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Thread: What is the best language to understand physical principles?

  1. #1 What is the best language to understand physical principles? 
    Forum Masters Degree Implicate Order's Avatar
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    A question struck me the other day when trying to get to 'understand' theoretical physical principles such as the fundamental tenets of Special Relativity, General Relativity or Quantum Mechanics, what is the 'actual' best language to understand these concepts in? Is it the language of Mathematics or is it the preferred language of thought itself, namely the preferred dialogue of the thinker?

    I was thinking in terms of 'thought experiments' where the really powerful conclusions seem to arise from analogy. I assume that the thought experiment itself is performed in the mind using the common tongue language as opposed to that of mathematics. Actually here is a question for the mathematicians out there. Do you think in mathematics or do you think by interpreting mathematics in your preferred language of the mind?

    For example, was Einstein thinking in terms of maths when he tried to decipher what was going on. My assumption was that this was not the case and he passed his interpretation to a mathematician (eg. Marcel Grossman etc) to decipher his thought verbalisations into a robust mathematical form.

    Now in terms of analogy, I understand how interpretation through visual 2D analogy is problematic when trying to explain for example multi-dimensional concepts or 'non local' or counterfactual concepts'. A visual diagram in 2D itself (thinks rubber sheet analogy for GR) cannot faithfully describe what he theory is telling us on paper. However the mind tends to operate visually in 3D + 1 (perhaps even by projecting the minds contents via fourier transformations......who knows)....... but the power of language in written form can overcome this limited descriptive methodology in 2D. For example I can think in terms of 3D and 1T geometry by taking snapshots of an evolving 3D geometry and I can convey this thought by words that will have a common reference for others to use to appreciate that thought.

    Of course a problem inherent in language itself is that the language may not contain the 'terms' to accurately convey the throughts correctly. A language full of 'nouns' to represent things may give a notion of permanance and seperability to these things where such notions in theory do not exist. For example , 'all things appear to be non-locally connected' in QM and if you drop the notion of seperate particles that exist in spacetime and replace it with the assumption of entangled supimposed wavefunctions, the 'weirdness of QM tends to disappear'. Also in relativity it is the relationships between moving things that is important which becomes obfuscated by language in terms of solid particles moving through spacetime. If you drop the nouns in this description but take a more verb oriented approach to these things, the counter-intuitive notion of the theory becomes more obvious to the thinker such as the dynamic interplay between a thing (or pattern) moving with respect to another moving thing in a dynamic background. I can see where the expression "It's all vortices and fractals man" is hiding in every one of us.

    '

    Western languages appear to have many limitations in relation to dealing with transitory conditions or the interconnectedness of things. For Westerners, I can see how mathematics using mathematical structures such as manifolds and abstract spaces (Hilbert spaces) etc is very useful to 'plug' these deficiency gaps in the language itself, however this is where the 'thinker' loses the plot in attempting to maintain coherence in thought through the obstacles presented by their chosen language. You therefore need the maths to plug the holes so you are on a coherent thought train inter-mixed with the occassional exotic mahematical formula.

    So the question then would be this. Can our chosen language be re-written to align with modern science to assist us more in following the theoretical unification path? I am thinking that if such a language was created that used words to express theoretical notions more faithfully than the current selection of terms available, then 'say' our next generation (within which this language becomes their common tongue) would be better equipped to use thought experiments to go beyond the limitations observed today as we progressively need to use more and more mathematics as alternate measures to address this limitation. The idea being that a new better equipped language would assist in resolving the trending problems with unification of theoretical physics today. For example, many of the Quantum Gravity theories are so mathematical nowadays and there are so many variants, that a thinker in the current day cannot see the woods for the trees in selecting a best path to take. :-))

