The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.


JM: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Today will be exploring the origins of sacred alphabets. With me is Stan Tenen, director of research of the MERU Foundation in San Anselmo California. For the past twenty years Stan has been exploring the physical, geometric and symbolic principles behind sacred language. He's produced a number of video tapes on this subject including, Geometric Metaphors of Life, The Dance of the Hebrew Letters, and A Matrix of Meaning for Sacred Alphabets. Welcome Stan.

ST: Thank you Jeffrey. It's very nice to be here.

JM: It's good to be with you. You know the ancient traditions the Kabbalah and the various most early traditions associated with sacred languages around the world describe these languages in ways that are very different than the way we have come today to think about the languages we use.

ST: They describe the letters as sacred, and in many cases they claim that the letters are the elements of creation. And the question comes up immediately, how could an intelligent person understand how a letter, perhaps written on a page, could be an element of creation in a meaningful way? And I believe that they had an understanding that made that quite meaningful.

JM: Yes, the Hebrew Kabbalists for example suggest that in the sacred scriptures if you change one letter that you got the whole formula, the whole principle wrong.

ST: Right, that's exactly so. The teaching is that the letters existed in the order in these cannonized sacred text before the letters were divided up into words to form a story. And to change any letter would be, well in modern sense if we had change a digit in the decimal expansion for pie it would no longer be pie and it wouldn't be a transendetal mathematical function. If you would have changed a letter in one of these sacred texts, it would no longer serve its transcendental function.

JM: And I think your use of the mathematical metaphor here is not just an accident.

ST: No not at all because mathematically we understand the idea of truth as modeling something experimental that we find in the real world. If someone says they have a truth and they use a spiritual sense we tend to laugh at them. Your truth, your truth, whose truth is truth? But if these texts we cannonized based on the fact that the sequence of letters was as precise and explicit as the sequence of digits in say a universal constant like pie, they would only have a whole different understanding of what might have been meant by the various sages of these various traditions claiming they had the truth. It's not so much a spiritual claim as a technical claim based on an experiment and a rigorous definition.

JM: And each letter of course has a name in English, A B C D. But in the ancient languages the letters were just imbued with meaning.

ST: Well there are many different cultures and different was of arranging this. For example there is the Hebrew tradition, which is what I worked with the most, although we seem to find very strong parallels with Greek and Arabic. Each letter has a name, and it also has a meaning as a prefix very often. And what you find is that the meaning of the name of the letter is associated with the operational meaning in a word of the letter which is a very unusual thing. You would think that maybe there would be some arbitrariness. But in fact we know that all around the world the sound "M" stands for mother or for the sea or something like that-- a source sound. And these constants of meaning appear to be connected with our human consciousness and not entirely arbitrary. Different cultures may have embodied them slightly differently but the principle is that these letters have natural meaning. They are not just typographic symbols with which one spells out words. That was a later, more commercial, more secular use.

JM: Well I guess the trick to doing the work that you do Stan is to be able to put yourself into the same state of mind that people were in thousands of years when these alphabets-- these sacred alphabet-- were first being constructed.

ST: Well it's not so much the state of mind from my point of view, although that's necessary too, but to try to figure out what their purpose was and what tools they had. For instance, if my research was dependent on their having had to have computers, well then obviously this is not going to be a very valid form of research. We know that they didn't have computers. But if the technology needed to understand this system that we found was based on say weaving or tent making or carpentry or simple objects or some simple metallurgy, traits, qualities, abilities that they had, then it's plausible. We know for instance that our people kept records very early on by simply tying knots in a string. Tying knots in a string is something an ancient culture could very well have developed. You could take that further and develop a whole knot theory out of it which would be a much more modern concept. But we have no reason to believe or not to believe that someone speculating on how knots fit together in the ancient world couldn't also come upon at least part of a formalism for understanding how knots fit together. That's a technology that would have been available. Likewise, we have to ask ourselves what would have been important, so important, as to create a special alphabet. What we found is that the standard linguistic, archeological theories about the origins of alphabets are essentially true. But that in parallel with the development of alphabets used for secular purposes of writing words, messages, keeping records, there was the development of the so called sacred alphabets. That distinction isn't often recognized in the academic world. Although perhaps it's beginning to be. There have been a number of people doing work like this recently. We believe that the purpose of a sacred alphabet is to record something non-verbal. What is it that's important in a sacred tradition that's non-verbal? The experience itself. Sacred experiences, spiritual experiences can't be described in words. Their called ineffable, and if you try to share it with someone else-- your personal spiritual experience, another person will not know what your experience was. And they won't know to believe you or not. But if you could somehow get the other person to do the same exercise that you did, to bring yourself to that spiritual experience, then they could do what you did and learn for themselves what the feeling, what the experience was.

