I’m going to keep this short because the title is likely to start a small riot, so I’ll cut straight to the point.
In reflecting on a sort of introductory essay we had to write for English 200 this semester, I found myself thinking about a specific few sentences in which I discussed the value of spending time meditating on our natural world. In one of my drafts this paragraph culminated in an abdication of my culpability in the discussion of God’s existence. Simply put, “it’s not for me to say.” I then realized this is deeper than the subject of God’s existence – God doesn’t even matter.
Right. I said it. And I mean it.
Think about it this way – does the non-existence of a God diminish, in any way, the importance of living a wholesome life? Of helping your neighbors and your community? Teaching your children how to live a virtuous life? I don’t think so.
And that’s where I get into trouble – it isn’t my place to espouse my beliefs on the existence of a divine entity, a Creator, a supreme judge whom we all may one day face. I believe what I believe and you believe what you believe, but certainly we can all agree that the core values we hold and that we teach our children have a lot in common. If we leave the existential questions for the theologians and the philosophers of our day, and instead worry ourselves about those things within our means, maybe we can again start finding common ground with cultures we don’t understand instead of finding fear and mistrust.
But who am I to say?
I’m entirely uncertain when I first recognized in myself independent use of symbols and language. It was, with some likelihood, when I was around the age of three, as I do vaguely recall sitting on my dad’s lap, reading a book that had something to do with trains. In this book, certain words were replaced with a series of symbols, and when those symbols were encountered, my father would look to me in anticipation to fill in those voids. For example, on the page, in the middle of a normal, English sentence, would be three identical drawings of a bell. This indicated that it was my turn to make a dinging noise, furthering the story along.
Why is this significant? Because it’s the first cognitive memory I have of associating the symbol (a bell), with a sound (dinging), with a word (“bell”). I had built the association between a symbol and an object, and I knew when I saw that symbol I was supposed to make the noise associated with that object. It was a sort of epiphany. It was the moment where language became a tool I could use to communicate ideas meaningfully, because it now had meaning to me.
I want to touch on three specific topics from Radiolab’s “Words” and how they interplay with Guy Deutscher’s “Language & Thought” essay (no link, but you can find it on the NY Times website). From “Words” specifically we hear of three basic stories – a man with no language, the transition from isolated “Islands” of word-groups to interconnected cognitive structures, and the impact these words have on our internal thought structure.
These concepts seem to run against the premise of the “Language & Thought” essay, which was of particular interest to me. For the longest time I’ve held the notion that, without the linguistic concepts to contain a given thought or idea, it would be difficult (if not impossible) to actually have that thought. The “Language & Thought” essay focuses on a similar theory, posited by Benjamin Whorf circa 1940, but spends substantial time repudiating that theory on the grounds that it has no basis, and has been scientifically proven inaccurate, before investigating several explicit counterpoints to Whorf’s treatise.
The first time I saw the “new” spot for the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee was while my family and I were vacationing in Colorado last June. Since then, I’ve spent some time thinking about the commercial and the response it’s garnered from the general public. In case you haven’t seen the commercial yourself, here it is, in it’s full, YouTube glory. Check it out, then catch my thoughts on it after the break.
Recently I’ve been reading Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, and working on getting my hands on The Difference Engine, co-authored by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Simultaneously, I had been researching pens, and trying to build some context for the Vickies of Stephenson’s work. I should possibly point out that, during this time, I confused Stephenson and Sterling repeatedly. Because I was, you know, searching for one and reading the other.
Thus there are multiple threads to weave in this tale, but I shall attempt to simplify them, and stick to one topic at a time. As much as is possible, anyway.