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Starwatcher162536
05-07-2009, 01:18 AM
Does Language shape perception?

I have noticed that as I am garnering new vocabulary [much of which would fall into one large category] my perception of the world is changing, the way I attack some arbitrary problem is changing. I know only some small percentage, if any, for this can be attributed to the changes in my own personal language [personal syntax? I am not really sure what the proper terminology is], its just that I can't shake the feeling that there is a connection.

Off of the top of my head, I can't think of a way to test this hypothesis, but I do think it is testable in principle.

Anyone know of a good paper or book on this?

claymisher
05-07-2009, 01:21 AM
Yep:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir–Whorf_hypothesis

Thanks, dad!
05-07-2009, 01:23 AM
stephen pinker is definitely the man you need.

AemJeff
05-07-2009, 01:26 AM
Does Language shape perception?

I have noticed that as I am garnering new vocabulary [much of which would fall into one large category] my perception of the world is changing, the way I attack some arbitrary problem is changing. I know only some small percentage, if any, for this can be attributed to the changes in my own personal language [personal syntax? I am not really sure what the proper terminology is], its just that I can't shake the feeling that there is a connection.

Off of the top of my head, I can't think of a way to test this hypothesis, but I do think it is testable in principle.

Anyone know of a good paper or book on this?

Dude, this is a huge topic. I think a good place to start is this article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_psychology). Then check out Chomsky (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noam_Chomsky) and Pinker (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Pinker), for starters. Pinker's The Language Instinct (http://www.amazon.com/Language-Instinct-Mind-Creates-P-S/dp/0061336467/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1241673939&sr=8-1) is very well thought of.

nikkibong
05-07-2009, 01:30 AM
With all due respect - you seem like an intelligent person - did this just occur to you? As AemJeff et al. have already pointed out, there are already volumes on the subject . . . I would recommend you get reading. An internet forum hardly seems the appropriate place to start discussing this . . . it's simply far too *big* and *deep* a subject. (Note: I feel the seem about other topics people have raised here - i.e. the Democracy topic a bit down on the forum)

Starwatcher162536
05-07-2009, 01:36 AM
Wow, that was interesting! I will have to read more into this subject when my brain isnt so frazzled.

Starwatcher162536
05-07-2009, 01:39 AM
Thanks of the links

Starwatcher162536
05-07-2009, 01:48 AM
With all due respect - you seem like an intelligent person - did this just occur to you? As AemJeff et al. have already pointed out, there are already volumes on the subject . . . I would recommend you get reading. An internet forum hardly seems the appropriate place to start discussing this . . . it's simply far too *big* and *deep* a subject. (Note: I feel the seem about other topics people have raised here - i.e. the Democracy topic a bit down on the forum)

Well, thanks, but I don't really like the idea of categorizing people into labels as simplistic as smart and...not so smart :/

The following is how I think of intelligence:

P.S.
I really don't like the one axis measure of intelligence that I.Q tests have, but so far, it our best measure of intelligence. I myself have always envisioned intelligence as a multidimensional (like 1000) space. Where the aptitude of an individual for some arbitrary action is determined by the distance from the closest point of that persons boundary from the boundary of that arbitrary action (Each action would have a determined subset of points in the IQ space that would result in high performance if the persons own personal IQ space overlaid it) .


As for what process led me to this thought, I was wondering why some cultures seem to have had greater scientific acumen then others, and thought perhaps some languages were more "exact" then others, which might lead to certain peoples having an advantage over others.

I have to say I am pleasantly surprised that there is so much material available on this subject.

Edit:
lol, I totally misunderstood the beginning of nikkiblongs comment, low reading comprehension for the loss.

bjkeefe
05-07-2009, 01:59 AM
With all due respect - you seem like an intelligent person - did this just occur to you? As AemJeff et al. have already pointed out, there are already volumes on the subject . . . I would recommend you get reading. An internet forum hardly seems the appropriate place to start discussing this . . . it's simply far too *big* and *deep* a subject. (Note: I feel the seem about other topics people have raised here - i.e. the Democracy topic a bit down on the forum)

I don't at all agree. There is nothing wrong with someone throwing out a question in a forum like this. Indeed, given that the title of the forum is "Life, the Universe and Everything," I'm hard-pressed to think of a more appropriate place to pose a free-wheeling question.

Add to that the idea that after one has participated on a site like this one for a while, one has some sense of the other participants' intelligence, education, interests, biases, etc., all of which provide additional information on top of the answers offered.

Now, maybe you don't find it most satisfactory to ask an open-ended question on a topic about which you know little but would like to learn more in a forum like this, but I don't think it's fair for you to presume that everyone should seek starting points in the same way.

AemJeff
05-07-2009, 02:06 AM
I don't at all agree. There is nothing wrong with someone throwing out a question in a forum like this. Indeed, given that the title of the forum is "Life, the Universe and Everything," I'm hard-pressed to think of a more appropriate place to pose a free-wheeling question.

Add to that the idea that after one has participated on a site like this one for a while, one has some sense of the other participants' intelligence, education, interests, biases, etc., which provides additional information on top of the answers offered.

