Limits of language

Humans are complex, or at least we seem complex to ourselves. How could we not? Given that we inhabit the same frame of reference that we can use to measure ourselves. Language is the way we have to communicate this complexity to each other. Civilisation would be impossible without it.

Language plays many roles, it is a tool for communication but also an aspect of culture. What this means is that language is biased, to the reality of it’s origins and evolution. As I write this sentence, I am aware of how this text can only be understood in the context of all that has been written before, and of all the language-encoded concepts that already inhabit the brain of the reader.

Language is a simplification. Language is the encoding of something biologically human. Language is a social game. Language is a product of a context, completely and inextricably tied to the situation it was born in.

These are the limits of language; it is easy to fool ourselves and see language as a set of grammatical rules and well-defined meanings that we can find in a dictionary.

It is not.

Language is defined by it’s use, it must be or it ceases to be useful. Even so, only with much difficulty, metaphors, analogies, and other styles of writing can we start hinting at the reality underneath it.

“The dictionary does not define words, it describes words as they have come into meaning.”

(Not sure who to assign this quote to, first time I’ve heard it said was by Neil deGrasse Tyson in a podcast)

Language is a tool, an inefficient one, to convey actual reality that we can only hint at with words but never quite reach without taking into account numerous other factors that surround those words, the whole context surrounding their existence.

Upload that knowledge!

I have found that the brain seems to have difficulty in absorbing complex knowledge in an efficient manner through language (which is really the only way we have to do that: Matrix plugs I’m looking at you). At the same time I have found that over time, the brain resets, concepts get connected with other concepts, things bubble up to the surface and become connected differently.

Concepts are greatly understood by revisiting, rather than novelty. It’s rather impossible to use language to convey the full depth of knowledge about a topic, so the only real way to relay concepts to someone is if the concept already inhabits in a person’s mind more or less clearly.

When hearing some concept which is completely new, it is fleeting and escapes easily, we should allow it to leave a soft imprint that needs to be stamped on again and again so it becomes deeper.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated João Horta Alves’s story.