Language transcends its encoded signals

July 19, 2018

My phone “talks” to my desktop computer. It can also “speak” with other devices with which it is “paired” (portable speakers, my lawn mower and my house security system). Coupled devices send and receive short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the ISM band (Bluetooth) to communicate. They follow rules (a vocabulary and a grammar) which specify the “meaning” of the bursts of radio waves they send and detect. I cannot detect any of these signals with my senses. I am neither aware of the communication taking place nor can I enter the conversation except through a compatible device within my control and with which I can communicate using a system which is within the range of my sensory capabilities (touch, vision, sound).

Does the system of signals being used by the bluetooth devices for their communications constitute a language?

There is a vast discourse, starting from ancient times, on the definition and the purpose and the philosophy of language. The Encyclopedia Britannica puts it thus.

Many definitions of language have been proposed. Henry Sweet, an English phonetician and language scholar, stated: “Language is the expression of ideas by means of speech-sounds combined into words. Words are combined into sentences, this combination answering to that of ideas into thoughts.” The American linguists Bernard Bloch and George L. Trager formulated the following definition: “A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates.” Any succinct definition of language makes a number of presuppositions and begs a number of questions. The first, for example, puts excessive weight on “thought,” and the second uses “arbitrary” in a specialized, though legitimate, way.

I find that much of the discussion is homocentric and tends to equate language with speech and writing. This I think is incorrect. I have therefore come to my own characterisation of what constitutes a language:

I find it is not necessary to specify that language is confined to human brains. It is claimed that the difference between human and animal communication is that human language is unrestricted.

EB again – “Human beings are unrestricted in what they can communicate; no area of experience is accepted as necessarily incommunicable, though it may be necessary to adapt one’s language in order to cope with new discoveries or new modes of thought. Animal communication systems are by contrast very tightly circumscribed in what may be communicated”. 

But this is unsatisfactory. Human thought is not in fact unlimited. It is limited by the very finite capability of the human brain. What a brain cannot perceive it cannot think about. What it cannot think about, it cannot communicate. Furthermore, the system agreed-upon restricts the meanings that can be transmitted and received. (A communication in French is of limited value to someone who knows little French. It is the lowest common level of shared encoding in the system which sets the constraint).

I also find the debate on language and thought, and language and philosophy, to be very often circular. It may be simplistic but I observe that the logic we perceive to exist in the universe is the same logic we embed in all our languages (including mathematics). We cannot then use language to prove or disprove the logic that is within it.

As in Gödel’s Incompleteness theorems: “The first incompleteness theorem states that in any consistent formal system F within which a certain amount of arithmetic can be carried out, there are statements of the language of F which can neither be proved nor disproved in F. According to the second incompleteness theorem, such a formal system cannot prove that the system itself is consistent (assuming it is indeed consistent).”

Which I paraphrase to be that “in a language embedded with a logic, that language can neither prove or disprove the logic that lies within it”.

I observe that we have more thoughts and emotions and perceptions than we have language for. We perceive more colours than any language we invent can describe. Which convinces me that thought precedes language. Moreover, it is the logic we perceive around us that we then build into the languages we invent. It cannot be, I think, that language circumscribes thought. It is our thoughts generated by our perceptions of what is around us that circumscribes the languages we invent.

Our senses come into play first in determining the meanings we wish to communicate. They then determine the shared system of encoding meanings into signals capable of being generated and detected. Our perception of a tree (vision/brain) is encoded into a particular sound (“tree”) which is generated (vocal chords) and detected and decoded by somebody else (aural/brain) and understood – according to the shared system of encoding – to mean a tree. The choice of encoding system is arbitrary but is primarily a matter of convenience. We use vision, sound and touch as a matter of convenience. We do not use olfactory signals because we cannot – at will – generate as great a range of smells as of sound. Besides, vision and sound can transmit signals across much greater distances than smells can. Sound can be transmitted in the dark. We do not have the capability in our bodies of generating or detecting radio waves or X-rays or infra-red radiation as encoded signals of meaning except through the use of specialised, instruments manufactured for the purpose. But if we had the same organs as bats do, we could use ultrasound signals in our languages. Our senses enable a convenient encoding of meanings into signals. Equally the limitations of our senses restrict the range of signals that we can generate and/or detect.