JM: You know the problem I have with that though is that I imagine that for these ancient people they didn't have the distinction that we make between the sacred and the secular. My sense is that they were in a state of mind where everything was sacred.

ST: However, there is a distinction between raw feelings and feelings that have been accounted for in a logical and irregular way. One can systemize whether one calls it science or meta-science. If one is observing the world and observing one's own reaction to the feelings, then that can be described in any number of different ways. And if one can formalize that, then it doesn't matter if you call it science or spirit your still formalized. The key is to able to share it with someone else.

JM: In other words, it's a language of inner experience.

ST: For instance, in the modern world people dance. Back in the 1950s you may remember there were Arthur Murray dance studios. And people would go to learn to the waltz or the cha cha or something. And in some cases they would actually paint or draw footsteps on the floor. And if you stepped in those footsteps in the right order, you would learn to do the dance. You would have the experience of that dance. We believe that sacred alphabets were developed to be Arthur Murray type footsteps for doing meditational dance and other spiritual exercises, and that they record letter by letter elements of consciousness, perspectives of feelings-- something related to the elements of a meditation. If a person could follow those letters in order, they would in fact repeat the experience and be able to validate it for themselves.

JM: And in particular you have focused on the Book of Genesis which is the story of creation. And of course all of the mystical traditions of Judaism, the Kabbala suggests that there's an inner story that's contained in the letters that's different than the fables that are told in the esoteric sense in the Bible.

ST: Right. The beauty of Genesis 1 is that it's not just a Jewish book that the Christians and the Moslems also appreciate. So if there is something of value in there, this can be a discovery that can bring people into mutual respect with each other. It's not, mine yours; yours mine. There's not a fight involved. Everyone recognizes it as a very early, very primary text. What happened to me is just the method by which I came onto this. I was drawn to look at the text of Genesis in Hebrew. That's a very strange thing because I don't know the Hebrew language. I managed to learn the Hebrew alphabet when I was younger so I could be bar mitzvahed. And that was the last of the contact that I had with Jewish tradition or Hebrew language or anything like that. When I looked at the text of Genesis ten or fifteen years later, I didn't read any of the words, but my eyes, because I knew the letters, fell on the letters. And what I realized, my background is in Math and Physics and I'm a visual pattern recognizer that's a talent I have, all of my alarms, all my intuitive bells and whistles went off and said to me there's something peculiar about this sequence of letters. Now if I could have read Hebrew, I never would have noticed the sequence of letters. One does not count out the letters in newspaper headline when one knows the language. But if you've ever been in a foreign country and looked at a headline of a paper where you didn't know the alphabet or the language-- "aeroflot"-- you could sort of dope it out on the side of the airplane when you see it in Cyrillic characters. So I looked at the Genesis text, my bells and whistles went off and said this is very strange. These letters look like they're arranged in some sort of pattern. It took about ten years of reading just about everything I could find in, well, the whole gammut of Western religious experience to get a sense of what was going on sufficient enough for me to try a very simple experiment which led me to this discovery that we're going to talk about.

