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ColoradoGuy
03-19-2007, 06:33 AM
This one is a spin-off from a silly thread in another forum. The question is this: are there things, aspects of human experience, that language cannot comprehend; is anything out-of-bounds? For example, are there things the visual arts can do to our brains or our souls that are denied to language, to writing?

I think some of the immediacy of the visual arts, the direct connection to our feelings, bypasses language. Yet when we later describe that experience to someone, of course using language, the feeling returns.

kborsden
03-19-2007, 07:10 AM
I suffer from delusions and halucinations, I have a condition known as schizoid affective disorder. I am also a poet. I can try to use my poetic pallet to paint a landscape or portrait of the things I have experienced whilst having a psychotic episode, Horror and beauty of schizoid-affective disorder (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=53049&highlight=schizoid), but to be honest, It is nigh impossible to truley connect to people and have them see what I have. Lower level, it is easy to convey things such as sight, sound, touch etc. but higher case it becomes increasingly difficult to transcend the barriers of box-sanity. We are all one in our own minds, yet we hardly understand ourselves. How the hell are we supposed to understand something that is irrational and beyond comprehension? To live with the illness that I have means to constantly question your own motives and emotions, to worry, even, that your thoughts are not your own, or if on the recovery or recovered, if those thoughts are sound or, in fact, not paranoid or ill-placed. To be forever balancing one's thought in contrast to the moment is something that can never completely be described no matter how eloquent or wordy you are. It is things such as this that rise above language. Yet if I explain it, although never to the extent that another person will understand it as I do, it all comes crashing back in tidal waves. It is these motions in my mind that someone else doesn't see. Am I making sense?

Kie

ColoradoGuy
03-19-2007, 07:39 AM
Am I making sense?
Yes, you are making sense. Since all thought is founded upon the physical substrate of specific brain chemicals diffusing across very narrow clefts between one neuron to another, it is fascinating to hear the perspective of someone whose brain may use those neurotransmitters in different ways.

Higgins
03-19-2007, 05:32 PM
This one is a spin-off from a silly thread in another forum. The question is this: are there things, aspects of human experience, that language cannot comprehend; is anything out-of-bounds? For example, are there things the visual arts can do to our brains or our souls that are denied to language, to writing?

I think some of the immediacy of the visual arts, the direct connection to our feelings, bypasses language. Yet when we later describe that experience to someone, of course using language, the feeling returns.

If Lacan was correct, and he may very well have been, human experience is experience of a range of personal signifiers of which even fewer are traversing conscious experience at any given moment. Language is not the same as the personal stream of signifiers so in effect we are living in a largely extra-linguistic way almost all the time. The thoughts we can track in a coherent way may have a linguistic structure but I think part of that seeming linguistic structure is illusory in that the designations can be vague and not even syntactic and there are large areas that play a role in conscious thought that are demonstrably (according to recent cognative studies that I have not seen) not even syntactic (and if not syntactic, then not linguistic): for example map-like "images" and apparently even images of "plots"...anyway, perhaps we only think we dwell comfortably in language and we are deluded by the feeling of relief when we are able to formulate some aspect of experience in language. So we tend to identify with those moments of self-reinforcement when we are well-enveloped in language and downplay all the circumlocutions it may have taken to get to those moments of formulating a self in language.

PS. I forgot to answer the question. Some subjects, for example simple narratives are well within language. Many subjects are not going to work well in language: for example what is really going on in anyone's head is not really going to fit well into language. Interesting topics ought to occur just within what language can deal with: complex narratives and complex motivation.

For example, in one of my favorite books, Peter Galison's Image and Logic: a Material Culture of Microphysics U. Chicago 1997, the author tries to get at the actual way that theory and observation and engineering and society and history interacted in constructing and getting results out of very elaborate experimental mechanisms in the 20th Century. I think language definitely gets pushed to its functional limit in Galison's astounding work. If he went any farther, he'd have to come to your house and build you a cosmic ray detector. And you still would not get the emotions of making original discoveries even then.

pdr
03-19-2007, 06:16 PM
those extremely emotional events which simply cannot be described in words?

The death of friend's child, supreme sexual delight, an overwhelming feeling of joy or regret or sadness where one is left trying to explain but not finding any words that can convey what the experience was like.

aruna
03-20-2007, 11:13 AM
This one is a spin-off from a silly thread in another forum. The question is this: are there things, aspects of human experience, that language cannot comprehend; is anything out-of-bounds? For example, are there things the visual arts can do to our brains or our souls that are denied to language, to writing?
.


Definitely. Anyone who has practiced meditation for any length of time and with any results would confirm that there are just no words that can describe the experience - at least, no English words. Sanskrit does make an attempt; but even Sanskrit words are useless for anyone who has not "been therem done that". Interesting topic!

robeiae
03-20-2007, 04:00 PM
The question is this: are there things, aspects of human experience, that language cannot comprehend; is anything out-of-bounds? For example, are there things the visual arts can do to our brains or our souls that are denied to language, to writing?
No.

It's only a question of vocabulary.

aruna
03-20-2007, 04:50 PM
No.

It's only a question of vocabulary.

I can certainly find/invent words for everything I experience; but language is about communication. So whether I can communicate with those words is dependent on whether "the other" has shared my own experience.

You may, for instance, speak of "love". But of the other has never experienced love? The word is meaningless; he/she might imagine something that is nothing near what you really mean.
You know what the colour red looks like. You cannot really describe "red" to a blind person who has never seen that colour.

Language depends on the fact that in general, we experince the same emotions, see the same world. The less we share those experiences, the more limited our language becomes. We don't even have to go into the subtle, more esoteric realms. It's even so withn everyday language.

I always find it extremely difficult to describe my home country, Guyana, to people who have never been there. How do I bring across the shape, smell, taste of certain exotic fruits, for instance? The smell of the marketplace? I might use just one word with a fellow Guyanese to evoke those smells, sounds, atmospheres; it is almost impossible if the person I am speaking/writing to has not been there. Genip, golden-apple, simatoo, soursop - these words have meaning for me and to my countrymen - probably not for you, and no matter how excellent my vocabulary is, you can never ever really "get it".

I find language extremely limited. I wish I could communicate without words; I'd do much better.

robeiae
03-20-2007, 05:14 PM
I can certainly find/invent words for everything I experience; but language is about communication. So whether I can communicate with those words is dependent on whether "the other" has shared my own experience.

You may, for instance, speak of "love". But of the other has never experienced love? The word is meaningless; he/she might imagine something that is nothing near what you really mean.
You know what the colour red looks like. You cannot really describe "red" to a blind person who has never seen that colour.

Language depends on the fact that in general, we experience the same emotions, see the same world. The less we share those experiences, the more limited our language becomes. We don't even have to go into the subtle, more esoteric realms. It's even so withn everyday language.
It's not about inventing words--it's as exactly as you say: description based on shared experiences. And it is true that some people are limited in the potential range of experience, like the blind. Certainly, you can't necessarily describe a color, or the visual aspects of anything, to one who has no capability to see (in the literal sense).

But the question was not: Is it sometimes not possible to describe something with words in such a way that a particular person will be able to comprehend that thing, it's nature, what have you? The answer to that is "yes," as you have shown.

CG's question was: The question is this: are there things, aspects of human experience, that language cannot comprehend; is anything out-of-bounds?

The answer to that is "no," imo. There is nothing that a human being can experience that is beyond the potential scope of language. Think of describing a computer to a caveman (sorry, Geico guys). From the caveman's perspective, it would seem very much as you have said: he lacks the experiences and world-view to understand the description. But that doesn't mean language cannot be used to describe the computer. The problem is in the vocabulary, and vocabularies are indicative of experience, of world-view. So the potential is there, and this is always these case, imo, as hard as it may be to imagine (or describe :) ).

