The Paradox of Language

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by one_raven, Nov 12, 2009.

  1. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

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    and what do words represent?
     
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  3. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    My ass.
    My neurologically disabled sister with an IQ in the neighborhood of 70 grasps the concept of a metaphor.

    Just because someone hasn't been taught something doesn't mean they can't understand it. And how would it be taught? Language.
     
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  5. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

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    but does she understand the concept, or rather does she understand metaphors?

    precisely.

    not necessarily, but perhaps; of course, this is contingent upon one's definition of "language."
     
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  7. Enmos Staff Member

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    One raven, animals can learn and understand things without ever using any words/signs at all.

    An (famous) example:

    An interesting example of culturally transmitted learning in birds was the phenomenon dating from the 1960s of Blue Tits teaching one another how to open traditional British Milk bottles with foil tops, to get at the cream underneath. This behaviour has declined recently because of the trend toward buying low-fat (skimmed) milk, and the replacement of doorstep delivery by supermarket purchases of milk.
    From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Tit#Learning

    There are of course countless other examples. The main point is that you can realize something without words ever coming into the picture.
     
  8. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    Again, figuring out how to open a milk bottle and forming an entire religious belief system complete with Gods, rules, punishments, afterlife...
    There is no comparison between tactile learning for reward and complex philosophical endeavors.

    And my sister understands the metaphors. I don't think I've met a single person in my life, save the severely retarded, who do not use metaphor in their speaking.
     
  9. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    Assuming this is true (I can't scrutinize the studies without knowing them) I fail to see how it proves anything.
    Our understanding of brain mechanics is barely in its infancy and every new "discovery" completely upsets much of what we understood before.

    We haven't a clue how these disparate parts work together and specifically what they do, never mind HOW they do it.

    These brain studies can do little more than make suppositions at this point.


    I would like someone to explain to me how one might go about coming up with a complex philosophical abstraction without language.
     
  10. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

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    i don't think i've met a single animal in my life who doesn't use or understand metaphors, but i was referring to the understanding of the concept.
     
  11. madanthonywayne Morning in America Staff Member

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    I think your general idea is correct. Yes, we can think without language. We can figure out how to open a bottle, how to carve a piece of wood, etc. But most complex thought requires language. Not to mention the advantage of being able to pass on what you've learned which would be wholely impossible without language thus limiting human advancement to what one man could accomplish alone.

    A good comparison would be math. Anyone can do basic math (addition, subtraction) without even knowing anything about math or numbers. It comes pretty naturally. But try to calculate Pi or figure a square root without numbers or even without the correct number system (try doing math with Roman numerals, for instance) and the limitations imposed by the lack of a good system become quite obvious.
     
  12. Grim_Reaper I Am Death Destroyer of Worlds Registered Senior Member

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    But how do you really know that animals dont have these things have you been able to ask them. And like I said before there are many types of insects that live in colonies they have a language of sorts that they can accomplish very complex tasks just simply by body movements and or various scented hormones.
     
  13. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    I have seen no evidence to suggest otherwise - I have searched for years.
    I am certainly open to being wrong. Show me some evidence that animals are capable of complex abstract thought.

    1.) How complex are they really?
    2.) Are they above and beyone instinct? Some birds fly many thousands of miles every year back to the same spot - and their ancestors were flying to the same spot for many years. Unless I see evidence otherwise, I chalk that up to instinct - not reasoned thought.
     
  14. CutsieMarie89 Zen Registered Senior Member

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    Many complex thoughts require language to communicate them not to think them up or to understand them. People often understand concepts without knowing how to tell someone else. Like asking a little kid to tell you what "after" means without using the word after. They may not be able to explain it, but they know what it means.

    Creating original ideas and understanding what the concept of something is doesn't require language. Conveying it to others is what require some form of communication. And until we can effectively communicate with animals on their terms we won't know what they think about, be those ideas profound or mundane.
     
  15. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

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    what exactly do you mean by "above" and "beyond"? perhaps you ought to lay out your metaphysical presuppositions for the sake of clarity.
     
  16. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

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    as regards abstraction specifically, here is but one article among many: dogs and abstraction

    as to the matter of instinct, you seemed to have been contending (see OP) that animals will--if left to their devices--act solely upon instinct; but i think that you are now acknowledging otherwise--am i correct? because there is plenty of evidence which shows otherwise, and such was acknowledged well over a century ago even (Animals Not Able to Think Abstractly; But for All That Their Thought Is Not Always Instinctive (from 1908, so disregard the bit about not thinking abstractly)
     
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Morality is simply caring for others because they trust you.

