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Wednesday, June 17, 2009


The irreducibly complex definition of
an unexplainable abstraction
and substituted 
by a pronoun.

There are flaws in the English language. Take the second person plural for example-- it just doesn't exist. As a result, we've all developed tactics to talk about the second person plural without using proper grammar: Deb says "y'all". Others say "yous". I happen to favor "you guys". There's more examples, I'm sure.

There's other quirks as well. Instead of calling the USS SQUIRREL, an "it"-- as would be proper-- sailors and laymen alike refer to the ship as "she" or "her". Same is true with automobiles. So I wonder... why do we feel the need to fudge our pronouns and anthropomorphize these things? Why do we feel the need to animate inanimate objects when it's improper grammar? I assume this particular example has less to do with the English Language, and more to do with human nature, since these same "tactics of anthropomorphization" occur in many (if not all) languages in one form or another.

I mention these two examples specifically (missing grammatical constructs and anthropomorphization) because I believe that the "being" we commonly refer to as "GOD" (or Allah, or Yahweh or Ganesha or Zeus-- i do not discriminate between deities) is nothing more than another "missing" piece of grammar.

In this case of "GOD", the missing grammar would be a pronoun. A very special pronoun, as it does not refer to a He/ She/ It, but an unexplainable feeling or experience which is then anthropomorphized (like ships and cars are) for reasons I can't fully explain. Maybe it has to do with humanity's hard-wiring being centered around psychological connections and not abstract ones? Maybe that makes us feel more comfortable with the feelings/ experiences we can't fully explain?

IF my assertion is based in truth, that would imply that the omnipotent sky dwelling "GOD" does not, and has not ever existed. Instead, all this talk about "GOD" is a personal (and subjective) experience of life's unexplainable occurrences, which have then been appropriated by any number of different religious institutions for reasons of political, social, and cultural power; (ie, fascist domination of the spiritual population.)

(spiritual being defined as those individuals who form a deep and personal attachment to their amazing, unexplainable thoughts, feelings and experiences)

--keep up the good work everyone!


Thai said...

Have you ever read Pinker's The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature? I am about 1/3rd through the book on tape right now.

Or you can watch Pinker give part of the book as a lecture at TED.

Thai said...

Cotton, I did a little reworking to the ending of my last posting which you might want to look at... I realized the ending I had was not quite the message I was trying to convey.

I am much happier with this latest ending on The Tragedy of the Commons.


Debra said...

Welcome back, Thai. I kind of felt like I was on monologue mode for a while here.
I hope you won't get too unhappy if I tear you apart, Cotton, but this is my turf, so I can do it intelligently, not like a nerd...
Why do you talk about flaws in the language, Cotton ?
What is wrong about the absence of the second person plural form in English ?
Actually, it is NOT absent, it got knocked a litte awry by the elision of the "thou" form which has fallen into disuse. But "thou" is really nice. Maybe I should start using it again, why not ?
Before I lay into God, we could spend a little time on this one, comparing French to English in this respect.
French is moving very quickly on these questions these days.
You : VOUS, formal form, can be singular or plural, OR can be singular, informal : TU
These days the tutoiement TU is gaining ground really fast, and the more formal VOUS form is sliding back. In the old days, there were upper middle class families where the children VOUVOIED their parents for their whole lives. And younger people were always expected to use the VOUS form with their elders. It was common etiquette to use the VOUS form until your relation/friend intimated to you that perhaps you could graduate to TU.
In relations between men and women, this was like a courtship parade, and I must say that having this disappear represents a certain loss in the subtlety of human relationships, and intimacy. But, democracy and subtle human emotions just may not go together...
Final point, the infamous ON, and ILS.
These are the two other forms that are extremely important ON A TOPOLOGICAL axe, because they situate the speaker in reference to the person he's talking to, and they show just WHERE his allegiances lie.
ON can be WE, but it can also be THEY. It is the indication IN SPEAKING, that the speaker does not include himself among the people he's referring to.
But ON is even better than that. It shifts permanently and if you listen to people really carefully, you can here how SOMETIMES they include themselves in the group, and sometimes... NOT. ILS, or THEY, third person plural is the finger pointing part of speech par excellence as we say. It is the EXCLUSION pronoun.
By the was, a really attentive reading of the Jewish creation story gives unbelievable insights in just WHAT the pronouns do, and WHAT our use of them says about us...

Thai said...

There are "flaws" in our brains as well.

Deb, I sometimes enjoy reading the blog Financial Ninja. I was wondering if you agreed with this analysis of what is happening in Europe?

Debra said...

