Language 10

We are born into a particular culture and receive a language from that culture which does not communicate reality in a concise manner. Of necessity we speak in a kind of shorthand. If I were a farmer who used a tractor to pull down a tree, I would probably not communicate the act in those terms. I would likely say: "I pulled down a tree this morning". when, in fact, it was the power of the tractor that pulled down the tree. We speak in similar terms about all our actions, when the "I" is a model, an abstraction, that in reality doesn't do anything. The brain and body do the lot.                               ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------          The formation of successful cultural/social units requires a certain brain set that is reflected in the type of language that is used in a cultural/social, everyday setting. The autistic individual is the antithesis of the social being, emphasising the need for a concept of self and an ability to recognise human beings as the same species as ourselves for the formation of coherent social groups. This situation demands a concurrent evolution of a language compatible with these needs. The language of culture/society is dedicated to the survival of culture and not necessarily the delivery of truth.                                                                           -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------    For the formation of the type of society we have had for thousands of years the human organism had to evolve a sense of self. It is obvious from the study of autism (Even when some autistic children learn to speak, it takes them a long time to use the words "I" and "me") that the existence of a model of the self-engendered by the brain is essential for meaningful intercourse to take place between members of a group. Young monkeys that have been raised from birth on a wire surrogate mother with a bottle attached are slow to develop a sense of self, attack their own limbs and find it hard to integrate with other monkeys.          ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Not only has there to be a sense of self, but in the case of an intelligent, language using animal, a method of communicating that sense of self. The greater the sense of self and the more efficiently this individuality could be communicated in the form of vocal communication the more complex the interaction within the group could become. The ability to appreciate and communicate the idea of individuality would be of great benefit, and those members of the group that possessed these qualities would come to dominate and pass their genes on to their offspring. The evolution of the "I", "me" language was necessary to facilitate the development of increasingly complex interactions between members of the group.                                ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- "I"  language is useful in a cultural setting, where there is often no distinction  made between thinking about the real and unreal, all that is needed is a common consensus and/or belief for language to bring about great changes whatever its  source and nature. It is a matter of horses for courses. The words "I", "me", when referring to external acts causes no confusion. However, "I" applied to internal brain/body action runs into difficulties. Here it is not a matter of causing no confusion it is a matter of fact. "I" is a verbal symbol for the sense of self which by its very nature can't get jokes, even if getting jokes were possible. (From a message to a humour research group)     ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The concept of self arises from the fact that the human organism registers, through perception, a body, and a body that appears to work in concert with intention. On a social/cultural level this concept of self is fortified by receiving a unique (well, almost unique) name, and certainly a unique place in the group, emphasising the organism as an individual entity. The memetic inheritance of the word "I", as I emphasised in a prior message, is useful in the cultural/social context, and when a human organism reports to another human organism that "I" did so and so, although the statement may be erroneous in a neurological sense, it is an efficient and non-ambiguous delivery of a piece of information on the level of social/cultural intercourse. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As the sense of self is a PRODUCT of perception (a product of observing), by its very nature it cannot perceive.

I have found, during discussions of other phenomena, that some individuals give explanations that would require direct access (as they would see it, conscious access) to certain processing areas of the brain rather than those areas that  register the results of processing. Silent speech in the 
brain is taken to be the act of thinking rather than the results of thinking decoded into natural language.                  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The problem is that cultural language (everyday language as opposed to scientific language) is the default language and, of necessity, it is simplistic and relies on structure and context to convey ideas that in scientific language would require lengthy qualification. When a farmer says to his wife, " I pulled down that rotting oak tree this morning", she does not challenge his statement as it is acceptable in a cultural context. However, if the pulling down of the tree were witnessed and  described in the strictest long-winded terms, the report would indicate that the  human entity merely set in motion the machinery (a tractor) that pulled down the tree. (note: it wasn't the tractor as an object that pulled  down the tree but its engine in motion.)                                  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The supposed entity "I", that delivers the results of the coding of thinking to the page or to other "I"s, exists in the world of language driven culture and does not represent the organismal processing machinery of the brain.              ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Imagine the situation where one human entity says to another, "Shut the back door", and the order is carried out. The human entity that closed the back door could say, "I understood the instruction", and to an observer, the actual shutting of the door confirms this.                                                                                                                 Now a scenario inspired by Searle's Chinese Room:                                                                                           There are two human entities represented by two windowless huts facing each other with an individual at the front of each hut and two individuals inside each hut.