MajorDrums
03-20-2007, 05:27 PM
If it all comes down to vocabulary, then why does there seem to be more questions than answers in life?:e2cry:

aruna
03-20-2007, 06:09 PM
The answer to that is "no," imo. There is nothing that a human being can experience that is beyond the potential scope of language. Think of describing a computer to a caveman (sorry, Geico guys). From the caveman's perspective, it would seem very much as you have said: he lacks the experiences and world-view to understand the description. But that doesn't mean language cannot be used to describe the computer. The problem is in the vocabulary, and vocabularies are indicative of experience, of world-view. So the potential is there, and this is always these case, imo, as hard as it may be to imagine (or describe :) ).

Well, my first answer to this question was also Yes; there are experiences that simply cannot be captured by language. The mind has dimensions that are quite certainly out of the range of vocabulary.

robeiae
03-20-2007, 06:19 PM
Well, my first answer to this question was also Yes; there are experiences that simply cannot be captured by language. The mind has dimensions that are quite certainly out of the range of vocabulary.Obviously, I disagree.

The conundrum here is that if I insist on examples of things/experiences that cannot be captured by language, how would you provide them, since you can't use language to describe them!

But things like love, your country's nature, and red are not such things, imo. The inability to provide a meaningful description of these things is dependent on vocabulary--of both the speaker/writer and the listener/reader.

aruna
03-20-2007, 06:51 PM
Obviously, I disagree.

The conundrum here is that if I insist on examples of things/experiences that cannot be captured by language, how would you provide them, since you can't use language to describe them!


That's just it; I cannot provide them. All words I have ever learnt, in any language, are inadequate. Thid inability does not in any way disprove my argument; maybe all it means, to you, is that my vocabulary is inadequate. I maintain that it has nothing to do with vocabulary.


But things like love, your country's nature, and red are not such things, imo. The inability to provide a meaningful description of these things is dependent on vocabulary--of both the speaker/writer and the listener/reader.

Even here, vocaculary is dependent on experience. Let's take a fruit, "simatoo", that grows in my country but is not normnaly exported, and which I assume you have never tasted.

Even if I had the vocabulary to describe the taste of that fruit - if you yourself have never tasted it, that vocabulary is useless. At the most I can compare with fruit you probably HAVE tasted - I could say it's a cross between pineapple and mango, for instance, which it isn't, and you might get an inkling of what I mean buy only if you yourself have tasted pineapple and mango.

Vocabulary is dependent in every case on the fact that we have shared experiences - the same senses, similar emotions, etc. We have generally been exposed to the same things. Words are no more that keys, shortcuts, we use to unlock those experiences. I say green, immediately you know what I meann. If you have never seen green yourself, the word is meaningless - to you.

I personally find words to be very inadequate substitutes for experiences.

aruna
03-20-2007, 06:52 PM
Again, with colours and tastes I think I have missed the OP's actual question. Sorry - I'm posting in a hurry. Gotta go.

Higgins
03-20-2007, 07:02 PM
Obviously, I disagree.

The conundrum here is that if I insist on examples of things/experiences that cannot be captured by language, how would you provide them, since you can't use language to describe them!

But things like love, your country's nature, and red are not such things, imo. The inability to provide a meaningful description of these things is dependent on vocabulary--of both the speaker/writer and the listener/reader.

I think you are basically correct. If I understand you right, you are suggesting that language works reasonably well for most socially important uses most of the time. It is pretty clear (I think) that language does not work perfectly since (for example) for many transfers of information, maps and diagrams work much better.
Of course even maps and diagrams have to be explained somehow or other. And of course, the way the world works now, there are tremendous numbers of totally non-linguistic information transfers going on between machines all the time. Somebody still has to give an assessment if the information is to be passed on into social usage, but a lot of information actually reaches the stage of being reported along with a probability of its being true ( a p-value in the realm of statistics, for example, a "contact" in the realm of weapons systems) without ever entering the world of language at all (up to that point). In the end, of course, anything can enter the world of language, but how it does so can be crucial. For example, in blinded studies this exclusion from linguistic assessment is considered to result in a greater probability of truth for a given chunk of information.
Anyway...a lot of the recent history of science has been concerned with looking into how language links up with all these other structures (machines, instruments, photographs, diagrams, theories, histories, engineering traditions, computer programs and so on) and a fairly sophisticated terminology (yah! language in the end) has been worked out to provide a "vocabulary" in which to describe all that....

robeiae
03-20-2007, 07:19 PM
That's just it; I cannot provide them. All words I have ever learnt, in any language, are inadequate. Thid inability does not in any way disprove my argument; maybe all it means, to you, is that my vocabulary is inadequate. I maintain that it has nothing to do with vocabulary.You're misunderstanding me here, Aruna. I was admiting to this reality--if you say you can't describe some concept through words, I cannot prove you wrong.

However, I think people do two things in this regard:

1) Underestimate their ability and the ability of others to either articulate or comprehend a reasonable description of a difficult concept.

2) Overestimate the uniqueness of their own understanding of a concept.

In either case, the idea that "words cannot express this" can arise, but it doesn't make it so, again imo.

And Sokal...

I can read binary.

Higgins
03-20-2007, 08:13 PM
And Sokal...

I can read binary.

And you can read maps too, but that doesn't make them linguistic objects.

robeiae
03-20-2007, 08:23 PM
*whooosh*

:D

Robert Toy
03-20-2007, 08:42 PM
The sensation of physical pain is nearly impossible to describe in words, we utilize exiting words e.g. stings, itches, burn, hurts like hell, etc., to describe symptoms, but the feeling [sensation] of the pain is blocked, otherwise we would actually feel the pain when discussing it.

Example, hitting your thumb with a hammer while trying to put a nail in the wall, most of use clumsy folks knows what that pain sensation feels like, but can you accurately put words to convey the pain? I think not.

robeiae
03-20-2007, 08:58 PM
"It hurts like the dickens!"

Q.E.D.

Seriously, good point Robert. There's a reponse for that somewhere in the back of my mind. I'll have to dwell on it for a bit.

Higgins
03-20-2007, 08:58 PM
The sensation of physical pain is nearly impossible to describe in words, we utilize exiting words e.g. stings, itches, burn, hurts like hell, etc., to describe symptoms, but the feeling [sensation] of the pain is blocked, otherwise we would actually feel the pain when discussing it.

Example, hitting your thumb with a hammer while trying to put a nail in the wall, most of use clumsy folks knows what that pain sensation feels like, but can you accurately put words to convey the pain? I think not.

I don't think language is supposed to convey absolutely everything, only the socially useful. If I say to a group of people: "Who is in pain?" and only those who are in pain say that they are, then we can say that language is working. Perhaps not perfectly, but well enough for most situations. If we want to measure pain, chances are we are going to have to specify some other procedure.

Meerkat
03-20-2007, 09:10 PM
Is there any subject, or language, beyond Sokal?

Sorry...back to discussion in progress...

Higgins
03-20-2007, 09:37 PM
Is there any subject, or language, beyond Sokal?

Sorry...back to discussion in progress...

It makes me wonder. I'm writing a very big Sci-Fi series that features a time-traveling renegade Byzantine Mercenary as its largely absconded hero...so any subject close to Science or Fiction or the Byzantine Empire or Mercenaries or Renegades or absconding or relatively recent history is of interest to me.

Meerkat
03-20-2007, 10:03 PM
Sounds intriguing! And serendipitous: how will your protagonist cope with language changing?

Higgins
03-20-2007, 10:24 PM
Sounds intriguing! And serendipitous: how will your protagonist cope with language changing?

Well...I'm only writing in English mostly, but so far people in the tale have gotten by with Latin when there were big disjunctions in time or space or demeanor or relative demonization. Because of the adventures of the savage tribe that raised Mr. Hero I assume Roman Army Latin would be more or less his native tongue and a reliable Lingua Franca for his early wanderings and even a possible way of communicating with some moderately modern characters. After all, Ammianus Marcellinus, was born in the East and wrote in Latin in the late 4th century, so Latin ought to work for the Early Byzantine adventures of even the most savage hero as well as standing him in good stead for later, more cosmic, deeds.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammianus_Marcellinus

aruna
03-21-2007, 10:05 AM
Is there any subject, or language, beyond Sokal?

