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Folkert Gorter
Los Angeles, California
Immortal since Jan 16, 2007
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Superfamous
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but does it float
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    From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step
    Project: The Total Library
    Is language is a purely cultural phenomenon or not? Obviously it's the most successful communication device we've come up with so far, but it seems dangerous to ignore its huge shortcomings and limitations as we use it to describe reality. Friend Burroughs offers up one situation:

    The word is now a virus. The flu virus may once have been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the lungs. The word may once have been a healthy neural cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting your sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.
    William S Burroughs

    Sat, Jul 14, 2007  Permanent link
    Categories: language, Burroughs
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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    Counterform     Mon, May 21, 2007  Permanent link
    The shortcomings of language are everpresent. So often, language is more a barrier, than a transmitter. My first desire is that we arrive at a global tongue within the next 50 years... doesn't matter if it's English, Chinese, Espanol, and Ugandian.... as I believe language must endure the same natural selection, and evolve just like everything else does. And as a species, we really only need one to do the job. Just imagine how that would change – Everything. All of humanity would have the same currency of exchange.. of ideas, stories, & expression. So much uneccessary misunderstanding happens in the world today, because people fail to connect, to empathize with those of a foreign tongue & culture. But when you come across someone on your travels, and they speak a common tongue... immediately you are presented with a 'way in'.. and thus, a deeper connection is able to be forged.

    Though I feel ultimately, we will eventually evolve beyond language as we currently know it. Something possibly more like the enigmatic Octopus who "does not transmit its linguistic intent, it becomes its linguistic intent. Like the octopus, our destiny is to become what we think, to have our thoughts become our bodies and our bodies become our thoughts." – T. McKenna

    folkert     Mon, May 21, 2007  Permanent link
    Nice—have heard McKenna refer to the Octopus as well—its exterior being a direct reflection of its "state of mind". Also, a universal language (even to go alongside of existing ones) is a great idea, not sure if you've heard about Esperanto, which was one attempt to do exactly that, to "create an easy and flexible language as a universal second language to foster peace and international understanding." Estimated usage is at between 100,000 and 2 million speakers at the moment—not bad. Perhaps SpaceCollective should take it upon herself to build on that.
    alborz     Tue, May 22, 2007  Permanent link
    Maybe we just have to realize that language is subjective. Otherwise, like Superfamous says, we have to think of lanuage as the furthest evolution of expression so far and therefore quite impressive - the key is in accepting its subjectivity. Breaking down the illusion of language's absolutism is what needs to happen - and the subjectivity embraced. To do that, all you need to do is:

    (shameless plug follows) Join my language related project proposal at www.spacecollective.org/al! You could even start by defining "language"!
    folkert     Tue, May 22, 2007  Permanent link
    Agreed. Language is definitely subjective and this is a healthy thing to realize. What I was wondering about in my original post is if it is restrictive to the point of making us miss the larger show. Obviously, our syntax is a very low-bandwidth means of information exchange in comparison to the full spectrum of content that could be communicated, so perhaps it is time to start using some additional "bands".

    For example, I think that online photo- and music sharing communities are already communicating by means other than words. They are conveying large chunks of data by say, placing a single image into a feed. So, communication seems completely fine without language. Now what about the question if it is possible to think without language?

    Checking out your Project proposal now.
    cupcakewizard     Sat, Jun 2, 2007  Permanent link
    Is it possible to think without language? Is it possible to think without language? Is it possible to think without language? It's difficult to even ask myself that question without hearing my own inner dialogue.

    But yes, I do think it is possible. In fleeting moments i think we've all experienced what it is to simply feel. It's in those rare instances when our minds have been captured by something so incredibly beautiful, or scary, or without explanation when the minds translation mechanism 'fails' because it seems elementary to complicate by categorizing something that is borderless.

    It's possible that as we evolve and our environment changes that we'll have the opportunity to turn off the thought / translation mechanism in occasional circumstances and have the ability to experience without association of our own past experiences and perhaps go on instinct?

    alborz     Thu, Jun 7, 2007  Permanent link
    I think the best art works on a level other than language - this is why it's almost impossible to describe what it's doing in words. I went to LACMA this past weekend and saw some work by Dan Flavin (someone I hadn't known about) and some Jackson Pollock (something I'd always wanted to see in person). Those two are perfect examples of speaking in a different medium than words - about something other than what can be described through words. People often ask of modern art, "well what does it mean?" Well the answer is, if it could be perfectly described in words, it would have been put into words rather than light or splattered paint. I know I feel those fleeting moments that cupcakewizard mentions when art hits me. And I can feel my mind swimming in it - in that precious line where you almost fall into words but don't, momentarily dazzled.
    cupcakewizard     Wed, Sep 26, 2007  Permanent link
    "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." Ludwig Wittgenstein
    folkert     Wed, Sep 26, 2007  Permanent link
    That is one awesome quote. As well as one hard to argue.
    meika     Wed, Dec 19, 2007  Permanent link
    Burroughs was never a baby. He was an addled adding addict machine, he would say that.

