The Lore of Scriptology: Lecture 6a:
Summary & Reflections (Part 2)

AdamBlatner, M.D.

Posted 03/08/01     Given as part of Senior University Georgetown's February - March, 2011 program.
   1. Introduction              2. The Early History of Writing            3. Mid-History of Writing                 4. Elaborations and Related Developments            5: Invented Alphabets     6. Codes and Play with Alphabets                       6a    This is the Summary

The main point I want to make is that writing is a tool, an invention that transcends any particular field---truly inter-disciplinary. Gelb called this "Grammatology" but a postmodernist philosopher, Jacques Derrida, has also used that term for a very different idea. I prefer the term I made up, "scriptology." This recognizes that writing involves art, self-expression, history, politics, as well as mere linguistics. (Interestingly, many books on linguistics don't even include a consideration of writing.)

I think it's also an important element in psychology, especially a psychology that attends to world-view, the influence of culture, historical trends, and such.  Writing is part of the process of externalization---of expressing the ideas inside the mind---where things can get muddled and confused and vague---out into the world. Talking is one way, and drawing rough maps about things, or diagrams is another. Writing captures a more finely-detailed record of thoughts or speech. It preserves it so others not present can read it, people at a distance, and people at a later time. As I noted in the first lecture, writing is the only invention since the evolution of DNA that stores and replicates information!

We live in a time when consciousness has evolved enough so that it begins to examine itself. It looks at the way we think, our susceptibility to illusion, our tendency to become caught up in believing our illusions as "true" and forgetting that whatever models we may have of reality, that they are always, always preliminary, provisional. There are always new inventions, discoveries, trends in thought and world-view, so that whatever we believed as true back then may not apply, be as useful, cover as much territory in the present.


This is a fancy term for thinking about not only what we think about, but also the way we think about it. This applies also to communications, and involves such related aspects as:
 - semantics, the study of how words mean---especially emotionally---,
 - rhetoric, the art of persuasion, wich is related to propaganda analysis and the study of logical fallacies
 - numeracy, appreciating how numbers can be used to help or hinder clear thinking, also related to how to lie with statistics
 - illusion-ology, not just optical illusions, or auditory or taste or other perceptual illusions, and more than the use of illusions in stage magic, also the many ways the mind generates illusions in thinking about self, spiritual issues, mysteries as yet unsolved, over-estimating one's abilities, and so forth...
  - fundamental assumptions in philosophy, about metaphysics (what is real), epistemology (how do we know what we know), etc.
  - law, justice, politics, how we decide together on the rules, and how we forget that it is we who can and should be re-deciding, abdicating our responsibility to those in the past or some heaven-originated code
  - culture, custom, social traditions, standards of status, what we take for granted as "common sense"---many ideas of which are being contested in recent years
  - and the power of media to numb thought, to take on authority that it doesn't merit, the tendency to idealize or believe that if it's in a book it must be so

I confess that this general theme is close to my special interest. As a retired psychiatrist, I've been impressed with the pervasiveness of  the tendency to hold on to assumptions from childhood or one's sub-culture, many of which are obsolete or too narrow in scope. These retained beliefs are often a major source of inner conflict and dis-ease. I write about this elsewhere on my website and blog.

A related problem is that people tend to believe that important thoughts have already been thought, which feeds their sense of security and also supports their mental inertia (i.e., laziness). Why should I have to participate in negotiating or creating new rules for my life if others wiser than me have already figured it out? On one hand, this is the gift of culture, to rely somewhat on the foundations or inventions developed by others. On the other hand, to unthinkingly accept that what others have created are the best and final solutions to a problem is to idealize those who have gone before. Idealization is the mentally lazy activity of overgeneralization---if they have done some things well, then everything they do is great. Whoa, there. People sometimes do some things well and other things not so well. We're mixed in our abilities. Furthermore, what was great a hundred years ago probably doesn't make use of the technologies or discoveries that have emerged since then, nor are the inventions of the past geared well to the needs of the present. (This means also that what is discovered today may not be perfectly applicable in five years, so the message here is to support an attitude that's open to ongoing creativity and revision.)