Sorry...back to discussion in progress...

Yes.

aruna
03-21-2007, 10:10 AM
The sensation of physical pain is nearly impossible to describe in words, we utilize exiting words e.g. stings, itches, burn, hurts like hell, etc., to describe symptoms, but the feeling [sensation] of the pain is blocked, otherwise we would actually feel the pain when discussing it.
.

Exactly. Language is useless in actualy describing interior sensations, experiences etc. How would you, for instance, describe "cold" to, say, someone who grew up inthe wilds of the Amazon and has never known ice? The word "cold" is a shortcut to the sensation; we know what is meant because we have felt cold, but how can you put that sensation into words, to make it undersatndable for someone who has never experienced the thing itself? This is just a banal example from everyday life; there are other, subtler sensations that are certainly beyond languge; and it's not just a question of vocabulary. Words, any words, simply fall short.

kborsden
03-21-2007, 12:21 PM
How would you describe the colour blue to a blind person? Or any colour for that matter?

aruna
03-21-2007, 03:41 PM
Remember the movie Children if a Lesser God?
When William Hurt tries to tell deaf Marlee about Bach's music. And he can't describe it. And she asks him to show her. And he tries to use body language... but fails.

How, indeed, do you describe an exquisite piece of music, and most of all, what it does to you, how it makes ytou feel? Words simply can't approach it adequately; they are simply tags.

I may sound like a traitor, but I have often wished that my talent was for music rather than words. Music is so much more expressive.

Higgins
03-21-2007, 05:21 PM
Exactly. Language is useless in actualy describing interior sensations, experiences etc. How would you, for instance, describe "cold" to, say, someone who grew up inthe wilds of the Amazon and has never known ice? The word "cold" is a shortcut to the sensation; we know what is meant because we have felt cold, but how can you put that sensation into words, to make it undersatndable for someone who has never experienced the thing itself? This is just a banal example from everyday life; there are other, subtler sensations that are certainly beyond languge; and it's not just a question of vocabulary. Words, any words, simply fall short.

I've heard this thing about language and words always falling short and I've never found it to be as much of an issue as it is apparently to the hundreds of people and texts that have pointed it out. First of all, the mere fact that you can focus on this issue of the essentially un-describable nature of sensation for any one at any time shows that language is at least capable of outlining the problem. In fact we all know what you mean when you say I can't descibe an indescribable sensation. In fact we can accept that as a useful convention of language: you can just say "I'm cold" without cataloging all the neurological events involved and the moral implications of the steps you are going to take to get warm. After all, we know by the convention of the inadequacy of language that it would not do any good anyway.
In all of this, language is actually working quite well. For example, do I have to know all about all your mental states and sensations when you say you are cold? Does it really help? Can't I get you a coat or a hat or a scarf or a blanket or turn up the thermostat without knowing anything more than that you say you are cold?
One might reasonably say that one of the ways that language is adequate is by having a convenient level of inadequacy. We are never going to know what you really feel when you say you're hungry or thirsty or in pain or cold, but we can remedy the situation by using language and all the more quickly by using the very useful convention of the inadequacy of language to skip the millions of words it would take to attempt to describe the indescribable sensations.

robeiae
03-21-2007, 05:36 PM
Exactly. Language is useless in actualy describing interior sensations, experiences etc. How would you, for instance, describe "cold" to, say, someone who grew up inthe wilds of the Amazon and has never known ice?


How would you describe the colour blue to a blind person? Or any colour for that matter?Again, I would say these examples are not germane to the question, which was: are there things, aspects of human experience, that language cannot comprehend; is anything out-of-bounds?

Language can comprehend the feeling of lower temperatures: I'm cold.

Language can comprehend the high end of the visible light spectrum: that color is red.

In neither case is language useless. When someone uses these terms, I have an understanding of what they are saying. And the context of their use adds to my understanding.

The fact that a specific person might have no understanding when I use such a term, for any reason, does not make the term useless. Again, the problem is with vocabulary on both sides. There might be a term I do not know that would carry the understanding I desire to achieve with that person.

I understand the idea that there may be concepts beyond the scope of any language, and I think there's an argument to be had, there. But these things do not fit that bill, not in the least. The very fact that we can speak of them intelligently and with understanding here is proof of that.

aruna
03-21-2007, 09:30 PM
A

In neither case is language useless. When someone uses these terms, I have an understanding of what they are saying. And the context of their use adds to my understanding.

.

Well, OK, I deliberately chose banal, everyday experiences as examples, but they were not what I thought of when I first read the OP's question.

I maintain that there are experiences that are totally beyond the scope of language, and even beyond the scope of thought.

But most of all, I would like to hear the OP's thoughts on this! Where are you ColoradoGuy?

robeiae
03-22-2007, 12:06 AM
Well, OK, I deliberately chose banal, everyday experiences as examples, but they were not what I thought of when I first read the OP's question.I understand, but the problem with these experiences as examples is that they fail to capture your initial idea:

"experiences that are totally beyond the scope of language, and even beyond the scope of thought."

Note that the real difference between the banal examples, like red and cold, and the above concept is with the source. An experience beyond the scope of language is one that you cannot even define for yourself with words, let alone define it for someone else. If I say "I feel cold" to myself, I know what that means, even apart from my actual experience. If I wrote it in my journal and then read it sometime later, I would know exactly what I meant.

And this is why Robert's pain example is tricky. Pain seems too varied in nature to fit this mold. If I say "I feel pain," I know what that means at the moment, only. If I wrote it down, then read it later, what meaning does it carry? What kind of pain? The pain of a hammer on my thumb is different than the pain of a headache, or a toothache, or a gash on my leg, or of having my nipple pierced (not that I would know).

For my part, I think we lack specificity in the idea of pain, and it could be greatly improved. So I think pain, as a concept, is still presentable in language, if by no other way than a full description of its cause, nature, and severity.

But most of all, I would like to hear the OP's thoughts on this! Where are you ColoradoGuy?Yeah! Say something, CG!

ColoradoGuy
03-22-2007, 06:39 AM
I've been away for several days -- just catching up on everyone's fascinating contributions to this discussion. My own interest in this subject is very much related to my interest in the necessity (or not) of language for the process of abstract thought. I've always wondered if there are some aspects of consciousness that transcend the need for language. Hence my opening question.

What do I think about all this? I agree with Aruna that there appear to be thought experiences that are beyond our capacity to describe them with language. I say this as a participant in a very spiritual religious tradition, that of Quakerism. But--and this is a huge but--I agree with Robeiae that this is not an absolute attribute of language. We ought to be able to describe such things using language, and our inability to do so is not a function of language itself but of our limited linguistic powers. In other words, it is not the fault of language, but rather of our ability to use it. Given the right individual, that could change overnight. I expect it will.

To illustrate what I mean I return to a Quaker analogy. In meeting, Quakers sit for a very long time in silence. Yet when we feel moved to share some aspect of our spiritual experience, we rise and use language to do that. The point is that language, words, are the medium of the exchange.

In sum -- I don't think, on principle, that there is anything beyond the capacity of language to express.

Medievalist
03-22-2007, 07:17 AM
Here's an interesting related issue though; there are concepts in a given language that do not exactly exist in another language.

There are things I can say in Welsh, or French, for instance, using a single word, that I struggle to express in English. Those who are genuinely fluent in more than one language frequently are aware of this; I notice it mostly when I try to translate, especially poetry -- and I'm merely working towards a prose translation, not one that is metered.

Summonere
03-22-2007, 08:04 AM
The question is this: are there things, aspects of human experience, that language cannot comprehend...?.

Wait a minnit: language doesn’t comprehend anything.