    Examples: I tend to think the English language is a Newtonian language. It is not a language well equipped for General Relativity or Quantum Mechanics. The language represents the classical earthly world as it gives form to classical objects moving slowly in lower gravitational conditions. This is fair enough as the language need to be used by the common man to prevent his car crashing into anothers, whereas a modern language may give a reason for the common man to try and see if his wavefunction can merge with another to avoid the inevitable colision./ tic. However use of the English language in its current form is not really helpful to the common man of the future if our technologies develop and we have to deal progressively more with a GR or Quantum reality out there. Some Eastern languages are more 'verb oriented' and may be beter placed in certain ways to deal with these extended domains, but still they may be deficient in many ways. So can we develop a contemporary science language without the need for so much maths to assist the gedanken experimenter out there?


    Last edited by Implicate Order; January 17th, 2014 at 09:59 PM.
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    So can we develop a contemporary science language without the need for so much maths to assist the gedanken experimenter out there?
    I doubt that. No verbal language we devise will ever be as concise and rigorous as mathematics.

    Examples: I tend to think the English language is a Newtonian language.
    My first language is not English but German, and I ( badly ) speak/read/write a number of languages within the Asia-Pacific region as well. Since I have a mild interest in linguistics in general, I also know about the grammatical and phonetic structure of some native American, Inuktitut and Sinotebetian languages such as Dakota, Inuinnaqtun, Kalaallisut and Dzongkha, though I don't speak or understand them. This represents a pretty broad cross-section, but I can confidently say that none of them comes even close to the descriptive power of mathematics, so far as the sciences are concerned.


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    Forum Masters Degree Implicate Order's Avatar
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    Interesting Markus. So two questions.

    1. Is there any common root's in these diverse array of languages or are they totally distinct? I am talking here in terms of a preference for the use of nouns as 'things' or more descriptive verbs that may describe 'processes'. I am assuming through geographical spread a commonality of English and German language and a commonality between Asia-Pacific languages and America Indian languages but is there any commonality across these regional languages. Furthemore, is there any associations to Middle-Eastern and Asian Languages?
    2. When you are deep in the depths of trying to figure out GR, do you actually think in terms of mathematical formulas or do you try and interpret the maths into a form which you can visualise then play with that in a chosen language.?
    Last edited by Implicate Order; January 19th, 2014 at 12:40 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    Is there any common root's in thes diverse array of languages or are they totally distinct.
    Let me reiterate again that I am not an expert in linguistics - it is really just a "pet interest" of mine, if you know what I mean.

    As for your question - it depends. If you consider languages within the same family, such as English v French v Spanish, or Mandarin and Cantonese, then they are very similar indeed. If on the other hand you were to compare - say - the Inuktitut languages with Mandarin, or Samoan, then there are no similarities whatsoever. They couldn't be more different.

    I am talking here in terms of a preference for the use of nouns as 'things' or more descriptive verbs that may describe 'processes'.
    That is difficult to answer, because a lot of languages do not even distinguish between nouns and verbs in the same manner as the Indoeuropean ones do, and sometimes not at all.

    but is there any commonality across these regional languages.
    No, not really. They are very different in all aspects.

    When you are deep in the depths of trying to figure out GR, do you actually think in terms of mathematical formulas or do you try and interpret the maths into a form which you can visualise then play with that in a chosen language.?
    I am a very visual person, so I always try to find some way to visualise a concept. However, that isn't always possible, in which case I think in terms of pure maths.
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    Just as a remark on the side - if I was to construct an artificial language, I would base it not on lexical categories such as nouns/verbs/adjectives, or on things like tenses, word endings etc, but on what I would term "ideas" or "archetypes", and on relationships between these. It is obvious that such abstraction comes at the expense of rigour, so such a language would admit many ambiguities, much as for example classical written Chinese does, where you often need to set up a full translation matrix to figure out the meaning of a sentence.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    I1. Is there any common root's in thes diverse array of languages or are they totally distinct. I am talking here in terms of a preference for the use of nouns as 'things' or more descriptive verbs that may describe 'processes'.
    Despite the great variety of human languages, there are some universals. All languages have classes of words that are equivalent in some ways to (or play the roles of) "nouns", "verbs" and "adjectives". But the way things are expressed varies quite a lot.