To depend overmuch on the creativity of the past, or the authority of those who have gone before may also be a transference---we are inclined to apply what we had to think as young children about our parents (because we were relatively helpless and clueless compared to them and who else could we trust?) to situations today, and to the ability and integrity of today's authorities---politicians, clergy, educators, etc. The trouble is that half the time they have demonstrated repeatedly that they do not merit this level of trust!  As a doubly-board certified hunky-do psychiatrist, an authority,  I can say with authority that there's so much we don't know that you should not take what I say or we say as if it's so! Check it out for yourself. Even Siddartha Guatama, the Buddha, said something like this. (I am trying to encourage an attitude that values creativity and curiosity, and hope my writings will provide tools that make the use of these attitudes more effective.) So, back to writing.

The purpose of this class is to bring explicit awareness to the hypnotic power of the media. Marshall McLuhan wrote about this problem in the mid-late 1960s, and others have since. It is in the interests of the mass media moguls to suppress this awareness. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and it applies especially to advertising and politics---although it's pervasive in almost all human interactions. How do I get you to agree with me? But critical thinking is the counter: How do I know that what you're trying to persuade me to buy or vote for is actually good? It might not be. This is a vast socio-cultural dynamic, and how media is used becomes one of its tools. Does a given idea seem more true if you see it in print than in handwriting (cursive)?  Is it more true if it's on the internet or television? Can books with editors lie to you? (Evidence is accumulating that, alas, media is not to be trusted:  In addition to outright lies, various books and television programs are laced with half-truths that seem like whole truths, people manipulating statistics to adjust the impression they give, and the widespread use of logical fallacies that offer the appearance of "truthiness.")

The study of writing thus offers a perspective that gets above writing and asks overarching questions. Another function scriptology has is that by recognizing the medium more explicitly, you are empowered to play with it, stretch it, explore it. Some poets do this by changing certain standards, so that, for example, e.e. cummings in the mid-20th century didn't capitalize either his own name or words.  The point is that for different purposes, it might be reasonable to alter the conventional standards for the medium, change the size, color, arrangement,  font, and so forth.

The Inter-Disciplinary Nature of Scriptology

The emphasis of this lecture series and the point of the term "scriptology" is to lift the subject beyond the association of this technology with any particular discipline. Computer science has evolved beyond the design of faster calculators to invite our contemplation of these machines as toys, aids to relationship, companions in themselves, vehicles for self-expressive art, broadcasting, and innumerable other socio-cultural functions. Scriptology should be viewed similarly as a trans-disciplinary field, like ecology, inter-spirituality, and so forth. (I advocate also that we recognize that psychology transcends the individual and should include not just neuro-physiology and somatic psychology, and of course intra-psychic dynamics, but also the fields of interpersonal, small group, microsociological, general sytems, socio-cultural, and even anthropological-archetypal dimensions of our beings. In some circumstances, who we "really" are may be more as members of larger collectives than as separate individuals, and it's important that we realize that. Sometimes we are a lone individual speaking truth to power, but often our existence and power only manifests as part of a unified movement or sub-group. Different situations, different identities.

Scriptology is also something we should rise above and begin to use, lest the media 'use' us. There's a saying: The flying fish knows more about the water than the herring. This means that those who can leave the medium and enter another, contrasting, medium (i.e., air), can begin to notice the difference (i.e., water has a quality known as "wet-ness"). So, too, by reflecting on that which tends to become habitual, we rise above it and can begin to take its qualities into account. It exerts less of a subtle hypnotic power over us.

Future Speculations: What's Next in Consciousness Evolution

I can't say yet what it will be, but it will be stuff we take for granted enough that we teach our kids about it and model doing it in our lives. One possibility will be the art of self-hypnosis, that we use to heal our wounds, quiet ourselves, relax ourselves, combat stress, center, open to inspiration, and empathize more compassionately with others. I forsee a time when this will be a group of skills we teach in pre-school and the first few years of regular school, like reading and writing, and that such skills become a norm. Or perhaps it will be something else. The point is that the shift from an oral culture to a written culture reveals the potential for humans to absorb a wider range of abilities and to participate more in the evolution of our own consciousness.
Other Dimensions of Scriptology
Web pages can be more interactive than one-way. You can respond to these words and email me at and suggest new points, or correct some of my misconceptions. There can be more back-and-forth. If you send me ideas, let me know if you'd like me to use your name and/or email address in what I edit and incorporate. I may not use what you send me, but I might. I am quite open to learning new things or changing my mind---it's more interesting than wallowing in the illusion of  "being right."

