A couple years ago, a friend asked me for suggestions on how to improve at writing.
Just as delivering a straightforward explanation of the cultural backgrounded required to understand a joke is in most cases enough to completely undercut the humor, in the same way if you explain to a group of atheists the actual psychological workings of a religious person, you’ll threaten to ruin the entertaining social dynamics that they’ve learned to love so much: mockery leveled toward the lowly idiots who could believe such childish nonsense, in-group/out-group signaling, confident delivery of condescending statements designed to produce feelings of superiority, and so forth. They don’t want to think about the situation from the perspective the religious people, for that would tear down the emotional basis for their indulgence in feelings of arrogance and condescension.
“No language is any better at anything than any other language. That’s, like, Linguistics 101.”
Wherever someone brings up the idea that one language makes a certain kind of thinking easier or harder than a different language, there are plenty of people ready to pounce on them. These people often identify themselves by saying something like, “Linguist here.” Or, “Linguistics student here.” Talking down to you, yet submitting to powers they consider far greater than themselves, they explain that any language can express any thought, for every language contains the small number of discrete elements required for mixing and matching in order to express the full range of human experience. They summarize this information by explaining that no language is any better at anything than any other language. They’re simply different. One language might use grammatical mechanism X, and another Y. But on the whole, they’re all able to do everything that all the others are able to do.
Lying at the absolute foundation of much of my thinking is a method I call “first-person epistemology”. Understanding what it means to employ this kind of cognition is necessary for comprehending many of my theories.
(Note: If you haven’t yet, please read Word-Thought Overwriting, as the following shows that word-thought overwriting is a special case of a larger phenomenon.)
I was aware of the phenomenon of word-thought overwriting long before I realized that it’s actually a special case of how language is supposed to operate as a memory device within one’s own mind and as an information-transfer tool within a society. It’s essentially where the categorization system breaks down, where a system which was intentionally built into the method by which humans think and communicate collapses under the weight of an unnaturally large and diverse population of users. While word-thought overwriting is where a thought is overwritten and replaced with a thought that suggests a fundamentally incompatible thought (for example a thought which leads to an action that doesn’t work, wheres the original thought led to an action that does work); on the other hand, the way that humans are supposed to reason and transfer knowledge to other people includes a system where thoughts are overwritten with fundamentally compatible thoughts: thoughts which operate within the same indifference groups as the original thoughts.
See below for a description of word-thought overwriting that I wrote a long time ago:
Several months ago, I was conversing with someone on Reddit about whether there’s a fundamental difference between a child learning their native language and an adult learning a foreign language, and whether it’s possible for an adult to wire their brain to understand a foreign language as the natives do. The person I was talking to was arguing that foreign learners struggle to develop the ability to intuit grammaticality (i.e., to be able to simply know whether a sentence is grammatical or not, with no need for conscious understanding of grammar). I responded by doing a psychological analysis of what it means to intuit grammaticality, and employed what I came up with to essentially ask the question, “Since this is what it means to intuit grammaticality, can we come up with a way that a foreigner could engage in their studies in a way which would produce the same cognitive skill?” His response was that I wasn’t providing data for my assertions, and my reply was that the data comes from introspection, which he can do on his own in order to independently verify or falsify my claims.
Almost 10 years ago, before I had delved into the world of academic writing, I became interested in a certain project: constructing a word language.
I’ll be the first to admit that while this term is often used within the context of aggressively criticizing my ideas, since I often talk about how language affects thought, it does have a nice aesthetic to it. In fact, that’s probably one of the reasons that it’s spread like wildfire: The term itself simply looks cool.