observation should not make us marvel at our amazing human minds, yet alone give glory to a god, but instead should help us see the illusory nature of mind and understand ourselves better.

  32. so i shouldn’t think that these experiences are cool? that was your point for the post? totally missed it and totally disagree with it. i think the human mind is amazing due to it’s illusory nature. it’s a powerful thing.

  33. @ Ghost,
    Yes, the mind is amazing and so is the HIV virus. But as Dan said, to marvel in a proud way when instead we can see the limitations of mind and benefits in a way to build better happiness is the trick. We probably agree in this. We just may disagree on observing the intricacies of the mind and HIV and whether we feel moved to give God the glory. No?

  34. You give me hope with my struggles with Spanish. It just doesn’t flow out of my mouth yet. However, the reading is easier than the Urdu and Devanagari I learnt. I got better at my Urdu when I decided to help students in my school get a qualification. Some had learnt to read the script and others not. We worked together. Both hubby and I studied linguistics and Chomsky but I love his non linguistic depth! Far more transformational! We also spent a transformative time on the Indian sub continent. I shall remember your crow mind and those red lips even though have forgotten so much Hindustani.

  35. @ Nava: Thank you for sharing.

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