Much of the history of writing can be found under the general topic of linguistics---either 411 in the Dewey Decimal System or P211 in the University System. (Interestingly, many books on linguistics don't address writing per se at all!). Decipherment in archeology, of course, and ancient history---these are also obvious sub-topics. Issues that have to do with local writing systems have a fair amount to do with cultural identity, local politics, and regional history. But many aspects of scriptology also overlap with book design Z-40, printing, graphic design, graphology (as a form of psychological analysis), art, computer science, media studies, typography, calligraphy (in the fields of art), advertising, semiotics (the impact of images on feelings), propaganda analysis, penmanship, spelling reform, cartooning, poetry, cryptanalysis (codes), education (what is the best way to help kids learn), rehabilitation from brain injury or stroke, special education (for the various sub-types of special reading disabilities or dyslexia),  and so forth.

There are also the related fields of librarianship, the creation of writing-related books---dictionaries, encycolpedia, thesauruses, books of lists, and so forth. Other media use scripts---i.e., movies, radio shows---even if only to set the tone and offer some structure within which varying degrees of improvisation may occur. There are whole industries devoted to supporting the writing and printing of books or magazine articles, dealing with illustration, graphic design, composition, style for various purposes (science, academic, popular, etc.), the invention of more useful writing surfaces, new types of paper, printers, copiers, LCD and computer screens, inks, pens, brushes, projectors, PowerPoint and other organizing systems, and the list goes on. Not that this complex is unique: Other complexes deal with food preparation and delivery, transportation, parenting aids, military weaponry, and many other endeavors. The point is that the pilot of an airplane may be what we pretended to be as a kid, but it turns out that the pilot is only a tiny element in the actual adult enterprise of air travel; so, too, the actual printed words on the page is only one element in a great complex of supporting components in the process of mass communication. Still, it's good to not over-estimate or under-estimate the power of these marks and the implications of their function in our lives.

Considering Literacy

A century ago large numbers of people were comfortably illiterate: They really didn't need to know reading and writing to get by with their lives. Not long after that writing became such an important part of farming and technology, banking and money management, that becoming literate became a relatively important skill set. I think that in the early 21st century, learning how to look at your own mind and its tendencies to slip into illusion and foolishness will become equally important for coping with a culture characterized by nothing so much as change itself. I call this "psychological literacy."

Nevertheless, part of true wisdom involves not only knowing about your own mind and its pitfalls, but also about the culture---and part of that involves the development of ways to cultivate critical thinking (also known as sharpening your bulls**t detectors), so as to recognize when you're being manipulated, and to know how to counter it. The world is full of scam artists who prey on your gullibility, your inclination to buy into their latest money-making schemes. What if some major political leaders and ideologies might merit the same critical analysis as the spam and scam artists who infest your email?

(By the way, one of the major ways Euro-American politicians "stole" the land from the Native American Indians is that they first used "trade treaties" that had little legal twists and turns in them---the manipulation of the non-literate by the literate---and then used loopholes to justify the use of violence to back up otherwise specious claims. So the interface of a culture of writing with a culture that doesn't have that technology can be historically significant and oppressive. What if spin doctors are being used by big corporations and lobbyists who have politicians in their pockets to convince you that what they're doing is raping you softly while making you think that they're your friends? (They know how not only use writing, but rhetoric, and they don't teach that hardly enough to kids. What if they made a great unit in middle school and high school about how "they" are trying to scam and rip you off---and use that motivation that captures and sublimates teen rebelliousness so that they become truly indignant and participatory citizens?)

Indeed, literacy is becoming diluted because the use of television and video makes it possible to go through increasingly vibrant periods of time with the illusion of being alive and engaged while in fact one is simply significantly hypnotized---or was that the thesis of Matrix and other science fiction movies?)

Final Comments

Play can  be fun, and it is also subversive---in that when you break out of the box, go beyond the envelope, explore the larger picture, you might find not only enjoyable new horizons, but an awareness that you and the others had been "in" a box! When you play, you experiment with the edges of stuff, and thereby become more free. I hope this class has been enjoyable and has stimulated you to learn more about this field.

A bibliography of scriptology may be found elsewhere on this website. I welcome your input. 
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