So my bluetooth devices do communicate with each other but the range of meanings they can transmit or receive are heavily circumscribed. They have not the freedom to express meanings which have not been predefined. They cannot initiate a conversation but can follow an instruction to do so. They do not have language.

But what is clear is that while language is a shared. agreed-upon system for encoding meanings into signals for the purpose of communication, language transcends its signals. While human language is mainly manifested as speech and writing, we also use sign-language and Braille and songs and music and art and dance within our languages. Photography and video are now part of the encoding we use in our languages. If we had organs for radio transmission and reception, we would no doubt have a word for “tree” but it would be expressed as a burst of radio-waves rather than a pressure wave or an image of a tree. Language is the system of conveying meanings where speech and writing and hand-signals are just specific forms of encoding. Language is a system which transcends the encoded signals it uses.


 

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Acquisition of belief

July 18, 2018

Does it matter how a belief is acquired?

Take belief to be a proposition that is acquired or adopted though it cannot be proved. “Not being proven” then means that a truth value cannot be assigned to a belief. A belief proposition needs a mind to reside in. Merely stating a proposition that cannot be proved does not make it a belief. If the mind does not take further actions on the basis of that belief proposition being true, then that proposition cannot be said to have been “adopted” as a belief.

All knowledge is first belief. All knowledge is built on belief. The most fundamental belief adopted by every living thing is, I think, that “Time exists”. From that proposition we move on to “causality exists” and thence to every field of knowledge or endeavor.

In epistemology, knowledge is sometimes defined as being “true beliefs” or “justified true beliefs” though using “truth” to qualify “belief” makes me uncomfortable.

The Analysis of Knowledge.

There are three components to the traditional (“tripartite”) analysis of knowledge. According to this analysis, justified, true belief is necessary and sufficient for knowledge. 

The Tripartite Analysis of Knowledge:
S knows that p if

  1. p is true;
  2. S believes that p;
  3. S is justified in believing that p.

The tripartite analysis of knowledge is often abbreviated as the “JTB” analysis, for “justified true belief”.

Even if a belief-proposition cannot be proven, any proposition can be justified to a greater or lesser extent. Justification takes the form of collateral “evidence” which impacts the perceived probability of the proposition being true. This probability could be said to be the validity of the belief-proposition. (But it should be remembered that the very use of probability is an admission of ignorance. What then is the probability that an improbable proposition turns out to be true?)

Is a “brainwashed belief” less valid than a “freely adopted” belief? Is an imposed belief (whether by indoctrination or by peer pressure or by political correctness) less valid than a belief which has resulted from deep study and much thought? Is a “freely adopted belief” reached without thought and only because “my friend says so”, any less valid than one reached after years of study?

At first glance it might seem so. We could rank beliefs by the level of coercion involved in the acquisition of that belief. Generally the greater the level of coercion, the less critical thinking involved in adopting a belief.

  1. Brainwashing
  2. Indoctrination as an adult
  3. Indoctrination a a child
  4. Peer pressure
  5. Political correctness
  6. Conventional wisdom
  7. Freely adopted but without thought
  8. Freely adopted after much study

The same belief may be held both by a brainwashed person and also by someone after long years of study. The same belief may be held by the indoctrinator and the indoctrinated, by the mad mullah and the gullible youth, by the parent and the unknowing child. It would seem that the method by which a belief comes to be adopted is independent of the belief itself. But this is not entirely so. The less a belief can be justified the greater will be the resistance for another mind to adopt that belief. The greater will be the coercion necessary. There is a likelihood, therefore, that the greater the coercion necessary to inculcate a belief, the less likely it is that the belief in question is justified.