So the answer to the question, as phrased, is, “Yes, certainly. Language doesn’t comprehend a doodley thing.”

There. I solved the conundrum.
:)

aruna
03-22-2007, 10:04 AM
There are things I can say in Welsh, or French, for instance, using a single word, that I struggle to express in English. Those who are genuinely fluent in more than one language frequently are aware of this; I notice it mostly when I try to translate, especially poetry -- and I'm merely working towards a prose translation, not one that is metered.


This is very true. And there are also concepts and perceptions which are prevalent in one culture, and totally lacking in another. When I first moved to Germany, after having lived in South America and India, I found that the very method of thinking and reasoning was totally different, and I had to totally relearn until I could reason the way a German does.

Much of the miscommunication between cultures comes from the assumption that all people think along the same lines of logic, and that our way is the default - and it's not just true.




What do I think about all this? I agree with Aruna that there appear to be thought experiences that are beyond our capacity to describe them with language. I say this as a participant in a very spiritual religious tradition, that of Quakerism. But--and this is a huge but--I agree with Robeiae that this is not an absolute attribute of language. We ought to be able to describe such things using language, and our inability to do so is not a function of language itself but of our limited linguistic powers. In other words, it is not the fault of language, but rather of our ability to use it. Given the right individual, that could change overnight. I expect it will.

What I found is that in some cases, the English language simply lacks the appropriate words. When I went to India and picked up a little Sanskrit I found words that did, in fact, express certain experiences for which, till then, I'd lacked the capacity; but still, in the end I found that even Sanskrit has its limits, and silence is better.

Penguin Queen
03-22-2007, 02:43 PM
This is a great discussion.

I'm trying to work out what my answre to the original question is, & I think it's both Yes and No. :D

I'm bilingual now, and sometimes I think in English & sometimes in German (and, since Argentina, scarily & wonderfully, sometimes in Spanish), but there is a stage before that. Sometimes, I can quite clearly catch myself thinking thoughts in their pre-language state. I know what I am thinking, but if it's a thought I want to take further, consciously, I have to stop and translate it into words. It's like glimpsing something out of the corner of my eye, but I am aware that a lot gets lost in the translation.
So although I am, most passionately, a word person; my native language, as it were, is pre-word. And there isnt a way in hell of translating what I am really thinking into any medium.
Of which language is one. Albeit, I also think, the most effective one. But then I probably would think that, seeing as I am a word person.

Is anything beyond language? Yes and no... Meaybe we need to see language not as an absolute but a relative thing, a vehicle or tool for expressing what we mean. The most precise tool, IMO, but still only an approximation.
And, as Aruna says, based very much on the necessity that poeple communicating use the same pool of images and experiences. How on earth do you explain flying to a tortoise?
Mind you, I would love to try, though.

Swan Song Unsung
03-22-2007, 03:14 PM
It must not be forgotten that language is essentially the spoken word, and is often accompanied by a specific intonation and gestures. There is an almost infinite number of them. The written word can never hope to capture all these shades of meaning.

Robert Toy
03-22-2007, 03:28 PM
“Communicating”, requires the receiver to understand the sender and vice versa, otherwise it is just transmitting sounds. It is also odd that sign language can in some instances convey feelings better than the spoken word, in addition to transcending species (primates are a good example of learning how to express wants and needs to humans without using speech). Just another weird thought.

aruna
03-22-2007, 03:37 PM
Sometimes, I can quite clearly catch myself thinking thoughts in their pre-language state. I know what I am thinking, but if it's a thought I want to take further, consciously, I have to stop and translate it into words. It's like glimpsing something out of the corner of my eye, but I am aware that a lot gets lost in the translation.


.

This is what I experienced even as a child. It's one of my most precise memories, and I must have been 8 yeras old as i used to puzzle over thse things in my mother's office in Port-of-Spain, nexct to the auir conditioning unit.

Things like: what is in the space between thoughts? What if there were nio words? What is the feeling of I'ness?Where does it come from? Does everyone feel the same as I do? Where do words come from?
I was absolutely certain, already at that age, that words and thoughts were only like a very thin layer, a sort of crust over my consciousness, and that I had to break out.
So I guess I was predisposed not to see language as anything more as a kind of code - words being nothing more than signposts, or shortcuts. Like a sign pointing to New York can never be New York itself - you have to go there to know what New York is.
So though I'm definitely a word person, I'm also constantly dissatisfied with words, and see them as no more as symbols for the real thing. As symbols, though, I guess they are adequate enough, It depends on the language, and what you want to communicate.

pdr
03-22-2007, 07:07 PM
this morning's BOS session I can never agree that words make things plain.

What's in my head is always beyond language to express.

ColoradoGuy
03-22-2007, 07:29 PM
This is very true. And there are also concepts and perceptions which are prevalent in one culture, and totally lacking in another. When I first moved to Germany, after having lived in South America and India, I found that the very method of thinking and reasoning was totally different, and I had to totally relearn until I could reason the way a German does.

Much of the miscommunication between cultures comes from the assumption that all people think along the same lines of logic, and that our way is the default - and it's not just true.
If this is so, then you're suggesting that the language we use very much determines our thought processes. It also makes me wonder, from a language theory point of view, if there is some meta-language out there, one that encompasses all the languages humans use. Perhaps this is the true innate language the brain uses to function, and all the other languages only subsets of it.

robeiae
03-22-2007, 08:10 PM
Nooooooooooooooo!

Sorry.

Well, the idea of a meta-language would seem to lead logically into the assumption that there is such a thing as human nature and that this nature is sufficient to define the parameters of human experience (and necessarily influence them). That's okay with me, but I doubt it will go over too well in most fields of academia. Though, I could be wrong.

However, there are certainly languages that are reductionist, by intent. Aside from symbolic logic, there is Carnap's work, though I think the general consensus is that Carnap failed, as Quine demonstrated (Two Dogmas of Empiricism (http://www.ditext.com/quine/quine.html)--it's pretty heavy, but quite profound, imo).

And really, that's what this discussion is all about, in the end--empiricism and what it really means, imo. That should go a long way towards explaining my views, here (and pretty much everywhere else).

Medievalist
03-22-2007, 08:34 PM
If this is so, then you're suggesting that the language we use very much determines our thought processes. It also makes me wonder, from a language theory point of view, if there is some meta-language out there, one that encompasses all the languages humans use. Perhaps this is the true innate language the brain uses to function, and all the other languages only subsets of it.

Sapir-Whorf lives!

There are several linguistic theories/schools about a single ur-language and others about a meta-language; Shweta would know better . . . it's my impression that these theories are less in favor now.

But certainly I.E. roots (http://www.bartleby.com/61/8.html) suggest some sort of cohesive thought pattern.

The linguistically curious (kinky? fetishistic?) can browse the Proto *I.E. roots here (http://www.bartleby.com/61/IEroots.html).

Higgins
03-22-2007, 08:42 PM
Well, the idea of a meta-language would seem to lead logically into the assumption that there is such a thing as human nature and that this nature is sufficient to define the parameters of human experience (and necessarily influence them). That's okay with me, but I doubt it will go over too well in most fields of academia. Though, I could be wrong.

However, there are certainly languages that are reductionist, by intent. Aside from symbolic logic, there is Carnap's work, though I think the general consensus is that Carnap failed, as Quine demonstrated (Two Dogmas of Empiricism (http://www.ditext.com/quine/quine.html)--it's pretty heavy, but quite profound, imo).

And really, that's what this discussion is all about, in the end--empiricism and what it really means, imo. That should go a long way towards explaining my views, here (and pretty much everywhere else).

Yessiree, Robeiae has hit the Quine on the head. The two dogmas in question being the analytic synthetic distinction and confirmation via sense data. Davidson suggested a third dogma: the "conceptual scheme":

http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1243336

This is all covered pretty throughly in a book by Zammito I have recommended:

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/15864.ctl

where it is strongly suggested that in History of Science, there has been a tendency to pull back from the strong versions of Quine and Davidson, especially where language is concerned. For example, while it might be true that what an engineer means by "current" is different from what a weak-force physicist means by "current" (and what a hydraulic engineer might mean by "current" or "force" and so on)...there are intermediate languages or trade-languages where these things can be worked out in practice.