Children very often will make paper models. And the easiest way to make a paper model is to get yourself a piece of paper that someone else has designed the model on. And you cut it out, and you find very often it's arranged to have tabs and slots. If you can put tab A into slot A and tab B into slot B, the piece of paper folds itself up into the desired form. And that's a way of recording that shape by making those tabs and slots fit together. Well it's a very long story, but what we ended up doing was taking the letters of the text of Genesis in the order they appear in Genesis in the Hebrew text and writing the letters out one each on a bead on a bead chain still read out in order of the Hebrew. We then curled the bead chain up so that whenever a letter occurred a second time, we paired it up with the first time it occurred. We went through the whole first verse of Genesis that way. Now we looked further into the text and these patterns do continue. But most of what I'm going to talk about relates just to the first verse.

JM: "In the beginning God created the heaven and earth."

ST: That's right. The phrase in Hebrew that's translated "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." When you curl up this bead chain, that sequence of letters forms a recognizable pattern. When you use a primary principle in science like Occam's raiser and make that pattern as compact as you can squeezing out any ambiguities or repeated empty spaces or anything like that, you get a most compact form, the most elegant way to represent that first verse. And that turns out to be something that everyone for many centuries has always been interested in whether in the scientific community or in the spiritual community. It forms a spiral vortex on the surface, well a bagel or a doughnut you could say.

JM: A Taurus is a mathematical name, and I suppose it's worth throwing in at this point that the Taurus, which is a doughnut shape as you say, is considered by many cosmologists, physicist and scientist as well as many spiritual teachers to be the ultimate shape of the universe, a vortex.

ST: It's not really the shape itself; it's the flow pattern of the smoke ring flowing through itself. What a smoke ring does is turns around enough to form a ring that it can fall through of its own. That minimal self referential form, which one of your other guest Arthur Young has talked about so elegantly, is a primary self organizing form in the universe. If you start with a uniform universe made of nothing but transparent jello in all directions and you try to make a distinction in that jello-- anyone knows whose played with jello knows that if you simply cut a shape out of jello and take the knife out, it falls right back into the jello. There's no distinction. But if you could puff into that jello like as shown in some medieval paintings of this great grandfather god puffing and making a cloud of smoke in front of him, and if you go puff, phealux if you will in the Latin, then the smoke would start to fall through itself.

JM: You got a big cosmic smoke ring.

ST: That's right, you got a big cosmic smoke ring. And that falling through itself effect separates the inside of the smoke ring from the outside; the inlet from the outlet, and as long as you keep puffing or the smoke ring keeps moving, it will hold its form and maintain its distinctiveness even though its still made of uniform, transparent jello. It's its motion that makes the distinction and makes it into a monad, a new hole separate from the rest of the jello.

JM: Now you've used the term self-referential, which is a term used quite a bit today in systems theory and in a lot of new science, in cybernetics and even in physics today. And I think what I hear you saying is that there are some fundamental, metaphysical, cosmological, principles that we can find in many modern fields that the ancients who developed language wouldn't know the modern equivalents of, but they had an insight about self-referential process.

ST: Exactly. They wouldn't have had our formalisms. But given their technological base, again knots and carpentry and simple metallurgy and the technology we know they had, they could have in fact also determined some of the natural properties of these self organizing forms.

JM: Let's give some examples in nature.

ST: Well, nature is replete with these forms. Instead of giving some examples let me tell you what else we found because it's probably the best example and we found several things. The first thing we found is that this smoke ring form is stylized by a vortex on it. And that little vortex form looks like a flame-- like a flame of smoke coming off a candle. Well, there are traditional teachings in the Arabic and in the Hebrew traditions that their letters come from flame or fire. This flame appears, as we will describe in a little while, to generate these letters. If we look at it with a little more detail, we will find this

self-referential effect. You know where self-reference is most obvious? It's in a very common place. It's when we talk about life profligating: chicken and egg; chicken and egg; chicken and egg. Acorn and oak tree; acorn and oak tree. The introduction to one of the most famous Kabbalistic works called the Sephir Zohar -- The Book of Splendor quotes from Genesis and it says, "Fruit tree yielding fruit whose seed is in itself." Now, if we take the fruit of the fruit tree, which is after all in the form of the torus, and if you slice through a fruit like a apple, you will find that it's dimpled in at the stem and the flower end, and in the middle there are seeds, and that outside there are these two cross sections which are sort of elliptical. It's as if you had a sphere that was dimpled in to make a doughnut out of it. Now, if you were to spiral up from the seeds around the stem and come up out over the volume of the fruit, you could literally map the life cycle of the apple tree-- the fruit tree onto the fruit extending from its seed up around its stem and out into its fullness. That self embedding putting a pack of seeds inside the volume of a fruit is something we know from physics immediately because we know if we want to make a hypercube, we put a little cube inside of a big cube.

