Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Language is a Bitch

One of the traits that defines humans, I believe, is the tendency, or should I say compulsion, to send (or leave) other humans messages.  For whatever reason, we like to let people know that we’re here or that we were here.  Most of us aren’t especially fond of keeping things to ourselves, especially opinions or secrets.  It’s not just kids that can’t keep secrets – adults can’t, either.  If we learn something, find something, or discover something, we just have to let somebody else know.  From petroglyphs to blogs to cellphone tweets, we want others to know what we’re doing or where we’re going or what we’re thinking.  We’ve been doing this for thousands of years.  Mostly, I think, it’s a kind of ego trip.  It’s a way of proclaiming – loudly sometimes – that we exist and that we deserve to be heard.  And, to varying degrees, we’re all guilty of it.

Petroglyph 1 (1109, EM1)

These guys certainly did it.  Petroglyphs like this can be found all over the southwest (this is one of many in Monument Valley).  The consensus is that these are roughly 1,000 years old and were left by the ancestors of the Hopi and Navajo.  As I’ve mentioned before, these people lived in this area for centuries and then suddenly left.  No one really knows why – they just disappeared.  But they left ample evidence that they were here for some time, including these images.  But what do they mean?  Are they just pictures of the type of game they hunted?  Were they telling others that they left when these animals left, perhaps because of drought?  No one really knows.  We can only guess.

When I took this picture (near Folly Beach, SC) I wasn’t thinking of the petroglyphs of the Ancestral Puebloans.  I made this image only because I thought the colors were bright and interesting and because I frankly didn’t really know what the “message” meant.

Petroglyph 2 (1381, EM1)

Literally, it says that “science is not equal to religion.”  OK.  But what exactly are they trying to say?

I realize that it’s most likely a reference to the ongoing debate between rigorous science and religious fundamentalism, but I’m not at all sure which side the “message-maker” is on.  Does this person believe that science trumps religion or do they believe that it’s the other way around?  Personally, I can’t tell.  Could be either one.  Or it could mean something else altogether.

In all honesty, though, I guess I don’t really care.  Whether this person is an atheist or a religious zealot makes no difference to me.  They’re free to believe whatever they want.  What got my attention – after looking at both these images when I returned home – is that I don’t understand what either one actually means, and for essentially the same reason.  And that reason is simply that I don’t know the context in which the message was left.  The physical “message” is there, staring me in the face, but I’m not privy to the rest of the conversation.  There’s something in the background that I don’t know.  And probably never will.

Of course I’m not sure what some of the texts from my grandchildren mean, either.  But I kind of understand that – most of the time we’re on different wavelengths.  We don’t communicate very well sometimes because we’re living in contextually different worlds.  The words we use are the same, but they often have different meanings.

My point?  It’s at the top of the page: Language is a bitch.



4 Responses to “Language is a Bitch”

  1. John Linn

    >>“science is not equal to religion”

    I read it as “science equals religion.” The slash, cross-out. seems to be from the faded message behind.

    But that is not your point… or really it is your point.

    Interesting and thoughtful post and nice images too.

  2. Paul Maxim

    Yes, I saw that too, John. And you’re right – it looks like the slash over the “equals” symbol is from a different message. But my question was: why would someone position his message in such a way that the symbol could be read as “not equal to”? Why create the uncertainty? My conclusion was that they wouldn’t. They wanted it to read “not equal to”.

    My logic, of course, could be totally wrong (wouldn’t be the first time!). If so, the message becomes a little clearer, I think. Wrong, but more clear. Or maybe they wanted us to scratch our heads. Or maybe they were drunk – lots of beer cans around – and didn’t know what they were doing.

    All of which, as you say, is the point………..

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Cedric. I figured you and I were on the same page on this one…….


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