After all that, my fuzzy conclusion is that a belief is not dependent upon the method of its adoption. However, a belief adopted after coercion is likely to be less valid than a belief adopted without coercion – but not always. And validity of a belief is merely a probability.

Or it could be as Calvin believes that having a belief can increase the validity of that belief – or is it just that appearing to adopt some other person’s belief is more likely to extract benefits from the other.


 

No higher purpose

July 16, 2018

(Of course the ultimate purpose of life, the universe and everything is balance – which is indistinguishable from stasis. The imbalance at the core of time, the universe and everything.

If any change – including the state of change we call life – can be said to have a purpose, it is to eliminate the imbalance which caused the change or life in the first place. It would seem then that the ultimate purpose of all change must be to return to a state of complete equilibrium where even time does not have to flow. A state of stasis.

But let us suppose that there is such a thing as purpose).

Consider the characteristics of purpose.

  1. Purpose is not confined only to conscious minds or only to all living things. Purpose, as an objective or a direction, can be attributed to anything. But the attribution and its articulation seems confined to the existence of a conscious mind.
  2. Having (or being attributed with) purpose implies the flow of time. It implies a current state and actions to reach some other desired state at a later time. A purpose can not and does not address a past state.
  3. A purpose as an objective may describe a future state outside the space of perceived causality (and therefore of an imaginary state). But observe that even an imaginary future state can provide a real direction for current actions.
  4. A consciousness does not need to have a purpose and all its actions may be merely reactive. It also follows that if a conscious mind perceives no desired direction (no purpose), then its actions are reactive and merely respond to the prevailing imbalances it experiences.
  5. When more than one conscious mind is involved, individual purposes and the actions they engender, are additive and combine as vectors giving a “net” purpose.

The purpose of purposes is to give direction to actions. If an individual perceives no “higher” group purpose, that individual’s actions are then directed by that individual’s own purposes (or lack of purpose). Even where a group purpose is discernible, it can only be effected by the actions of individuals who subordinate their own purposes to that of the group. “Higher” purpose is irrelevant unless – and until – it is adopted by the entity carrying out the action. A “higher” purpose is ineffective except as disseminated and adopted by the actors.

Ultimately there is no higher purpose than that set or adopted by an individual for himself or herself.


 

 

 

 

The top 1%

July 12, 2018

Number games.

 


 

Imaginary realities (or why all history is imaginary)

July 12, 2018

History is causal.

Actual events in the past resulted in the present. What we think, now, about those events in the past or what stories we tell, now, about the past are of no consequence to the present (no matter how fascinating or revisionist those stories may be).

The consequences of past events reverberate into the future until their influence has reduced so as to be submerged into the background noise. Say it actually was an asteroid impact 65 million years ago which led to the mass extinction of large dinosaurs (even if some survive as birds today). The reverberations of that asteroid impact can no longer be definitively detected. It can still be inferred by other events but all direct consequences are now part of the background noise. We can imagine other alternative histories. It might have been a super-volcano eruption – the detectable impacts of which would now also be lost in the noise – which caused the decline of the dinosaurs. Large dinosaurs may have disappeared catastrophically over a very short period or dwindled gradually over a few million years. We can imagine any story we like as long as its effects are now lost within the background. The super-volcano eruption and the asteroid impact are equally real (or equally imaginary).

Is reality confined to the present?

A real event that occurred yesterday is not real now. If everything not-real is imaginary then everything in history is imaginary now. Events that did occur are imaginary in the now. But events that did not occur are also imaginary. For events from as close as yesterday there may be collateral evidence to support one particular imaginary reality that was. For recent events some imaginary reality may be more real than another. But for events from the more distant past all the supporting evidence may be buried within the background rumble from the past. Then all imaginary realities are equal on the reality scale of imaginary realities. But the “real” reality must be causally connected to the present and so must also be the realities of the future.

Clearly time has an impact on reality. Perhaps it is wrong to thing of reality by itself and we need to think instead of the space within which reality can exist and the reality time-line. The reality space is the space of causality.

