Is A Universal Language Possible?

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Nick_A
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Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Nick_A » Sun Feb 03, 2019 10:49 pm

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. George Bernard Shaw

I’ve been reading some posts which question our ability to communicate raising the question if genuine communication is possible or if Shaw was right and the belief in genuine communication is an illusion.

It is an ancient question to which the Bible contributes:

Genesis 11
1Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let usgo down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the LORDconfused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Is this just biblical nonsense or does it contribute to the question of why we cannot communicate? If it was once possible can we learn how to communicate what is genuinely human?

Is a universal language possible that would enable human communication? If it is, what do you think it would require that we lack now?

Impenitent
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Impenitent » Mon Feb 04, 2019 12:58 am

complex meaning is private, universally impossible...

simple unitary binary (yes/no) is possible; however, simple unitary binary expression is meaningless

if you string enough binary expressions together you may get a computer that presents an illusion of combined organic binary strings...

-Imp

Logik
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Logik » Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:23 am

A broader analysis of the problem follows from Wiio's laws: http://jkorpela.fi/wiio.html

Genuine communication is possible, but the problem is not language - it's protocol.

You will never be privy to the contents of my mind, but by employing error detection/correction mechanisms ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Error_det ... correction ) we can reach an understanding to our satisfaction.

The technical aspect of this is solved. Communication between machines/computers is robust. As is error detection/correction.
The human problem is that it's an acquired skill - it most definitely not intuitive to most humans. And it is far less intuitive to men than it is to women. Because ego.

At least one of the interlocutors needs to be incredibly sensitive, and what I mean by 'sensitive' is that they need be able to detect all manner of inconsistencies in language (verbal and body) in real time. Ambiguity, equivocation, grammatical and syntactic errors, uncertainty and doubt, thumb-sucking, embarrassment etc.

But this is not enough. Being able to detect inconsistencies in the other party's language is half the problem. Being able to ask clarifying questions so that both parties are on the same page without triggering the other person requires emotional intelligence. If both interlocutors possess it - great! If only one does - they become responsible for pacing the discussion.

If both parties understand how and why communication fails, and if both parties have the necessary tools and strategies to detect/correct errors without becoming frustrated then communication is a beautiful thing.

It's like watching language and meaning evolve in real time!

Nick_A
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Nick_A » Mon Feb 04, 2019 3:20 am

Impenitent wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 12:58 am
complex meaning is private, universally impossible...

simple unitary binary (yes/no) is possible; however, simple unitary binary expression is meaningless

if you string enough binary expressions together you may get a computer that presents an illusion of combined organic binary strings...

-Imp
I've learned that words have both a literal and an emotional connotation. Take the word sunset for example. One man may tell aniother he and his lady enjoyed a beautiful sunset earlier. This other man having been mugged during a sunset will not associate it with beauty.

We can communicate a literal meaning through math for example but how do we communicate how we emotionally value a literal meaning? I believe it can be done through art of a certain quality for example but that medium has become so prostituted its aim is now largely indoctrination and cash as opposed to deeper communication.

Logik
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Logik » Mon Feb 04, 2019 3:46 am

Nick_A wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 3:20 am
We can communicate a literal meaning through math for example but how do we communicate how we emotionally value a literal meaning?
You need to develop a language that allows you to speak about emotions...

Then you can speak about emotions literally.

Step 1: Learn to recognise and consistently label your own emotions.
Step 2: Calibrate your labels with other humans.

It's no use calling "happiness" what another calls "sadness"...

surreptitious57
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by surreptitious57 » Mon Feb 04, 2019 3:54 am

Logic wrote:
You need to develop a language that allows you to speak about emotions

Then you can speak about emotions literally
Humans are not always very good at speaking about their emotions and it has nothing at all to do with language
Because to be able to speak openly and freely about them also requires the removal of psychological inhibitions

Logik
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Logik » Mon Feb 04, 2019 3:56 am

surreptitious57 wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 3:54 am
Humans are not always very good at speaking about their emotions and it has nothing at all to do with language
Because to be able to speak openly and freely about them also requires the removal of psychological inhibitions
Practice makes perfect!

If you understand why you feel inhibited to speak about your emotions you can always make the necessary changes.

Is it cultural (e.g you aren't in an environment which shuts down that kind of conversation)? Change your environment.
Is it self-inflicted or embarrassment? Why are you embarrassed?
Is it lack of self-understanding? Introspect!

If you understand the "why" you know how to fix it...

Judaka
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Judaka » Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:31 am

Nick_A

Language is a very complicated issue, it's so complicated that I don't think a forum like this is a worthwhile place to discuss it.

I just had this long debate with Logik in the pragmatism vs principles thread, where communication pretty much entirely broke down over a difference in the usage of the words objectivity and objective, perhaps also nihilism and a few other things. This isn't really a rare occurrence in discussions. There are a plethora of issues with the idea of a universal language and even just a case where you and I use the same language is unthinkable to me.

Words have power which people seek to utilise, interpretations which go as deep as deep goes influence how we understand words and we are always trying to "read between the lines" which leads to an interpretation of intent and message which may be entirely wrong or misleading.