And Cotton, AND Thai, a little EXAMPLE of what I'm talking about here.
You are RIGHT, Cotton in your analysis of my y'all.
I AM indeed using it as the equivalent of the YOU plural which is not well differentiated in English at this time.
What is really interesting is that this motivation completed escaped me. I was totally unaware of it. I thought that it fitted in nicely with the Saloon context, so I tossed it out, ALL THE WHILE THINKING THAT I was behind this use, and that language/the social body had nothing to do with it...
I was wrong, you see.
I could not see the "unconscious", social motivation of my choice of words. To me, I was the "author" of this "choice".
Please check back to my response to Thai on "summer vacation" about the school of fish phenomenon. I am VERY VERY fond of this image these days...

Dink said...


I'm trying to wrap my brain around this one. So are you saying that there is no supernatural conscious entity, but that there is a "force"? And that humans, lacking a way to relate to this force, treat it like a conscious entity (anthromorphize)?

"I am much happier with this latest ending on The Tragedy of the Commons."

So authors are able to edit there posts? I hadn't been aware that blogger allowed this. I'll reread The TotC.

"felt like I was on monologue mode for a while here."

The obnoxious actual world is sucking time away from my virtual world this week. I'm more irritated by it than you are, to be sure.

Debra said...

Yes, Thai, please tell us how to edit.
Now, editing, that is REAL PROGRESS, not ersatz progress...

Debra said...

GASP GASP GASP (gurgling sounds, and a hand desperately waving in the air...)
THAI, are you a sadistic lout or something, how could you DO THAT TO ME !!! That link... THOSE CHARTS, THOSE GRAPHS, a few days away from the blog and you have ALREADY FORGOTTEN WHAT I TOLD YOU ABOUT ERECTOR SETS...
Charles de Gaulle was REALLY FUNNY about integration.
He was an intelligent man, but as much of a loner as I am, maybe even more so.
Integration WILL HAPPEN whether France and the French want it or not.
Borrowing from your mindset, Thai, I can fairly say that IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE COLONIZED BY THE PEOPLE THAT YOU HAVE COLONIZED, THEN DON'T INVADE....
It's a little late for that now, isn't it ?
On the subject of the right wing...
Although I am seriously allergic to nationalism, I sometimes get the vaguest twinge of "nationalistic" pride in "France's" reactions.
A big, big ecology vote in the last European election.
The French are not all that big on the Front National, which has fallen off the chart (lol), way behind even the Socialist (what Socialist ?) party...

Thai said...



Well said

Thai said...

I highly recommend watching this.

Debra said...

Thai, I couldn't access the link, but I DID MANAGE TO ACCESS THE LITTLE PREAMBULE.
The little rating thingey cracks me up.
And... the little box that asks whether you are 16 or older, that you have to check.
This reminds me of one of my absolute FAVORITE observations...
When you are a foreign national coming to the U.S., they ask you the FUNNIEST QUESTIONS on the government forms that you have to fill out...
Like :
Are you a Communist agent (commie pinko) intending to invade the United States ?
Are you planning on killing the President ?
Have you been convicted of anything ?

In one of Bill Bryson's books on the U.S. he quotes one of his British friends describing his 6 YEAR OLD daughter's interviews with a border guard who was asking her THESE questions.
And my dearest, dearest English friend MADE THE MAJOR MISTAKE of mentioning her... traffic violations in that little paragraph.
She ALMOST didn't make it into the U.S.

Now, seriously, you guys, HOW SERIOUSLY can you take a country that asks these kind of questions to visitors ?
And this, coming from a country where you guys really think that no one can pull anything over on you, (at least the government seems to think so...) ?
I get hysterical laughing fits whenever I think about it...

Debra said...

