Re: Posthuman Language

From: Mark Walker (
Date: Tue Nov 27 2001 - 09:59:16 MST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Andrew Clough" <>
To: <>
Sent: Monday, November 26, 2001 7:28 PM
Subject: Posthuman Language

> Some recent posts on communication and miscommunication on this list have
> got me thinking about language. Have there been any discussions about new
> languages for use by posthumans who aren't advanced enough to just drop
> audio communication? Some who can hold more than 7+/- 2 things in short
> term memory without chunking could use some pretty complex grammatical
> structures to convey their equally complex thoughts. As Anders mentioned
> in his recent post, having more tenses or modifiers for different types of
> knowledge would also be good. So I could say that "MIT nu is in
> for something that appears certain, or "chocolate mo is better than
> vanilla" for something that is really subjective, or "Jessica nal is going
> out with Billy" for something that my best friend's cousin's former
> roommate heard in a bar. Over-engineering a language might lead to a lack
> of flexibility, but I'm sure posthumans with suitably enhanced brains
> easily invent and learn new ones if they happened to make that mistake.
    There are some pretty sophisticated arguments that deny the possibility
that there could anything like a posthuman language, if by this you mean a
language that could express thoughts and meanings not expressible by dumb
old human languages. (A couple of classics are Donald Davidson's "On the
Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" reprinted in his _Inquiries into Truth and
Interpretation_ and Richard Rorty's "The World Well Lost" reprinted in his
_The Consequences of Pragmatism_. These two essays spawned a minor cottage
industry.) To make the issue more tractable it is usually resolved to the
question of whether all natural languages are intertranslatable. So if the
posthuman's language is translatable into say English then big deal--we can
express any of their thoughts, although perhaps not as efficiently. If
translatability into a known natural language is not one of our criteria for
languagehood then what are our criteria?

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