One individual inside each hut only speaks and understands a unique code; the second individual speaks and understands both code language and a natural language. The individual at the front of the hut does not understand code or natural language. The one who speaks and understands both languages can whisper through a thin area of wall behind the individual outside.

The hut A unit wants the hut B unit to open the back door of their hut. The individual in front of hut A is heard to utter something, and immediately the back door of hut B is opened.

The two individuals in each hut represent processing functions of the brain and the individual outside each hut represents the aspect of the units that functions in the natural world and the world of culture, the supposed "I".

From this it is possible to grasp that the "I" need not understand language at all and merely parrots the noises (that constitute a natural language) whispered from inside the hut.( It is merely thought translated into sounds in the throat)

In some discussions concerning the nature of consciousness, the word "I" embraces the states of being a separate unity (an object) and  acting as the processing machinery of the unity, as is implied by the statement, "I think".  A tractor is an object but it is not a functioning part of the tractor. The word "I" cannot represent both a whole entity and a functioning part of an entity.

Language and metaphor (In a message to a humour research group)

I recently came across a paper by David Cole, which challenges Pinker's and
Fodor's ideas concerning thought.
I have not read Pinker's or Fodor's work and did not need their ideas to
come to the conclusion that thought does not take place in natural language.
I was surprised that people actually argued on this topic as it seemed to me
to be an almost common sense assumption, for two reasons:

Words have no intrinsic meaning - the closest we can get is our now limited
use of onomatopoeia - they are merely symbols representing something else.
We can only explain sentences by the use of other words, ( the exceptions
are not important in this context) which are mere symbols with no intrinsic
meaning, and so on and so on. Obviously the "meaning" of the words must be
encoded in all the associations they evoke, singly and in context (which
will have both visual and emotive aspects). If words merely evoked other
words there would be no possibility of thought at all as we would have
another of those infinite regressions to nowhere.

Other than the awareness of the words and sentences (hearing), natural
language is immediately encoded, “translated into the language” of  brain
function, which takes the form of nerve impulses in complexes of neural
networks. The idea that there is no point in translating into mentalese and
then back again, as this would be an unnecessary complication, I see as
complete nonsense. As soon as the sound waves rattle the cochlea the words
are encoded, and then decoded into sounds in the auditory centres. The
actual meaning of a word and its associations, the something else that is
represented by the word, are induced in an unknown manner, but again in the
form of nerve impulses and neural complexes

I view listening as a divergent process - the words and sentences inducing
networks of associations both rational and irrational. The latter I would
characterise as part of our natural logic, as opposed to educated or formal
Logic. (Natural logic being an important aspect of  hunter/gatherer
thought )
Speaking entails convergent processing, and herein lies the difficulty. The
divergent process is relatively easy to understand, but what constitutes
thought and how is all this mental juggling consolidated and encoded into
coherent natural language?

During conversations, and the answering of externally or internally
generated questions, a certain degree of convergence must take place through
an inhibition of associations inappropriate to the themes under
consideration. This would entail a constant feedback to the meaning and
context of previously uttered sentences or the mental voice in the head.
One process aiding the convergence would be the inhibition of our natural
logic ( What looks the same is the same, what sounds the same is the same,
etc), the type of logic we do not inhibit when in artistic or religious
mode, where the verbal and visual metaphor reigns. (In everyday life we
happily switch between modes without bringing the fact to consciousness)

It is much less difficult to imagine how conversations take place (Which
tend to be a series of informational monologues) than to imagine how the
brain deals with problem solving, which entails much more than whittling
away all the irrelevant associations that are likely to interfere with
rational thought.

Having said that, visualising in metaphor, when in an altered state such as
sleep, can lead to the solving of technical and scientific problems. The man
who invented the “eye at the bottom” sewing machine needle and Kekule, the
chemist who came up with the structure of the benzene ring, both reported
having their “eureka” moments during shallow sleep.  (Kekule could not
fathom the molecular structure of benzene until he went to sleep and saw
snakes writhing about, one of which grabbed its own tail, and the benzene
ring structure was born.)

It seems probable that much thought takes place in the form of imagery and
this works in concert with our built in propensity for pattern and principle
seeking. It is possible that some of the processes that take place during
dreaming are identical to aspects of  the processing  used when thinking
(working out problems).

A dream I had many years ago is a good example of how the brain naturally
finds patterns and associations and forms “visual principles” that may be
close to the convergence point where thought gives way to language.