Cotton, I have some time on my hands this morning, so I'm going to go further into "tearing your post apart"... Nicely, of course, as it has lots of interesting observations.
And I am going to look at it through the linguistic spectrum.
There was an excellent Swiss/French linguist whose name is Beneveniste who wrote an article quite some time ago in which he affirmed (rightly, I feel) that if you carefully observed the evolution and the subject matter of classical Greek philosophy, you would find UNDERNEATH the philosophical preoccupations the STRUCTURE of classical Greek.
Now, that statement sounds pretty banal on paper, or on Internet, but its implications are absolutely mind shattering, and it takes time, intelligence, and lots of IMAGINATION in order to scroll out all of the implications.
Back to the "it" for the boats, cars, etc.
Now, French, for example, has NO it.
French has only IL or ELLE, "he" or "she".
But... what happens when you start talking about a MALE frog ?
LA grenouille. Then : ELLE. We call it GENDER. GENDER and SEX are not identical for linguistic purposes. But, it DOES bother me to call MALE frogs, LA grenouille. Does it bother me because I'm a native English speaker ? It doesn't seem to bother my French husband very much, but I'm not sure that it doesn't bother my French-American kids, just a little bit.
Now, the "it" is a linguistic distinction that French does NOT make. (German makes it, but it follows no apparently LOGICAL pattern...)
Of the Indo-European languages that I know, ONLY English has an "it" that is reserved for OBJECTS.
And Cotton ? What about our animals ? He, she, IT ? Which way is it going ? Is a domestic animal a HE/SHE, and a wild animal an "it" ?
The "it" pronoun is the pronoun of scientific materialsm, of objectivation par excellence, in my book.
"It" is designed to be neuter and NEUTER is NOT NEUTRAL, or even OBJECTIVE.
As far as anthropomorphizing is concerned, I AM ON A PERSONAL MISSION TO BRING IT BACK.
Thai tells us that science is not about "objectivity".
Tsk, tsk. "Scientific" ideology may have moved on from "objectivity" but the GENERAL PUBLIC is still mired in it, and we are all STILL DETERMINED by it. Determined by it because it is EVERYWHERE in our language...
Anthropomorphizing is ONE of the ways that I, as a HUMAN, can feel CONNECTED to my natural world, and CONNECTION IS WAY BETTER, AND MORE IMPORTANT, than not being connected.
Sure, anthropomorphizing has its drawbacks. It tends to breed hysterical people like ME.
But... NOT anthropomorphizing has its drawbacks too, and that is in the mass of unconnected people around... And the deadening that T.S. Eliot wrote about in Prufrock.
And I STILL haven't gotten around to GOD, yet, Cotton...

SS said...

@ Debra

"There was an excellent Swiss/French linguist whose name is Beneveniste who wrote an article quite some time ago in which he affirmed (rightly, I feel) that if you carefully observed the evolution and the subject matter of classical Greek philosophy, you would find UNDERNEATH the philosophical preoccupations the STRUCTURE of classical Greek."

There is similar work by a Japanese linguist showing something, and amazingly so, similar for Sanskrit.

Yet Chomsky and his followers would have one believe that grammar is innate. though I admire Chomsky's political work I rather think grammar is cultural.



SS said...


The Mahler lieds are extraordinary, try Resurrection symphony, there are voice solos and a very huge chorus.


Dink said...

Debra and Thai,
You two are commenting velociraptors which is making this squirrel look like a starfish.

Why starfish? Because you go to the aquarium and they look like static rocks. But some aquariums have video recordings of starfish sped up and the little buggers are actually actively pursuing mating, feeding, and fighting. Just in their own time frame. On a completely unrelated side note, jelly fish are nasty.

So Thai presented the image of the information mist and the everchanging nets in which to gather information units. He notes that this is an important chess piece if one ever hopes to escape being a Newtonian squirrel and graduate to the quantum big time.

And I'm trying, but can't yet make the conceptual crossover. Atoms as discrete units with fairly simple characteristics I can comprehend. The physical world: check!
But the shadow world of our consciousness I can't see a metaphor for the distinct units...I only see the whole. And because of this I can't see the units build up to the whole which seems very important to the theory. *****Important note: This is not the teacher's fault, its the student's. So feel free to keep posting new chess pieces at your own pace, Thai. I'll keep working on it.*****

That Gaia/disequilibrium/flux article was cool. Beware of too much order and stability ;)

Your knowledge of linguistic structure is beyond me. I've always meant to read Chomsky, Pinker, et al regarding language and the mind, but it hasn't seemed to happen yet. So I understand that you're a frustrated cowgirl when I don't engage in gunfights, but please understand that I have no bullets. (yet) ;)

Debra said...

I can hear you, dink.
It would be perhaps a little SAD if you got to the analytical fine points that Thai is trying to draw our attention to... Generalization and global thinking is great Dink. We need more people capable of generalized thinking, as all those mirrors, well, they can be a little ALIENATING..
Are you sure that you want to UNDERSTAND, and lose your innocence, dinky ?
Thai, mea culpa for pushing you so hard. Sometimes I forget that there are people out there who have to sweat for their filthy lucre...
Thai, NOW I can kind of see where you are going with this, and although I think that we can understand each other to a certain extent, we will NOT agree at the end. And see my comments on information = a stuff word on another post.
Metaphor, in the Lacanian, and linguistic sense is NOT an information structure like others are. And, once again, the choice of WORDS counts. God by any other name is NOT NECESSARILY GOD...
And SS, do you recommend any particular interpretation of the Mahler Symphonies ?