I think merely trying to understand our own language is a tremendous task, understanding others exactly is impossible and universal language is just a dream.

Logik
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Logik » Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:37 am

Judaka wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:31 am
Nick_A

Language is a very complicated issue, it's so complicated that I don't think a forum like this is a worthwhile place to discuss it.

I just had this long debate with Logik in the pragmatism vs principles thread, where communication pretty much entirely broke down over a difference in the usage of the words objectivity and objective, perhaps also nihilism and a few other things. This isn't really a rare occurrence in discussions. There are a plethora of issues with the idea of a universal language and even just a case where you and I use the same language is unthinkable to me.

Words have power which people seek to utilise, interpretations which go as deep as deep goes influence how we understand words and we are always trying to "read between the lines" which leads to an interpretation of intent and message which may be entirely wrong or misleading.

I think merely trying to understand our own language is a tremendous task, understanding others exactly is impossible and universal language is just a dream.
The simple explanation for why communication broke down is because Judaka lacks understanding of the epistemic problem of criterion.
When you don't have any criterion for "success" and "failure" then ABSOLUTELY anything goes!

When you have a common purpose and a clear problem (e.g science, engineering) the criteria for success and failure are the very first thing that gets discussed.

That is also the reason why philosophy forums are constant bouts of mud-slinging.

if you have no criteria for failure - nobody is wrong.

Worst of all - when you don't have a shared criterion for "success" and "failure" you keep second-guessing the other party's intentions.
It's not a constructive way to communicate.

Language is a tool. Tools are used towards a purpose. The purpose of language is communication.
What's the purpose of communication? What is the criterion for "successful" communication?

In order to communicate successfully you have to know what you want to achieve.

A Universal language is a prescriptivist fantasy. It will never happen. The universe is way too dynamic and chaotic for language to be frozen in time.
Such a language will become very useless very quickly.

But just because a universal language does not and cannot exist, does not mean communication is impossible. Learn to adapt!
Last edited by Logik on Mon Feb 04, 2019 5:04 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Lacewing
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Lacewing » Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:51 am

I think there could be some languages that don't require words... like love. People (and other forms of life) can often feel it even if nothing is said... and even if they speak different verbal languages. So that could be considered a type of universal language.

As for evolving toward a universal language in our future, my guess is that it would be non-verbal... perhaps telepathic. Words (and the way they are strung together) have too many varied meanings/associations. A telepathic imprint without all the emotional distortion would be much clearer. It would probably also eliminate many of the hiding places for ego and deception, since one couldn't claim that their words were being misunderstood.

Judaka
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Judaka » Mon Feb 04, 2019 5:59 am

Logik

You may have a point that the best way to address an argument is to first establish what each party is trying to achieve but as far as my point in this thread is concerned, the reality is that you made a lot of assertions in the thread "pragmatism vs principles" which I know aren't true because they're about me. The basis for your assertions was that your understanding of what I was saying was different than what I was actually saying because we couldn't agree on what "objectivity" and "objective" meant.

To negotiate at all, we would have had to at least been able to communicate and I felt that even at a basic level, no communication was taking place. Even if we established our goals, it wouldn't change the problem that you thought I was saying something different than what I was saying because you had a different definition to objectivity and objective than I did.

Anyway, I am not much interested in getting into it with you. This thread should be at least one thing we can agree on, universal language can't work.

Nick_A
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Nick_A » Mon Feb 04, 2019 6:14 am

Is it really this hopeless? Are philosophical discussions limited to as Fyodor Dostoyevsky described: "pouring from the empty into the void"? If Man is a being in search of meaning and philosophy is the love of wisdom, without the potential for opening to emotional communication rather than the usual attempts at condemnation, ridicule, and the like, worthwhile communication in the cause of the mutual experience of objective meaning is impossible limiting philosophical satisfaction to those who enjoy a fight and the battle for imagined supremacy.

Nick_A
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Nick_A » Mon Feb 04, 2019 6:35 am

Lacewing wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:51 am
I think there could be some languages that don't require words... like love. People (and other forms of life) can often feel it even if nothing is said... and even if they speak different verbal languages. So that could be considered a type of universal language.

As for evolving toward a universal language in our future, my guess is that it would be non-verbal... perhaps telepathic. Words (and the way they are strung together) have too many varied meanings/associations. A telepathic imprint without all the emotional distortion would be much clearer. It would probably also eliminate many of the hiding places for ego and deception, since one couldn't claim that their words were being misunderstood.
Perhaps love has something to do with it. From an interview with Simone Weil's biographer:
Simone Weil's life and work has played a big part in your life. Could you perhaps, give us a brief anecdote to end with?

Well, here is an astonishing story. Though it has to do with Simone's after-life, am not making this up. I tell it because it has illustrative value.

A man had a dream... He dreamt that he entered into a building, took an elevator up to the top floor, where he found a door and pushed the buzzer. Upon being invited to enter, he walked across an apartment and reached a room where he saw a large table at which someone was seated, who looked as if she might be a scholar.