    For example, in Japanese the words that are used as adjectives are either a special type of verb or noun.

    And then the way that concepts are expressed can vary a lot. For example, we think of "hungry" as an adjective but in Italian it is a noun (lit. "I have hunger").

    There are various ways in which the structure of languages can be defined. For example, the order of clauses: English is Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) while Japanese is (SOV). There are regular patterns which occur with these types of languages such as SVO languages using prepositions, while SOV languages tend to to use postpositions.

    Then languages can be classified by the way words are constructed. Chinese is very "analytical"; sentences are made up of "words" (morphemes) that do not change for tense, number, etc. "Synthetic" languages create words by combining several morphemes and change the words depending on case, number, etc.

    Languages in particular language families (e.g. IndoEuropean) tend to have similar structures but they can also vary a lot, sometimes under the influence of other languages.

    But, although languages may vary in the way they express things, they can all express any concept equally well.
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  8. #7  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    That is difficult to answer, because a lot of languages do not even distinguish between nouns and verbs in the same manner as the Indoeuropean ones do, and sometimes not at all.
    ...
    No, not really. They are very different in all aspects.
    It might appear that we are contradicting each other here. But I am pretty sure it is just a matter of emphasis. Yes, Japanese and Chinese or Tibetan and German are completely different. On the other hand, they do have some things in common - if for no other reason than they are all based in the way the human brain functions.

    And, despite the huge range of languages, there are certain things that no language does. And some things are very rare (I read one article that used Yoda from Star Wars as an example of an OVS language because there are so few real languages with that order).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    It might appear that we are contradicting each other here. But I am pretty sure it is just a matter of emphasis.
    Possibly, or perhaps I am on the wrong track altogether. I have no formal knowledge in the field of linguistics, so in this instance I would trust your judgement more than mine, Strange. I just have an interest in how different languages are structured, and how they express ideas and concepts; I find it fascinating, without wanting to formally study the area

    And, despite the huge range of languages, there are certain things that no language does.
    Such as - combining 12 different tones with 14 click sounds, written in 56,000 ideograms. Sometimes I'm evil
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Possibly, or perhaps I am on the wrong track altogether. I have no formal knowledge in the field of linguistics, so in this instance I would trust your judgement more than mine, Strange. I just have an interest in how different languages are structured, and how they express ideas and concepts; I find it fascinating, without wanting to formally study the area
    I have no formal training either. Like you it is an area I am interested in and have read a lot about.

    As far as I know, all languages have words that represent objects and other words that represent actions (or states, or changes of states). There may be languages where all "verb" type things are actually just "nouns" with a specific suffix, for example (but I don't know if that is the case). Japanese can form verbs this way with -する (-suru); so sports-suru means "to do sport". And English can verb pretty much any noun simply by treating it as a verb ("Verbing weirds language," as Calvin wisely observed.)

    As an example of the sort of thing that very different languages can have in common: both Japanese and English (and many other languages) form the present continuous by using a specific form of the verb combined with the verb "to be" (in languages with multiple "be" verbs, one of them will be used consistently). Maybe that is just because of the way the brain deals with the concepts.

    On the other had, a friend gave up learning Japanese when he found out that adjectives have a past tense!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    On the other had, a friend gave up learning Japanese when he found out that adjectives have a past tense!
    I never knew that I would think then that adjectives in Japanese change with the verb in general, as in some other languages too.
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    Forum Masters Degree Implicate Order's Avatar
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    Thanks gents for your comments. The origin and evolution of languages is a fascinating area of which I am unfortunately not well versed at.

