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Temporal Symbolism in Human Communication

By engine16 in Op-Ed
Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 04:34:17 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

For the past couple of days I've been reading a book called The Manticore by Robertson Davies, a Canadian author I've only just discovered. It's an odd thing about a rich lawyer visiting a Jungian therapist to sort through his recent breakdown, but something in the character and tone of the writing keeps me entranced, no matter how dry the story becomes. This is not intended to be a literary review, though I do recommend the book. Instead I mean to open up the idea of temporal symbolism through something that occurred to me while reading one of its passages.

In the passage, the protagonist, Edward Staunton, is discussing the reading of his father's will, particularly a small and simple line detailing what he is to receive from the estate. The line is entirely businesslike, with no apparent subtext, yet Edward reads great significance into its very simplicity, calling his father's terse word choice "his last word on the subject" and claiming that the dead man's unwritten words were: "[...] don't think of yourself as my son." (49)

It was not that the father had said more without words than with that sparked my imagination, but rather what the implications of such a communication might be. It stands to reason that the father believed his son would understand the unstated meaning. Edward says that the man would have chosen those words knowing that they would be read by many people, and that all would comprehend what was being said. In Edward's opinion, that was the thought that gave his father satisfaction. But for all the satisfaction this sort of thing may have given Boy Staunton, I doubt such a communication would carry much weight one hundred years in the future. I believe it safe to suppose that any clerk poring over Staunton's would remain ignorant to the nuance of the man's word choice, and more to the point, that clerk might even appreciate the judicious use of words.

Where did the meaning go? Well, first it went with the passing of Boy Staunton. As the originator of this symbolic sleight, it must have been freshest in his living mind. From there, Edward would likely become the most aware, though there would certainly be others. And as the decades passed, more of those possesing an awareness of the sort of man Boy had been would exit the scene, each taking with him the key to understanding the symbolism. In time, nobody would remain, not a single person who had once heard the old man laugh or helped him to draw a business brief. Th new lawyers, new accountants, new grandchildren, and new great-grandchildren would have no frame of reference for understanding what had not been said, and moreover, none would remember Edward in any way so real as to recognize the pain inflicted.

Perhaps Boy would have been better suited to address his feelings toward Edward in the form of a letter. Each paragraph a complete reference to some thing or another that struck him as dissatisfactory in his son's behavior. Then future generations might find some amusement at Edward's shortcomings, they might even seek to correct those that mirrored their own behavior for fear of upsetting some Boy Staunton in their own world. It is a worthy consideration, but what might be lost, even from the literal, with the progression to contemporary vernacular and mores? Perhaps scholars would retain the necessary social information to make valid judgments of Boy's words, but in time I imagine even they would lose interest in something so specific to his life.

The failure of Boy's message to survive the passage of time can be considered a problem of temporal symbolism. Words that draw their value through context and current social arrangements. As the times change, the strengths of those words become lost to a greater and greater mass of individuals. The preservation of these symbols becomes, not a case of preserving the document, but one of preserving the ideas contained in the document. I believe the problem that is to afflict Boy Staunton's message is one that will grip the whole of all written messages in time, and one that deserves a deeper investigation.

You see, it is my opinion that human language is only a first step toward a broadly more applicable form of communication. The problem with this belief is that it forces me to consider those things that would be affected by progression to that new form, namely literature. It occurs to me that most of what we call literature is more specifically the clever manipulation of common language to produce works of both concrete and symbolic value, such as Davies's novel. If this is the case then it is logical to believe that as we leave behind modern language as a means of communication, we must also leave behind the symbolic value we once drew from its arrangement on the page.

It's a devastating consideration, and in many ways that is why I believe our communication has failed to evolve on a more-than-semantic level thus far. We have too much invested in language, and it has become our legacy system, a tool too firmly rooted into our infrastructure to toss out, but one that has grown too old to advance our efforts to a higher level. Gysin and Burroughs saw the failure of language when they called for the destruction of the word. Burroughs took it deeper when he wondered at how words become symbols, not of the things they represent, but of the words themselves, and change the way we perceive the world. I think most saw this as a drug induced bit of nonsense, but there is more truth to those thoughts than they have been credited to have. After all, what do you see when you see a bird in a tree, if not "a bird" in "a tree?"

What happens, then, when we see the truth of a bird in a tree, and for once in the history of our communication, we are able to convey it to another person for everything that it is to us, not with adjectives or highly subjective symbolism, but with the raw value of a first impression, with the explosiveness of the countless systems that paint that moment into our mind? It seems to me that we would lose interest in the petty suspensions of modern language. We would no longer care what was being said, both literally and through interpretation, because all of it would suddenly seem quite arbitrary and unimportant. Such understanding would become almost exclusively the traffic of scholars intent to preserve the cultural heritage with which the texts are associated.

The motion picture industry is a suitable example of a migration from one level of communication to another. Few silent films remain in the libraries of the modern movie viewer, most of whom would be hard pressed to name a single title from the Golden Age. The classics remain available, but most would rather witness something in the contemporary style. Very early human communications (what I consider First Tier) have become so obscure in their symbolic value that a scientist might spend his entire life attempting to unravel the meaning of a single record. Worse yet, Base Level communications, those consisting of no more than physical gestures and subvocalizations , are lost completely to history, as their sole media for distribution has deteriorated into dust and fossilized bone.

Modern language is only a single form of human communication. Others, such as visual art, music, and dance -- all of which predate language -- never cease to evolve with the passage of time. Unfortunately, each of them lacks the subtlety and universality to underwrite a complex society. Each also fails to cross the cultural gaps created by sensory handicap and deterioration. But while contemporary language does manage this feat, it is limited by cultural boundaries, temporal expiration, and, perhaps worst of all, the need for a democratically approved library of accepted word symbols. (I will discuss the first and last of these three in a future installment.)

My belief is a simple one: this is not the best we can do. Our language is, by many standards, an antique. It is renovated, mended, refinished and overhauled regularly to maintain functionality, but in time, I think society will be in a position to move on. As such, it becomes important to examine ways of preserving our written legacy. There is something to be said for what has been done with what there is, and I fear for a day when someone finds a book like The Manticore and reads it with the cold sterility of the clerk examining Boy Staunton's will.

I do have much more to say on the subject of temporal symbolism, more still on language in general, but for now I'll call this a stopping point. Next time I think I'd like to consider what i believe to be the pinnacle of modern languages, Mathematics, but until then, thanks for reading.


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Temporal Symbolism in Human Communication | 142 comments (126 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
I feel humbled (4.16 / 6) (#7)
by krek on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 04:24:28 PM EST

I was having almost this exact discussion last night with my cousin. It was sparked by his assertion that language was inherently ambiguous, to which I replied that language was just a tool, and since language is recursive and therefore, for all intents and purposes, infinitely precise, it was thus the people using the language who were ambiguous.

Along the same line, the temporal symbolism that you speak of is unlikely to stop being part of our communication, at least not until such a time that humans are no longer concerned with time and causality. This would necessitate that we cease to exist as creatures confined in time and start to exist as creatures who can at least perceive time as just another spacial-like dimension, if not exist in time the way that we exist in space.

Blech! That was a bit confusing, let's try again. As long as we continue to percieve time the way that we do, then temporal relativism will continue to shape our communications.

Here is a question for you:
How much of a problem was this before writting was invented?

It's a good question, (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by engine16 on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 11:29:29 PM EST

but one that probably deserves more thought than I have done on it. I imagine that people with verbal language, in the time prior to written language, lived very closely to they material communicated. I imagine they used constant repetition of oral traditions to keep them fresh and close at mind. Symbolic ideas were probably used for socialization, as they are today, but I think their legends and dogmas were very real parts of their lives, no matter how much time had passed since the initial utterance. The awareness of time was most likely tied very closely to their daily and yearly behaviors, but time in the subjective was probably viewed as "then" and "now" (then being any amount of time before the present, stretching all the way into legends, such as the Aboriginal notion of the Dream Time.) For this reason I think it may not have been an issue for non-writing cultures, but I also believe it is a problem that becomes more distinct with the passage of time.

Like i said, I think this demands more investigation and consideration, so I'm sure the above is quite incomplete.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]

Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter (none / 0) (#76)
by jeroenb on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 06:55:45 PM EST

And no, my English spelling is not that messed up, but it's actually a quote from Yoda :)

"The mouse, I've been sure for years, limps home from the site of the burning ferris wheel with a brand-new, airtight plan for killing the cat." -J.D. Salinger
[ Parent ]
Base communication isn't lost (4.75 / 4) (#8)
by gauntlet on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 04:53:36 PM EST

Body language still exists in much the same form it would have ages ago. We can read the postures of other primates for the messages they send, be they aggressive, submissive, playful, angry, injured, etc. We all understand the differing messages between a pat on the head, and a punch in the face, between a distressed moan, or a satisfied sigh.

And we send and receive these messages constantly, we're just not as aware of it as we would be if we had little else to go on.

I also dispute whether or not motion pictures represent a change in the level of communication. Silent films had text, and the recognition of visual symbols as language is, in my opinion, a higher function than the recognition of sound as language. Being able to hear the movies actually reduced the complexity of the communication that was going on, if increasing the complexity of the messages that could be communicated.

Lastly, I don't find the idea that this post will eventually become totally worthless because of a lack of shared context with the reader "totally devestating."

I have no illusions that what I say is of any more value than the message it communicates to the people for whom I intend it. That it serves no purpose for people of the future is no more devestating than the fact that it serves no purpose for the people of the past. Nor does it make the message any less valuable.

Into Canadian Politics?

Silent films (none / 0) (#20)
by engine16 on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 06:36:51 PM EST

I do agree that the symbolic value of physical activity is more telling than the verbal. In fact, I really enjoy silent film. I was drawing an example of how the shift to the new motion picture, while not necessarily better, was definitely industry altering -- to the degree that the old form was mostly abandoned and forgotten. People will always communicate the world they see it, but the tools will be in a state of constant change, and it is inevitable that even widely adopted formats like language will eventually be replaced with more effective options.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
Interesting... (4.00 / 3) (#9)
by JahToasted on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 05:00:38 PM EST

I'm currently trying to learn sign language, and I live in a nation where most people speak a very different dialect of english from my native country. Just thinking of how humour and irony doesn't carry over from one language to another. How much do our thoughts depend on language. Is it like in 1984, where by eliminating words, certain thoughts are eliminated as well? Or do we think the same things no matter what, just using different words to describe the same things?

Hmmm... I agree that language is very limited in regards to preserving information. Entropy always has a way of creeping in I guess. But what are the alternatives to language? Maybe build an AI and teach it all the little in-jokes, ironies, and nostalgia that make up our culture that can't be described by language. But what would the purpose of such a thing? So the people in the future would know how cool we were back in the good ole' 21st century? Why would people even care?

I guess that's all the poets and artists really do... just translate the same ideas for new cultures. Adapting the same ideas for this generation so we can adapt them for the next. Redescribing the same things over and over.

Oh well I guess that's what it means to be mortal...