By the 1980s, the Quine and Davidson formulations had been restated in terms of commensurability (how to compare theories) and translation (how to tell if linguistically structured statements can propagate and be understood once they have passed in and out of other languages). To me the interesting thing is that while the antipositivist rhetoric has been shown to be a bit excessive and counterproductive, the actual work being done in history of Science shows that if you look at scientific practice, it doesn't follow positivist or Popperian paradigms at all. This is all partly because, in actual practice, language is supplemented by other procedures such as measuring devices, observational procedures, diagrams and computer programs.

The problem, in my view, with the idea of a metalanguage is not a lack of any sign of it, but the superabundance of metalinguistic objects or to put it another way: when you look into the metalanguages you find basically everything: history, society, maps, cognative structures, diagrams, protocols, computer programs, archival procedures, brainstates, hormones, seasonal changes, rules of thumb, the design of sailboats and in the end you are back where you started: language works adequately for most social uses most of the time, but for anything other than that, you're going to need some non-linguistic assistance.

Summonere
03-22-2007, 08:59 PM
Wittgenstein said that language is the best tool we have for the job of communication, never mind its inadequacies, which supports Sokal’s notion of “acceptable accuracy” within communication.

Umberto Eco, too, would say that there are different kinds of communication, and that one kind is given more to absolutism than the other. For instance, a shopping list -- buy one dozen strawberries at the market -- is pretty clear. But a different kind of communication, one dealing with art, becomes less clear by its very nature. It’s art, after all, and subject to interpretation. So, too, might one then imagine that there are certain other kinds of communication that are more prone to imprecision, even more prone to slipping the grasp of language.

Zipping back to Wittgenstein for a moment, he also said that there were things language simply could not address, and since we’re all apparently bi- or multi-lingual, here’s what he said:

Es gibt allerdings Unassprchliches. Dies zeigt sich, es it das Mystische.
(Okay, but since I’m only one-and-a-half lingual, here it is in English...)

There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.
So, as has already been stated, there may indeed be things that language cannot be used to “adequately” express, and the more they approach the mystical, the more those things become inexpressible.

And therein, I think, twists and churns the whole argument. There are certain things in which we don’t accept any imprecision when it comes to communicating them, and there are certain things in which we’re willing to accept a broad range of imprecision.

In common communication we can argue about what we mean by the color “red,” but no one really argues that red isn’t red, after all -- we only argue (after the fact) about degrees of nuance, but not actual meaning. (We’re talking red, after all, not green.)

Now, when it comes to things “inexpressible,” the short answer is that, no matter what you’re talking about, if you’re talking about it, you’ve just expressed it. Maybe badly, maybe inadequately, but there it is. Lumpy, misshapen, maybe even stinky, but it’s there, as perfectly or imperfectly formed as your ability to put it into words.

For example, what is one man’s experience with the infinite? Is it Philip K. Dick’s pink laserbeam boring a hole of supreme knowledge into his forehead one day after answering a knock at the door of his California home, or is it the completely unreadable LSD gibberish of an alternate reality that comprised a portion of one of his books? The first one describes an undescribable experience in familiar terms so I get a hint of what he means without understanding exactly the same sort of thing he went through. The latter describes in complete sentences an undescribable experience that, ultimately, makes no sense -- kind of like Tori Amos lyrics -- which then puts me off the story and makes me not care to keep reading. The former more successfully captures the indescribable, the latter does not.

Language, then, despite its limitations, would seem to be capable of at least hinting at some things, if not evoking them fully. And “evoking things fully” isn’t really the job of language, after all. If it were, I could read about eating a nice steak dinner and washing it down with a gallon of wine and be just as satisfied as if I had actually had the meal.

But it doesn’t work that way. So to expect language to “fully” or “absolutely” communicate an experience or a picture is wrong. It can’t. It’s not supposed to.

That’s why Wolfgang Iser proposed his scheme of “incompleteness” in language, and that the written word was like a connect-the-dots in which readers filled in the gaps to complete the picture. By and large they fill in the gaps in similar ways, getting much the same idea from a given text. And the more the given text is something simple, like a shopping list, the more there is less room for disagreement about what it means. The more that the text becomes artsy or metaphysical, the more that one might argue, then, about meaning.

So, is there any human experience beyond the ability of language to communicate?

No.

But the more uncommon the experience, the more difficult it’s gonna be to talk about in ways that other people get it. Degrees of imprecision increase in direct proportion to the degrees of strangeness of that which is discussed.

At least that’s what occurs to me now. Might change my mind tomorrow.

ColoradoGuy
03-23-2007, 12:50 AM
So, is there any human experience beyond the ability of language to communicate?

No.
I agree. I don't think there is some fundamental, unbreachable wall that language, by its very nature, cannot get through.

So to expect language to “fully” or “absolutely” communicate an experience or a picture is wrong. It can’t. It’s not supposed to.
Although some say poetic language comes closest to this goal.

But the more uncommon the experience, the more difficult it’s gonna be to talk about in ways that other people get it. Degrees of imprecision increase in direct proportion to the degrees of strangeness of that which is discussed.
Well put.

ColoradoGuy
03-23-2007, 12:57 AM
Sapir-Whorf lives!
Yeah, I keep dragging it back into the forum, kicking and screaming.

There are several linguistic theories/schools about a single ur-language and others about a meta-language; Shweta would know better . . . it's my impression that these theories are less in favor now.
I know they're out of fashion recently. I'd love for anyone to point me toward a readable review of what the current cutting-edge notions are, and why. Because I think writers should think about this stuff. To me it's not esoteric at all -- it's the nuts and bolts of using language.

aruna
03-23-2007, 10:58 AM
I would actually prefer it if we could rely on our OWN observations here, rather than bolster our arguments with the theories of others!
For instance:



Well, the idea of a meta-language would seem to lead logically into the assumption that there is such a thing as human nature and that this nature is sufficient to define the parameters of human experience (and necessarily influence them). That's okay with me, but I doubt it will go over too well in most fields of academia. Though, I could be wrong. (my bold)

I'm not ashamed to say, and sorry if I sound irreverent, but I couldn't give two hoots what most fields of academia say; I am stubbornly reliant on my own experiences, which, for me, trumps anything I may read in a book, no matter how clever the writer. However, if it is going to be anacademic discussion, I'll have to bow out, as many of the names you all have mentioned mean nothing to me. (where did I leave my crayons?)



If this is so, then you're suggesting that the language we use very much determines our thought processes. It also makes me wonder, from a language theory point of view, if there is some meta-language out there, one that encompasses all the languages humans use. Perhaps this is the true innate language the brain uses to function, and all the other languages only subsets of it.

I'd say not language determines our thought processes, but the culture we grew up in, of which language is but an expression. A person growing up in, say, Germany has a mental make-up totally different to, say, a traditional Indian not exposed to Western thinking. More than language separates them. They actually experience themselves and the world differently. And even if the Indian were to learn German, or the German the Indian's language, there would be little communality besides the naming of external objects and actions. If one could draw a map of these peoples minds, those maps would look like two different countries; language fails.

Communication between such people requires the ability to completely drop an entire mind-set, and take up that of the other; for the German to become the native, or the native to become the German temporarily; not just the language, but the very experience of the other's selfhood. And even the translation of words into the other's language doesn't help.

I don't believe in a meta-language, but I do believe in a meta-consciousness, a common basis for all cultures, all individuals within a culture, which would enable us, well, to put it simply, to put on the German hat, or the American hat, or the Indian hat. The more we are able to do that, the better we are able to communicate; because language in itself is not enough.

