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A bigger language barrier


Bruegel's "The Tower of Babel"

“I think therefore I am.” – A notorious old dualist

Us humans have lots of ways to talk to each other, don’t we?

There’s hundreds if not thousands of different languages – spoken, written and signed. There’s mathematics, maps, diagrams and other forms of symbolic language. There’s music, poetry, dance, mime, body language and the language of touch. We even release pheromones and communicate with smells.

With all that bandwidth it seems scarcely fathomable why we misunderstand each other so much. Maybe we find the gabble of messages more confusing than enlightening. Maybe we just expect too much from it. Some even imagine they can construct empathy from the deluge of data. The capacity to put oneself in the shoes of another complete and infinitely complex being. I dunno. Maybe you can. I’m aspie remember. I just don’t get it.

Being a geek means I’ve always been fascinated by computers. That’s how I ended up spending twenty years as a contract analyst/programmer. I find it easier to talk to animals and machines than to people.  Perhaps that predisposes me to seeing not only language but everything in binary terms.

If it’s sayable you can say it with ones and zeroes. That’s a fundamental principle of digital communication. But what about the old analog languages? They suffer no such restriction, right? I’m not so sure.  Words seem to split the universe into binaries too. It’s all either ‘on’ or ‘off’.

‘Happiness’ also suggests a condition which is not happy at all.  ‘Cat’ implies that-which-is-not-a-cat. Light is why there is darkness. To say ‘self’ is to divide reality into self and other. Yin both defines and delineates Yang.

Some neuroscientists even claim the mind is binary. Neurons either fire or they don’t. We process the entire universe with the soft, soggy computer in our head. So they say.

But what if there’s concepts that can’t be split into something and its opposite? What if you had a feeling, thought or experience that was rendered meaningless by trying to compare it with something else or foreground it against a contrasting background? What if there’s something that has no antithesis, no opposite, no boundary, no negation? Would we be able to communicate it? Could we even articulate it to ourselves? Or would it be something which cannot be spoken at all?

There’s a word for that kind of thing.

From → confusion, mysticism

  1. Cool blogpost. Very interesting to read!


  2. PeterJ permalink

    Nice. This is, as they say, a world of opposites.

    “Words seem to split the universe into binaries too. It’s all either ‘on’ or ‘off’.” …

    Hence – “In the beginning was the word… “


    • Hence – “In the beginning was the word… “

      Exactly. The generative power of logos.

      Much of the mythology of my own Aboriginal heritage also tells of creator beings who ‘named’ the universe into existence.


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