AI comment; "Blaine The Pain" (none / 0) (#10)
by Gooba42 on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 05:06:54 PM EST

Your AI comment triggered me to think about "Blaine The Pain" from Stephen King's Dark Tower books. The AI had been around far longer than the culture which spawned it and went pretty much insane for lack of company with which to exchange jokes and riddles.

[ Parent ]
Heh... (none / 0) (#13)
by JahToasted on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 05:18:07 PM EST

Don't all AIs go insane after a while?

[ Parent ]
I love that series. (n/t) (none / 0) (#27)
by engine16 on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 11:08:35 PM EST

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
Pragmatists (4.50 / 4) (#12)
by Scrymarch on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 05:18:05 PM EST

Next time I think I'd like to consider what i believe to be the pinnacle of modern languages, Mathematics

You seem to be on a Wittgensteinian journey here.  He thought he had the problem of meaning sorted with Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (which I haven't read), which had a very set-theory and logic conception of meaning.  Roughly he saw meaning as an attribute of a word, as if words were Java classes.

Later he changed his mind, and wrote Philosophical Investigations (which I've read, but probably misunderstood).  In that he sidled up the the concept of meaning, implying that it arose from a language game played between intelligent agents.  He talks about a lot of toy languages there, showing how rich they can be, and how tokens are seen differently according to context.  He strives to get away from certain types of philosophical questions, that by assuming meaning is a kind of mathematical attribute are more problematical than determining the meaning of normal natural language sentences.

Others on k5 have a much better grounding in philosophy, maybe they can confuse you better.

all meaning is dependant on context (5.00 / 4) (#14)
by Terren on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 05:37:03 PM EST

I'm a big fan of Burroughs myself, and have also ruminated on the 'word is a virus' meme (how self-referential is that?)

Burrough's assertion that the word is a virus actually can be taken without judgement - I'm not sure he meant it as a bad thing. I think it was more just an observation - that language can only survive with hosts (actually, I think he did see it in a deeper and darker way, but that's beside the point). There's a virus that lives in the stomachs of most humans. People who don't have this virus are more apt to get ulcers. It's a symbiotic relationship.

But more to the point, I'm not sure I share your disillusionment with language. If a superior way of communicating does happen, great. I'm not sure, however, that it's even possible for a system of communication to live up to the standard that you've set for modern language in this article.

You make it sound as if temporal symbolism and the presence of cultural boundaries are the fault of the words themselves.

Say that you could write your thoughts and feelings to a hard drive - words, images, memories, sense information, the real 'bird in the tree'. And someone else could read that file and achieve that same experience, resulting in a sort of technology-mediated telepathy.

However, communication in this regard is still dependant on a shared context between writer and reader. If the writer was a Martian and you were the reader, do you think you would understand anything going on in the Martian's experience?

We all understand the things in our world in relation to other things. There isn't any absolute reference against which to define our experience. And when that backdrop of referential associations dies away, so does the meaning of anything that's part of that backdrop.

In short, the only way you can keep meaning alive is to keep the entire web of associations around that meaning alive. And that has nothing to do with the means of communication.

Virus vs Bacteria (none / 0) (#46)
by xria on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 10:58:11 AM EST

Certainly its my understanding that a virus in medical terminology is always bad, whereas Bacteria can have good, neutral, bad, or situational affects depending on the bacteria.

Certainly I cant remember seeing the term virus to be used anywhere else without it having negative connotations in the context it is used.

In a way though, this supports the original hypothesis, that when I see the term 'virus' I assume it means something bad, and when you see it you dont. Thus the same passage of text, or term of reference, could mean noticably different things to us, and therefore one of us will be misinterpreting what the author meant (unless the author was trying to be deliberately ambiguous, which can only account for a fraction of uses of such a word).

[ Parent ]
D'oh! it *was* bacteria after all (none / 0) (#51)
by Terren on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 01:46:50 PM EST

Sorry, the 'virus' I had in mind was in actuality the bacteria 'H. pylori'. Basically, it's a bacteria that may cause one kind of cancer and may prevent another kind of cancer.

Read all about it here: http://www.nfid.org/pressconfs/duma00/summaries.html

So basically, the bacteria I had in mind to present a 'symbiotic' relationship can hardly be considered that. On top of that, if I was going to use bacteria to make my point, I could have picked any number of 'good' bacteria that aren't linked to some form of cancer, even if they prevent another form. D'oh!

So that makes two of us who have never heard of a symbiotic relationship with a virus, although there's nothing that says that viruses MUST be bad. Perhaps there are examples of symbiotic viri that we don't know about. One potentially good thing about viruses is that they may be used someday to deliver genetic therapy treatments, from what I understand. It can even be hypothesized that viruses may have had an important role in evolution, carrying different genes from host to host. It may have been possible that 'good genes' were accidentally delivered by such a virus, and transmitted via sexual reproduction to the rest of the species. This might actually be a decent metaphor for 'language as a virus'.

Sorry for the inaccuracy in the original post.

[ Parent ]

Other "good" viruses (none / 0) (#96)
by DonQuote on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 04:02:42 AM EST

As you mentioned, viruses are trying to be used as vectors for gene therapy... but other than that, they were used before antibiotics (and are being further researched now) to kill bacteria. Because viruses tend to be fairly specific, if you enject a certain type of virus that targets a pathogenic bacteria into a subject, theoretically you "cure" that person...

But in general, like anything in biology, viruses just are. They have their niche, and while many times they seem detrimental, I'm sure if we eliminated them completely we would have unexpected, negative consequences...

... Use tasteful words. You may have to eat them.
[ Parent ]

Brainstorm (none / 0) (#53)
by nklatt on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 01:56:46 PM EST

Say that you could write your thoughts and feelings to a hard drive


[ Parent ]

Collective Unconscious (not) (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by sinexoverx on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 05:50:59 PM EST

Speaking of Jungian therapy, I was just reading Jung's writings on the collective unconscious last night. Fasinating but highly controversial. It occurs to me that the subject here, is the collective conscious. A type of mental contextual matrix of all things we are absorbing daily through senses and various media and share with others who are contemporaries. Constantly changing but some ideas and meanings are more persistant than others. The subject is fasinating because it touches on so many other subjects, like AI, history, philosophy, and even things like fashion, and fiction. Anything with meaning is called into question. I wonder if this concept has more elementary implications, such as the communication between neurons?

No. (none / 0) (#74)
by bjlhct on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 06:47:22 PM EST

It exists only from abstraction. And the best you can get is a variation of sum over multiple paths I think.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
Heard and understood (none / 0) (#19)
by mister slim on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 06:31:52 PM EST

Shakespeare is a great example of language change. The greatest playwright ever, but you have to learn a very different dialect of English to read him.

Frank Herbert played with future languages a lot in the Dune series.

"Fucking sheep, the lot of you. Yeah, and your little dogs too." -Rogerborg

Those who listen to Shakespeare will die (none / 0) (#83)
by Fen on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 08:19:07 PM EST

Spending too much time with something that lacks logic means they will die from those who value logic.  A bullet to the brain follows only the logic of physics.
[ Parent ]
The irony of language (4.50 / 2) (#21)
by Pseudonym on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 06:40:19 PM EST

The odd thing about language is that despite the fact that it is riddled with ambiguities, from the phonological to the sociological, we are for the most part completely unaware of them. As one linguist noted, we only tend to notice them in jokes or contested libel suits.

Incidentally, we are also, for the most part, completely unaware of the role of metaphor in our language. It's more obvious in visual art, music, dance and cinema.

What I think this proves is that language, while inadequate on a formal level, appears to be almost perfectly suited for the task that it is asked to perform.

BTW, you note that visual art, music and dance all predate language. I buy it in the case of dance (consider the "dances" that some animals, such as birds, perform to attract mates), but I'm not so sure about the others. Do you have a reference for that?

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
It's unfounded at the moment (none / 0) (#22)
by engine16 on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 06:47:14 PM EST

but I'll track down some evidence. I do know that ritual predates language, and it was by that that I determined music and visual art were developed, but I admit I may be wrong.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
Hint: Robertson Davies is a famous Jungian. (none / 0) (#26)
by Mr Hogan on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 11:07:36 PM EST

You'll probably like Jung's archetypes and theories of language as symbols of the mind.

Life is food and rape, then tilt.
[ Parent ]

if just on nature (none / 0) (#23)
by Crono on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 09:45:41 PM EST

Then the songs of birds, eh? I dunno visual art, but I could see it... Maybe... And arn't these all just different ways of getting a message across? Different ways to communicate? Different languages?

[ Parent ]
Communication and Intelligence (4.80 / 5) (#24)
by chunder on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 10:16:10 PM EST

Human intelligence was created as we evolved the ability to model the (re)actions of other entities in the world around us. Most entities in the world respond to our prodding and stimulation in a simple and predictable manner. Rocks fall when we release them from our grip. But as evolution progressed, more and more of the entities around us entered the arms race towards a useful world model. We recognized prey and predicted how it would react to our advances. We recognized predators and realized we'd better run. And we knew that they knew how we would react, because they were evolving world models too.

Humans have the best and most sophisticated model of how other entities in the world react to stimulus. A significant portion of our modeling capabilities are devoted to modeling how other humans will react, since we depended so intimately on each other during the eons we spent in small tribes and hunting bands. Interestingly, self-awareness is probably just the result of applying this anthropomorphizing machinery to ourselves. We "witness" our own reactions to the stimuli around us, and backfill a model in order to explain those reactions. That model is our self-awareness.

Communication, at its core, is the effort of one person to alter the internal state of another person. Not only can we model how stimuli will incite external actions by other people, we model how stimuli will cause changes to the internal state of others. Any communication is an attempt to move another person (or audience) from a presumed current internal state to some desired internal state. When you chose your words you implicitly evaluate the internal state of your audience and select words and nuance to manipulate that state. You can communicate volumes to an intimate friend using only a few carefully chosen and spoken words, because you understand their internal state and reactions so well. Effective communication to a diverse audience requires careful selection of words to avoid ambiguity, since you necessarily have a poor model of each reader's current internal state.

So of course this framework can explain the example you cite. The father used his intimate knowledge of the son's internal state to phrase a sentence that would subtly manipulate that state without having much impact on the average reader. Those very familiar with the son would have sufficiently accurate models of his internal state to understand the impact of that carefully worded sentence. But as you suggest, people with that level of intimate knowledge would slowly leave the world, and therefore the true impact of the communication becomes lost to the world.

The ambiguous will be killed (none / 0) (#87)
by Fen on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 08:35:53 PM EST

Even in written language, like with "right" direction versus "right" correct.  Those who continue to use language with ambiguities will be killed by those who use unambiguous languages.

It's not a matter of wanting to know the state of who you are talking to, it's a matter of wanting to alter the state from living to non-living.  It's simple--there is no politics and convincing, only survival.
[ Parent ]

Kudos (1.33 / 3) (#25)
by Wulfius on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 10:16:11 PM EST

Amongst the partisan rants of both the neonazi Bushites and the Libertarians crowdind Kuro5hin
today its refreshing to see an article about
the nuances of communication.
God knows both sides need more of it.

Hope it makes to the front page.


"We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!