    Solitary animals like tigers don't care about or trust each other (except briefly for reproduction purposes) because they don't need to. Herd-social animals like cows have a moderate level of care and trust because they help each other find food and form a united front against predators.

    But our species is pack-social like wolves, dolphins and quite a few others. We have a survival advantage because we work together much more intricately than the cows, and that requires us to trust and care about each other than the cows do.

    Over the eons we have built a more complex environment than the other pack-social animals. It requires more complex cooperation than theirs, so our trusting and caring relationships are more complex. But our morality is thrust upon us by need, just as it is on those other species. It's not something we invented because we are more "noble" than they are. What separates us from the wolves or dolphins is not the presence and absence of morality, but the complexity of morality.
    Those are some pretty primitive notions. The further we advance out of the Stone Age, the more they are at odds with the type of morality we need. Religion actually motivates two tribes to make war, just like cavemen, when what they need to do is cooperate in the common interest of building a greater civilization with more prosperity, comfort, safety and other benefits.

    Jung's theory of archetypes, updated to embrace the science of genetics which was in its infancy in his day, tells us that religions, gods and all belief in the supernatural is a collection of archetypes. Archetypes are instincts preprogrammed into our synapses by our DNA. It could be argued then that religion, being an instinctive behavior, is part of our animal nature. It is therefore a way in which we're similar to the other animals, not different.
    Since we have only recently found a way to speak with other species (chimpanzees and gorillas), and only in a human language (ASL), it's a little premature to assume that we know the limits of their thought processes.
    If you have cracked the languages of the various cetacean species (and probably individual communities within those species) and can explain their level of complexity and sophistication, I hope you have reported this tremendous achievement to the proper academic authorities and are picking out a new suit to wear when you go before the Nobel Committee. The rest of us have so far not been able to parse any more out of it than their individual names and some sequences that appear to be something like the pod's name, war cry or national anthem. Please tell us how you figured out that this communication system has no structure or grammar. We promise not to leak it to the New York Times.
    It's because deep down inside we're still cavemen--a pack social species--yet our civilization is evolving faster than our DNA and our society now has many of the attributes of herd-social animals: living in harmony and cooperation, but not camaraderie, with anonymous strangers. We're stretching our instincts way beyond their natural dimensions by treating people on the other side of the planet who are nothing but abstractions more-or-less the same way we treat our friends. Sometimes it overwhelms us and our inner cavemen bursts forth, grunting, "Tribe from next valley sneak over, walk on our sacred hunting ground, take our females. Me beat crap out of them with internet virus! Oh wait, we get some of their females? Me sorry."
    That's just lack of discipline: being so overwhelmed by short-term issues as to ignore the long term. For a guy to kill himself to make some pain go away may be an extreme case--but then how the hell do we know, since we haven't inhabited his skin? Maybe he's reasonably certain that the pain won't go away for years. After all, even our suave, coldly rational business consultants remonstrate us: "The problem with long-term planning is that the short term always comes first." We've finally come to our senses and begun accepting the fact that some old people are in hopeless pain, and we should say goodbye, leave them under a tree with their ostrich egg full of water, and move on. The next step is to consider the possibility that not everyone for whom that is a rational fate is old.
    You must be an unreconstructed Freudian. The Jungian model has only an unconscious. Anyway, our uniquely large forebrains give us the unique ability to override our instinctive behavior with reasoned and learned behavior. If you're looking for something to identify as "what differentiates us from the other animals," that's it. (Although we have had some success in awakening that override ability in the animals we hold dearest: dogs, horses, primates, parrots and dolphins.)

    But the instinct is still there, in what Jung calls "our shadow" and George Lucas calls "the Dark Side." That inner caveman occasionally takes control and we regress to the Stone Age temporarily. In order to preserve itself, civilization has to have a mechanism for minimizing those occurrences, minimizing the damage done by the caveman running loose, and (IMHO) above all, deterring large groups of people from calling up their caveman in unison and overwhelming society's protective measures.

    A religion that teaches us that we are superior to the tribe in the next valley, and we have a sacred obligation to convert them to our way of life, is going to do exactly that and is clearly a Stone Age religion. But that's a topic for another board.
    No argument there. Unless your occupation is something like sculpture or music, 99% of your important thoughts are formed in words, so the language you have at your disposal shapes the way you think. Learning a second language, especially one not closely related to your own, gives you the ability to examine your thoughts from a different perspective and is the reason that bilingual training should be mandatory for the whole human race.
    No. Hand signs are more dynamic than writing. You can read writing as fast as you can understand oral speech, but only court reporters can write as fast as they can speak. Written signs can't be used to communicate in real time. Sign language can.

