Re: The Copy Paradox

Wesley Schwein (
Sat, 15 Nov 1997 17:01:46 -0500 (EST)

On Fri, 14 Nov 1997, Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:

> I think the distinction he was trying to make is not that of
> "noun/verb" but of "medium/message" or "substrate/pattern", which
> is a useful one. Noun/verb/adjective is an artificial distinction

Adjectives are not universal, but nouns and verbs are not an artifical
distinction or categorization made by people with nothing better to do;
they refer to real units of organization in _all_ human languages. It's
not just convenience that allows linguists to say a string of phonemes in
a given language is a noun or verb; verbs and nouns relate to each other
and to other parts of utterances in specific ways.

Speech is special; language is not a cultural creation or a product of
"general intelligence." Language is a detailed system of pointers to
ideas, categories, concepts and memories shared by members of a speech
community which seems to have evolved for the purpose of social
integration and group interaction. Language has a large number of subtle
structural details which are universal across all natural languages; these
include nouns and verbs; Case (how verbs relate to nouns, as opposed to
case with a small "c" which is a surface labeling of such relationships);
anaphor and deixis (difficult to explain... I guess they could be summed
up as how reflexives and pronouns relate to antecedants and "empty" units
like "this," "that" whose referrant changes from situation to situation)
and many more.
The surface diversity of languages is illusory; as Chomsky has said,
Marian linguists would surely consider all humans to speak a common
language, albeit one with several mutually incomprehensible lexicons.

The problems associated with language and clarity of thinking are not,
IMHO, the product of language per se but rather demonstrate the
limitations of the human mind. We didn't evolve to be logic machines
which explore and come to understand the universe for what it is; our
cognition developed to help us get killed less easily and to kill other
animals more easily. In other words, our mental abilities are perfect for
hunting, gathering and foraging on the savannah but the fact that we can
theorize about the structure of nuclei and galaxies is accidental and it
should be no surprise that we have difficulty not jumping to conclusions,
neglecting to consider alternative hypotheses, etc.

> based on conventions of language (natural languages, that is;
> Lojban has no such concept),

What are the qualifications of the creators of Lojban? Computer
scientists, logicians? If they they think that a human mind can process
"language" without nouns, etc., they are profoundly mistaken. Natural
language does not refer to languages which are not concsiously created;
natural language means a language which conforms to Universal Grammar;
this includes created languages such as Esperanto, Ido, Volapuek and
Interlingua. Nat.lang. is a category opposed to logical languages such as
predicate calculus or to computer languages. Nouns, verbs, deixis,
anaphor and other such principles are the algorithms and heuristics by
which we make language. Never confuse language with thinking.

but "hardware/software" is a real,
> fundamental distinction. Most of the talk here about identity is
> just arguing definitions for the natural-language "I", and there
> are two axes of argument: one, does it refer to hardware or to
> software (to which I think most here will agree upon the latter),

I'm not sure I understand you. Do you mean, is language a fundamental
part of human cognition? or a conventionalized way of thinking which can
be replaced? Or do you mean, is language identical to thought versus a
creation of thoughts? I'd say the neurological evidence (aphasia
studies, the way we process speech sounds vs. other sounds, etc.)
supports the hypothesis that language production and perception have
their origin in specific brain structures.

> and the second axis, does "I" refer to the particular instantiation
> of the pattern (in Lojban "le sevzi") or to the abstraction of the
> pattern independent of particular instances ("le ka sevzi"). The
> answer to that is again just a matter of language convention, not
> the subject of rational debate.

Again, I'm not sure I follow. Do you mean is language "I" identical to
the mutually comprehensible utterances of a group of speakers or is "I"
the patterns displayed in such utterances? Or...?

Wesley Schwein This is not a quote.