Overcoming Babel

We all seek to capture the world with a net of language. Yet it is in the nature of nets to capture some things and let others slip away, and that goes for languages too. Our words turn experiences into objects, qualities, and actions, and we can build these into a kind of structure, a tower reaching into the sky – but (again) towers can only go so far, and there are always negative spaces surrounding the structure and its beams. What is left unsaid speaks volumes.

We might resign ourselves to this fact – the inescapable limits of what’s sayable – but in fact a great many minds have sought to construct the perfect language, one that carves reality at its joints and captures the grand shebang of human experience. Presumably God was speaking such a language when he spoke the world into being, and perhaps he taught this language to Adam. Or perhaps the perfect language need only be carefully constructed from given, atomic elements that reflect the most basic concepts a mind can have, with rules that keep it innocent from the goofy twisting and mashing that the accidents of history impart to our tongues. Or perhaps we can cook up a language that, like physics, captures the essence of phenomena and parses away every nonessential feature. The payoffs would be inestimable: we would have not only a language that could not possibly confuse, but a language – like that of Jonathan Swift’s horsey Houyhnhnms – whose very grammar would preclude ever saying the thing which was not.

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About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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