As a "liberal Christian".... (3.71 / 7) (#29)
by inherent on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 11:25:02 PM EST

I think you are hitting the nail on the head (or at least skirting the nail very closely) of an issue near and dear to me.

It pains me to see Christian beliefs (which I at least claim to hold to) used in the ways that the modern "religious right," and current politicians use them. I've often argued that we must take the teachings presented in Christian Scripture (aka - the Bible) as writings of people who wrote not just in a different culture and language, but as writings from a time when communicating via the written word meant something different than it does to modern readers and interpreters.

Unfortunately, that claim scares people whose faith depends on a literal reading of scripture - suddenly there is very little "literal" meaning that remains available to modern students of the words on the page.

Somewhat Lutheran view (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by xria on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 05:15:51 AM EST

Which I agree with, I am not a Christian personally, but trying to understand the underlying meaning and values behind that faith as a whole, rather than using individual passages out of context to support a point of view seems much more likely to be in line with the original.

For example I recently saw that there remains some doubt over one of the most commonly quoted commandments - 'Thou shalt not kill', which could also be translated as 'Thou shalt not murder', which is a fairly fundamental difference in some ways. Clearly translation and long term changes in words meanings amplify the affect alluded to in the article.

Something to consider is that when Dr Jonson created the dictionary he intended it to be proscriptive rather than descriptive - he wanted to stop the misuse and change of the English language over time by taking a snapshot of it and persuading everyone to use it in a consistent manner, which can be seen as a first step along the route being suggested for the future.

One of the things to note however is that the Dictionary failed in its ultimate task, although it stabilised the language to some extent.

[ Parent ]
Another interesting take... (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by inherent on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 09:50:35 AM EST

Another interesting take I recently heard on the Ten Commandments (which I haven't had time to research for outside support, but it comes from a scholar whose work I trust) goes along these lines: 1. At the time of the ten commandments, the people of Israel had just been led out of bondage in Egypt into a wilderness they didn't know, and led by a guy who they did probably know had killed some of their brethren, but who claimed to be sent by God to deliver them.

2. The leader had just dissappeared up a mountain, claiming that God was about to show himself to them (realize that their culture believed that anyone except the purest of priests would die if they saw God).

3. In this context, it makes little sense for a loving God (or a competent human leader of other humans) to come down off the mountain with ten statements saying "You will not do x, y, or z or you'll get struck down by lightning." That's not exactly what a group of people who are scared to death about their future need to hear.

4. It makes much more sense to interpret the Ten Commandments in the context as "Ten Promises" about things which should be, and (according to the faith of the Israelites) will be when the Messiah arrives. Now read the ten commands (Exodus 25)...stuff like "You shall not kill. You shall not bear false witness, etc" actually feels comforting - much as you would hope a loving God and a quality leader would want their people to feel at a time like this (it also makes the golden calf thing a much starker contrast between the shortcomings of humans and the loving nature of God).

Anyhow.....just something I heard discussed the other day - and a good example of what we're talking about (I think).

[ Parent ]
Sure you're not just playing with English? (5.00 / 1) (#49)
by tang gnat on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 01:06:18 PM EST

I'm pretty sure that in the original text, those really were commandments - imperatives. In English if we say "You will (shall) not kill", it can be interpreted as a statement of force, or a statement of a future fact.

[ Parent ]
Good point, but... (5.00 / 1) (#57)
by inherent on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 02:24:57 PM EST

You make a valid point (which illustrates my initial point):

1. The writer who makes the point (whose work I have been reading, and I will find a link to at some point), claims that the hebrew word used in the original text that is translated "Commandment" is also sometimes translated as "promise" (I haven't verified this with another source yet, so take it for what it's worth).

2. My initial point with the first post in this thread was that we CANNOT always use simply the literal words on the page to develop our understanding of texts written so long ago, in a different culture, with a different world view, with a different purpose than which we read the text now, and in an entirely different context. (Thus even if point #1 above isn't true, the validity of the statement is still not totally disproven, although it's not proven either). Unless I missed the point of the OP, that's what it is saying as well.

[ Parent ]
Strong's Lexicon (none / 0) (#59)
by jjayson on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 02:54:43 PM EST

Exeous 20 uses the word Mitsvah,  which is also translated in other parts of the Bible as law and ordinance.

The two words for promise used in the Bible are Dabar and 'amar.

To me, it doesn't appear that he is correct from this.
Smile =)
* bt krav magas kitten THE FUCK UP
<bt> Eat Kung Jew, bitch.

[ Parent ]

Hebrerw text (none / 0) (#101)
by gutigre on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 07:59:24 PM EST

(Biblical) Hebrew grammar does not distinguish between "you shall not kill" and "you will not kill" - so these phrases can be construed as promises. However, two earlier commandments ("keep the sabbath" and "honor your mother and father") are unambiguously in the imperative. Unless some of the statements are promises and some commandments, which seems unlikely, we must conclude that all ten statements are commandments.

The word "commandment" is a translation of the Hebrew "davar", which literally means "word" or "saying". In modern Jewish translations, this passage is is referred to as the "Ten Statements" or something of similar meaning. The word "mitzvah", used elsewhere as "commandment", does not appear in this context.

Why then is this passage called the "Ten Statements" if it's made up of individual commandments? The explanation I've heard is that these "commandments" are not legally binding rules, but general principles which are then spelled out in detail in the rest of the Bible.

[ Parent ]

are you sure (none / 0) (#105)
by jjayson on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 12:14:07 AM EST

I check the Strong's number for Exodus 20, and it is "mitzvah" and not "davar"
Smile =)
* bt krav magas kitten THE FUCK UP
<bt> Eat Kung Jew, bitch.

[ Parent ]
yep - mitzvah appears in a different context (5.00 / 2) (#112)
by gutigre on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 02:22:05 AM EST

Exodus 20.1, "And God spoke all these statements, saying:", uses "devarim", the plural of "davar". This line introduces what we call the "Ten Commandments", clearly referring to each of them as a "davar".

Exodus 20.6, "...and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments", uses a conjugation of "mitzvah", but there is no reason to think that these "commandments" are limited to the ten currently named, when hundreds of other commandments are listed before and after these.

[ Parent ]

Isn't it widely held by Rabbi's that.... (none / 0) (#63)
by gmol on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 04:38:11 PM EST

The jews were never in egypt and the whole moses story is largely myth?

[ Parent ]
The Oak Tree and Religious Faith (none / 0) (#131)
by mymantra on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 01:59:41 PM EST

When I got married the priest said I had to be confirmed to be wed in the church (raised Catholic but not confirmed). The one core tenet he said I needed to accept to minimally qualify for confirmation was an analogy to The Oak Tree exhibit mentioned the previous post. That tenet was that the sacrament of wine really is the blood of Christ regardless of the fact it may not look, smell or taste like any but wine. That fact must be taken and believed to be confirmed. I didn't buy and still don't but I wasn't going to ruin it for my wife. Conversely I do appreciate what such an axiom implies and do I value some of the ends that such an axiom might ideally result in.

[ Parent ]
once upon a train to Alicante... (4.42 / 7) (#33)
by durkie on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 01:32:17 AM EST

...I sat, staring out the window, eating Cheetos Soccerballs and pondering the mysteries of life. I had recently seen the movie Waking Life, and bits of it would bubble up to the surface every now and then. In this 45 minutes of staring out the window, I came to the conclusion that the supreme goal in life (plus or minus a few qualifications for the sake of not having to defend something of such magnitude as "the supreme goal in life") was to communicate. I previously thought it had something to do with sex, but it's really communication. The reason communication is so strived for is that it is so hard to do. There are times when it is achieved, and everything that you want to say is said through a mere glance or something equally minimal. For the most part though, we have to deal with language.

Language becomes ambiguous for sufficiently abstract concepts. We all have ideas and perspectives that others don't. The implication of this, as you said, is a "devastating consideration." I, however, upon coming to these same thoughts, could think of nothing more than "God bless the impossibility of communicating." Maybe I was hopped up on endorphins or cheese flavoring or air conditioning, but all I could see was the Spanish coastline, in to view and out, with buildings and murals and blue-spired coastal houses. Thoughts rushed in of photos and music, dances and displays, fashion, architecture, handshakes, books, bomber jackets, and bodymod. It was very pleasing. The sheer variety of alternative ways to communicate is something fascinating. Something fascinating that I think would disappear or diminish significantly if we could always say what we meant.

think again? (5.00 / 1) (#114)
by relief on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 03:24:59 AM EST

i don't think so. even if a man were alone in the world, he would still have a common goal in life with those of us who still communicate with others. one could argue that that doesn't count because the lone man would be insane, but insanity is only relative.

a more fundamental subset of 'communication' is the acquiring of knowledge. come on, our brain is made of neurons, and neurons can only do one thing; help us think. thus the real reason we continue to live, is to know more, to satiate our curiosity.

it doesn't matter whether the subject under question is physics or cosmotology. even sexual desires can be traced back to knowledge.

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]

okay (none / 0) (#117)
by durkie on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 02:00:55 PM EST

alright, i'll accept that. "the supreme goal of life" is a question as old as time itself, and i wasn't trying to say that i had figured it out completely on some train ride. i was saying that communication was the supreme goal as emphasis, but there are obviously several prerequisites to communication that could even be considered more supreme. i also said it was the supreme goal for keeping the scope of the post within the slightly more specific subset of communication, rather than the almost all-encompassing one of knowledge.

[ Parent ]
accepted as well [nt] (none / 0) (#119)
by relief on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 10:00:21 PM EST

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]
Reminds me of Craig-Martin's 'An oak tree, 1973' (3.00 / 2) (#34)
by keenan on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 03:16:30 AM EST

When I was visiting The Tate Modern in London last fall, I discovered a work of art entitled An oak tree, 1973 by Michael Craig-Martin. The piece consists of a glass of water placed high on a shelf and at first glance seems to be a simple parody of conceptual art. But in fact it provides quite a lot of intellectual stimulation. The idea that simply naming something changes it's meaning is a rather powerful one. Simply the fact that I am referencing this piece as "An oak tree" makes it something so much more than a glass of water.

In this particular case, it is Craig-Martin that was the originator of the idea that that particular glass of water is indeed an oak tree, and this concept is totally dependent on people spreading this meme. If this art were to vanish from the Tate Modern and not replaced, over time, fewer and fewer people would experience this concept and the entire symbolism would be lost -- it is dependent entirely on the survival of the meme.


What an interesting link, (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by engine16 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 07:37:14 AM EST

thanks for including it. As nonsense as it seems to be, the artist makes a great point. I am especially fond of the answer to the question of whether anyone else might be capable of producing such a transformation.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
Well, isn't this kind of what marketing does, (5.00 / 1) (#93)
by amarodeeps on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 02:43:38 AM EST

...simplistically speaking? Get me a kleenex? Make me a xerox? Take a polaroid? Or am I being too simple-minded here?

[ Parent ]
Not so much art as (4.50 / 2) (#68)
by Rogerborg on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 05:50:31 PM EST

"prop metaphysics"

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

That and aesthetics IS art nt (none / 0) (#75)
by bjlhct on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 06:50:33 PM EST

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
One title (2.60 / 5) (#37)
by medham on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 05:17:00 AM EST

A biography of Jung: Aryan Christ.

I think that dispenses quite cleanly with this nonsense.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

Please explain. (n/t) (none / 0) (#39)
by engine16 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 07:46:08 AM EST

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
If I May . . . (5.00 / 4) (#47)
by Mr Badger on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 11:46:08 AM EST

The biography title in question refers to Jung's later years.

As Jung got older, his views became increasingly mystical. To grossly oversimplify, he thought we would all enter a state of Godness that was, essentially, the Collective Unconscious personified. The Aryan thing doesn't actually refer to race superiority - it comes from his never fully sorted out belief that all peoples of Earth would get their own mystic leader that would lead them to the same Collective Godness. He thought he was the Aryan Christ. Buddha would be the Asian Christ. Christ, I guess, was the Semitic Christ.

These later beliefs were scattered and never codified the way his early thinking was. But it begs an interesting side question: do we forgive a thinker later works if his or her early works remain important? Or do we dismiss the early stuff because their later stuff was so odd? Does early genius survive later intellectual "sins?"

[ Parent ]

If I may (5.00 / 1) (#52)
by cr8dle2grave on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 01:47:20 PM EST

I think you're being a bit harsh on Jung. Yes, he was increasingly inclined to a certain woolly-headedness mysticism as he got older, but the articulation of the individuation process and the nature of the collective unconscious found in his later works is both more rigorously established and more theoretically coherent than they are in his earlier works. Too often Jung's preoccupation with analyzing alchemy and hermetic philosophy is mistaken for an uncritical acceptance of those mystical doctrines.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
You May . . . (none / 0) (#56)
by Mr Badger on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 02:07:06 PM EST

I agree with you. Jung was doing interesting work well into the 50s. The problem is that some of the later work - I'm thinking here of his UFO paper - mixes insight (UFOs as a sort of modern salvation myth) with what is often considered mysticism or pseudo-science (his belief in the reality of UFOs).

Most of the support for the charge of mysticism (and much of the material for the book in question) comes not from his work in theoretical psychology, but from the accounts of patients and students, around whom he would "let down his hair." Fear that people would brand him a nut due to his more personal musings is what lead to the heavy pre-pub editing of his memoirs by his students. That's why I put "sin" in quotes - the degree to which he went mystical could be debated.

(Jung's case isn't helped by the fact that many later new age "gurus" would wrap themselves in Jung's work in order to give themselves an air of intellectual rigor.)

I still think, however, the question stands: do you forgive the best insights in light of some of the stranger statements? (My answer is `yes,' but I thought it better to leave the question open.)

[ Parent ]

Yes, (none / 0) (#61)
by engine16 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 03:45:57 PM EST

I believe ideas stand well enough on their own that they do not owe their extended acceptence to the changing public perceptions of their author. I commend him for constantly searching. On that note, could you suggest some further resources for those of us who might like to dig deeper into the subject of Jung and his work.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
Jung-a-Go-Go (4.00 / 1) (#64)
by Mr Badger on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 04:41:36 PM EST

I agree with what you say, but I was thinking more along the lines of "what do you do when the author changes their tune?" Sartre, for example, became increasingly Marxist in outlook as he neared the end of his life. Should we discount his earlier existentialism because he himself seemed to turn away from it? In Jung's case, how should we take the things that seem like genuine insights, in light of the more mystical statements he made? (To reverse the situation, should can we take Augustine's social observations without taking his religious views as well?)

For more on Jung - I'm not very qualified to recommend stuff. Perhaps somebody with a more academic background could do better. If more academic recommendations are not forthcoming, I suggest going to the source - Jung's collected works have reached some 30 volumes and continue to grow. His published letters now span nearly 100 volumes. Hayman's `A Life of Jung' was very good - better, I feel, than the aforementioned `Aryan Christ.' If you're curious to see how Jung's theories work in a therapy context, I suggest checking out Singers `Boundaries of the Soul.' But, I repeat, I'm hardly an expert and these recommendations are simply books I've enjoyed.

By the way, congrats on the posting. You've started a bunch of excellent threads.

[ Parent ]

recommendations for Jung reading (4.00 / 1) (#92)
by Y on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 02:31:01 AM EST

Personally, I think Jung's examination of mythology is interesting and insightful, but then I'm given over to an (unhealthy?) interest in mythology myself. Ah well, gleich und gleich gesellt sich gern.

For reading, I'd recommend the following (some of which were recommended to me by my playwriting professor, an avid Jungian):

  • The Portable Jung (edited by Joseph Campbell) - It's put out by Penguin, and in addition to collecting a good chunk of Jung's most seminal works, it has a foreword by the editor, Joseph Campbell, that provides some insight into Jung's personal life and his relationship with Freud.
  • Man and His Symbols - You'll forgive me if I don't remember the other editors and contributors, as I don't have my own copy, but this book has one essay by Jung and then a number of articles by his students. It's a good introduction, and I'd start with it first (that's what I did). Nota bene: There are two versions, one with illustrations and one without. Read the version with pictures - it enhances the read to see what they're talking about.
  • The Undiscovered Self - Discusses what Jung saw as some of the differences between Eastern and Western philosophy, as well as a look into the numinous force of the collective unconscious with regards to totalitarian regimes (as well as some not-so-totalitarian regimes).
  • The Origins and History of Consciousness by Erich Neumann - One of Jung's students explores more deeply the relationship between mythology and the psyche. It has a foreword by Jung that recommends the book for fleshing out what he didn't during his lifetime. I can't say whether I recommend it or not, since I've just started reading it after borrowing (read: stealing) it from my brother.
  • Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche - Again, another book I have yet to finish, but many of Jung's ideas have parallels in this book. Off the top of my head, the quote "You have made your way from worm to man, and yet there is much in you which is still worm" ties directly into Jung's recognization that there are still animal instincts and desires that rise up out of the subconscious, no matter how enlightened we may become. The subconscious is a renewable resource after a fashion - it never gets emptied, but continues to produce material which, according to Jung, we must assimilate into our conscious lives, lest it rear up and possess us.
However, I'd like to steal Mr. Badger's caveat: I'm hardly an expert and these recommendations are simply books I've enjoyed (or am in the process of enjoying).

[ Parent ]
read Mircea Eliade (none / 0) (#65)
by adequate nathan on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 05:01:29 PM EST

Then realise that the '20s are a very, very dead past.

"For me -- ugghhh, arrgghh."
-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in Frank magazine, Jan. 20th 2003

Join the petition: Rusty! Make dumped stories & discussion public!
[ Parent ]

You dissin' M.E.? (none / 0) (#85)
by cr8dle2grave on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 08:33:11 PM EST

You best watch ya'self there boy, lest you wind up in a profane place again... and again... and again...

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
Mircea Eliade was a great writer (5.00 / 1) (#91)
by adequate nathan on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 09:37:49 PM EST

Nothing wrong with being a product of your time. It's kind of stupid, though, to be a product of someone else's time.

"For me -- ugghhh, arrgghh."
-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in Frank magazine, Jan. 20th 2003

Join the petition: Rusty! Make dumped stories & discussion public!
[ Parent ]

I must admit... (none / 0) (#78)
by cr8dle2grave on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 07:20:47 PM EST

...my knowledge of Jung's personal beliefs and biographical information is pretty limited so I don't have much to contribute on the topic. I just wanted to point out that Aion, Psychology and Alchemy, and Mysterium Coniunctionis are really pretty remarkable books, both insofar as they contain Jung's most most complete and developed work on the themes and concepts he developed over the course of his life's work and as pure works of scholarship; Mysterium Coniunctionis remains among the most complete academic studies on the subject of alchemy.

I still think, however, the question stands: do you forgive the best insights in light of some of the stranger statements? (My answer is `yes,' but I thought it better to leave the question open.)

Agreed. Many of my favorite geniuses had kooky streaks. Or maybe that should be kooks with streaks of genius?

Oh, sorry about the "inclined to a certain woolly-headedness mysticism." I've got this nasty habit of constructing two different sentences simultaneously ;-).

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
the earth is round - how kooky! (1.50 / 2) (#90)
by sgoldgaber on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 09:27:41 PM EST

cr8dle2grave wrote:
> Many of my favorite geniuses had kooky streaks. Or maybe that should be kooks with streaks of genius?

Many "geniuses" had propensities for not thinking with the herd.  If they are judged right, then they get labeled "daring and original", if they're judged wrong this same behavior lends them the label of "kook".

It is instructive to remember how many ideas judged "kookish" (ie. going against the grain of prevaling knowledge) have not only been vindicated as correct, but have gone on to become the norm.

- the earth is round
- man can fly
- time and space are relative

Just a few of the most radical and "kooky" ideas we all take for granted today.


[ Parent ]

OTOH (5.00 / 2) (#95)
by carbon on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 03:49:43 AM EST

Just because you seem kooky does not mean you are a genius. And just because you have a kooky idea doesn't mean it's correct. Moreover, a lot of really great ideas didn't seem nonsensical at all when they were first introduced (Turing machines, for example).

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
But it RAISES an interesting side question (n/t) (5.00 / 1) (#58)
by jjayson on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 02:30:49 PM EST

Smile =)
* bt krav magas kitten THE FUCK UP
<bt> Eat Kung Jew, bitch.

[ Parent ]
Right n/t (none / 0) (#60)
by Mr Badger on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 02:59:40 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Re: If I May... (correction) (none / 0) (#80)
by sgoldgaber on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 07:32:44 PM EST

Mr Badger wrote:
> The biography title in question refers to Jung's later
> years.
> As Jung got older, his views became increasingly
> mystical. To grossly oversimplify, he thought we would
> all enter a state of Godness that was, essentially, the
> Collective Unconscious personified.

This is not only a gross oversimplification, it is quite
inaccurate.  To Jung, the Collective Unconscious personified was
something to fight, not to encourage.  An example of the
Collective Unconscious being personified are the "mass hysterias"
of Fascism, which he was quite repelled by.

Jung did not wish man to lose his autonomy in "becoming" the
Collective Unconscious, but, quite to the contrary, to
differentiate himself from the Collective (to fight the Borg, as
it were) in a process he called "individuation" (the making of a
real individual).

Individuation entailed becoming conscious of that which is
unconscious within you (ie. finding out why you do things instead
of just blindly doing them), recognizing that these things are
part of you (rather than denying that you have these consciously
unacceptable drives, thoughts and feelings), and making a
conscious choices using what you learn about yourself.

Doesn't sound so mystical when it's spelled out for you, does it?
This is not to say that there aren't mystical overtones to Jung's
thought.  But I think it is a mistake to overlook an interesting
idea because it can be labeled "mystical", rather than considering
it for it's own merits.  And many of the things that Jung thought
have quite a lot of merit to them, no matter what label you stick
on them.

> The Aryan thing doesn't actually refer to race
> superiority - it comes from his never fully sorted
> out belief that all peoples of Earth would get their
> own mystic leader that would lead them to the same
> Collective Godness.

This is tripe.

> He thought he was the Aryan Christ.

Um... bullshit.

> Buddha would be the Asian Christ.
> Christ, I guess, was the Semitic Christ.
> These later beliefs were scattered and never codified
> the way his early thinking was.