    One thing that strikes me however, and I know you have both commented on it at various stages is how language (as opposed to mathematics) is not well equipped to faithfully describe the deep down nature of physical principles. We see this all the time in pop-science books and with science writers attempts to convey scientific progress to the masses in the science mags and newspapers.

    Given where physics (and more generally an array of scientific disciplines) is at today, it is so heavily dependent on the mathematics to faithfully describe what is going on, I see in the next few centuries at least, a further departure of science from the people. It is going to be hard therefore for the masses to rejoice when the next big tranche of breakthroughs occur using the language of common man. In saying this however, there is no doubt going to be further evolutionary adapations to our language and as science takes a greater hold on our daily lives, I no doubt feel that our language will evolve to more accurately convey the prerequisite detail to keep the people informed.

    I remember discussing with you Strange how early Greek language and it's influence on Western language progressively evolved from a philosophical emphasis to a scientific emphasis using an example of the term 'measure' and it's altered form we use today. I have no doubt that this progression will continue but be influenced by scientific progress. The English subject-verb-object arrangement you noted earlier may well alter in structure to capture this notion if indeed relativity and QM and the importance of processes are deemed more imporant than object based notions such as things.

    I remember in the movie 'Bladerunner' where a hypothesised globalised future and multicultural living arrangement on this planet resulted in a pigeon language evolving through the assimilation of languages and dialects. The nature of the original post to this thread was using this thought train to propose the possibility of various languages evolving that were not culturally determined, but rather determined by use. For example, a common language to simply deal with the mundane day to day dialogue on this planet and perhaps a global scientific language to better represent the terminology needed to convey the necessary scientific knowledge to the people. If mathematics continues to be the preferred tool of science, then there would perhaps be a 3rd global language of mathematics to be wielded by the practitioners of science themselves.

    It is of course a hypothetical thought bubble, but one where I could see a possible benefit arising from a trend in this direction.......the languages of the future. I would be interested to hear the thoghts of yourselves and the forum on this matter:-))
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    Adjectives change for tense (Japanese, like English, only has present and past) but not number:
    oishii = is/are delicious
    oishikatta = was/were delicious
    oishikunai = is/are not delicious
    oishikunakatta = was/were not delicious

    And for some other things:
    oishisou = look(s) delicious
    oishikereba = if it is delicious
    oishikasou = might be / seems delicious
    oishiku = deliciously
    etc.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    One thing that strikes me however, and I know you have both commented on it at various stages is how language (as opposed to mathematics) is not well equipped to faithfully describe the deep down nature of physical principles. We see this all the time in pop-science books and with science writers attempts to convey scientific progress to the masses in the science mags and newspapers.
    I think there are, at least, three different things here.

    Firstly, natural languages are not very precise. Terms can have subtly different meanings to different people. This tends to be overcome in specific fields where terms take on more precisely defined meanings (the word manifold means different things to a mathematician and an auto mechanic, for example) as "jargon" or "terms of art". Mathematics is formalised so that it should have precise and unambiguous semantics.

    Related to this, to appreciate what these jargon words mean, requires some background. So explaining an interesting new idea/discovery to the general public means that, first, you have to give them whatever is needed to understand the what and why. Inevitably that will be very abbreviated and rely on analogies. The trouble is that modern science is complex. Even if it could be explained in purely natural language, you would still need several years of specialist study to fully understand it. It might help if science popularisers made it clear that the way were describing things was based on analogies and simplifications. Unfortunately, I have never seen anyone do that. So a lot of people think that because they have understood a pop-sci article or book then they know the science. (Which is one reason why we get so many meaningless personal theories on a site like this.)

    Thirdly, mathematical notation is concise. I have had the "pleasure" of reading proofs of, for example, how to solve quadratic equations written before algebraic notation. It is incredibly long-winded, full of cryptic phrases and incredibly difficult to follow. It is amazing that people achieved so much.