I do agree with the following:


there may indeed be things that language cannot be used to “adequately” express, and the more they approach the mystical, the more those things become inexpressible.

And therein, I think, twists and churns the whole argument. There are certain things in which we don’t accept any imprecision when it comes to communicating them, and there are certain things in which we’re willing to accept a broad range of imprecision.

robeiae
03-23-2007, 01:32 PM
I would actually prefer it if we could rely on our OWN observations here, rather than bolster our arguments with the theories of others!

I'm [s]not ashamed to say, and sorry if I sound irreverent, but I couldn't give two hoots what most fields of academia say; I am stubbornly reliant on my own experiences, which, for me, trumps anything I may read in a book, no matter how clever the writer. However, if it is going to be anacademic discussion, I'll have to bow out, as many of the names you all have mentioned mean nothing to me. (where did I leave my crayons?)
Not to stroke your ego too much, but in general, I find your opinions to be every bit as meaningful and significant as those of anyone else, musty old philosopher or otherwise (no offense, CG :D ). And I find them to be such precisely because they are a product of what you say they are: your experiences. So, please don't bow out, Aruna.

aruna
03-23-2007, 04:35 PM
Not to stroke your ego too much, but in general, I find your opinions to be every bit as meaningful and significant as those of anyone else, musty old philosopher or otherwise (no offense, CG :D ). And I find them to be such precisely because they are a product of what you say they are: your experiences. So, please don't bow out, Aruna.

Thanks Rob, that is nice to hear! I don't have a degree in this stuff but it has always fascinated me, and being a 100% introvert has kind of predestined me to scraping the edges of my consciousness for information...
So, now where did you say you hid my crayons?:tongue

ColoradoGuy
03-23-2007, 07:36 PM
I would actually prefer it if we could rely on our OWN observations here, rather than bolster our arguments with the theories of others!
What you say is actually very much in the tradition of a couple of musty old, dead, white male philolosphers -- David Hume, for one. And your opinions about your experiences are as good as his.

robeiae
03-23-2007, 07:42 PM
What you say is actually very much in the tradition of a couple of musty old, dead, white male philolosphers -- David Hume, for one. And your opinions about your experiences are as good as his.
Yes. Empiricism (which was why I brought up Quine after I was given the opening).

Penguin Queen
03-24-2007, 03:50 PM
I think we're maybe talking about two different things now -- is there a concept that is beyond the expression of language (and I think most of us are saying there isnt, by and large; language is not perfect but it'll do); and are there individual experiences or, yes, concepts that are only conveyed with difficulty to others due to cultural differences or the lack of shared experiences (explaining the colour blue to a blind person etc.).
In which cases there are difficulties of communication. I may be able to express something concisely in a word in one language, which I may have to describe with half a dozen words in another because the idea, concept or experience doesnt exist. For example, snow to somebody who has only ever lived in a hot climate, the taste of a watermelon to someone who's never had one; the Welsh word hiraeth (something between nostalgia and homesickness but not precisely either), schadenfreude, meschugge etc.
The other thing are highly individual experiences which are indescribable to others, such as the hallucinations mentionedby kborsden on the first page of this thread.
I have a mild form of synaesthesia (sp?) which means that I see some sounds & physical sensations in colour. It took me quite a while to realise that not everybody does this, & that there is even a word for it. I went to the dentist once describing a toothache I had to her as "blue, not red". I was sure that this must mean something to her and make the thing clear. But she just didnt get it. And I couldnt understand how she couldnt get it when it was so obvious and clear to me what exactly a blue pain as opposed to a red pain was. Very frustrating. (For both of us, I'm sure.)

kdnxdr
03-24-2007, 04:50 PM
And therein, I think, twists and churns the whole argument. There are certain things in which we don’t accept any imprecision when it comes to communicating them, and there are certain things in which we’re willing to accept a broad range of imprecision.

Language, then, despite its limitations, would seem to be capable of at least hinting at some things, if not evoking them fully. And “evoking things fully” isn’t really the job of language, after all. If it were, I could read about eating a nice steak dinner and washing it down with a gallon of wine and be just as satisfied as if I had actually had the meal.

But it doesn’t work that way. So to expect language to “fully” or “absolutely” communicate an experience or a picture is wrong. It can’t. It’s not supposed to.

So, is there any human experience beyond the ability of language to communicate?

No.

But the more uncommon the experience, the more difficult it’s gonna be to talk about in ways that other people get it. Degrees of imprecision increase in direct proportion to the degrees of strangeness of that which is discussed.

.[/quote]

Sorry, I tried to quote and I messed it up.

This thread is fascinating and helpful. I had a UFO experience that I was hard pressed to convey adequately. I attempted to write it out in a short stroy titled An Abrupt Turn. I have that story posted at OurEcho.com.

In writing that story I tried to communicate as precisely as I could what the thing looked like. It was seen in daylight, "standing still" about 30 feet over my head. My two young children were with me. Granted, I have probably misrepresented the thing in that I was in a state of terror when I had the experience.

The difficulty I had, other than my poor writing skills, was that my brain was frantically searching for language to make a precise account while another part of me was wanting to escape the experience. I tried to capture the interior workings of this dynamic. When the story was done, I knew I had portrayed the experience to the best of my ability but I also knew that I had not been precise/precise. I couldn't, my brain could not wrap itself around the object because I couldn't find words to convey what I was seeing such that it was recognizable to you(universal).

That said, the thing was there, in plain sight. I didn't have to evoke anything. It was a fact that I could not handle. Now, if I was privy to information about the object, that would be a different story. I had to conclude for myself that it was something that belongs to our government and it was out for a test drive. I could feel more comfortable with that thought even though the not knowing what it was had me in a state of paralyzing terror I had never yet experienced in my life.

kdnxdr
03-24-2007, 05:12 PM
I, personally, like to think there is what I call a common denominator to humanity that holds true no matter to whom it is applied. I have not yet translated that denominator into language but, I believe that it exists.

The interesting thing about a baby is that no matter what the genetic make-up of the baby, and even after the baby is born, it has the capability to adhere to any language, logic system of any people group.

So, given a certain life of experiences, that baby has the ability to interpret those life experiences, many that are common to all people groups, into any language. So, maybe there are language templates that are adaptible to any language?

kdnxdr
03-24-2007, 05:20 PM
One other thing I was thinking of while reading throught the thread was the story of the tower of Babel. Whether a person is a christian or not, I find it interesting that one of the first difficulties with humanity-in community is that language was used to challenge God with intent to usurp His authority. God's response was to bring confusion to what was a cohesive language system.

I hear often people reference the fact (?) that humans do not utilize all of their brain power. If I'm not mistaken, there is a biblical reference that God put a cloud over the peoples' minds as well. I've often wondered why do we not access that portion of our brain and why would a part of our brain exist that we would not use?

I think the concept of God is one of those that seems to be fairly universal that no universal precision is commonly recognized. Maybe that's why humans come endowed with the capacity for faith? Seems that to operate one's faith, there must be something communicated both liguistically and non-liguistically.

Penguin Queen
03-24-2007, 11:59 PM
<...> tower of Babel. Whether a person is a christian or not, I find it interesting that one of the first difficulties with humanity-in community is that language was used to challenge God with intent to usurp His authority. God's response was to bring confusion to what was a cohesive language system.

As far as I remember, what the poeple did in the Tower of Babel story was wanting to build a tower so high it would reach heaven. God didnt like it & in order to stop them, he gave each of them another language (whereas before, they had all spoken the same one).
To nonchristians like myself, it's a fable to explain why poeple speak different languages. And - barring God - it's broadly correct, in that probably all human languages developed out of one original ur-language. At least I believe that is the theory.




The interesting thing about a baby is that no matter what the genetic make-up of the baby, and even after the baby is born, it has the capability to adhere to any language, logic system of any people group.