    However, I'm still waiting for someone who knows whether sign language uses the same speech center as spoken language. Do people who have been deaf from birth and only speak in sign think differently?
     
  18. Grim_Reaper I Am Death Destroyer of Worlds Registered Senior Member

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    OK so by your definition people with below average IQ are not able to form a complex thought?
    And as for the birds yes they do do that but I am talking about insects that forage for food they have scouts that go looking for food and they come back and accurately inform the rest of the group that there is food out there and here it is. Without a single spoken word if that is not a complex thought then what is it it is not instinct as the food source may change from year to year and the insects have to be able to tell the rest where it is. Look at Whales, Dolphins and porpoises they have a complex language but we dont understand what they are saying so does that make us the one that cannot form a complex thought to them. Marine Biologists know they communicate between groups and different groups have different inflections in the language sound familiar I think so. So these are just a couple of examples of animals other then man communicating with one another.
     
  19. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    I've been giving this a lot of thought the past few days, and while I can, and do, "think" about physical/mechanical/tactile things without words - I have still been unable to figure out how someone might think about abstract/philosophical concepts without them.
     
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I don't see how that would completely stop you from doing so, but it would surely limit how far you get.
    • The technology of computerized language has vastly improved our ability to manage and proliferate ideas and other data.
    • The technology of printed language did the same thing 500 years ago.
    • The technology of written language did the same thing five thousand years before that.
    • It stands to reason that the technology of spoken language did the same thing at a date we'll probably never be able to identify.
    • But that doesn't mean there weren't any ideas and other data at all before language, including abstractions.
    • The apes who have been taught ASL have demonstrated their capability for abstract thought, and I doubt that's something they could have developed in one generation. When Washoe, with her limited observations of other animals, saw a zebra being led past her cubby, she said, "Oh look: a white tiger!"
     
  21. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

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    as to abstraction and "things," such has been demonstrated by various species besides chimpanzees (with chimps, the employment of asl is the unique factor). again, see this article for instance: dogs and abstraction

    anyways, my dogs have always had fairly extensive vocabularies and have demonstrated abstract thought with respect to "things": if i ask daisy to go and get a frisbee, she will get one of many frisbees; if i ask her to get a "woobie" (stuffed toy), she will go and get one of many woobies. BUT, if i ask her to get the monkey woobie, she will get the monkey woobie. if i introduce her to a new woobie, but i refer to it as a frisbee, she will give me a confused look, i.e. i set the new woobie in front of her and say "look, i got you a new frisbee--get the frisbee," and she will either cock her head, or she will wander about the house looking for a frisbee (actually, she has a habit of placing her toys in a specific box when she's done with them; but lately she's been rather lazy about that, and has been leaving them all over the place.)

    concepts. i don't know, but i know that daisy has learned not to bite people in most instances (there are times when such is warranted), even when they are bugging the hell out of her--and she was inclined to biting a lot when i got her. yet she has her limits, and there are certain instances and certain people in which and towards whom she behaves aggressively; she may not necessarily bite, but she makes it perfectly clear to the person to stay the hell away (the problem is: a lot of people are pretty goddamn stupid when it comes to figuring out what a dog is saying to them.) such is not simply a learned response to some sort of operant conditioning, for she is clearly using her own discretion and making judgements/pronouncements.

    understanding thus spake zarathustra? i don't know,but i personally feel that many are inclined to overestimate the capabilities of people. there is enormous variance in "intellectual" capacity amongst humans and all other animals, both with respect to kinds and degrees (and the notion that one can even measure "degree" is kind of silly). i've related this elsewhere, but i'll reiterate: douglas hofstadter confesses in goedel, escher, bach (i believe--it could be a later volume) to not being able to understand the writings of heidegger to any "degree." he was introduced to heidegger often throughout his adolescence by his uncle, albert hofstadter, a translator of heidegger's writings. i would not be even remotely inclined to describe d. hofstadter as a person of "limited intellectual capability," but the fact is: heidegger makes perfect sense to plenty of people, whether you agree with him or not (though he was as prone to irrationality as everyone else, as well). thinking about tangible "things" or concepts without words? well, there are plenty of people who seem quite incapable of distinguishing a thing from a concept (see innumerable threads on sciforums).

    anyways, if one could think an abstract concept without words, how would one convey such? with words, you say? well, what would that prove--i mean, if someone has to convey it in words, how do you know that they didn't "think" it in "words" in the first place? we really have no way of fathoming the "intellectual" capabilities of another.
     
  22. sniffy Banned Banned

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    "Tribe from next valley have heap men bigger and better than ours who also in touch with their feminine side. We females go to new men in next valley."
     
  23. sniffy Banned Banned

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    Abstract concepts without words....

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