    Modern mathematics uses notation which captures incredibly complex ideas in a few symbols (see Markus's sig for example). Even a formal definition of the integers (0, 1, 2, 3) requires several pages of proof!
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    As an example of the background knowledge needed to understand a new idea, consider something "simple" like Ohm's law. Simple, right: current = voltage / resistance? But if you want to explain that to someone, you need to explain what voltage means, what current is and what resistance is. You could do this by analogy (water pressure and flow, for example) but that doesn't really answer what voltage is (I don't think I can answer that).

    You can describe current in terms of the flow of electrons. But that raises the question of what an electron is. And why they move much more slowly than current flows. And what is the difference between a metal and an insulator. And ...

    As an engineer, I often never think about those details. I just use the formula (until I find out there are cases where it doesn't apply, etc.).

    But then I studied physical chemistry and semiconductor physics and found out about conduction bands etc. But that just raises more "why" questions. And to answer those, you would need to do a PhD in quantum physics. Which would just leave you with more questions...

    All just to understand something as simple as Ohm's law.
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    Forum Masters Degree Implicate Order's Avatar
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    You are right of course. The economy of a mathematical equation is an incredibly powerful beast. Furthermore, the formalisms involved ensure that there is no ambivalence in what the equation (phrase) is saying. It locks in a principle so that, in theory, everyone who is trained in maths knows exactly what it means and there is very little wiggle room for different interpretations. I understand how a mathematician is in awe at the power of the 'elegant' simple mathematical statement that captures such a huge slab of knowledge, and that in itself is an artform........................................... ..however......................................and you knew there was going to be a however as in this boxing match between maths and common language, I want common language to win

    Maths, being such a precise instrument with no wiggle room for interpretation is not a very effective exploratory instrument. Especially in its role taken for unification of physical theories. It is essential however, when all the thinking and exploration is done, to use maths to lock in the definitive result of that thought train, so all the mathematicians out there, understand the specifics of that thought train exactly. To use maths as a tool for exploration runs into difficulties and I can see these difficulties in play right now with the highly mathematical pursuits of String theory and Loop Quantum Gravity. Due to there being no wiggle room for interpretation, as you progress down the mathematical path, you are following a strict line of interpretation. Using it therefore as an exploratory tool, you commence with a common equation (that has got you to a common point of scientific consensus) and from this point you progress with the maths in a linear fashion to your end point which you name 'option 1'. You then say to yourself, but what if this equation is more accurate using this interpretation, so you take a minor modification to the source equation and then you progress down that path for 'option 2'. You therefore find subtle amendments to the equations forcing you down different paths. As a result, you inevitably lead to an infinity of strict interpretations (or versions) commencing from a tree root and by strict abidance by the maths you end up with a forest full of trees.

    Also just to be nit-picky, the use of mathematics can turn into utter FUBAR by the untrained wielder. Precisely because of what I have mentioned above, a skilled mathematician is aware of the preciseness and lack of interpretive wiggle room and therefore is particularly careful of its application for different situations. A good mathematician, in recognition of the preciseness of the subject, knows what maths is appropriate for the situation. A blind application of maths is just as gibberrish as an incoherent sentence in a language. Very few can master this but many can apply the mathematics.

    The power of common language is almost a complete antithesis of the language of mathematics. The variety of interpretations of a single word, phrase and even what is not said leave the necessary wiggle room to keep the field of enquiry sufficiently open to assist in exploration into an uncertain realm. I think this is actually more akin to how our mind works than the maths.....which I leave for those computers out there.

    What is needed however in both the fields of maths and common language is the hands of a trained wielder.

