Like many other common practices in modern society, learning a whole new language as an adult is an unnatural phenomenon. Humans are programmed to acquire language, but they’re programmed to do so during childhood. While it’s perfectly natural to constantly learn new words, pick up novel ways of inflecting our voice, and so forth, there’s nothing natural about going from zero to fluent in a language starting when you’re 25. And like many other behaviors and conditions that were unknown to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, there are a lot of problems that occur when you try to learn a language as an adult.
If your goal is to become a high-level tennis player, then it makes sense to look to high-level tennis players for data on how to achieve that goal: How many hours do they practice each day? How often do they play in tournaments? What kind of cross-training do they do? Which styles are popular in this day and age? And so forth. In the same way, if you’re learning a foreign language, and your objective is to sound like a native speaker, then it makes sense to look to native speakers for data on how to succeed. Or does it? Many people within the language-learning community would push back at this moment, saying that acquiring a native language is a fundamentally different endeavor than acquiring a foreign language. According to such individuals, children and adults are different on a basic neurological level, and therefore what works for children won’t necessarily work for adults. When designing a method for adult acquisition, they say, it doesn’t make sense to look to children for inspiration.
Two Types of Cures
If I told you that we already know what causes cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autism, and many of the other bodily and neurological diseases that plague civilization, and therefore not only how to usually prevent them but in many cases even cure them, you’d be forgiven for assuming that I must be deluded, that I must be a quack, a crank, a charlatan. Surely I know nothing of the greatness of Modern Science, and have been led astray by the pseudoscience of Alternative Health. With many billions of dollars allocated toward cutting-edge medical research, and many of the best minds in the world working tirelessly on the problems, it’s absurd to suggest that a loosely organized group of amateurs on the Internet have come up with cures where so many brilliant scientists have fallen flat on their face. To believe that I have the answers can be evidence for nothing more than a sort of arbitrary arrogance, and my methods of thinking about these topics must be more akin to religious faith than to anything that could be considered scientific analysis.
A YouTuber named MattVSJapan once mentioned that reading a lot can be a highly effective method for improving one’s listening comprehension, but that it’s ultimately a bad way of doing so, at least if your goal is to end up with a native-like accent.
I once asked a friend to guess what I scored on the Big Five personality test. Given that I frequently argue for views that appear extremely conservative, along with the fact that it’s been found that low openness correlates with high conservatism, he guessed that I’m low in openness. To be clear, openness is one of the Big Five personality traits: Individuals high in openness are more likely to break apart established structures and forge their own way, leading either to reckless departure from the deep-seated truths of traditional wisdom and a blind embrace of chaotic dissolution of disciplined routine (when done poorly), or innovative eschewing of the dangerously misguided qualities of mainstream thought and a properly thought-out re-structuring of one’s thinking and behavior (when done properly). On the other hand, those low in openness are less likely to break apart these established structures, preferring to remain set in their ways, acting out the received wisdom of society, or at least their own past conclusions, without doing any sort of deep questioning of their path. Thus the progressives (those who question the wisdom of the past and wish to usher in a new era of human organization) tend to be high in openness, while the traditionalists (those who believe that the best compass for right action is religion and other founts of past wisdom) are generally low in openness.
Among not only religious conservatives who had their views bestowed upon them by the unconscious process of cultural evolution, but also secular analysts who built their worldview from the ground up through independent thinking, it’s common to lament the modern destruction of what we could call civilization-era sexual controls. Simply put: In the ancestral environment a small minority of men mated with the great majority of the women, and most of the men were left out in the cold to live a harsh life of involuntary celibacy. However, within civilization this natural fact about the human species has been traditionally turned in its head, and a one-man-for-one-woman norm has been established: the marriage institution. Biologically polygynous, yet culturally monogamous, the human species marched forward through the agricultural revolution and then the industrial revolution. But it doesn’t end there. What most people don’t realize is that this civilization-era system is starting to fall apart, and people are once again entering a more primitive form of sexual organization where men separate into the haves and the have-nots. Pornography, anime, prostitution, and other such devices might be useful for pacifying these have-nots and making sure to prevent too many of them from following in Elliot Rodger’s footsteps. But this sudden unleashing of primal nature within the modern urban landscape isn’t without grave dangers for societal structure.
Recently I had a moment where I forgot that a certain American of Iranian and Armenian descent isn’t white. And then it struck me: Underneath the political statements of the alt right, white nationalism, and other similar movements is really just a strong stance of, ‘If you can’t fool us into thinking you’re one of us, then you’re not one of us.’
I asked someone yesterday whether she knows what changes about how she feels after she drinks caffeine, and she said: “I have no idea.” She then asked, “What has caffeine in it?” I explained that tea, coffee, and chocolate are perhaps the most common ones. I also added that these substances do things like increase concentration, though chocolate has a host of other active ingredients as well (e.g., theobromine). She seemed to know a bit of what I meant about chocolate, but showed no acknowledgement of the effects of tea or coffee. I then asked her whether she consumes tea or coffee on a regular basis, thinking maybe I could then transition to asking her whether she tends to drink tea or coffee at certain times and not others, to determine what her pattern of consumption is. She said: “Well, I don’t really drink coffee. But I do drink a lot of tea at home.” I asked her what kind of tea she usually drinks, and her answer was: “Rooibos.” I then of course pointed out that rooibos doesn’t contain any caffeine, and then the conversation ended shortly thereafter. Later on, however, she purchased a bottle of green tea, and that prompted me to ask her whether she was craving a bit of caffeine. “This has caffeine?”, she replied. “I was just thirsty!” Without translating my thoughts into words for her to hear, I just pondered the fact that we seem to have a different definition for that term. To me the word thirsty refers to how I would feel upon deciding to drink something especially hydrating, and tea isn’t so; it’s a diuretic.
When we analyze our perception of the world from the most unprejudiced point of view, we find that the notion of category melts away and we’re left with an undifferentiated and undelineated continuum of subjective experience. It’s only once we add the concept of purpose that we’re able to take the unbroken continuity of sensory experience and bundle various aspects of the perceptual landscape into categories (more precisely, indifference groupings) Two subjective experiences present as the same category when they both fulfill the same function in our mind. For example, if you take a pair of sunglasses and vary the tint of the glass on a smooth continuum, the moment they lose their claim to the category we verbalize as “sunglasses” in English is when the tint is such that you can no longer see out of them or you can still see out of them but they’re too lightly tinted that the painful sensation of bright sun is no longer tempered to a tolerable degree. To a being unaware of the experience of being human, and equipped with a non-optimal mechanism of perceiving 3D objects, fundamentally speaking there would be no way for them to look at a pile of reading glasses, sunglasses, protective glasses, and so forth, and differentiate them into proper human categories; they would merely see a heap of objects of similar physical dimensions, in a position to perceive only an unbroken continuum of changes in thickness, width, etc.