“Earthlings in short seem to spend most of their time trafficking in one kind of symbol or another, while the other creatures of earth – more than two million species – say not a word. When he asks his hosts (in ESP) about this strange behavior, he gets a curious answer from earth scientists. Mostly they seem anxious to convince him how much they are like other creatures rather than different. ‘Ever since Darwin,’ say the scientists, ‘we have known that man is not qualitatively different from other animals. In fact the whole burden of earth science is to discover similarities, not differences, to establish continuities, not gaps.’ ‘Yes,’ replies the Martian, ‘but you talk all the time; you’re talking now…’”
The mystery of talking, Percy was convinced, is the key to unlocking the mystery of man. “Why is it,” he asked, “that scientists know a good deal about what it is to be an organism in an environment but very little about what is to be a creature who names things and utters and understands sentences about things? Why is it that scientists have a theory about everything under the sun but do not have a theory of man? Is it possible that a theory of man is nothing more nor less than a theory of the speaking creature?”
The next time you’re on a long drive, flip on the radio, pretend you’re Percy’s Martian visiting earth for the first time, and listen with astonishment to this creature who talks incessantly.
We always have. And as Faulkner saw it, we always will: “…When the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking…”
Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.