    Yes in the hands of an untrained wielder, use of a common language can be very confusing and muddled, but in he hands of an artist say an English speaking artist like a Chaucer, or a Kipling (but it applies to all cultures), it is the very width of different interpretations that make it powerful. Now you want to speak of artforms, just refer to the Shakespeares/ tic.....Each reader can take their own interpretation from it. A mathematical equation has no room for humour, sarcasm, love, hate. frustration or lament which can be present in a single paragraph of text. Now a scientific writer needs to be aware of this but in the main they just do not do a good enough job in my opinion. However there are a few notable exceptions to this rule such as Greene, Smolin and only a few others who can effectively write for the masses. There are others as well who do a good job but they are tough reads as they try and deal with the really tough subjects that are hard to convey in any language such as Penrose and Bohm. I debate here that there is enough creative power in the word that the science writer needs to be more adept at writing. They can use 'better descriptors' to more faithfully describe the complex physical concept. It's just that current analogies used by writers are 'lazy' interpretations and may require more space to effectively convey the message.

    The stigma of Pop-sci books and journalists snappy articles in a Scientific American or Nature Journal for example is self-perpetuated by the perceived need of reader 'convenience'. I hear the cries now from the editors..."Keep it short guys as you will lose their attention if you babble"......that to me is the problem. Provided that the writer is a skilled writer and the reader is a skilled and patient reader, then we can probe much farther with a blunter instrument which is necessary when delving into the unknown depths. It gives you flexibility to change direction without too much being lost or wasted. Mathematics on the other hand forces you down a potentially very long 'specific' path and if it proves to be a dead end............then say hello to my little friend......*ends*

    In a nutshell and to summarise my opinion. It is our common language in the hands of a trained wielder we should use in our exploration, but it is the maths in the hands of a trained wielder we should use to lock in the principle when the day is done, so there is full agreement on the conclusion.

    .....after all, if we actually think in our minds using our common language, and our minds create the computers and formulas, then really we are debating maths against the mind.......and in that respect, the mathematicians can stand in line and take a number. They will be served shortly (with an idea to lock down) :-))

    Here is one. "Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pale of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown....and I want you to develop an equation for that idea that is more encompassing than say an apple falling on your head. Let me know when you are finished as I have a cuppa /tic". :-))
    Last edited by Implicate Order; January 19th, 2014 at 12:45 AM.
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    First of all, what an incredibly brilliant line of inquiry. Thanks for posting that, there's several posters here that keep me coming back and loving this site, with posts like this.

    As far as the question, I've been dealing with this directly, researching the design of programming languages. There's all kinds of programming languages, but they are all basically reducible to something called the "Lambda Calculus", or languages close to that, like LISP. Which means there is no language which lets you compute something you couldn't do in another language, in another way. This is incredibly counter intuitive to programmers, because it seems like there are things which Haskell "lets you do" where you couldn't before, or an object oriented framework like Java "lets you do". The reality is, different programming languages make different things intuitive, and other things obscure to the human mind. So they are an interface between the human mind and a computer, but they are equally capable on the computer end. Its the limitations of the human mind which different programming languages release us from, or bind us to.

    Computer languages tend to take the form of context free grammars, (which computers can easily parse) while natural languages take the form of context sensitive grammars, where computers fail. (all this via Noam Chomsky) But surely, the same principles apply: What's easy to think about, what can be conceived, is a product of our language. Not just language in the sense of english/german, but also the subset of it we choose to use. Thus things like changing terms (so called political correctness) are hot-button issues, thus certain US sub-cultures cultivate term use that's viewed as more productive. People know the power of language.

    But as far as choosing language to cultivate empowered scientific inquiry within a given field? That's a wide open area of research, with incredible gains to be made. Kudos for bringing it up.
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    Forum Masters Degree Implicate Order's Avatar
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    Well if any one is going to know about languages, it is the computer programmer. Thanks for the goodwill by the way TridentBlue.

    Interestingly something both you and Strange have said has had me mesmerised. Any language must afford the ability of the user to be able to use his mind in a coherent way. Despite the counter-intuitiveness of it all, it makes sense when you think about it this way. The two (both language and the mind) are dynamically linked, and it might appear obvious to others but it hit me like a brick when you guys said it. Obviously it has to as language IS the method we express our thoughts to each other and to maintain coherence there MUST be referential inegrity between recipients. The insight from both you guys on this has had me reeling most of the day (here in Oz).

    Muchas gracias :-))

    PS That's why if I say refridgerator, I can be confident that you know what I mean. If I say particles, you know what I mean. The words themselves have no meaning but it is the inference that counts. The word refrigerator demands that we have at least some understanding of the principles of thermodynamics to understand the intent (maybe just thre notion that this is the object we keep things cold in). It is easier to remember that way. If I did not have that method of storing information and simply had a library inside my head of words, I could not use it in a manner to provide any meaning outside of the simple pattern of words used. It would be of no use to me as an interrogative tool. These words are the tools we use to agree on things and make our world understandable and shared. So if the language doesn't match the current state of science, we should shake it up so more people can appreciate this shared thought as opposed to simply leaving it to the mathematicians to do all the hard yards.
    Last edited by Implicate Order; January 19th, 2014 at 04:29 PM.
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  19. #18  
    Forum Junior TridentBlue's Avatar
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    Again, great post. Stuff to zoom in on:

    there MUST be referential integrity between recipients.
    For meaning to be accurately transferred, yes, clearly. But what's interesting is to me that meaning isn't accurately transferred all the time in natural language. In fact, people map there own referents to symbols/words all the times, and the meanings of words change all the time. For example, the meaning of the word "paradigm" used to be "a very clear example of something". But in modern terms (via Thomas Kuhn) it refers to the foundational ideas of a thought system, all of which is a great "paradigm" (old meaning) of what I'm talking about. And of course, there's plenty of people who don't know about thermodynamics who know where to find the fridge, just in terms of their own simple experiences.

    When it comes to having things more bolted down, math does a pretty good job, but still has mistakes. I looked up a mathematical term the other day, and discovered that it has different meanings to different groups of mathematicians (see wiki page at link). Clearly the same symbols have different meanings in different contexts in math too. In computer programming, we deal with this through something called namespaces. If we declare a function called "open", it has that short name in our context, and a long "official" name, like "com.tridentbluesite.thisprogram.open" Kinda like first names and last names with people. That way we don't mix things up, and get competing definitions for the same term.

    I agree with you that this is important with science. Clarity is key.

    But if what's true of computer languages is true of natural languages, then there are an infinite number of possible languages which have this clarity, but nevertheless favor certain statements. To see what I'm trying to say, think of an alien race which views everything in terms of interpersonal relationships, but doesn't think much of things. Any social relationship you can imagine is trivially easy to express in their language, but to express things about objects, takes complex language structures, talking about how things relate to each other, because they don't think in terms of objects. Now imagine an alien race that thinks entirely in terms of things: You can trivially describe the state of inanimate objects, but it takes really long statements to describe the most basic interpersonal relations, like love or hate. In both languages you can express what you want, they are complete, but its a matter of how easy/intuitive it is. Each language makes it easier to say/think about certain things.

    So what's really interesting to me here is the idea that the same art could apply to humans, and we could have a choice about how we express things. And furthermore, we could empower ourselves in certain lines of inquiry by choices about how we speak/think about what we're studying. It takes self study, it takes viewing science not as a study of an object, but rather studying it as a relationship between a subject (scientist) and an object (thing being researched) as a system, but I think we could accelerate learning long term by looking at this sort of thing.

    So yes, again, great topic!

    edit: A few more thoughts, as this idea has me all fired up.


