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Lexicon index



Metahistory Lexicon

written and compiled by John Lash

Perhaps universal history is the history of the diverse intonations of a few metaphors.

- Jorge Luis Borges, “Pascal’s Sphere,” 1951


"Tree of Letters," Medieval woodcut, colored.
Reading and writing are accessories to civilization, and all it entails, for good and ill. In the post-modern era, literacy may revert to what it was in the Middle Ages, the privilege of an elite few, but the value of learning is a constant in any sustainable culture. Learning is both the theme and the application of the Lexicon. It remains to be seen what can be learned about being human in the post-humanist world.

How the Lexicon Works

Needless to say, the purpose of the Lexicon is to define words, but not just to do that. To serve the purposes specific to metahistory, the Lexicon must provide more than a mere rehash of dictionary meanings. A good many of the entries found herein can also be found in any dictionary, of course, but the definitions given here are designed to enhance and augment metahistorical inquiry. They are customized for the discourse underway, but these definitions, novel though they might be, are merely accessory to the central purpose of the Lexicon: to alter the syntax in which beliefs are stated and evaluated.

Some words take on a completely novel spin consistent with the method and aims of the Metahistory Dialogue. For instance, the common dictionary definition of the word “proposition” is hardly worth consulting, for this word is not difficult to understand. But the definition for this entry in the Lexicon is another matter, with quite special connotations. It refers to a specific way of handling beliefs, contrasted to "propagation." Wherever such custom-made definitions occur, the Lexicon presents the language (the idiom or jargon, if you will) through which new forms of expression,"talk that changes," can emerge. Adoption of this idiom is voluntary. I am not attempting to instigate a cult of discourse comparable, say, to French deconstructionism. If the jargon fits, use it. It is intended to be playful rather than programmatic.

In Metahistory we are growing a language to describe humanity in the Gaian perspective and to foster co-evolutionary vision


Some entries are quite ordinary like science and delusion, yet the definitions given for them are developed along lines that go beyond ordinary assumptions and assumed semantic limits. One need only take a look at the definition for act to see how metahistorical “jargon” affords a chance to expand and refine our powers of expression.

Some entries present terms of technical or academic significance such as thought insertion (from cult psychology) and trope (an academic term referring to the way facts are expressed in figurative language, rather than literally). Once again, these terms come to mean in metahistory something more and different than they do in ordinary usage. Terms drawn from psychology and psychotherapy are frequent and subject to wide elaboration because of the beliefs implied in them.

Metahistorical discourse runs to some extent on parallel tracks with psychological theories, especially when those theories propose beliefs concerning human potential. From the days of Freud and Jung, psychotherapy has adopted a great many belief-loaded assumptions about humanity, its relation to God and Nature, and the supernatural and superhuman dimensions of experience. The Lexicon exposes and explores these assumptions, often shifting the manner in which they can be viewed.

The five master themes of the Arch of Metahistory are all defined in the Lexicon. These entries are intended to illuminate the themes in ways not fully elaborated in the corresponding texts. Sometimes a key concept cannot be adequately developed within the text that introduces it: for instance, the three formats are mentioned several times in the Themes, but without explanatory comment. The reason is that elaboration might load down or divert the main line of discourse. The Lexicon entry is there to supplement and sometimes sharpen the textual treatment of the term.

Digressions are inevitable in metahistorical discourse, for seminal ideas are bound to be spread around in different locations. As the tree of learning grows, the language permutates.

The Lexicon contains quotations for some entries: for instance, utility. It may also use illustrations: for instance, the Tibetan icon in the entry for theogamy. Poetry may be cited where it illustrates a belief or encapsulates a well-known script: for instance, the lines from the Homeric hymn to Demeter for theophany.

In many cases, the words defined are treated in terms of the stories, scripts and scenarios that illustrate the beliefs associated with those terms: for instance, revealed religion. On its technical side, the Lexicon expands and applies the methodology of metahistory, but it does so, as often as possible, by drawing upon the rich array of myths and stories that enshrine the universal human heritage of belief.

Humor and Error

Additional to its role in providing definitions, the Lexicon serves as a free-form catalogue of beliefs about humanity and human potential. It includes jokes, anecdotes, personal beefs, reveries, riddles, even tests. Here and there occurs a comic break to remind us that humor plays, and has always played, a crucial role in demasking pretences and defusing illusions. If some of the beliefs so passionately embraced by homo sapiens are delusional or insane, it will take humor to admit the error and let go of identification. Delusional and insane beliefs could well be the long-sought source of what is evil in human behavior. It has been suggested that humor, particularly in the form of satire, may be the best antidote to evil.

Finally, the Lexicon is also a labyrinth, a maze intended to amaze. According to Cretan myth, the hero Theseus found his way out of the labryinth of Daedalus by following the thread he unrolled as he went in. Legend says that the thread was given to him by Ariadne, a weaver. Like Mnemosyne, Ariadne is a name for conjuring. Her gift is innate to us all, the genetic thread, the strand of a different story. And the secret you hold in the breath streaming between your teeth.

JLL, rev. July 2004