No, this is part and parcel of Noll's attempts at character

Read some reviews of Noll's "Aryan Christ" or "Jung Cult" books in
any serious Jungian journal for point-by-point rebuttals of every
claim Noll makes, including the one that Jung considered himself
any kind of messiah.

For an even more detailed rebuttal of Noll's attacks (which isn't
really necessary for anyone who's actually read Jung's work) see
Sonu Shamdasani's "Cult Fictions", or look in pretty much any
other serious treatment of Jung's work, or just search through the
alt.psychology.jung archives.


[ Parent ]

Trying to explain the title (4.00 / 1) (#128)
by Mr Badger on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 09:07:03 AM EST

Thanks for you "input." I was trying to explain the title of a book that both of us can agree was sensationalist at best. In a later comment, should you wish to read the rest of the thread before sounding of again (though don't feel you must - it could take minutes and I'm sure your time is more valuable than that), I warn people against reading the aforementioned book. I think I also point out that "Aryan Christ" is built almost entirely on students and patients that revered him - hence the clean up of Jung autobio to remove any items that may cause bad press. Noll's bio puts the cart before the horse - it looks at a group of people that turned Jung into a guru, and then accuses Jung of acting like a guru. For a more common reference - it's like say Brian, in The Life of Brian, encouraged the blind followers who gathered around him. Unfortunately, this observation also requires you read the whole thread - and who has time for that. I neither believe Jung was a complete mystic (though I think he had some tendencies and ideas most would consider mystical) nor do I think he's a genius (only Wily E. Coyote has that on his business card). I was merely trying to explain the title of Noll's book. Since we're handing out corrections - on for the Fascism thing - Jung was far from "repelled" by Fascism. He was no "fan" of Hitler, but he often used the context of Nazi racism and anti-Semitism to promote his own philosophies. I think it would be better to categorize his behavior as initially opportunistic. He later saw what a monster the Nazi's created, but initially he was far from "repelled." (Indeed, in many of his letters from the Nazi period he starts taking anti-Semitic potshots at his Jewish ex-mentor Freud, seeing this as his chance to eclipse his one time teacher.) Part of the problem here is the division between a thinkers "works" on their private lives. Does what a thinker say in the company of friends and followers matter? Does it bear any relation to there work? If a thinker displays anti-Semitism in their private letters, but publicly disavows Nazism, which "face" should we pay attention to? These questions interest me more than the accusations of mysticism.

[ Parent ]
Jung - most underrated thinker of 20th century (3.00 / 4) (#73)
by sgoldgaber on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 06:46:24 PM EST

First, please don't confuse engine16's k5 article,
which sounds like it was composed after a long toke
("duuude, what if, like, you needed context in order to
understand what people write?"), with anything Jung may
have had to say on the matter.  In fact, this
"revelation" of engine16's really has nothing to do
with Jung thought whatsoever.

Now on to the flamebait...

medham trolled:
> A biography of Jung: Aryan Christ.
> I think that dispenses quite cleanly with this nonsense.

This, and Noll's other attempts at character
assasination of Jung have been pretty thoroughly
discredited.  See Sonu Shamdasani's "Cult Fictions" for
a specific debunking, look in pretty much any other
serious treatment of Jung's work, or just search
through the alt.psychology.jung archives.

Even by Noll's titles alone, "Aryan Christ", "The Jung
Cult", it is plain to see how sensationalistic Noll is
being.  Unfortunately, the public loves books with
titles that really belong on the front page of the
Enquirer, and love to see sacred cows attacked.

But finding out what Jung actually wrote would require
effort, and it would require thought.  And we can't
have that.  Better to just brush him off as "wooly
headed mystic", that way we can pretend cognitive
psychology and neurochemistry is all there is to the
human mind.  That is the safe way.

In fact, Jung is, quite unjustifyably, denigrated and
overlooked in most university psychology curriculums.
I know that was the case at SUNY Stony Brook.  He's
given a brief mention as a mystical student of Freud's,
who's psychology had something to do with myths.

Jung's recognition that human psychology tends to
reflect patterns in myth is, arguably, one of his least
important contributions.  Yet it's generally all people
know about Jung.  He is, in fact, one of the most
underrated thinkers of the 20th century.

Freud is remembered as the father of psychology, and
Jung as meerly one of his students.  Yet, many of
the most important contributions to psyhology that are
credited to Freud, such as the free association test,
Freud got from Jung.

In fact, when Freud and Jung met it was Freud who was
by far the junior, and Jung took a significant career
risk by supporting the theories of maverik Freud.
Freud later came do discredit himself in Jung's eyes.
But, by then Freud's dominance of the field of
psychology was complete, and it was Jung who was seen
as the maverik.  Freud would bear no dissent, however,
and would not lend his support to radical theories, and
so he turned his back on Jung.

Since that time, those theories of Freud's which were
original (rather than stolen from Jung or others) have
been discredited by later research.  Jung's theories,
in contrast, have only been strengthened and repeatedly
validated by contemporary research in to psychology,
genetics, and neuroscience.  He was a figure far, far
ahead of his time.

It is really a pity how little recognition he has had
for his truly monumental contributions to the
understanding of the human mind.  And how, despite
these great contributions he is constantly degraded
instead of honoured.

For those of you who want to go beyond the
Enquirer-like "Aryan Christ", and beyond the
superficial, biased treatements of Jung you get in most
university psychology curriculums, I suggest you read
any of the great number of serious treatises of Jung's
work to get an overview of his thought, before diving
in to Jung's own writing, which can be very difficult.


[ Parent ]

Wow, (3.00 / 2) (#79)
by engine16 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 07:30:00 PM EST

you've really summed me up quite nicely. Fantastic projection on your part. To be quite clear, my words were never claimed to be those of Jung, and the single reference to him was in the explanation of Robertson Davies's novel. You have read your own implications into my proposal, as the claim was never present. Still, thanks for the suggested material, perhaps when I've finished toking on my weed and saying dude, I will figure out how to open a book.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
what is Jung's and what is yours (2.00 / 2) (#86)
by sgoldgaber on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 08:34:40 PM EST

engine16 wrote:
> To be quite clear, my words were never claimed to be those of Jung

That is quite clear to me.  Yet, your reference to Jung inspired mehdam to equate your thoughts with Jung's.  My reply was an attempt to clear up this misunderstanding.


[ Parent ]

That may have been your intention, (none / 0) (#88)
by engine16 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 08:46:27 PM EST

but it makes me wonder why personal insults were necessary to achieve it. It is fine if you don't aprove of the text, but the bile is unnecessary and far from productive.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
The Bible (4.75 / 4) (#40)
by Rasman on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 08:53:40 AM EST

This is exactly why taking the Bible at all literally is so pointless.

I don't remember exactly what it was now, but I saw a documentary once with historians looking at the life of Jesus, and they said that what was meant then by "kingdom of heaven" in Jesus' time is completely different to the idea it sparks in 21st century minds. I'm not sure, but I think they had the concept similar to a religious city-state in mind.

Anyway, these are just the thoughts the article invoked in my wee noggin.

Brave. Daring. Fearless. Clippy - The Clothes Pin Stuntman
Well, most of his apostles would agree with you. (4.50 / 2) (#48)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 11:53:31 AM EST

During Jesus' life, he frequently had to dope slap people who believed he would, or should, throw out the Romans and set up a new theocracy.

He himself always took pains to explain the error of their beliefs...

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him go off the high dive.

[ Parent ]
Not to mention the various figures of speech (none / 0) (#54)
by Jman1 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 02:00:22 PM EST

like "40 days," "son of god," etc.

[ Parent ]
Which can make good sense (none / 0) (#81)
by mmsmatt on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 07:50:40 PM EST

If you research them, or talk to someone knowledgable on this subject. The latter being much more fun to the curious mind.

[ Parent ]
Metaphors, figures of speech, and world views. (5.00 / 1) (#121)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 11:09:18 PM EST

You're right about people assigning literal meaning to common figures of speech, but there's an even deeper problem than translation and metaphors - the gap of understanding between what we know of the universe today and what that crew of fishermen and shepherds understood then.

If God really had Revealed to John *exactly* how the world would end - how much would that wandering barbarian really have understood? Fighter planes, ICBMs, off shore oil platforms - what's the difference between an AC-130 and an Angel of the Lord to a guy who thinks bronze knives are high tech? It doesn't matter how bright he was - even if he was a genius, he wouldn't have had enough context to correctly understand what he was seeing.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him go off the high dive.

[ Parent ]
Language redesign, eh? (4.00 / 1) (#42)
by gdanjo on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 09:12:50 AM EST

Are you by any chance a programmer? :-)

I think you illustrated perfectly how such knowledge is transmitted through time; by writing it down. The novel itself gives insight to the context by spelling out the context. True, not all knowledge will have this analysis, but the important knowledge does (at times, too much).

You are right that a record of history written only in words is less than satisfactory. So we use photos, cameras, speech, art, etc.

I don't beleive our language is "broke."

Dan ...
"Death - oh! fair and `guiling copesmate Death!
Be not a malais'd beggar; claim this bloody jester!"

If you don't think it is broke... (1.00 / 1) (#82)
by Fen on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 08:11:41 PM EST

You will be killed by those who do and use it to be more efficient than you in war.  No debate, just death.
[ Parent ]
Pinnacle of modern languages? (4.00 / 3) (#44)
by twistedfirestarter on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 09:34:29 AM EST


Mathematics is not a natural language. It is a formal, technical language like a computer program and comparing the two different kinds is either metaphorical, stupid or intentionally confusing.

As this is supposedly a technical rather than poetic article, I take it you aren't being metaphorical.

And what is your point? Natural languages evolve. Do you have any formal training in linguistics? Have you even read a book on the subject? Do you have anything interesting and orignal to say on the matter?

Since (3.33 / 3) (#50)
by engine16 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 01:08:36 PM EST

the issue was only basically mentioned in this article, and it was clearly stated that the point was to be defended at a later time, I find your dismissal interesting and telling of a cynicism that would not be satisfied by answer I could presently give. As to my qualifications, they have little influence over the actual merit of my ideas, which, if one cared to dismiss my work, would be a far more effective thing to attack. Additionally, I do not believe you have produced any evidence that would suggest yourself as more qualified than I to be possessing of theories on the matter, and frankly I find your dismissal questionable. Support your thesis that I am incorrect, present a logical argument against me, and perhaps I can begin to argue the point, though I doubt any words on my part could undermine your perceived rightness in this matter.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
I'll bite. (none / 0) (#77)
by bjlhct on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 07:05:48 PM EST

Math does change. But they are almost always practical changes a la Feynman's sine and cosine. Change in math happens slowly because everybody in it is well enough one group that they all use the same terminology.  But this kind of agreement is impossible for what a "natural language" such as english or chinese does or at least tries to do.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
i think not. (none / 0) (#113)
by relief on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 03:20:22 AM EST

your comment here makes no sense. the 'terminology' of mathematics is not related to, in the previous posts, 'what natural language tries to do'.