My analysis of the dream would fill a book, so I will stick to one aspect.
In part of the dream I found myself tossing a chaff-like material into a
nest which contained burning  objects. The closest description of the form
of the objects is the shape of the piece of  peel you would obtain if you
pushed a rectangular biscuit cutter into an orange. However, the objects in
the dream were pure white and somewhat thinner than orange peel.

The dream was the final one of a trilogy, and the theme seemed to centre on
my father and smoking (At that time I was smoking heavily and was about the
same age as my father when he died of cancer), and some of the dream action
took place on a farm I frequented as a boy and where we made pipes and
smoked tea leaves. I could not fathom what the strange curved, white,
rectangular objects represented  until I sat down and pulled out a cigarette
paper to roll a cigarette. It suddenly struck me that there was part of my
brain that did not function on natural language and did not encode the
perception as a cigarette paper, tobacco and Basil Hall lighting a
cigarette; it merely recorded the thin white rectangular object which was
associated with finely divided  brownish  material and a flame. The answer
suddenly hit me . Preceding the dream, over a period of a few weeks, three
things had occurred:

1) I had started to roll my own cigarettes using rectangular white papers.

2) We had bought a new breakfast cereal that contained crushed oats and
curved strips of white coconut, which I had not recognised as such at first.

3) Our Peach-faced love bird Ralph? had laid a white egg amongst the seed
chaff at the bottom of her cage.

Here I had three examples of whiteness associated with divided plant
material, further connected by their association   with bowls: the bowl of a
smoker’s pipe, the bowl of a nest and a cereal bowl. My brain had taken the
three objects, the cigarette paper, the strips of coconut and the egg and
combined them in a single object, a kind of visual principle.

I have found that the content of my dreams are often things and events that
have a high emotive aspect or ideas induced by unsolved puzzles and
problems.  My initial inability to work out the nature of the curved white
strip in the cereal probably set in train a basic type of thinking that made
the object “meaningful” by uniting it with other white objects in a visual
“principle”.  This is a long way from the theory of relativity, but the
production by the brain of “visual principles” comes closer to verbal
principles than considerations of depolarisations occurring along axons and

There were inner voiced sentences in the dream but they were comments, such
as “It’s another way of sleeping”, and “ That is one way of doing it“. There
were also visual puns -  one at a cricket match (It was through an accident
playing cricket that my father was diagnosed as having cancer) concerning
the word plumb, as in “He was plumb LBW” (Americans should consult
LBW/cricket in Google) , “He was dead plumb”, “He’s dead” (out). When I
caught the cricket ball in the dream it turned out to be a big black plum. I
have read about other dreams in which cancer has been visualised as a black
polony, and the tribes of Patagonia have the same word for black lumps of
burnt wood and cancer.

What has all of this to do with humour? First of all, it suggests there is a
demarcation line in the processing of jokes past which the lexicon of
linguistics has no meaning.  Secondly, it suggests the possibility  that
some thought, at least, is in the form of visual metaphors and visual puns -
their verbal counterparts being  at the heart of some joke mechanisms.
Thirdly, it suggests that during  particular modes of thinking we inhibit
processes such as natural logic, and so we can view the mechanisms of some
jokes as forcing a failure in this inhibition, leading to a clash of
opposing modes and subsequent laughter.

A few weeks ago, Jason, our moderator, asked that a certain line of debate
be terminated as though it were off-topic. I consider this narrow view of
humour/laughter to be an impediment to the solving of  problems the subject
poses. I came to humour through a general philosophy of life and my own
interpretation of the phenomena of pleasure and pain. I had also came to the
conclusion that lying to ourselves, and repressing distasteful ideas, was a
built in mechanism that protected the organism from mental collapse, and by
doing so we handicapped ourselves in certain areas of investigation.
We can consider laughter as part of the system which suppresses and
deflects the problematic thoughts that challenge our cognitive faculties or
are at odds with the comforting fabrications of the conscious mind.
As the theory presented in this essay relies to some extent on the exposure
of ideas we tend to suppress, it would be extremely ironic if the laughter
process was instrumental in masking its own nature.

I consider it to be extremely naive to think that humour can be studied
piecemeal and in isolation. Finally humour is about the whole of life - how
we react to existence itself; it is about how we function as organisms and
the inadequacy of language in mirroring reality in a subjective being; it is
about the neural mechanisms that process stimuli and mediate responses and
motivations, and can only be studied in the knowledge of the organism that
is studying it. Only when we have fathomed how our mental tools work, and
become aware of their biases and  limitations, can we be certain that our
conclusions concerning humour and laughter come somewhere near the truth.