Age of information
Greek & Latin
Mind & Brain
Science & Art
☞ A Box Of Stories
“If one looks at a thing with the intention of trying to discover what it means, one ends up no longer seeing the thing itself, but thinking of the question that has been raised. The mind sees in two different senses: (1) sees, as with the eyes; and (2) sees a question (no eyes).”
Norbert Wiley on the Inner Speech as a Language
“The gap between outer langue and inner speech is greater than that between outer langue and outer speech. (…)
We are little gods in the world of inner speech. We are the only ones, we run the show, we are the boss. This world is almost a little insane, for it lacks the usual social controls, and we can be as bad or as goofy as we want. On the other hand inner speech does have a job to do, it has to steer us through the world. That function sets up outer limits, even though within those limits we have a free rein to construct this language as we like. (…)
Although inner speech is not idealism, in some ways it seems to be a more differentially defined universe than outer speech. Linguistic context is even more important than in outer speech. One reason is that meaning is so condensed on the two axes. But a second is that inner language is so pervaded with emotion. (…)
This language is so rooted in the unique self that an eavesdropper, could there be one, would not fully understand it. It has so much of one’s person in it, a listener would have to be another you to follow it. And if someone invented a window into consciousness, a mind-reading machine, that could invade one’s privacy, would they be able to understand the, now revealed, inner speech? I think not. They might be able to understand most of the words, but the non-linguistic or imagistic elements would be too much a personal script to follow. If this eavesdropper watched you, including your consciousness, for your whole life, had access to your memory and knew your way of combining non-linguistic representations with words, they might have your code, but this is another way of saying they would be another you. In practical terms inner speech would be inaccessible in its meaning even if it were accessible in its signifying forms. (…)
The importance of private language is that it sheds light on what a human being is. We are inherently private animals, and we become more so the more self-aware and internally communicative we are. This zone of privacy may well be the foundation for the moral (and legal) need people have for privacy. In any case the hidden individuality or uniqueness of each human being is closely related to the what the person says to him or her self. (…)
Inner speech is both the locus and platform for agency. (…) We choose internally in the zone of inner speech, and then we choose externally in the zone of practical action and the outer world. The first choice leads to the second choice. (…) We could make and break habits by first modelling them in our internal theater.”
What we call meaning is no more than a fleeting collection of images that once seemed harmonious, images on which the intelligence tried in panic to introduce reason, order, coherence.
Words become inadequate as we get closer to the frontiers of the inexpressible, we try to say love and the word will not come out, we try to say I want and we say I cannot, we try to utter the final word only to realize that we have gone back to the beginning.”
“It [writing] has enormous meta-cognitive implications. The power is this: That you cannot only think in ways that you could not possibly think if you did not have the written word, but you can now think about the thinking that you do with the written word. There is danger in this, and the danger is that the enormous expressive and self-referential capacities of the written word, that is, the capacities to keep referring to referring to referring, will reach a point where you lose contact with the real world.
And this, believe me, is very common in universities. There’s a technical name for it, I don’t know if we can use it on television, it’s called “bullshit.” But this is very common in academic life, where people just get a form of self-referentiality of the language, where the language is talking about the language, which is talking about the language, and in the end, it’s hot air. That’s another name for the same phenomenon.”
A Babylonish dialect
Which learned chemists much affect;
It is a party-coloured dress
Of patch’d and piebald languages:
‘T is English cut on Greek and Latin,
Like fustian heretofore on satin.
The only usefulness of map or a language depends on the similarity of structure between the empirical world and the map-languages.”
What is an egg? It is that which has not yet been born. A paradox, is it not? For how can Humpty Dumpty be alive if he has not been born? And yet, he is alive - make no mistake. We know that because he can speak. More than that, he is a philosopher of language. ‘When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.
The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things.
The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be master - that’s all.’ ”
“The fashionable ideology that “artificial” lacks the inherent goodness of “natural” is an appealing, but hopelessly simplistic notion of the intellectually chic. Artifice is the result of a deliberate intent to make. Nature also “makes” things, using a set of basic building blocks common throughout the universe. Exchanging infinite time for deliberate design, nature has ingeniously built plants, planets, galaxies and unimaginable constructs which seem to structure the univers itself.
What we call “natural” is simply the result of whatever set of rules nature has followed in fashioning our observable reality. On planet Earth, nature has manipulated the common elements to fashion everything from bacteria to the molten core of the planet.
Discoveries in the “nano” technologies of bio, molecural and micro engineering will re-edit the nomenclature of “natural” versus “unnatural”, blurring if not erasing the line of distinction between “machine” and “organism”, “natural” and “unnatural”, “God-given” and “man made”.”
Isaac Asimov on The Relativity of Wrong
"John, when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.
