Reality and Language (2)

Salinas17 at Salinas17 at
Tue Mar 28 03:08:21 UTC 2006

In a message dated 3/27/06 2:41:53 AM, timo.honkela at writes:
<< A side remark: In general I have found some recent communications in the 
list have been quite unscientific (to use this beloved term) because of many 
kinds of examples of fallacious argumentation  >>

I, for one, appreciate your listing of many kinds of examples of fallacious 
argumentation and, based on it, I have forsworn all and any further such 
fallacious arguments, starting right after this e-mail.

<<one should not take seriously a scholar who uses spelling "Chomskyian">>

I think Chomskyi himself prefers Chomskayan.

<<I understand Mark's comment from quite a different point of view... For me, 
though, the first interpretation is the one that has nothing to do with 
non-scientific or mystic point of view... I don't see a great mismatch with your 
point of view and when Mark says, "[a]t best, a person's *understanding* of 
reality might be claimed to make language intelligible.">>

Timo, what Mark also wrote was: "Reality couldn't possibly make language 
intelligible... I can't imagine what the universe would have to be like for 
reality to intervene directly in language processing."

Though I'm a firm believer in favorable interpretations (especially of 
anything I write), forgive me, but I think you may be stretching things a bit here.  
And my original point was, of course, that our personal or communal 
*understanding* is in the end irrelevant.  That point is there is an objective reality 
-- independent of our understanding -- and that point simply has been a 
consistent working assumption of "science" for a long time.  I don't see where the 
misunderstanding could be.

But if you have no trouble reconciling "Reality makes language intelligible" 
with "Reality couldn't possibly make language intelligible," be my guest.

<<The languages mirror the world thanks to this process of distilling. 
However, the process is far from deterministic and "logic-based"... Those 
regularities that are important for human being become reflected in our languages but 
there is no logical more or less one-to-one mapping between the language and the 
world (cf. e.g. early Wittgenstein as a prototypical proponent of such a 
debatable view that many logicians and formal semanticians still seem to 

To the extent that there is "no logical more or less one-to-one mapping 
between the language and the world", a very logical conclusion (if such things 
matter) might be that this is due to the inadequacy of language, not the world.

It would appear to be simply incorrect to say that human language is NOT an 
ATTEMPT to make a map of the world.  Language not doubt does have other 
functions.  But one of the primary functions -- purposeful objectives -- of language 
is to create symbolic counterparts to the real world.  That is where we get 
our communal "understanding" in language from.  Otherwise we have no common 
reference or sense -- and we all blabbering to ourselves in our own private 
"cognitive" compartments.

<<(cf. e.g. early Wittgenstein as a prototypical proponent of such a 
debatable view that many logicians and formal semanticians still seem to support).>>

Long before Wittgenstein, language as a "mirror of the world" was a 
well-developed and well-informed concept.  At the dawn of printing technology, an 
encylopedia of "all thyngs" printed by Caxton was called quite knowingly "Mirror of 
the World."  Over all those centuries what you call a debateable view has 
really only been contested by the persisting neo-platonists' view that language 
and cognition were actually a mirror or map of a higher reality, of which the 
world is only a rough approximation.  

I'd suggest that what is highly debateable is any view that language is not 
an attempt to mirror or map the world.  Such a view fundamentally denies the 
symbolic nature of language -- what could language be symbolic of otherwise, if 
not the world?  (And by the world, I mean anything in it, including cognition, 
perception, grammar, syntax and all the other processes we attempt to mirror 
or map by using language on this forum.)

I believe that Wittgenstein left the thinking in Tractatus behind because he 
was faced with a different difficulty -- where language is used aside from or 
in opposition to its basic communal mapping and communicative function -- as 
happens when, for example, language is used to deceive, the perpetration of a 
false map in communication -- or used without regard to reference, as in 
rituals or games.  That's where the other effects of language use trump the 
communicative functions.

<<For instance, Von Foerster has presented very clear arguments supporting 
the idea that our primitive experiences do not consist of objects and events. 
The emergent mapping between emerging language and world is a culturally, 
socially and cognitively grounded complex process.>>

If you mean by "our primitive experiences" the period of early development, I 
don't understand at all how any of that contradicts that language will become 
a purposeful attempt to map the world.  Let's start with when the objective 
3-dimensionality of the world starts to enter a child's language.  There may be 
instances where a particular individual's language never reflects more than 
2-dimensions, but that simply implies a less accurate "mirror of the world" 
than a language that reflects 3 dimensions.

As far as the "emergent mapping between emerging language and world [being] a 
culturally, socially and cognitively grounded complex process," that's no 
doubt true.  In fact, I'd extend that process to anyway we learn about world, 
including the most simple mechanical manipulation of objects in the world.  And, 
what makes it so complex a process therefore would not be the complexity of 
language, but the complexity of the world.

Steve Long

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