    languages have a certain structure because babies learn them — Simon Kirby Uni Edinburgh
    3LSZVJA9     Wed, Dec 19, 2007  Permanent link
    This is absolutely crazy, I was giving myself a rest from posting on spacecollective, thinking that we were being mostly viral. Nevertheless I was preparing myself to come back.
    Burroughs´s idea of language as a virus and Wittgenstein´s main books have been on my mind almost exclusively.
    I can't avoid anymore to question this we are participating in.
    And I'm happier now that I sense I wont be completely alone.

    One more Wittgenstein quote if I may (Wittgenstein happens to be extremely quotable):

    Man possesses the ability to construct languages capable of expressing every sense, without having any idea how each word has meaning or what its meaning is—just as people speak without knowing how the individual sounds are produced. Everyday language is a part of the human organism and is no less complicated than it. It is not humanly possible to gather immediately from it what the logic of language is. Language disguises thought. So much so, that from the outward form of the clothing it is impossible to infer the form of the thought beneath it, because the outward form of the clothing is not designed to reveal the form of the body, but for entirely different purposes. The tacit conventions on which the understanding of everyday language depends are enormously complicated.


    Maybe this think tank works after all.
    Michael Garrett     Wed, Dec 19, 2007  Permanent link
    The voice inside only stops when I think in images or when I see something that has visual impact new to me. The pause is refreshing, then the voice starts again.
    3LSZVJA9     Wed, Dec 19, 2007  Permanent link
    We should cure ourselves from our illness of seeing with our mouths
    to begin speaking with our eyes.

    [I don´t remember anymore]

    Many years ago I was happily in the problem of writing when I found this one in the middle of other ideas such us, Trying to stop saying what things are
    and let things tell us what they are instead.

    And I understood somethings on my own.

    When we see, let´s say, a cup, we see cup, we see glass, we see transparent, we see round, we see line.
    If we turn that off, other things can happen.
    FrankLloydWrong     Wed, Dec 19, 2007  Permanent link
    It's interesting to think of language as something that we struggle against in our attempts to simply experience something. We're always trying to put things in a neatly labeled little box and it just belittles the hell out of the experience of life. As an installation artist, I feel like the highest reaction I can elicit from someone is a long moment of captivated silence. It's strangely appropriate that in order to make a piece on the scale capable of achieving this, I have to remove my goal oriented thoughts and reduce myself to a pattern of continuous repetitive work that might be considered "meditative."
    You have to get your mind to shut up before you can really speak with your actions.

    There's some irony here in using thoughts and language to denounce thoughts and language, though, right?
    3LSZVJA9     Thu, Dec 20, 2007  Permanent link
    FrankLloydWrong     Thu, Dec 20, 2007  Permanent link
    3LSZVJA9     Mon, Dec 24, 2007  Permanent link
    It's still language.
    FrankLloydWrong     Mon, Dec 24, 2007  Permanent link
    Ha!

    3LSV I can see your point.. in the context of a comment thread anything posted constitutes language, insofar as it communicates a thought.
    From Webster's:

    lan·guage
    ˈlaŋ-gwij, -wij
    noun
    1 a: the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community b (1): audible, articulate, meaningful sound as produced by the action of the vocal organs (2): a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings (3): the suggestion by objects, actions, or conditions of associated ideas or feelings (4): the means by which animals communicate


    It still constitutes a major shift and, I would argue an expansion of thought to move from a conversation about language as defined in meaning (1a) to a conversation about language as defined in meaning (3), which is what we did.

    I'd also argue that to converse in pictures rather than words is closer to crafting an experience for someone else, and that is sometimes a clearer way of communicating, and almost always has more impact. Some things require words for more clarification, and some things are more articulate stated in images, and the combination of both enables even more complexity of communication, because then you have a relationship between the text and the images. This reminds me of stuff I first read in "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud.
    lapisdecor     Fri, Dec 28, 2007  Permanent link
    You look at something, you name it. If you never seen that before, you probably wont know the word for it, but you try to define it with other words when explaining to another person. Together you simply find a word to remind it. A common word, a name. People have names, with more than a word because its easier, there too many people and an imposed limit for names (at least on my country). Names are also categories, they place you on a group, a family, a geographical location. They also can tell a story about the one who carries the nickname or show a particular characteristic of that person to the eyes of a particular group. In other groups you might have other names. We try to name all the things we see, but also the things we imagine. Imagination is a combination of concepts. You pick two words, You combine them and you get a new concept.