Yes... but certainly the physical flexibility - the ability to shape any sound - is lost in most poeple after babyhood - which is why the majority of poeple speak all languages other than their mother-tongue with an accent.
I dont know about the flexibility of the mind; I think that potentially that should not be as quickly lost as that of the tongue (epiglottis, wherever it is we shape sounds).
Certainly language is a hell of a lot more than just vocab and grammar.

Medievalist
03-25-2007, 12:01 AM
And - barring God - it's broadly correct, in that probably all human languages developed out of one original ur-language. At least I believe that is the theory.



Meh. Not so much now; more like a couple of independent languages.

Hey Shweta! You're needed ma'am.

Penguin Queen
03-25-2007, 12:04 AM
Meh. Not so much now; more like a couple of independent languages.

So two unconnected groups managed to arrive at developing langugae independently of each other? I like that. That seems to mean that we woudl end up with language sooner or later, in any case.

Medievalist
03-25-2007, 12:19 AM
So two unconnected groups managed to arrive at developing langugae independently of each other? I like that. That seems to mean that we woudl end up with language sooner or later, in any case.

Maybe even more than two; mitochondrial DNA studies are adding a whole bunch of new data, much of it conflicting.

ColoradoGuy
03-25-2007, 02:05 AM
Maybe even more than two; mitochondrial DNA studies are adding a whole bunch of new data, much of it conflicting.

As mitochondrial DNA studies often are.

robeiae
03-25-2007, 02:12 AM
Maybe even more than two; mitochondrial DNA studies are adding a whole bunch of new data, much of it conflicting.
What did Neanderthals speak, as opposed to Cro-Magnons?

Maybe more than two? I think "more than twenty" would be a better starting point.

Of course, that doesn't mean independently developing languages would actually be all that different...

Medievalist
03-25-2007, 03:08 AM
What did Neanderthals speak, as opposed to Cro-Magnons?

Maybe more than two? I think "more than twenty" would be a better starting point.

Of course, that doesn't mean independently developing languages would actually be all that different...

This is a religious issue among linguists, of the sort that leads to hurled objects and invective, both, and I ain't mixin' in :D

aruna
03-25-2007, 09:03 AM
I saw a programme on feral childrenthe other day, who grew up with animals from a very young age. In the case of one boy, it was not possible to teach him to speak or to think like a human because, it seems, he was with the animals (dogs, I think it was) since he was a baby, and if a child has not heard any human sounds before a certain age it simply cannot learn language. In spite of the most intensive one-to-one training with an educator, this boy never learned to speak properly.
Perhaps Lisa knows more; go on, remind me of the details!

Medievalist
03-25-2007, 10:45 AM
I saw a programme on feral childrenthe other day, who grew up with animals from a very young age. In the case of one boy, it was not possible to teach him to speak or to think like a human because, it seems, he was with the animals (dogs, I think it was) since he was a baby, and if a child has not heard any human sounds before a certain age it simply cannot learn language. In spite of the most intensive one-to-one training with an educator, this boy never learned to speak properly.
Perhaps Lisa knows more; go on, remind me of the details!

I've read a few case studies. Mostly there's a point where without stimulation, a baby/child's brain stops changing in terms of language acquisition -- and for the first few years, kids are giant language acquisition sponges, and that works for spoken and signed languages both.

This is really Colorado Guy's area, anyway.

ColoradoGuy
03-25-2007, 11:35 PM
There is an interesting parallel here between speech acquisition and seeing. As Medievalist says, there appears to be a window of time in early development when the brain is particularly able to learn language. This should surprise no one, since young children are well known for their ability to learn multiple languages quickly. It gets much harder as we age to learn new language pathways.

The visual cortex of the brain behaves in a similar way. The best example of this is the condition known as amblyopia, or "lazy eye." Fused vision, the ability for the brain to process input from both eyes and have depth perception, needs to develop within the first few years of life, often in the first year. If the eyes are not matched, not looking at the same thing, the brain will learn to ignore input from one eye. Even if surgery later restores fused vision, it is too late -- the now older brain cannot learn how to use the visual information.

blacbird
03-27-2007, 11:23 AM
Yes. There's . . . ah . . . you know . . . the . . . . . . . ah . . . . damn!

caw

pdr
03-29-2007, 01:56 AM
the arguments when I could get to the board,

Sorry, you haven't convinced me.

If, as I think, we use language to shape and form our world, making it mentally safe and comfortable to live in, then it's only a tool to shape our personal experiences.

So can language convey what dying is like from someone as they die to someone who is not?

It's a sort of sanity safety-blanket to say that language can be used to talk about any human experience.

It's comforting but very limiting to assume that all human experience is simple and small enough to be talked about. It's a great leveller too isn't it? As well as a form of controlling our world, of course, which also makes us feel sane and in control.

No, 'There are more things in heaven and earth...'

blacbird
03-29-2007, 10:13 AM
Yeah, but there's . . . that thing . . . you know what I mean? . . . the . . . crap, it was right on the tip of my tongue . . . the . . . the . . . thing . . . like, you know . . . that . . .

caw

ColoradoGuy
03-29-2007, 07:46 PM
Sorry, you haven't convinced me.

If, as I think, we use language to shape and form our world, making it mentally safe and comfortable to live in, then it's only a tool to shape our personal experiences.

So can language convey what dying is like from someone as they die to someone who is not?

It's a sort of sanity safety-blanket to say that language can be used to talk about any human experience.
It seems to me that you are ruling out the possibility language can comprehend any human experience based only upon your assumption about what language can do. Even though you cannot conceive of a way language can express the reality of dying to a non-dying person, why does that prove that no such way exists? The sciences, for example, are full of instances where something that could not be conceived as being possible later becomes commonplace, once our analytic powers advance.

On a more mundane level, I think most readers occasionally run across a passage of text that expresses things in ways they previously thought beyond language. Why cannot this process continue, perhaps as the human brain and consciousness evolve further?

No, 'There are more things in heaven and earth...'
Indeed there are, Horatio, including the untapped possibilities of human language.

robeiae
03-30-2007, 12:08 AM
It's a sort of sanity safety-blanket to say that language can be used to talk about any human experience.
I don't think that's correct, at all, for me at any rate. I could just as easily claim that insisting some things are beyond the realm of language is sort of a way to hold on to an idea of the mystical as valid, a way to wall off individual experience as to protect it from others. But I don't think that would be correct, either.

When it comes to relating experiences, language is nothing more than descriptive. No description will ever be complete. Ever. There is always something more that can be said about any experience, any event, any place, etc. So, language serves to convey some elements of an experience from one person to another (or to oneself for future reference). It's all about effectiveness. Can language effectively convey information that describes any potential experience? I think it can. Others disagree. But if I ask for an example that cannot be described by language, what can be said? Hence the dilemma.

pdr
03-30-2007, 07:33 PM
Cheek! No, I'm not talking about amorphous woolly fuzzies.
And I can't get the language to shape what I'm saying properly. This kind of discussion is far better face to face because of the imprecisions in the words I use and the way I can shape them.

Language is our tool, we use it now. We use it to shape and comprehend our world.

But our world has so much in it that we can't comprehend now. When we do find language for something, what it does, by turning it into words, is to reduce and simplify the experience/thing. Right now our language does not stretch to fit all experiences.

That it may do, I concede. But we will have to alter language and the way we use it a great deal to do so.
I haven't seen much experimental writing which does this successfully
I hold that our language or perhaps just our use of it is not, at present, sufficient to cope with all that we might experience.

Higgins
03-30-2007, 09:28 PM
Yeah, but there's . . . that thing . . . you know what I mean? . . . the . . . crap, it was right on the tip of my tongue . . . the . . . the . . . thing . . . like, you know . . . that . . .

caw


It seems to me that you are ruling out the possibility language can comprehend any human experience based only upon your assumption about what language can do.