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]
Whatever, but (none / 0) (#122)
by bjlhct on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 11:15:50 PM EST

that it's not related, at least not related enough, was my point.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
Hemingway (4.50 / 2) (#55)
by Jman1 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 02:04:42 PM EST

Somewhat relatedly, Hemingway was said to have written his stories with far more words than in the final version. He then removed a lot of them and felt that the reader would somehow sense what was missing, thus giving "reading between the lines" a more literal, and living, meaning.

Very cool. n/t (none / 0) (#62)
by engine16 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 04:10:06 PM EST

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
All writers know this (4.66 / 3) (#84)
by localroger on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 08:20:07 PM EST

Brevity with meaning is much harder to achieve than length. The tendency to pay writers by the word has caused us to lose sight of this.

A great example of this is Stephen King. His early novels -- even the long ones -- were very rich in ideas and characters for their length; Carrie was barely 40,000 words. In an odd moment for the industry King got a $400,000 advance for Carrie recognizing that the power of the book transcended its word count.

King's latest writings, which he admits "all want to be 4000 pages long" are so lame by comparison it is almost painful to contemplate them. The annual tradition of GF giving me the latest King for Christmas has officially been terminated.

Meanwhile, hack writers can spend lifetimes turning out 10-volume fantasy series that are very rich in description but also very easy to write and very unchallenging to read. This sort of mental popcorn may pass the time but it is also a waste of time. If I live forever I will remember King's novella Apt Pupil but I have already forgotten, for example, just about everything about the "epic" Sword of Shannara except that it had something to do with the mind-numbingly time consuming quest for a magical sword.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Wait, what are you saying? (4.33 / 3) (#66)
by jabber on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 05:13:28 PM EST

Are you suggesting that context is important to the meaning of words, yet changes with time, and thus so does the meaning? Pretty novel idea - though I bet it's been had by more people than Heidi Fleiss.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

solution--numerical language (1.33 / 3) (#67)
by Fen on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 05:47:09 PM EST

I've mentioned this on occasional language issues that comes up.  In the end we need an unambiguous language not tied to human speech.  Think of it as machine code for language.  Released from the illogical lunacy of spoken language (right/left right/wrong, other ambiguousness), this problem would be far less.

Oh, and those who disagree will be killed as they get confused as to whether 'right' means turn right or don't do wrong.  No debate here, just death to the ambiguous language users.

I must strongly disagree. (4.60 / 5) (#69)
by cr8dle2grave on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 06:11:42 PM EST

[snip Boy Staunton story]

The failure of Boy's message to survive the passage of time can be considered a problem of temporal symbolism. Words that draw their value through context and current social arrangements.

Check. Meaning is context dependent.

As the times change, the strengths of those words become lost to a greater and greater mass of individuals. The preservation of these symbols becomes, not a case of preserving the document, but one of preserving the ideas contained in the document. I believe the problem that is to afflict Boy Staunton's message is one that will grip the whole of all written messages in time, and one that deserves a deeper investigation.

Indeed, but the fact that I'm able to read The Epic of Gilgamesh demonstrates that it is possible to reconstruct a significant amount of a long forgotten context. That said, it is also no doubt true that there are many subtle aspects of meaning in Gilgamesh's tale that are irretrievably lost to us; the necessary context being forever unrecoverable.

You see, it is my opinion that human language is only a first step toward a broadly more applicable form of communication.

Uh huh. Why do you believe this?

As I see it, you're faulting the natural languages for what is, in fact, one of their greatest virtues: an incredible capacity for economy of expression without an attendant loss of meaning. The loss of meaning you address is not due to a general poverty of expressiveness on the part of natural languages, but arises from the fact of infinite variety in context.

For example, consider the following situation: Someone is having great difficulty explaining a complex idea and I respond by undulating my hips and saying, "Ya' know, for kids." Most people will have no idea at all what exactly it is that I'm attempting to communicate, but perhaps a few of you out there will get a chuckle. In this case, a very short phrase coupled with a seemingly bizarre gesture can convey a lot of meaning to someone who shares the requisite knowledge and context.

Of course, I could carefully craft around 10,000 words explicating many of the subtle and ironic meanings contained in my brief expression and attach it to a copy of The Hudsucker Proxy in order to precisely convey my intended meaning, but the power of language is that it allows me to mean so very much with so little effort. And in any case, it's no longer very funny when I explicitly state the full context.

The loss of meaning is a result of the variations of possible context both in the immediate sense and across times and cultures. Were it possible to limit the range of possible contexts across cultures and over time the affects of the phenomenon you bemoan would be much less pronounced.

What happens, then, when we see the truth of a bird in a tree, and for once in the history of our communication, we are able to convey it to another person for everything that it is to us, not with adjectives or highly subjective symbolism, but with the raw value of a first impression, with the explosiveness of the countless systems that paint that moment into our mind?

I submit that it is not the raw and unmediated phenomenon from which meaning derives, but rather meaning arises a result of the procedure by which phenomenal experience is translated into and mediated by sign systems. In other words, meaning is an afterthought.

Next time I think I'd like to consider what i believe to be the pinnacle of modern languages, Mathematics, but until then, thanks for reading.

Dear Lord no... You propose to rectify a supposed expressive limitation in natural languages by recourse to a truly impoverished formal language? What would a mathematical trope look like? And while sets might formally reproduce the logic of a synecdoche or metnymony, they can in no way attain the overabundance of meaning manufactured in the figural act of confusing aspects of Achilles' shield for Dionysus' bowl.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

To make one thing clear, (none / 0) (#70)
by engine16 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 06:35:48 PM EST

I do not intend to rectify anything with mathematics. I intend to explore it as a language.  My notion of the future was never that a new language was what was to come, but a new form of communication that will make all pedantic and syntactic rules seem unsophisticated in the modern sense. I am making a prediction that a new era of communication is to come, not one which I will usher in with some great idea, but one that will come nonetheless. What I intend to do with mathmatics is indeed show the similarities between it and our natural languages, and I intend to draw into that discussion Ellul's concept of technique striving to mechanize mankind. I intend to point to the stark unimagination of mathematics as a reflection of the unimaginative nature of our homoginized verbal and written languages. You see, what I believe is that the poet is bigger than the words he uses, and that all of the greater symbolism we find in our word symbols has been created by our own desire to exceed what they offer us. I don't think it's an easy sell, and I think most people will remain unconvinced, but I enjoy the challenge and we'll see what comes of it all.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
Hmm (none / 0) (#109)
by cr8dle2grave on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 01:10:24 AM EST

I do not intend to rectify anything with mathematics.

I didn't suppose you did. What I did suppose was that you were claiming that language as we know will be replaced by something bearing a resemblance to mathematics. I think this was not an unreasonable interpretation considering your statement, "I think I'd like to consider what i believe to be the pinnacle of modern languages, Mathematics..."

I am making a prediction that a new era of communication is to come, not one which I will usher in with some great idea, but one that will come nonetheless.

Sorry to be repetitive, but why? I don't intend to be offensive, but you've given me no more reason to believe your claim than, say, the coming of the Age of Aquarius or the Harmonic Convergence. What does this new era of communication resemble, and how is possible that we might get from here to there?

I intend to point to the stark unimagination of mathematics as a reflection of the unimaginative nature of our homoginized verbal and written languages.

Well, I'll withhold judgement until you submit the next article, but I must say that I'm extremely sceptical as whatever you may manage to demonstrate regarding a formal language does not necessarily hold in the case of a natural language. Mathematics is not very much like a natural language.

I don't think it's an easy sell, and I think most people will remain unconvinced, but I enjoy the challenge and we'll see what comes of it all.

I appreciate your effort, and it is pleasant break from the all Iraq all the time tedium.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
Skepticism of Language as communication technique (none / 0) (#142)
by scando on Thu Mar 13, 2003 at 12:29:44 PM EST

I'm not familiar with Ellul, but I've read some of his fellow travellers. I don't believe that the distrust of technology/technique's tendency to mechanize human existence is a sufficient argument to support a belief in the evolution of communication media. A belief in the fundamentally creative principle of existence might do so, but the distrust of technique presupposes that principle.

Certainly Ellul's ideas will provide you with an elegant critique of mathematics, natural language, or any other means/medium of communication, especially those that might be described as "systematic". I don't think this critique can provide enough of a model of human communication to make predictions about the (r)evolution of communication media. This is nothing to do with the critique itself, but entirely the consequence of the nature of a model (i.e. its a system/technology) and the necessity of models for making predictions.

However, these ideas should also make it easier to convince people that humanity as poets cannot be bounded by words, expressions, or any other signals or communications. This is a product that sells itself, once you get the customer to see what you're selling. This idea is so obvious and ubiquitous it's damned hard to get people to see it.

[ Parent ]
Oh, and... (none / 0) (#71)
by cr8dle2grave on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 06:37:03 PM EST

...I'd really, really encourage you to read Umberto Eco's The Search for the Perfect Language and an essay of his on the rise of ambiguity in an Adamic language (sorry, can't remember the name of the essay or the book in which it published, but I'll figure that out when I go home this evening and post the info).

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

Great, I'll check it out. n/t (none / 0) (#72)
by engine16 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 06:39:49 PM EST

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
The Eco essay... (none / 0) (#89)
by cr8dle2grave on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 08:49:43 PM EST

...I was thinking of is On the Possibility of Generating Aesthetic Messages in an Edenic Language included in the book The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
Snow Crash? (3.00 / 2) (#94)
by profit on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 03:30:45 AM EST

I noticed that there wasn't a Neal Stephenson reference around here, so....

Prehaps the inaplicability of language to the meaningful progression of ideas beyond a certain scope of people/a certain length of time, etcetera, is actually a feature.  Were we not islands of miscommunication and unpropagatable states then viral memes and word forms of power would infect us all equally with disastrous effects.

The need for firewalls of miscommunication may be all that keeps us from being destroyed by eachother's ideas.

Have you taken courses in Communication? (4.00 / 2) (#97)
by DangerGrrl on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 11:12:56 AM EST

Interpersonal Communication? Rhetoric? Communication Theory?

If not, I find your article a very insightful piece of the nature of language.

If you have taken such courses, you are just rehashing everything that is already known about language as being symbolic:

  1. Words are Abstractions of the things they represent.
  2. The Connection between words and the things they represent is arbitrary.
  3. Language is ambiguous because of the variety of meanings within individuals. You need more words to specify what you mean.
Until we develop a form of telepathy, where one can give another person the sense of what they mean with all the senses and the personal emotion attached to it, we have language.

And I must say, all things considered, language is a very efficient form of communication. All the things you list, Dance, Paintings, and music, as forms of communication are more difficult to interpret symbols than language is. What is the shared meaning of "the Waltz?" Is that cave painting of a bison hunt supposed to also convey the meaning of the thrill of the hunt?

And if this all makes your brain hurt, try looking up the concept of "Linguistic Relativity" sometime.

Wittgenstein (none / 0) (#99)
by srichman on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 02:24:48 PM EST

Or philosophy. Wittgenstein's later works would make a good starting point (e.g., his works on color).