Reality space

Perhaps reality has to have a time axis. From the now, past or future realities (which are imaginary in the now) are time-lines which can only exist in the reality space. The reality time-line then must be capable of being causally connected within the reality space and must pass through the now. The imaginary space is then that where events cannot be causally connected to the present.

That dinosaurs have become chickens lies within the reality space that we can discern now and is an imagined reality. That dinosaurs became tigers lies in the imaginary space but cannot be causally linked and, therefore, is not even an imaginary reality.


 

 

All wealth is not capital and all capital is not wealth

July 9, 2018

A note to myself.

I take capital to be an asset which can generate revenue and which can itself be converted to and consumed as revenue,

where

An asset is any thing (physical or abstract) which can be of use.  To be of use implies an entity capable of enjoying such use. I take an entity to be any living thing or any combination of such living things. The asset does not necessarily have to be in the ownership or the control of that entity. However, without ownership or control, the utility flowing from the asset is available diffusely to all entities and is not exclusive to a particular entity. An asset in the ownership of an entity is the property of that entity.

(The sun could be considered an asset for all entities and not in the control of any entity and its benefits flow diffusely to all entities. A physical characteristic of an entity, such as strength, would be an asset available exclusively to that entity. A house may be an asset owned by an entity where the disposition of that asset and and all utility flowing from it are exclusively in the power of that entity).

A revenue is an inward stream of utility, of usefulness, over time. The stream of utility is income only when it is in cash or in kind and is measurable and tradable. Something intangible could be revenue but, if not tradable, would not be income.

(Revenue and income are like electricity and can only exist as a flow over time. They can accumulate over time as capital or assets and are analogous to an electric charge).

Wealth and poverty are judgements. Wealth is always a surplus to requirements and thus relative to some norm of need. Similarly, poverty is then a deficiency also relative to some standard of need. Wealth and poverty can be applied to any tangible or intangible property or characteristic. The magnitude of capital or of assets or of revenue or of income are not necessarily wealth or poverty. It is the judgement of whether something is in surplus or in deficiency which determines the existence of wealth or poverty.

Wealth is often used to describe magnitude (total wealth for example) but this is incorrect usage. As in this often used diagram:

 (Rich describes magnitude and richness may not necessarily be wealth. Similarly poor also describes magnitude and is not necessarily a judgement of a deficiency. Thus a rich man with much capital may be in poverty if his needs grossly exceed his capital. Or a poor man with little capital may be wealthy if it exceeds his needs. A surplus of an intangible asset – say some skill or happiness – is wealth but may not be capital. Rich and poor are magnitudes. Wealth and poverty are differences of magnitude).

All wealth is not capital and all capital is not wealth.


 

Atheism cannot cope with the unknowable

July 8, 2018

I take atheism to be a “lack of belief in gods”.

A lack of belief does not lie in the realm of knowledge. Neither does it lie in the realm of the unknown. A lack of belief is silent about the state of knowledge about the subject in question. A lack of belief does not imply a state of knowledge. A lack of a belief is not in itself a logical negation of that belief. Many extend this and take atheism to be a denial of the existence of gods as professed as a belief by others. I suspect that most of my acquaintances who claim to be atheists use the latter definition when they present arguments to support their denial of the existence of gods to try and negate the beliefs of others. But a denial of some belief is then an attempt to shift something unknown into the realm of knowledge. It shifts the conversation from ” I don’t myself believe in X” to “I know that your belief in X is false”.

This shift from the realm of belief to the realm of knowledge, I think, is incorrect, illogical and invalid. We are inevitably drawn into epistemology. The known, the unknown and the unknowable. The known and the unknown are realms that are self-apparent. Science is the process at the interface of these regions which leads to the growth of the region of the known. All beliefs by definition lie in the region of the unknown. Any statement and its negation ( X and not-X) must both either lie in the region of knowledge, or both in the region of the unknown. It is not possible for one to live in the realm of knowledge and its negation to live in the region of the unknown. A belief in gods lies in the unknown. A lack of belief in gods (which is atheism) is not in itself a commentary on that belief. A denial of the belief in gods cannot then be anything other than belief and cannot shift into the realm of knowledge. A denial of a belief – which by definition lies in the unknown – is to claim knowledge of an unknown thing which is self-contradictory.