When it comes to relating experiences, language is nothing more than descriptive. No description will ever be complete. Ever. There is always something more that can be said about any experience, any event, any place, etc. So, language serves to convey some elements of an experience from one person to another (or to oneself for future reference). It's all about effectiveness. Can language effectively convey information that describes any potential experience? I think it can. Others disagree. But if I ask for an example that cannot be described by language, what can be said? Hence the dilemma.


Cheek! No, I'm not talking about amorphous woolly fuzzies.
And I can't get the language to shape what I'm saying properly. This kind of discussion is far better face to face because of the imprecisions in the words I use and the way I can shape them.

Language is our tool, we use it now. We use it to shape and comprehend our world.

But our world has so much in it that we can't comprehend now. When we do find language for something, what it does, by turning it into words, is to reduce and simplify the experience/thing. Right now our language does not stretch to fit all experiences.

That it may do, I concede. But we will have to alter language and the way we use it a great deal to do so.
I haven't seen much experimental writing which does this successfully
I hold that our language or perhaps just our use of it is not, at present, sufficient to cope with all that we might experience.


I hate to keep bringing up Lacan, but his schemes for dealing with how each individual blob of human identity is both sustained and completely undermined by his relation to language is pretty interesting, and I think it has some elements of truth as well.

For example, no matter how we want to present the immense possibilities of language, in practice it is always recalibrated to center on the most common concerns of the majority of people who use it. This is both frustrating for people who want to traverse the current currents of what means what and get to something else and, at the same time, it is why language is as useful as it is: it is constantly recentering the immense nets of meaning as the meanings of words shift this way and that at different speeds. I have suggested there are plenty of "compromise" structures or metalanguages or "trade languages" or jargons or diagrams or computer programs for getting around the inadequacies of language...but those all routinely leave the common ground of language for some more specialized and non-linguistic or even non-syntactic realm...and the common ground of language remains that illusory realm of intelligibility that it always does. I say "illusory" because the realm where language functions with the full and instant transparency that we assume it has, is much more circumscribed than it appears to be; one only has to read magazines from a few decades ago or any current specialized literature to encounter a language that is not as intelligible as one generally supposes one's own language to be to one's self...indeed, this is the very sort of thing that leads one to suppose that it is the idea of "experience" that falls just as short as the "inadequacy" of language in describing that poorly and incompetely experienced experience of the inadequacy of language.

Meanwhile...so to speak...what happens in the Lacanian scheme of language? What is so traumatic about leaving the world of experience and entering the realm of language?
In the Lacanian scheme, you enter language (where everything gets recalibrated to the standards of what matters in some common way to everybody who speaks that language), by giving up your own special and very lucky relation to the Real for some grammatical machinery that moves you ever farther from the ever-more-lost originals of your encounter with the Real, because, of course, "in language" we can say, "the ever-more-lost originals of your encounter with the Real" so we can have those originals back in linguistic form whenever we want so they are not outside of language....of course the fact is that, by definition, everything is equally outside of language so in linguistic terms "the ever-more-lost originals of your encounter with the Real" are no more outside of language than the box of paperclips you thought about buying yesterday. It is all equal in the funhouse of language.
And that is all if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, in the Lacanian scheme all kinds of (schematically) topological or (philosophically)ontological problems go wrong in your relation to language. You can mistake langauge for the Real and/or the signifier in which case you are really nuts or you can have some non-linguistic pure signifier patches stuck like raisins in your discourse in which case, you need a good shrink.

pdr
03-31-2007, 07:06 PM
the study of philosophy and linguistics so mind bending as to drive me to the edge of insanity, and I avoid more than the basic courses.

I find what you say Lacan is saying, Sokal, if I've absorbed it correctly, to be near what I'm trying to say.

I'd like to add that through my own experience I've seen that everyone's language is personal, built up through those personal experiences. Darn it, you only have to look at the problems in communicating you can have amongst a group of English speaking JET students when the OZ member asks: "Do you wanna crack a tinnie?"

We can't even use language to communicate freely with each other unless we know the 'jargon' of the group. If we set limits on the language and explain it first then all group members can communicate. Right now we haven't a way to use language to explain every experience without limiting it and therefore limiting what it can explain.

kdnxdr
03-31-2007, 08:00 PM
I'm not an educated person but I find this "discussion" so interesting.

As I read through each post, I get a visual of "layers of language" with a wide spectrum.

Things that come to mind regarding language:

Koko : How is she/he coming along with language acquisiion? Is there a
next generation?

Interpreting animal communication : the art of decoding animal "talk"

Poetry generators : does the database become large enough that
"spontaneity" is a predictable outcome?

What happens when machines are able to "emmote"?

In the christian belief system, God CREATED with a spoken word.

Will language as it is current and popularly used become archiac?

Are social classes defined by their language acquisition and use?

Anyway, ya'll got my tiny little brain in overdrive.

robeiae
04-01-2007, 02:38 AM
Are social classes defined by their language acquisition and use?

Anyway, ya'll got my tiny little brain in overdrive.Heh. You think pretty well, from what I've seen.

Anyway, if you want an answer--of sorts--to this question, read this book: Domination and the Arts of Resistance (http://www.amazon.com/Domination-Arts-Resistance-Hidden-Transcripts/dp/0300056699) by James C. Scott.

kborsden
04-08-2007, 02:43 AM
I think the pain and shock that dclary is going through right now is beyond words. Such a sickening, nay, vile thing to happen to anyone. It is beyond my comprehension let alone vocabulary or language...

The Grift
04-10-2007, 06:30 AM
If language was adequate to describe anything beyond nouns we wouldn't have metaphor, simile, poetry, or anything that tries to explain to a reader using something they are hopefully more familiar with than the subject at hand. And in that case, we are merely hoping that their shared experience is similar enough to ours that we can use words to invoke a reaction in them.

ColoradoGuy
04-10-2007, 08:21 AM
Well yes, but aren't we after all using language to construct those similes and metaphors? So then those things aren't really beyond the power of language to describe?

cray
04-11-2007, 06:43 PM
To me ALL subjects are beyond language.
I think we write BECAUSE we like the challenge of trying to capture a subject with mere words.

louiscypher
05-04-2007, 09:34 AM
The orginal question is debased by mind set rather than based on mind state (consciousness)...which makes it a matter of nonsensical bigotry!

In regards to an argument over the limits of the known universe (or not), David Hume once said, Why can't I go there (to the edge of the universe) and simply lift up my arm across it?

J

can't means won't, as only cowards end things!

ColoradoGuy
05-04-2007, 08:33 PM
The orginal question is debased by mind set rather than based on mind state (consciousness)...which makes it a matter of nonsensical bigotry!
I don't understand what you mean -- can you explain, especially the bigotry part?

dclary
05-05-2007, 12:37 AM
I don't think there are any subjects beyond the bounds of language's ability to describe. However, visceral senses and experiences can never be as fully understood through language as the actual sensation or experience.

In other words (to be a little crass), while language can express the sensation of sex, it can never even remotely come close to equating that sensation.

Or, another way, there is no subject that language can't give us a view of, as long as we realize that the limits of language define the limits of how well we can truly understand the thing.

louiscypher
05-05-2007, 06:33 PM
Then what about R.E.M sleep - eh? 'Love makes while my heart smiles sleeping'...pretty tuff to beat - I reckon?
Tis not the act which stimulates, but moreso the anticipation of being in the act? Read The Little Prince... a priceless book which is still one of best sellers world wide! Written in WW1 btw!

CG: we all have a selective hearing/consciousness. The problem is we think our own consciousness is more real than others. But I assure you it's all a fallacy! Hence mind set (empirically) over rides mind state (the unknown)!
And we all know FACT (mind set) is nothing more than instrumentalist mass consensus, rather than just is!

*Give rocks the right to vote*

signed: the suicidal nihilist

J

I hope I make sense ... but then what the hell does other than confusion!
SYNTAX holds all the keys btw... so yes, nothing is beyond the reach of mind! But then everything else is beyond reaching a mind set in stone...or gravel tar'd up as mortar - that is!