Saint Paul, MN
QUESTIONS AND DISCUSSION, 3/23/11
Welcome all to tonight's St. Paul Socrates Cafe. Here are the questions we've asked tonight:
How much should we work?
Don't does language control and/or limit our ability to think? Is clarity of message absolute?
Who else is sick of pessimism?
Is risk an essential part of reality?
Does true beauty require the particular?
How relevant is human nature to law and morality?
Is it possible to live in a world without violence , would we want to?
Why do we choose convenience over health?
. . . and here is the questions we've chosen for tonight's discussion:
"Does language control/limit out ability to think?"
Bob: some other cultures don't say the words front or behind but east, west, north, south, when referring to someone else's spatial relationship to each other. This is due to their not thinking of themselves as the center of the universe. Metaphors: scientists label stuff "charming" etc Math is sometimes described as "elegant". "Curly" questions in Australia mean tricky or complicated questions. When it rains what is the "it" that is raining? It's interesting to look in to the fundamental purposes of language. Another metaphor we in english sometimes use: "leading question"
Jim: design now is being controlled by the software. tools, vernacular. (implication: are we both limited and challenged by these parameters? Or one more than the other?)
Jon: has it always been like this, have we always been limited/challenged by our tools/languages?
Jim: we "live within the freedom of chains." Limitations are needed
Mike: our metaphors are the constructs that shape our ideas.
Mary: cultural import. behavior between the sexes are viewed differently when we use language as men or women. What words are ok to describe behavior, between men and women?
Jon: I recently heard three of the most powerful females in the Obama administration described as "the Valkyries" because of their advocacy for certain kinds of military intervention. Somehow their being women makes this inclination "different". Is this about our language or ouselves?
Mary: culture limits how language is used. How does one use language in a way that it has not been used before? Metaphors are a perfect example for language changes (both good and bad).
Jon: I think empirical discovery has changed our use of language. Once we knew the world is a sphere our language changed as well as the ways we think about it.
Terrence: I love language. Helen Keller's use of the word "water" -- there was a change in what it meant for her to say the word water. In a big "aha" moment for her the word went from being a symbol for water to "this IS water!" It's an ontological (the study of being) issue. language is an ontological thing. She was saying this IS water. It's a part of our very being, our core.
Jon: is our language perhaps reality itself?
Art: language hinders our thinking. It hinders my work (as an artist). In art making I create my own language for the particular thing being made. Otherwise language is an add on.
Jim: does your language change from piece to piece?
(sorry, I missed Art's answer to this question)
Mike: I once wrote a tech thing and was required to use an 8th grade level of communication. The software I used would check me to make sure I stayed true to an 8th grade language usage. It became longer and longer, became harder to organize. Language can limit. Higher language subtlety (vocabulary and grammar) makes it more condensed/more efficient. In Hebrew there's no past tense, just imperfect tense, making translation tough.
Jon: that would make the bible interesting!
Lucy: what about swearing? Some people say "oh they don't have the language skills to not need the cursing" but I have lots of language yet still curse.
Jim: circumstances control language for the genders. In regular life men may communicate less emotively. But in less organized and sudden contexts men can be very emotional sometimes.
Wild animals of course do it too. And there's a lot of communication above and beyond vocalization. We also communicate depending on our audiences. As the culture gets really large it breaks down to subgroups that will each tend to use unique languages. There are studies now about how differing types of people's brains react differently to similar stimuli. Differences between musicians, visual artists, writers, etc. It can also be induces with electromagnetic fields.
Mary: communication: literacy in Korea. About 1K years ago the king of Korea wanted mass literacy and invented a 24 character alphabet to make it more accessible to more people. I'm amazed how language then is able to work in so many more ways. "Vow" is more than descriptive, it carries a great deal of weight. Did the tribe in Australia not have the word "I" because of their great sense interdependence?
Jeremy: a girl at my school uses the word gay to mean bad. I call her on it. She says she doesn't want the word to have any power. It seems the use of the N-word by a fairly narrow segment out US population is to make it common, less shocking.
Jon: yet there is a very bright line in general US communication about WHO can use that N-word!
Jeremy: yes it's subjective. Another thought I have is the "out of sight out of mind" kind of communication. If we don't talk about it it doesn't exist.
Lucy: what does your classmate say when you call her out on her use of the word gay?
Jeremy: she says gays themselves do it, making it ok. So . . .?
Bob: I talk with atheists. some would like to make a new term for themselves: "bright". The computer language Fortran is some 40 years old yet still being used because it stills has uses. Likewise, some human languages do certain things better: French for romance, for example. Then there are Plato's "forms" (ideals for everything), implying that we wanna nail stuff down. Ambiguity of words seems to me more true.
Eric: the language instinct (a book by Steven Pinker?). Language skill development is set in the mind, we need to learn it. As kids, we learn it automatically. Creativity in language will always be used to make new meanings. Despite instinct to "lock in" meanings, we still create new language and make new meanings for old words.
. . . and the typist turned to a pumpkin and had to go catch his bus as the group flew past him with ever more interesting things to say about language. I am that sad typing man. Thank you all for attending and contributing and listening with care. See ya soon!