Known, Unknown and Unknowable

Is some part (and maybe the major part) of the unknown then unknowable? Some scientists – and some atheists – would claim that the unknowable does not exist; that everything – eventually – can be explained. But I think they delude themselves. This trifurcation into the known, the unknown and the unknowable does not address who the observer is or the time element. “To know” requires cognition. Cognition requires a brain. Known to whom? when? for how long? What is “known” depends upon the brains alive to know. Facts which were once part of knowledge may become unknown, though they may well remain facts. I observe that most of past events are now unknowable, though they were once known. What was once known, may have first passed into the region of the unknown (but was still knowable) and then with the further passage of time may have passed into the region of the unknowable. Most of the past events in my own life are already in the region of the unknowable. The most basic questions of science that we can formulate always lead us first into the unknown and then into the unknowable.  When the unknowable is reached we use labels. Gods, The Big Bang, Dark Energy, Dark Matter, …….. . But they are all just labels for Magic.

But more fundamentally, the Great Unknowable – throughout all of space and all of time – is time and its nature. What came before time, when “before” was undefined, is unknowable. At the most basic level, our causal universe and all its laws and all our logic rely upon the existence of an inexorable and inexplicable Time Magic. (I take all events which occur but which are inexplicable to be Magic. It is my label for that which lies in the region of the unknowable). Beliefs in Gods or the Big Bang also lie in the region of the unknowable.

Atheism is about belief and does not address the nature of knowledge or confront the unknowable. An atheist’s lack of belief in gods then lies in the realm of the unknown and perhaps in the realm of the unknowable (Magic). Even an atheist believes in Time Magic (whether he acknowledges it or not).


 

Painless

July 3, 2018

As a sports fan, being Swedish of Indian origin leads to very few conflicts of interest.

For the size of its population, India is a massive under-performer in all sports except cricket. Sweden with its 10 million is an astonishing over-performer. Of course, watching cricket on TV in Sweden is almost impossible (which does cause some deprivation issues).

My preference for Wales in Rugby (Union of course) is a consequence of having lived in Cardiff (in the 70s in the days of the legendary Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams) and being bribed (with beer) and coerced by my colleagues to learn the intricacies of being a Rugby supporter. An appreciation of Max Boyce was obligatory.


 

 

World Cup Odds

June 18, 2018

Already after just the first 4 days, matches are blurring into each other. The scheduling and time differences across the venues makes it possible to watch every match. I am planning to restrict myself to just the second halves to avoid burn-out.

Brazil and Germany didn’t live up to their odds. Mexico and Switzerland did well but the only team so far which has done significantly better than expected has been Russia.

A World Cup without Italy. I will not miss their usual boring play in the group rounds but the knock-out section will be the poorer for their absence.

No reason for any drastic change to the odds but the chances of a non-favourite winning are rising.


 

My next computer will not have Windows 10

June 17, 2018

Just a rant since I am currently very irritated by Microsoft and Windows.

Microsoft’s intrusiveness is growing. Especially since Windows 10.

It was always high but it is now getting ridiculous. I receive this and similar messages almost every hour. If it is not shared experiences settings it is the App store settings. The advertisements on their Solitaire package are inane and incessant. I do not wish to share my experiences with Microsoft so that they can get even more intrusive.

I am beginning to get warnings about my hard disk so I will probably need to replace this 6 year old laptop within 6 months.

It will not be Windows 10 next time.

Image result for imac

I don’t have the patience or the concentration any longer to set up Linux. The alternatives such as Chrome O/S or Syllable are far too esoteric for me.  I am told that there are other alternatives in descendants of UNIX, OS/2, BeOS and DOS but those too are beyond my touch.

Which probably therefore means an iMac.

 


 


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