    Limiting language is just an illusion. Translation is a creative construction. It allows concepts to be compared and defines new concepts.
    etherhill     Mon, Sep 8, 2008  Permanent link
    I have a comment.
    I just don't trust words to explain it.
    Oh shit...
    I just did, a bit.
    Stuka     Sun, Sep 28, 2008  Permanent link
    I like the basic idea of sites like FFFFound, because it doesn't work in word tags; you can only 'love' something you like — and basically discover it for yourself, sometimes stumbling on something totally unexpected.
    This is still a very simple way of 'interacting' with others; adding your love to an image someone has stumbled upon, but if you dive into it and try to speak the simple language it results in associating images with and from images. Not words.
    carel     Mon, Sep 29, 2008  Permanent link
    Words are what they need to be.
    Our ambivalence towards language is probably as old as language itself.
    In archaic traditions a distinction was made between the written and the spoken word. Sometimes the sacred texts had to be transmitted orally, because it was thought the deeper meaning would be lost when written down. We are in a sense prisoners of language. Words, metaphors built upon metaphors, are shorthand for the real thing or experience. Without this shorthand, we would drown in the complexity of our environment. Language/consciousness becomes a problem when it ignores direct experience of our environment. It is very hard to keep language/consciousness "in its place".

    Our ambivalence towards language has been central to many eastern esoteric traditions such as Taoism and Zen Buddhism. The very first thing that needs to be accomplished in zazen is to silence the inner voice. It is amazingly difficult to do, even for a few seconds.

    A classic demonstration of the shortcomings of language is "Describe a spiral staircase". Most of us will immediately start to utter a word, then stop ourselves with a puzzled expression and after a few moments of confusion lift a finger and make a twirling gesture. It is a wonderful (and sad) demonstration of how language/consciousness always assumes it knows all and how it dominates the non verbal parts of our brain.

    I have only one true gift and I watch myself grow old in horror seemingly without ever being able to put it to good use: When I am struggling with a mechanical design problem and the solution does not present itself, I will go for a long walk. I will constantly describe the problem to myself, and then, after maybe 30 minutes of uttering endless variations of words that describe the problem, out of the blue, something in the non verbal part of my brain will "step forward". It first somehow (non-verbally) expresses dismay that it has not been "listened to" and then presents a solution to within the smallest details. If I react quickly and "ask" for a different solution, it will do so, also instantly and also already completely worked out to the smallest detail. Then invariably euphoria sets in and words/consciousness drown out that precious other part of the brain that seems to know so much more.....
    folkert     Mon, Sep 29, 2008  Permanent link
    Thanks for that comment Carel, you illuminated parts of many things I'm trying to understand better.
    Stuka     Fri, Oct 3, 2008  Permanent link
    It's true that the right brain hemisphere is still such a mysterious place to us, it loves silence but speaks so loud whenever we take our time to actually let it into our busy day.

    'Language is a virus from outer space' — I really hope that we can somehow use all these wonderful technologies on the net, to broaden the ways of communicating.
    Wildcat     Sat, Oct 4, 2008  Permanent link
    Carel, it appears that science has just released a new understanding of the process you so succinctly described: "How many times have you spent hours slaving over an impossible problem, only to take a break and then easily solve the problem, sometimes within minutes of looking at it again? Although this is actually a common phenomenon, up until now the way that this occurs has been unclear. But new research in the September issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, demonstrates the answer is more complex than simply having an "Aha!" moment.

    The new research, led in part by Kellogg School of Management Professor Adam Galinsky, suggests that unconscious thought results in creative problem-solving via a two-step process.

    According to Galinsky and fellow psychologists Chen-Bo Zhong from the University of Toronto and Ap Dijkstererhuis of Radboud University Nijmegen, distractions may be helpful in coming up with creative solutions to a certain problem, but must be followed by a period of conscious thought to ensure that we are aware of those solutions and can apply them. Likewise, while distractions are more useful in solving difficult problems, it may be better to stay focused on finding the solution when confronted with easier problems."

    Eureka! How distractions facilitate creative problem-solving
     
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