"You must know many languages", he told her.
"Where I am, we speak only one language", she answered.
At this point, the man woke up. The language in question he guessed to be that of love.

Some time later, after he discovered the writings of Simone Weil, he made by telephone an appointment with Mrs Selma Weil (Simone's mother), and proceeded to number 3, rue Auguste Comte in Paris. When he came to the building, he recognised it. And he entered the very elevator he used in his dream, reached the same floor, saw the same door, walked through the same apartment and came to the same room, where stood the same table. On the wall, he noticed a photo which was that of the very same person he had seen in his dream. The books of Simone Weil he had read had not been illustrated. Thus he saw there for the first time the features of the person he had met in his sleep.

Since this story was told to me by the man himself, a reverend and furthermore a psychiatrist, and "there are more things in heaven and earth" than our philosophy can think of, I did not doubt his tale. He is dead now, but I hesitate to mention his name. The gist of the matter however is that this story brings home a point which was made by Pascal: "C'est le coeur qui connait Dieu." "It is through the heart that we know God". And, may I add: "And everything else also."
A little French BS or perhaps true? Maybe Simone as a partially evolved soul entered a more conscious level of being in which a common language is the norm. Who knows?

Logik
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Logik » Mon Feb 04, 2019 8:47 am

Judaka wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 5:59 am
To negotiate at all, we would have had to at least been able to communicate and I felt that even at a basic level, no communication was taking place. Even if we established our goals, it wouldn't change the problem that you thought I was saying something different than what I was saying because you had a different definition to objectivity and objective than I did.
That's because communication is not a feeling. It's a process.

Definitions don't matter. Meaning matters. Language (all logic!) is a closed system. When talking about reality words are no less abstract than numbers!

Define 5 ? 3 + 2
Define 3 ? 5 - 2
Define 2 ? 5 - 3

It's circular! Apparently you already knew that, and yet you still insist on definitions?

The point of communication is to establish the meaning of words, not their definitions. That is why I prefer juxtapositions, thought experiments and real-world examples.

So yes - we have a fundamental misunderstanding. You seem to think in definitions/language - I think in concepts.
You seem to think that language is prescribed by a dictionary. I think language is developed through communication.

I have zero patience for the “define X” game.
Define “define”.

Judaka
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Re: Is A Universal Language Possible?

Post by Judaka » Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:49 am

Logik

Well, your stance is ridiculous, defining a word is the act of making it clear what that word means when you say it. Your idea is pure IDEALISM, there's not a single benefit to throwing out the dictionary and the alternative you're presenting is unworkable - as you've shown already.

You made your own idea seem unworkable through your actions and as you keep saying, actions speak louder than words. The goal of language is to communicate, that's what you keep saying. This is quite a claim from both your perspective and mine but realising that you are a pathological liar, let's just ignore the hypocrisy here of you deciding such things without offering criterion or justification for this assertion and just accept it as true.

We couldn't communicate any more as soon as you started using a word differently than its standard meaning. You couldn't compromise, you couldn't use another word, you couldn't explain how you were using the word, you couldn't offer definitions, you couldn't offer examples to help me understand and you instead just carried the conversation on as though I was using your definition, even though it's obvious that I wasn't given that I communicated that fact multiple times.

What a failure of epic proportions for someone who thinks they have all the answers!

In the end, you just blame me for your shortcomings and the shortcomings of your positions. The only parts of our discussion which have functioned conformed to dictionary definitions for words, the reason for the breakdown in communication, is because of you and your behaviour. I haven't seen any real evidence that you don't use dictionary definitions except out of ignorance, as with objectivity. You read my paragraphs and I read yours - as I've pointed out many times you don't actually believe your own shit.

You don't tell me "your" meaning for the words you use and when I give mine, it doesn't appear to help you whatsoever to understand what I'm saying.

There are subjective aspects to words beyond definitions which all stem from things like interpretation, cultural usage as well as social, scientific, religious and moral implications and so on. You are free to attempt to negotiate these aspects of the word if you can, you can even make amendments to definitions as long as you communicate it.

You demand that I establish and state my rules for my criterion but as usual, you have never done the same. You don't practice what you preach in any regard, which makes it easy to understand for anyone that all you CAN do is preach. It would be too absurd for you to actually try to practice your ridiculous recommendations.

We talk a bit, I make some points that you ignore, you make some points which you can't imagine being wrong,you call my arguments (you can't remember which one) sophistry and false, you decide what kind of person I am without any evidence or even point of reference and then you call me a mental invalid without ever having made sense yourself or showing any holes in my argumentation. Enjoyable once, the second time a bit absurd and there won't be a third.

There is indeed, no point in repeating this process so once again, that's my last response to you for this thread.

Nick_A

Language still has utility even if it isn't perfect, no need to despair. All we can do is be aware that language isn't perfect and cut people a little slack as a result. Sometimes I think I am having a massive disagreement with someone, only later to find out it was just miscommunication. People can still have a productive dialogue with each other.

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