Thai said...

Dink, I also agree with Deb re: losing innocence.

But my experience in the ED tells me there are actually very few innocent people, just people who's brains have (often deliberately imo) not connected the relationship between two things.

If everyone saw every the connection to everything else, nothing would ever change and the world would be dead.

Thai said...

Deb can you explain "Metaphor, in the Lacanian, and linguistic sense is NOT an information structure like others are."?????

Why not?

Thai said...

@SS re: Chomsky and his concepts of an innate grammar.

I have only cursorily read articles that refer to Chomsky's writings on this subject but what I have read I absolutely loved. Would you be willing to write up a little post for the rest of us on this? It is a truly wonderful topic and quite relevant to what we are discussing.

From what I have read (and again this is only a little and not in a few years), my own two cents was always that it was probably both (and a few more issues).

... As I bet you have ascertained, I am big on the nature side of the endless nature vs. nuture debate- indeed as much for nature as I am for nurture.

And the problem I always have with innate (nature) arguments is that true to all structuralist models (we will use Deb's lingo to foster understanding), there is always that damn problem of non-linearity- e.g. most people are fairly similar, but a very few are very very very different.

It is rare to see models/tools sensitive enough to handle this issue. Do you know if Chomsky's research took this issue into account?

As for his politics... I can't comment as what I have read came from authors with diametrically opposite views of whether he was a hero or a hypocrite (and it has been a few years).

... But if you liked them then I have decided that I will like them :-)

Debra said...

Hmm, dinky I read your lovely, imaged post above about the starfish, you know they are MATING, FIGHTING, AND BREEDING...
You better not mention this to Mrs Thai, she might get a little...
I'll let y'all fill in any word that comes to mind...
And don't get stuffy, Thai.
We are 10 000 miles away at least, and I'm not playing a modern day version of The Shop Around the Corner...
I can see I'm going to have to drag out Saussure.

Thai said...

Yawn... Just woke up from a nap.

Stuffy??? You lost me.

I am really excited however about the idea that you may know something about the location of the path out of my nihilistic universe.

I even cheated to see who this Saussure is in all my impatient excitement... But as far as I can tell from Wikipedia, he simply fits your definition of a structuralist and become famous when his models predicted many things relatively accurately but sadly broke down under certain circumstances (as one would expect of any model which tries to predict useful things)... Remember, in order to make information useful, we make it wrong.

In my book, predicting the future is the classic definition of useful.

Thai said...

And SS, I just looked up Chomsky's political views.

What I don't see from this link is how this philosophy leads to a different outcome than any other philosophy.

This does not change the fundamental problem the conservation of energy creates for a closed system; a problem that Epstein and Axtell accidentally discovered when they created their model Sugarscape.

... Or another random web blogger has also learned but does not understand yet.

SS said...

@ Thai,

I'll gladly look into doing something on Chomsky but right now I hardly know his linguistic research beyond the basics. As for Chomsky's politics he is a Socialist of course.

I looked at your Sugarscape research, very ineresting and I now understand much better where you re going with all this. Of course like modern economics it is built on assumptions, one here is that unlike aunts or bees we are all competing, another is unlike Nietzsche it is all about scarcity and not the disposition of surpluses.


Thai said...

Take love. No matter how much anyone might wish it otherwise, my wife will always love our boys more than she will love most other things (I am not suggesting we need to go so far as a Sophie's choice to make my point).

I started with resources because they are easier for most people to understand. But non-linearity is the really the same thing as scarcity, you just may not have made the connection yet.

As I said, this is a long series of posts.

Everyone thinks I am a nut so I thought I would trying to build this story correctly.

And my first example is up as a post

Debra said...

All theories break down eventually Thai.
That is what FAITH is for...
Your wife likes your boys more than most other... THINGS ?
And how about YOU ?
On my forum with my loony friends, I must be about the ONLY person to come up with the fact that I actually think I like my... HUSBAND BETTER than my kids... But I'm weird...
Which reminds me of Antigone's argument to Creon over her DUTY to bury her brother : her parents are both dead, she could get a different husband, she could have OTHER children, but... HER BROTHER, no she'll never get another one of "those".
Nice choice, huh ? Nicely argued ?
Sophocles' Antigone would be a wonderful place for you to continue looking Thai. It reeks of all this stuff.
And who thinks you're a nut ?
If I called you a nut, that would be the pot calling the kettle black...

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits