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April 13th, 2021
It’s a high compliment in any age to say that someone is as good as their word. Language is the communal hallucination that allows us to distort reality in ways that are congruent across different perspectives, and because of this, it’s a useful distortion. Realty doesn’t always bear the fruit of our words however, but time always proves whether we at least strive to live up to our own word or not.
If you think about language as a separate organism, they way you might think of a computer virus as separate from you computer but which invades your computer and appropriates it for a particular use, we have to admit that language has done quite a good job of infecting the human mind. Words like ‘virus’ and ‘infect’ are negatively valanced of course, and don’t hint at a possible symbiotic relationship. Language, whatever it might really, truly be classified as, is certainly one half of a symbiotic relationship. We keep it alive by using it, and we keep using it because it’s useful. Now that we’ve made the bond it’s quite a difficult feat to think of a human future somehow divorced from language. Can you think of what tomorrow would be like without language? The task is much like asking someone to imagine the sky without the color blue, or clouds, or stars or the darkness of night. We are intertwined with language to a very very deep degree.
To be as good as your word is to have your language in line with your behavior. Your word describes your future actions. This is a rather extraordinary feat to behold. It requires not just an accurate model of the future, but also of one’s self, and how that self might act in the future. And then of course the ability to communicate this to another person. With all told, it’s a quite a miracle that we can coordinate to achieve such grand aims. Other animals certainly communicate in collaborative ways but we humans seem to have discovered the secret sauce to super charge this ability into a quantum leap. Just try to realistically think about any other species on the planet putting a space station in orbit with a few of it’s kind aboard. The idea is laughable at best, and humbling when truly considered.
And our quantum leap is achieved purely on rails of language. Other species may have a little information to pass on, like bees sharing locations, and other animals may have rhythm, beat, and melody, but only humans combine all these elements with a staggering amount of content, and we do it in many forms. These words can be listened to or read. They can be emailed, or printed, tweeted or texted. A song from a whale or a bird can only be heard. That’s it. The song can’t be listened to again unless it’s remembered perfectly, and while this is possible, memory is never perfect. Like genes, memory allows for mutations and shifts. Language is similar. Words shift through time, and some might argue a word never means the exact same thing twice. But nonetheless, our ability to record language in such a variety of ways increases the fidelity of our communal memory. Language is the first medium that allows us to encode the past and the likewise, potential futures. No animal has ever had such a tool, and just look how effortlessly we take it for granted. It’s little wonder that language itself sometimes loops back upon it’s hosts and causes some damage. But still, we progress, and it’s likely that we will, with the tool of language, discover the form of it’s replacement, whatever that may be.