If we want to make a hypersphere, we could put a little sphere inside of a big sphere. Well, that's what a fruit is. A fruit has its seeds in the middle. It's a cluster, a little sphere in a bigger sphere. And if we were to allow the fruit to grow, the seeds in the middle would themselves grow into a fruit tree with new fruit hanging on it. So if we put both ends of the process with the innermost inside the seeds with the outside of the fruit together and expand them with the fruit tree, we have this complete

self-referential model and it's a hyperdimensional model. If anyone ever asks you to show them a hypersphere-- a

four-dimensional sphere, just pick-up a fruit and say that's a hypersphere because it goes in itself from seed to its fullness.

JM: In other words, its a representation.

ST: Well, it's a representation; that's right, it's a projection.

JM: It's not truly a hypersphere.

ST: Well, I don't know what truly a hypersphere is other than the mathematical idealization. But it's as real a hypersphere as you're ever going to find in the three dimensional world.

JM: That's what I mean. In a true hypersphere you couldn't show all the dimensions.

ST: No, the true hypersphere is the mathematician's formal idealization of this fruit tree yielding fruit whose seeds is in itself.

JM: So what you've got your hands on here is some kind of a archetypical process, a archetypical process of universal unfolding that is, one might say, the inner message of the Book of Genesis, which is the book of the creation of the universe.

ST: Well, it's part of that message. We are after all only looking at the beginning of the text. This is the tip of the iceberg. But like all true beginnings it contains within it the key that opens the rest. In fact, there are many sages that are quoted as saying that the secret of creation is in the first letter of that text. But if you can't figure it out from the first letter, God in its infinite mercy in the religious metaphor says, "I'm going to repeat it for you in the first word." If you don't get it from the first word, it's repeated again in greater detail in the first verse, in the first paragraph in the first chapter. There is a description in the literature of the text of Genesis as a hierarchical array with each chunk you take being just like a bigger chunk. The bigger chunk has more details. It's a very holographic idea very self embedded, very fractile like a very modern idea. Well, what we found is that this model of a fruit tree yielding fruit whose seed is in itself is the description of some very general projective process. If you want to take any seed in any whole system and project it into its fruition, that process mathematically can be modeled in the same way whether your looking at the projection of space and time from space time, in formal mathematics, in formal physics or if you are simply looking at obvious botany of life cycle of the fruit tree.

JM: Now lets come to your specific discovery.

ST: Well, we've been dancing around. What we have found is that if one makes the minimal, most elegant representation of the first verse of Genesis, you get a little geometric shape, a kind of geometric universal constant-- a representation of a general projective principle if you will. That form, when you look at from different directions, displays the Hebrews letters. A very closely related form displays the Arabic letters. And in a form that looks a little more like a discus than the one we're going to show displays the Greek letters. In other words, what we're saying is that all of these letters of the sacred alphabets of the Western world are shadows of essentially the same model of this general projective principle. Which, if I can let the cat out of the bag, is embodied in human beings by the means by which we project our conscious will into the physical universe. You see, let me go back to the beginning, if our conjuncture is true, if the sequence of letters of Genesis is like Arthur Murray dance steps, then it is necessary in order to do the dance to recognize what direction, what step, each letter is. We now find that the letters are all just different perspectives of the same form.

JM: Vectors in space.