The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that “right” and “wrong” are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.
However, I don’t think that’s so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts. (…)
First, let me dispose of Socrates because I am sick and tired of this pretense that knowing you know nothing is a mark of wisdom.
No one knows nothing. In a matter of days, babies learn to recognize their mothers.
Socrates would agree, of course, and explain that knowledge of trivia is not what he means. He means that in the great abstractions over which human beings debate, one should start without preconceived, unexamined notions, and that he alone knew this. (What an enormously arrogant claim!)
In his discussions of such matters as “What is justice?” or “What is virtue?” he took the attitude that he knew nothing and had to be instructed by others. (This is called “Socratic irony,” for Socrates knew very well that he knew a great deal more than the poor souls he was picking on.) By pretending ignorance, Socrates lured others into propounding their views on such abstractions. Socrates then, by a series of ignorant-sounding questions, forced the others into such a mélange of self-contradictions that they would finally break down and admit they didn’t know what they were talking about.
It is the mark of the marvelous toleration of the Athenians that they let this continue for decades and that it wasn’t till Socrates turned seventy that they broke down and forced him to drink poison.
Now where do we get the notion that “right” and “wrong” are absolutes? It seems to me that this arises in the early grades, when children who know very little are taught by teachers who know very little more.
Young children learn spelling and arithmetic, for instance, and here we tumble into apparent absolutes.
How do you spell “sugar?” Answer: s-u-g-a-r. That is right. Anything else is wrong.
How much is 2 + 2? The answer is 4. That is right. Anything else is wrong.
Having exact answers, and having absolute rights and wrongs, minimizes the necessity of thinking, and that pleases both students and teachers. For that reason, students and teachers alike prefer short-answer tests to essay tests; multiple-choice over blank short-answer tests; and true-false tests over multiple-choice.
But short-answer tests are, to my way of thinking, useless as a measure of the student’s understanding of a subject. They are merely a test of the efficiency of his ability to memorize.
You can see what I mean as soon as you admit that right and wrong are relative.
How do you spell “sugar?” Suppose Alice spells it p-q-z-z-f and Genevieve spells it s-h-u-g-e-r. Both are wrong, but is there any doubt that Alice is wronger than Genevieve? For that matter, I think it is possible to argue that Genevieve’s spelling is superior to the “right” one.
Or suppose you spell “sugar”: s-u-c-r-o-s-e, or C12H22O11. Strictly speaking, you are wrong each time, but you’re displaying a certain knowledge of the subject beyond conventional spelling.
Suppose then the test question was: how many different ways can you spell “sugar?” Justify each. (…)
Again, how much is 2 + 2? Suppose Joseph says: 2 + 2 = purple, while Maxwell says: 2 + 2 = 17. Both are wrong but isn’t it fair to say that Joseph is wronger than Maxwell?
Suppose you said: 2 + 2 = an integer. You’d be right, wouldn’t you? Or suppose you said: 2 + 2 = an even integer. You’d be righter. Or suppose you said: 2 + 2 = 3.999. Wouldn’t you be nearly right?
If the teacher wants 4 for an answer and won’t distinguish between the various wrongs, doesn’t that set an unnecessary limit to understanding?
Suppose the question is, how much is 9 + 5?, and you answer 2. Will you not be excoriated and held up to ridicule, and will you not be told that 9 + 5 = 14?
If you were then told that 9 hours had pass since midnight and it was therefore 9 o’clock, and were asked what time it would be in 5 more hours, and you answered 14 o’clock on the grounds that 9 + 5 = 14, would you not be excoriated again, and told that it would be 2 o’clock? Apparently, in that case, 9 + 5 = 2 after all. (…)
Here’s another example. The teacher asks: “Who is the fortieth President of the United States?” and Barbara says, “There isn’t any, teacher.”
"Wrong!" says the teacher, "Ronald Reagan is the fortieth President of the United States."
"Not at all," says Barbara, "I have here a list of all the men who have served as President of the United States under the Constitution, from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, and there are only thirty-nine of them, so there is no fortieth President."
"Ah," says the teacher, "but Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms, one from 1885 to 1889, and the second from 1893 to 1897. He counts as both the twenty-second and twenty-fourth President. That is why Ronald Reagan is the thirty-ninth person to serve as President of the United States, and is, at the same time, the fortieth President of the United States."
Isn’t that ridiculous? Why should a person be counted twice if his terms are nonconsecutive, and only once if he served two consecutive terms? Pure convention! Yet Barbara is marked wrong—just as wrong as if she had said that the fortieth President of the United States is Fidel Castro.
Therefore, when my friend the English Literature expert tells me that in every century scientists think they have worked out the Universe and are always wrong, what I want to know is how wrong are they? Are they always wrong to the same degree? (…)”