Language and Communication

Introduction to “Wave Forms: A Natural Syntax for Rhythmic Languages”

My writing is currently focused on putting together a chapter/article on rhythm in the doctrine of creation. There are two sources in particular that have been helpful to me in thinking through the relationship between nature and human culture, but the ideas are also just fascinating in general. I introduce the first here and the other in the next post.


James H. Bunn, Wave Forms: A Natural Syntax for Rhythmic Languages. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

Appropriately, the book is included under the categories of Literary Theory/Criticism/Linguistics and science. Bunn makes the argument, using copious examples from language, art, and the natural world, that the wave form is the fundamental Urform of all reality. All forms, whether natural or constructed, rely on shaping the wave form in some way.

Once Bunn points this out, you start to think it’s amazing that you’ve never noticed it before. However, the author thinks that the reason we don’t tend to notice it is inherent in the form itself. The wave is usually a vessel for something else. Light and sound waves, for example, all carry information that obscure the waviness of the vehicle. Generally speaking, we pay attention to the message, not the messenger.

This idea of the wave as messenger points to the primary significance of this form, as Bunn understands it. The wave is the primary form of motion, and in particular, of moving something from one place to another. This applies to the physical motion of creatures through space, as for example through the wave-like self-propulsion of a fish or the wavy motions of joints and limbs in animals that walk. It also applies to the transfer of visual or audio information, or energy, from one place to another. The particular significance of the form is that it is able to pass through diverse media. The fish moves forward because the wave form passes through both the fish and the water.

The capacity of the wave to move through different media is the central image for Bunn’s argument that the wave is a form that also travels across the natural and cultural spheres. In fact, he argues that we use this same form in thinking about the nature of human thought itself. We experience thought as a weaving between different ideas in an attempt to propel our thought into the future.

I am curious about how this idea is regarded in the disciplines of physical and social science. Regardless, Bunn’s ideas are fascinating in their provocative connections. I also plan to take a look at his 2014 book The Natural Law of Cycles: Governing the Mobile Symmetries of Animals and Machines.



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