Victus Spiritus


Mysteries within the obvious, Language the Code for our Minds

17 Feb 2010

While working on semantic processing of user statuses, I spent several cycles thinking about the meaning behind language. When speaking, writing or giving a presentation, we take so much for granted. But if our interpretation tools are to improve functionally, we have to build from the ground up. And that brings us to the title of today's post, the mysteries of the obvious.

Consider the following example: I am. At first glance, this is the simplest of sentences. It covers basic concepts, is two words and describes the existence of the speaker/author. Built into I is the concept of identity. What it means to be a conscious thinking being, an individual. Am can be used as a state of being, or as a connector to another state. It's worth digging a little further into "am" from a different frame of reference.

I first recognized the intracacies of meaning when taking Spanish in junior high. The verb tener, literally translates as "to have" in English. But when the state of an individual is described "to have" is used instead of the raw being in am (to be in Spanish is ser which is subtly different from am). Instead of saying "I am sick", I would say "Yo tengo enferma" or "I have sickness".
Even the simple concept of being requires a depth of understanding that machines are so far incapable of.

Language the Code for Our Minds

This quick review of meaning required a series of more complex thoughts, all of which were based in language. In this case my native language English was used to construct more complex thoughts, and leverage analogies and compare patterns of ideas. Although I'm not limited by language in my ability to imagine, I am restricted by the core foundations of words to build elaborate relationships and communicate them. Writing has always been an enormous challenge for me, words and associations are too detached from experience. I'd prefer to share the raw experience, sensation, or idea and literally share thoughts (Vulcan mind meld).

A concept in my thoughts can be associated to a word, but often times defies characterization by language. Intimacy, love, and orgasm are all concepts that describe feelings or sensations we share as humans, but I am hard pressed to capture the essence of these feelings with language. In essence language has become an abstraction of concepts into words, and is fundamentally connected to assumptions of shared experience. The errors in assumption are both beautiful in an artistic sense and tragic in an efficiency sense.

Compare language with coding for computers. Words capture the role of objects in programming. The relation of structures and their role in architecting more complex software is analogous to how our minds uses language to contemplate and communicate more intricate thoughts. The "place holder" words (love) which reference both specific and abstract collective experiences, only have meaning for an individual when they relate their personal experiences to the concept. The equivalent in software is an object description that's only completed by each local instantiation of a functional description. The object inherits local scope methods based on where it's called. This idea has lead me to see that the ideal programming language may be specific to each individual. The description or methods we use to describe a structure or function could be separate from a common language that lies beneath the user interface. I can describe an abstract high level functionality, that local viewers/processing nodes can interpret and fulfill with their translation methods. Default methods can be overwritten with local optimal to the caller.

We attach our own personal meaning "method" to all language we encounter

Personal enriching of semantics is directly responsible for feedback and clarification in communication. If meaning of specific terms is known with high confidence, we could assume successful message transmission. Instead we often repeat a statement followed by a question, "You understand what I'm saying, sir?"

Note: No wonder that communication networks mimick their creators with handshakes. The link in communications is analogous to the shared image of a concept between people.