[ Parent ]
Dance, Painting, Music... (none / 0) (#100)
by engine16 on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 06:18:26 PM EST

I agree that these things can be difficult to interpret, at least to the full extent imagined by their authors, but I think anyone can be communicated to through them. More sophisticated works may remain beyond the focus of laymen in any discipline, but I believe the rudimentary symbols can be expressed to people with little concern for their literacy in the form. As an example, creepy music is creepy to most people, even if they have never taken a music appreciation class.  On the flip side, a speaker of another language who is presented with the written word "flippant," would most likely draw very little of its meaning from its representation. If the word were spoken with the character of its meaning, the listener might gain a more general understanding of what was intended, but the would most likely remain ignorant to its symbolic value. Verbal and written language are more potent when understood, but there is a significant learning curve for involvement.

By the way, I am only an interested party with no formal courses in human communication. I write and read constantly and have grown very interested in this realm of philosophy. The discussions in this thread have produced a large reading list for me, which will probably help me to refine some of my ideas and to leave out extraneous details in future essays.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]

A thought experiment ... (4.00 / 1) (#98)
by tilly on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 12:21:38 PM EST

I read about in Scientific American: A scientist forced to live all her life in an enclosed space in which the experience of the color yellow is denied to her. No explanation of the color in terms of its physics - its frequency etc - or of the biology of its perception by the organism is going to re-create for her the experience of yellow. The point being that, not only language but also what language is used to communicate, ie knowledge, can ever replace experience. A few thoughts on this: 1) First, a facetious one: It is probably impossible to deny somebody the experience of yellow because they always have the light show under their eyelids available to them. Can you dream yellow if the experience of that color is denied to you in waking hours ?? 2) Perhaps a better example: How do you describe the flavor of quince to someone who has never eaten one? Well, it has a gritty texture like a pear; it is much tarter though and hard as a rock. In all of these phrases, I am evoking experiences that I assume my interlocutor has had and drawing comparisons to them. Never though will I able to communicate that quintessential thing that is the taste of a quince. But the effort may still be worthwhile because they may be further along than before in their knowledge of quince. 4) The assertion sought to be proved from the above thought experiment may be wrong in that, in the future, it may be possible to reach into her brain and re-create the experience of the color yellow, as is described in many science fiction stories. 3) All of this is so fascinating and so much more than a subject of mere curiosity. I am an immigrant to the United States and have always observed the huge communication gap between this country and the rest of the world. I think it would be a great K5 project to attack this gap with both Americans and non-Americans participating and with disregard for such hobbling tendencies as "political correctness". I think I rambled enough. Thanks.

abstract vs. concrete (none / 0) (#126)
by radish on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 04:28:35 AM EST

it seems likely that such a person, exposed to yellow at the age of 65, would be able to comprehend the idea of a color between orange and green, but might not be able to distinguish between yellow, and, say, orange.  much as we can comprehend the idea of ultraviolet or infrared.  in fact, without being exposed to the idea, that person might well not ever notice yellow as being distinct from orange or green - they might really see it that way.  I vaguely remember hearing that people who speak languages without many color words find it more difficult to distinguish between close colors if they're not shown simultaneously.

BTW, do you really eat quince raw?  I love quince jam (esp. with lots of cardamom) but find it hard to imagine actually eating a raw one.

[ Parent ]

Robertson Davies plug (4.00 / 3) (#102)
by LairBob on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 10:18:55 PM EST

This is a great post, I think, and it's led to some really interesting discussions. Nevertheless, since no one else seems to have taken the opportunity to rally 'round Robertson Davies as one of the absolute best--and to a large degree overlooked--authors of the past 50 years, I will. Having passed away a couple of years ago, his body of work has now drawn to a close, but if you're interested in really well-written books, filled with thoughtful, educated people who not only carry on intelligent conversations on this sort of philosophical level throughout, but who also round out a menagerie of eccentric, complex, genuinely funny and sometimes tragic characters, then you should really get acquainted with Davies.

On a cursory glance, his stories might seem a little stuffy and old, since they often take place in the Canada of late 1800s through mid-1900s, but inside you'll find kidnappings, sodomy, audacious art thefts, and entire social classes who are lovingly drawn, and then brutally quartered. What I've always loved most, though, about his books are the fact that the characters are genuinely intelligent. He doesn't even fall into the common trap of assigning each person one perspective, and then having them argue--his individuals can each maturely confront multiple sides of a complex issue, and genuinely understand all the different perspectives before committing to the consequences of their own action.

Really great books. If you're looking for real literature, Davies is a great place to start. (He tended to write in loosely grouped trilogies, although the books in each set are much more loosely related than most sci-fi/fantasy fans would expect from such a term. Much as I enjoyed the Deptford trilogy, of which The Manticore is part, I preferred the Cornish Trilogy, especially What's Bred in the Bone.)

morphology of meaning (none / 0) (#103)
by relief on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 11:00:16 PM EST

humans understand words through the interaction of neuron connections in the brain. connections can be represented in mathematical form called topology. due to the morphous nature of homeo- morphic topology, or more specifically yet the flimsy flexible bare requirements of connections, the connective structure that allows us to understand language are also morphous and subject to change. furthermore, all humans have different experiences, genes, environments and so forth, thus every human has a different homeo-morphism of language in their brain. thus language has evolved since the beginning to be reliant on statistical means; language is an understanding of the whole. of course there are aberrants who tend to have a hard time communicating with the rest of us, but that's only natural. as long as there is more than one person, and as long as people have neural brains, meaning of words and such will continue to change over time.

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
Is this an argument (none / 0) (#104)
by engine16 on Sat Mar 08, 2003 at 11:22:25 PM EST

against the text? I only ask because it seems to address issues that weren't in question. I don't think anyone has doubts that language is changing, and I do not propose that this needs to be fixed. This article was a comment on context and a summary of my thoughts on the progression of human communication, not language and word symbols. This seems to be a very common misinterpretation of what I have written, and while the scientific examination of how word symbols are interpreted was quite interesting, I believe you do miss the point. That point being that I believe it is foolish to think that our current models of communication are the end result of communicative evolution, as opposed to a stopping point.

The issue of context and temporal symbolism is one that interests me greatly as a facet of language, and a good sign that our brains are operating on a higher communicative level then that supported by word symbol arrangements alone. It is an important thing to consider, especially in this particular context, where comments are made and interpreted solely as they are written -- leaving the community to invent tone and subtext as they believe it applies to them. A fair amount of misinterpretation occurs in such environments. I consider it interesting, but it's not a problem that needs fixing, especially not by the application of more or less regimented languages. Think of the Unabomber's ship of fools -- most of us here are arguing over the nature of language and failing to see that it is only a sight to behold on a longer journey. The problem will arise in time that we must determine how we will carry our language artifacts with us into the new models, preserving their value, even as word symbols begin to seem much like crude paint on dark cave walls.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]

Frustrations (none / 0) (#106)
by cr8dle2grave on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 12:36:59 AM EST

That point being that I believe it is foolish to think that our current models of communication are the end result of communicative evolution, as opposed to a stopping point.

Why? This is what you've failed to adequately address. In fact, you've offered no argument for this claim whatsoever except to make various evolutionary analogies.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
a clarification (5.00 / 1) (#108)
by relief on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 12:53:46 AM EST

i had said "as long as there is more than one person, and as long as people have neural brains, meaning of words and such will continue to change over time."

i think that language morphism implies a barrier to the "progression of human communication" that you talk about. what i addressed, was not simply the fact that meanings change, but the cause of limitations of communication in general. i proposed two main reasons why language development has plateaued..

one, individuality and neural properties of man,
and two, the resulting statistical, fluid properties of language.

so my implied argument, i'm very sorry if it was too hidden, is that language development won't happen as long as humans are humans as we see it. to proceed in the further development leap in language, we would have to standardize consciousness, and/or dispose of the neural composition of the brain.

as a corollary, i'm saying that this language development can't occur without greatly modifying our biological structure. i.e. lets say this new communication method disposes of "word" tossing, and works by directly communicating between certain functors in the brain. how would two people know which neurons to connect, if the two developed their brains differently? there would have to be some standard, and that standard would mean the end of humanity as we know it, for it removes the insanity, the wild creativity from our culture.

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]

No Representation Without Taxation (4.50 / 2) (#107)
by rustyc20 on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 12:42:57 AM EST

All communication humans have used is based on the principle of representation, in which one object or sound or observable phenomenon stands for another.  The language theorist W. J. T. Mitchell noted that there can be no representation without taxation, which is just a catchy way of saying that any thought coded into a symbol necessarily loses some of its meaning, so that no communication could be perfect in the way described in this post.  To quote Mitchell, "Every representation exacts some cost, in the form of lost immediacy, presence, or truth, in the form of a gap between intention and realization, original and copy."    

What the poster of this piece is suggesting as a higher language, I think, would be some form of telepathy, in which one person's experience could be directly communicated to another person without representation, i.e. coding it into an objectively observable phenomenon.  This would take, I think, some kind of evolutionary jump in our species to accomplish, just as some anthropologists think that the evolution of the larynx in Homo sapiens sapiens allowed its language to surpass that of the Neanderthals, leading them to replace the "lesser" species (note: this is a controversial topic in anthropology and only serves as a metaphor for my argument).  

The interesting question I ponder, but do not have the biological and technical knowledge to answer is this : how might we accomplish telepathy through bio-technological means, and is this even theoretically possible given the individualized, unique patterns of each human's brain?    

a thought (5.00 / 2) (#110)
by relief on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 01:12:55 AM EST

i haven't thought about this too much, but one thing i've learned from several approaches to AI, is that the major source of limitation and ambiguity of thought is that concepts are only the surface of thoughts. if person A did bad things to person B, then B would eventually learn to hate A's guts. but in the future, even thought B is certainly mad at A, he doesn't need to consciously know what bad things A did to B. this is extremely efficient, simply remembering the fact that B is mad at A as opposed to calculating the how mad B is every time he sees A. this would be an example of 'conceptual representation of a concept'. this process, i think, happens all the time, and perhaps ends when there is nothing left to efficiently represent.

of course B doesn't need to FORGET why he is mad at A, its just that those reasons don't have to surface every time.

if we could remove this internal re-representation, we could actually communicate 100%. on the other hand, this would mean that communication requires communicating ALL AFFECTED CONCEPTS to represent a single concept.

it could also be possible to communicate completely, by having explicit and exact standards in the way we 'internally re-represent'. this would also mean that every human would be the same subjectively, and thus every human would be in theory identical, even if they were raised in different environments.

"no representation without taxation". clever =]

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]

oh. i got it (none / 0) (#111)
by relief on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 01:16:18 AM EST

one way to achieve this is to have a central mother-brain who thinks for us, thereby eliminating the need to standardize the re-representation process.

like the buggers in "star troopers".