    IF you don't like math, learning computer programming:
    http://www.diveintopython.net/
    The reason we are here typing this on this Internet is because of a mathematical idea that turned into something else. This idea was had back in the 50's, by guys like Turning and Shannon, the fathers of computer science. Basically, the computer scientists were mathematicians that reified themselves. By that, I mean math is explicitly about the study of mathematical objects, but implicitly about the relationship between mathematicians and mathematical objects. Computer scientists were the first to make that implicit side of the relationship explicit. So while before, with something like 2+2=4, you always knew that the term "2+2" is not the same as the term "4" (when written down, you write down different things) but you evaluated (added) the term "2+2" to get the term "4" to see that the statement was true. That part was your job as a mathematician. But made explicit and added to the process, a new function 'evaluate' came into being, which said evaluate("4") = evaluate("2+2"). The work of the mathematician, in evaluating the term "2+2" (adding 2 and 2) could now be done by a machine, with the invention of that function, which came from looking at the math and the mathematician as a whole system, and formally describing what the mathematician does just like the math, so that a machine could do some of what the mathematician did before.

    That's self reification - making a formal system that describes your role in things.

    Its through that process, looking at science in terms of the science and the scientist, in terms of the research subject and the researcher, that scientific progress can be accelerated, and its a very, very worthy field of study.

    Sorry Implicate order, but you got me excited and set off a rant. I promise its over now. PEace!
    Last edited by TridentBlue; January 19th, 2014 at 02:45 AM.
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  20. #19  
    Forum Masters Degree Implicate Order's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TridentBlue View Post
    So what's really interesting to me here is the idea that the same art could apply to humans, and we could have a choice about how we express things. And furthermore, we could empower ourselves in certain lines of inquiry by choices about how we speak/think about what we're studying. It takes self study, it takes viewing science not as a study of an object, but rather studying it as a relationship between a subject (scientist) and an object (thing being researched) as a system, but I think we could accelerate learning long term by looking at this sort of thing.
    TridentBlue, I tip my hat to you. Fantastic post. I couldn't agree with you more, and in particular the above statement. It is nailing down for me the following "science is the relationship between the mind and it's context (being the environment) and the language used to decipher it is the measurement which can be shared across minds and used as a shared method to explore the context". That way we can start drawing analogies between the role of the observer and the observed and other observers in a relational way.

    In computer speak with binary code, the mind is the programmer, the context is the hardware and the language is the algorithm (a measurement entailing combinations of 1's and 0's. which informs the hardware how to operate and can be shared by different programmers to decipher how the hardware should operate).

    It is not the words themselves that are important, but is the shared referential context associated with the words and their associations with other words that empowers meaning. If here is no shared understanding of the meaning of the words, then as the Bee Gees song goes....."It's only words are all I have to give, so you better damn well understand them oherwise you are going to bump into things"....or something like that.

    I loved the Abbot and Costello reference by the way. It reminded me of this.



    PS If your prior post was a rant, then bring more of them on :-))
    Last edited by Implicate Order; January 19th, 2014 at 03:32 AM.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    The two (both language and the mind) are dynamically linked, and it might appear obvious to others but it hit me like a brick when you guys said it.
    Language is very tightly tied to the way we think (which is why puns work and why people get so angry about "misuse" of language). One point that Daniel Kahneman makes in Thinking, Fast and Slow is that we can't choose not to understand when we hear our language spoken. Language acts directly on the "automatic" part of the brain.

    If I say particles, you know what I mean.
    And there's the problem! (When it comes to quantum theory; the things labelled "particles" are not the same as the common-sense notion of a particle.)
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    Forum Masters Degree Implicate Order's Avatar
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    Then let's get rid of them danged particles in our common tongue.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    Then let's get rid of them danged particles in our common tongue.
    PS Thanks for the discussion guys. I really enjoyed it. Now I have to pretend I have a family. Cheers :-))
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    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    Then let's get rid of them danged particles in our common tongue.
    PS Thanks for the discussion guys. I really enjoyed it. Now I have to pretend I have a family. Cheers :-))
    This quote:

    "science is the relationship between the mind and it's context (being the environment) and the language used to decipher it is the measurement which can be shared across minds and used as a shared method to explore the context"

    I love it! Nailed it there. Thanks for the thread and keep em coming, (after family time) I love this outside the box stuff!
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