ST: Vectors in space, which is the how the physicists define the quantum state vector, which is the way they define entities in physics. But in terms of our consciousness, these would be elements of conscious focus, perspectives of feeling, elements of the way we organize our consciousness to project it into the world. Now, in order to do the meditation or the dance, based on this form being turned over in your minds eye, to display these sacred letters, you have to be able to visualize the letters; you have to be able to visualize the form. Well, the form itself is a vortex form. It's rather complex looking and completely asymmetrical. It's not easy you would think to visualize. This is our major find. What we have found is that the form of the text of Genesis specifies; that which generates the letters in which the text is written-- and that a self referential quality right there-- that which represents a general projective principle, is embodied in human beings and is the one form all humans essentially from birth, blind or sighted, can always visualize: their own hand.

JM: I think it would appropriate Stan since we got less than five minutes left to actually pull out the model that you have and give just one or two example of the letters and then we will talk a little bit more about the significance of the hand itself.

ST: Excellent. Well, let me show you one letter immediately. Here's the form, I am just going to rotate it a little.

JM: Yes you just show it to people in general. This is like a flame.

ST: You see the flame effect.

JM: It could be the model of a seed of an apple.

ST: If this were the seed of an apple, there would be a five pointed star here. This would be the apple tree and this would be the fullness of the apple. The stem would come up here and if we had another one on the bottom, the flower would be here, and you can see this whole thing would be, if I were to spin it , the form an apple.

JM: It also to me looks very much like the chauffeur, which is one of the sacred symbols of Julius.

ST: Right, the ram's horn. Not only that, but other people use it too. After all, a harp is strung this way. And likewise, I don't think I can do it here, you can ring it as a bell. And we find bells in some of the Western traditions as sacred forms too. And so we have our fruit tree yielding fruit, whose seed is in itself. And when we look at it from the appropriate directions, for instance, that direction, we see the Hebrew letter "bait." The English equivalent would be the letter "B," and Greek would be "beta." And that letter right there should look exactly like the rabbinic hand, the rabbinic script for "bait." It turns out that as the rabbis teach, the front of the alphabet is reflected to the back of the alphabet. And if we turn the "bait" around completely, we have the letter that is second from the end of the alphabet-- the Hebrew letter "shin" our letter "s." It would look like that. And let me give just one more example. This is on a slightly different model so it will be easier to see. Here we have the Hebrew letter "hei." It has an inside and an outside. And now you can also see why this is suggestive of the form of a hand. And there it is. In fact, there was a mystery religion which was hybird of Judism and one of the Roman mystery cults that existed for a few years during the early Christian era, called the Sebasious. It worshipped, for inexplicable reasons, the sacred hand.

JM: Now we only have a short time Stan, but let's talk a little more about the neurological importance of the hand in defining the letters. For one thing, the letters are created by the hand.

ST: The hand enables the letters to be visualized. Articulating the hand into various jesters gives you the meaning of the letters because the letter is displayed when the jester has a natural meaning. You put your hands to your mouth, and you see the letter "pei" which means mouth. And we could go through the alphabet that way. It's, a little difficult to do on the screen. It's the motor cortex for the hand that is adopted in humans for the control of speech. And so we transfer whatever map we're using to distinguish the world in our hand to the use of speech directly. The hand is the human embodiment of a general projective principle. When we want to project our will into the physical world, our consciousness, when we want to have an effect on the world, we use our hands. That's why the religious traditions teach that God projects the world by the hand of God. That's the basis of a whole lot of teachings. We can discuss that later.

JM: I know your work goes into much greater depth than what we've been able to cover here but what you seem to be saying, if I can summarize it briefly, is that there are certain universal principles, neurological priniciples, principles of self referrence having to do with very creation of all of nature including human beings from the seed into the fullness of our flowering that are embodied in the sacred alphabets and are equally embodied in our most advance theories of systems science and physics today. And your getting a handle through the look, your view of language, at these most primary principles.

ST: The primary direction is space or directions in consciousness is what we make the world up out of whether it's spiritual or physical, and this model was obviously within the technological grasp of the ancient world.

JM: Stan Tenen thanks so much for being with me.

ST: And thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

JM: And thank you for being with us.

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