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]

won't anybody challenge this? [nt] (none / 0) (#115)
by relief on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 11:50:31 AM EST

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]
for some definition of telepathy maybe (5.00 / 2) (#124)
by radish on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 04:11:38 AM EST

but this does not seem plausible to me anytime in the foreseeable future.  while we are painfully ignorant of how the brain really works, we do know a few things, and they tend to point away from the possibility of telepathy as a sharing of anything more complex than low resolution sensory input.

at a low level, some neurotransmitters and hormones might be said to affect us all in the same way.  visual and auditory cortices can be trained to respond to artificial inputs, and perhaps proprioception, so presumably those inputs could be shared.

once you get into the neocortex, though, it's a different ball of wax, so to speak.  the places in the brain which are consistent are awful fuzzy, so you might be able to communicate a concept like "mother", with oxytocin, or stimulation of certain areas, but if you wanted to say "map" or "cleanliness" (in the abstract) without actually saying it, I think the divergence between your neocortex and mine would be too great.  you could "show" a map, or a clean thing, by triggering visual synapses, but then you're back where you started, having substituted visual icons for phonemes.  as for sharing memories in a sensory-specific way, well...  it just doesn't seem likely.  not only can't we extract the damn things artificially, we don't even really know how they're stored or extracted naturally.

plus all those neurons are trained along with the rest of the net, so you'd need either a common matrix against which all participants were trained (perilously close to being  a "language" in itself), or to retrain yourself for each person  with whom you wanted to telepathize (word!?).

I think we're stuck with the semantics tax for a while yet.  raw meaning is far too messy...

[ Parent ]

well said, and (none / 0) (#130)
by Terren on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 12:33:55 PM EST

I think the difficulties you point to originate from the bare fact that 'direct experience' is itself a fallacy. There isn't any raw sensory input that makes it through our various sensory cortices unfiltered.

The most compelling evidence for this, for me, came from reading a Wired article about a blind-since-childhood man who's had surgery done to implant a bionic eye. He has actually had enough vision restored to be able to drive a car around in a parking lot. Motion detection and tracking seem to work fine, but ask him to tell you whether an object is round or not, and he can't do it! He can 'infer' that a basketball is round, because he sees people playing with a moving orange thing. I'm colorblind, so I 'infer' certain colors in the same way all the time (the things on trees are green).

So, to pretend that we could have a way to communicate 'direct experience' ignores the fact that we have all developed very sophisticated filters that have served us all very well; and while we can assume that we all have a lot of the same basic filters, and that they work in basically the same way, there will necessarily be a point where they diverge, leading to radish's point that there would be a limit on resolution, or we would have to learn how to translate the patterns from someone else's brain.

[ Parent ]

from what i know, (none / 0) (#132)
by relief on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 02:17:50 PM EST

the reason he doesn't know whether a basketball is round or not is not because of his artificial eye, but the lack of development of visual interpretators in his brain... filters in a way.

i read somewhere that when a man first gains vision, he can't tell 'sharp' from 'smooth', nor his face from his ass. it takes several months to learn to recognize even the most basic thigns.

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]

Context and the single carbon based lifeform (4.50 / 2) (#116)
by Zeram on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 12:30:45 PM EST

It's funny, I had a somewhat simmilar conversation with a good friend of mine many years ago. He lamented the death of architecture as a medium of commnication. His thought was that the mass availablity of the written word led to this demise. My response was that he shouldn't weep too much, simply because the written word would one be itself be supplanted, and that it's the nature of things. He couldn't imagine what would supplant the written word. My personal theory is that the next step is direct sensory contact. No matter if it is through biological or technological means, the next logical step in communication is directly trading sensory experiences.

The problem there is that it makes context both more and less important. To use the example from the story, if a clerk in the future were to experience (for lack of a better term) the will as opposed to just reading it, he would understand what the brevity meant, but not why it occured in the first place. Now there is a certain amount of what-does-it-matter that factors in here, but it is my belief that "true" understanding can not occur with out full context. Understand at this point that I am making an artificial distinction between technical communication and human communication. By which I mean that if I read an article from a technical journal that explains things in terms of given facts (for example how to configure sendmail) this is fundementally different from say me reading James Joyce. The difference being that there is very little (if any thing) left to interpret when speaking technically, where as reading a novel, short story, or even just hearing someones recounting of an event creates a certain, undeniable fuzziness of meaning. This is the problem with any sort of communication that involves emotion. This is the fundemental flaw of human communication. When we only get part of the story we fill the rest in on our own. And we are bound to run into situations where we only get part of the story.

Setting aside human based decption, the problem here is that we as humans can only process so much information at any one time. To lace every piece of our communication with the required context would make it extremely unwieldy. The internet provides a great example of our attempts to handle this issue (via the usage of hyperlinks). But as anyone here can attest, it is at best a kludge. Without some sort of mechanisim to handle the full bredeth of context, human communication will always be "flawed" in this way. Temporal symbolism is a by product of the human condition, and as such not likely to ever be truely solved, but who would really want to?
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
Let's come back down to earth, shall we? (none / 0) (#118)
by tilly on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 06:26:45 PM EST

Perfect communication?!? Full context??? As objectives, these are inherently impossible; as concepts they are almost meaningless; they seem to me to be just stringing together of words.
From the top-down perspective, communication is what makes us parts of the human species. We are like the cells of a body. One cell does not have to "fully commune" with another cell; all that is required is to exchange enough info (via hormones etc) to move forward in a coordinated fashion for the survival of the organism.
From the bottom up, it seems to be a much more variegated phenomenon and harder to get a handle on: we communicate to get accross a fact, an emotion, a concept. We communicate to enhance our own sustenance thru the agency of others. But other times, we communicate just to be ornery, difficult; we may communicate to hurt. But, in all cases, we have a specific task in mind; it is never an attempt at "full" communication; it is, I believe, always a well defined and a well-delineated task that communication accomplishes. The example the author gives is such an instance of successful communication; the father's will was not meant to be transparent 5 generations down; it was only meant to be understood by the people who read it first. So, from the bottom-up one can examine communication as a tool to get a task done.
And in-between, there is the most important communication problem the human race faces: that of two alien cultures making contact and, failing to communicate, start warring with one another.

What's humorous (none / 0) (#120)
by engine16 on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 10:57:57 PM EST

is that the article does not discuss "perfect communication" and "full context." It briefly mentions a "broadly more applicable form of communication," but that is hardly the subject of the piece. You seem to be taking occasion with your perception of this article as opposed to the article itself. It does not propose the creation of anything, and only discusses the possibility of loss of context, the loss of context, not of a document here or there, but the whole of language, if some new form communication were to come about. It is composed of my opinions and thoughts, which is why it appears as OP-ED, rather than SCIENCE. You are free to disagree, but it would be best if the actual arguments of the text were addressed. Also, others have already stated your points in previous days on this discussion.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
I was responding ... (none / 0) (#136)
by tilly on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 09:35:38 PM EST

not so much to the article as to the two comments previous to mine. Sorry I did not make this clear ...

[ Parent ]
I understand (none / 0) (#137)
by engine16 on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 09:40:29 PM EST

I apologize for jumping to conclusions.

Ape Infinitum

[ Parent ]
gah. (3.50 / 2) (#123)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 02:06:23 AM EST

I fully believe this made FP-- it's a prime example of the kurobot's prime intellectual trend, dilettantism. I will therefore spare you all a blast of the relevant literature in semantics and hermeneutics.


You should have gone further ... (4.50 / 6) (#125)
by tilly on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 04:20:34 AM EST

and also spared us your contemptuous tone.

[ Parent ]
your other point (5.00 / 1) (#127)
by radish on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 05:41:36 AM EST

the article itself seems to be about how context, the implicit part of the meaning of a given symbol, is inherently bound by time, and that this enforces both the evolution of language and eventual "extinction" of certain layers of original meaning, possibly leaving behind alternate or even perpendicular meanings.  I agree wholeheartedly with that, and am having trouble coming up with a counter argument even for principle's sake.

but you also seem to be suggesting, at the end of the article and in some of your posts, is a prediction that the future evolution of human communication will be somehow fundamentally different from the "word" model of natural language which has carried us to this point.  here, it's not clear to me whether this is really what you're saying, or whether I'm misreading your intent.  

you describe mathematics (which I personally would not describe as a single language anyway) as the pinnacle of modern languages, but the very contextual brevity that you so eloquently describe is inherently unavailable when using a formal language.  

I guess what I'm wondering is whether you're actually proposing that the semantic precision of formal languages can be combined with the semantic flexibility of natural languages in a way that is currently inaccessible to us. if so, what would such a language look/feel/sound/smell like, and why would it be immune to the drift towards contextual brevity that exists in natural languages today?   are you suggesting that a given symbol in this future language will be more tied to its context or less?   or am I missing the point altogether?

BTW I'm not sure I would agree that the language of physical gestures and subvocalizations are lost completely to history.  I would say that they are alive and well, and that their meaning has suffered far less drift than say, visual arts or dance, or even music.

First Impressions, Zen and Haiku (4.66 / 3) (#129)
by Djehuti on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 09:26:10 AM EST

After all, what do you see when you see a bird in a tree, if not "a bird" in "a tree?"

What happens, then, when we see the truth of a bird in a tree, and for once in the history of our communication, we are able to convey it to another person for everything that it is to us, not with adjectives or highly subjective symbolism, but with the raw value of a first impression, with the explosiveness of the countless systems that paint that moment into our mind?

This is what Zen Buddhists talk about when we talk about getting past language. The bird in the tree is not just "a bird": it is what it is.

Many haiku are attempts to capture that first impression, in very few words -- because the words aren't what's important; the reality is.

zen buddhism? (none / 0) (#133)
by relief on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 06:52:44 PM EST

haiku must have failed misably. i say this because, for one, reality is something that would be terribly boring; 'a bird' (not "a bird") would have no meaning. there is no emotion involved, and certainly nothing to do with the observer. meaning, by trying to express reality, one has already failed.

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]
read a few (none / 0) (#139)
by banffbug on Tue Mar 11, 2003 at 02:33:21 AM EST

the moon so pure

a wandering monk carries it

across the sand

[ Parent ]
pretty cool =D [nt] (none / 0) (#140)
by relief on Tue Mar 11, 2003 at 08:38:03 AM EST

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]
Great Book - Language and Species (none / 0) (#134)
by slicer on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 08:06:20 PM EST

This book tackles the evolution of language and goes into very similar issues as the poster. Once you read this or other books about linguistics, you can realize the true potency of language. It is most likely the root of consciousness, not to mention the only reason we aren't still swinging from tree to tree. Language can never achieve perfection of meaning as the author would hope, because language is not communication. Language is an interpretation, an interface between our senses and our mind, or between my mind and yours.

author Derek Bickerton (nt) (none / 0) (#135)
by slicer on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 08:07:03 PM EST

[ Parent ]
um.. read this blah (none / 0) (#138)
by relief on Mon Mar 10, 2003 at 10:47:08 PM EST

there is an inconsistency in your paragraph. "[language] is the root of consciousness" vs "language is not a communication".

If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.
[ Parent ]
"I give unto my wife my second best bed" (none / 0) (#141)
by onemonkey on Tue Mar 11, 2003 at 12:17:23 PM EST

Thought provoking topic and here's a very famous real world example of exactly what you are on about..

The only known example of Shakespeare's handwriting is in his will, which famously begins by bequeating to his wife his 'second best bed'.

What did he mean by this?

Nobody knows!

see here

Temporal Symbolism in Human Communication | 142 comments (126 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
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