Now, maybe you don't find it most satisfactory to ask an open-ended question on a topic about which you know little but would like to learn more in a forum like this, but I don't think it's fair for you to presume that everyone should seek starting points in the same way.

I'll defend nikkibong to the extent that I'm equally irritated with the "Democracy - Good or Bad? Discuss." sort of thread that pops up here fairly frequently. But having said that, Starwatcher was asking a perfectly legitimate question regarding a good place to start on an interesting topic; and just as Brendan says - what better place than this?

cognitive madisonian
05-07-2009, 09:12 AM
stephen pinker is definitely the man you need.

I know that Pinker's big in his field but I think he (and Chomsky) are fundamentally wrong on some things. Dan Everett's work is terrific.

Thanks, dad!
05-07-2009, 04:56 PM
you might want to rethink that. he's far from being as established as pinker or even chompsky. i'm aware of his work but the evidence for universal grammar is vast and very convincing (unless you're a conservative;)

cognitive madisonian
05-07-2009, 05:01 PM
you might want to rethink that. he's far from being as established as pinker or even chompsky. you should read what everett's critics have to say.

Oh, I know that Everett is still on the outside of the circle in the field, but I think that's more due to Chomsky's academic hegemony. Admittedly Chomsky has contributed as much to linguistics as any great scholar has contributed to his/her field, but I think that many of his basic assumptions, not least of which is the inherent presence of recursion in all human languages, as well as quite possibly the very idea of universal grammar, will dissipate into the annals of scholarship past.

Thanks, dad!
05-07-2009, 05:06 PM
you should read Nicholas Wade's new book ,then, because his language chapter is quite long. believe me, i wasn't completely convinced either, but once you look at the list of evidence you actually get bored it's so long.

cognitive madisonian
05-07-2009, 05:14 PM
you should read Nicholas Wade's new book ,then, because his language chapter is quite long. believe me, i wasn't completely convinced either, but once you look at the list of evidence you actually get bored it's so long.

I'll look into it, but be advised that it's going to be a hard sale ;)

Thanks, dad!
05-07-2009, 05:29 PM
trust me, i felt exactly the same way when my friend gave me the book but Wade is a fantastic writer. he basically gathered all scientific evidence for many major subjects and laid them on the table. quite a strong book. probably a lot of it will be wrong or updated but it's basically a "where we're at so far" kind of book done by a top notch NYT science writer.

uncle ebeneezer
05-07-2009, 06:09 PM
Sounds cool. I couldn't get through Pinker's "Language Instinct" but very much enjoyed "Stuff of Thought." I look forward to checking out the Wade book, eventually.

FWIW- I think people should feel free to ask any questions or raise any topics in the comments section. It takes all of a micro-second to read the topic and decide if you feel like chiming in. Though I agree with AemJeff's sentiments about overly ambiguous discussions, I think generally people should discuss whatever interests them. I'd certainly love more music/arts related threads. But hey, Democracy rules.

Thanks, dad!
05-07-2009, 06:29 PM
yeah, that's interesting cuz i couldn't really get through a couple of pinker's books either so i just skimmed them and left them in the "free books" section on vacation. i guess i thought he'd talk more about "big" issues like consciousness but nope! he really really likes language. wade's definitely more readable and since it's a summary of summaries you don't feel bad about skipping sections.

uncle ebeneezer
05-07-2009, 06:40 PM
I loved "Stuff of Thought" and thought that although it's aimed through a lens of language it really told you alot about the mind. I would recommend Blank Slate and How The Mind Works for more general brain stuff. Either way, I really love his writing. He can be quite funny.

Starwatcher162536
05-07-2009, 08:40 PM
yeah, that's interesting cuz i couldn't really get through a couple of pinker's books either so i just skimmed them and left them in the "free books" section on vacation. i guess i thought he'd talk more about "big" issues like consciousness but nope! he really really likes language. wade's definitely more readable and since it's a summary of summaries you don't feel bad about skipping sections.

Just so you know, I ordered The Language Instinct today, your post was probably what convinced me to.

I love science, but usually stay away from the books aimed at a general audience because of how I hate how they try to cover big ideas. They are way to general for me, I hate vagueness, and instead love getting into the details.

I think Pinker may be my kind of author.

uncle ebeneezer
05-07-2009, 08:58 PM
Starr, Pinker gets PLENTY detailed. That was what made the Language Instinct so tough for me. And How the Mind Works, and Stuff of Thought, will bothe make your head spin. But he also does it an a way that is compelling reading (that's the part that I have more difficulty finding with many science writers.) Though I must say bhTv is pretty good in that respect. All the sci-writers I have discovered thru bhTv: Horgan, Johnson, Zimmer, Preston, & Shubin (so far) have struck just the right balance of detail vs. generality, in my opinion.

Starwatcher162536
05-07-2009, 09:18 PM
Starr, Pinker gets PLENTY detailed. That was what made the Language Instinct so tough for me. And How the Mind Works, and Stuff of Thought, will bothe make your head spin. But he also does it an a way that is compelling reading (that's the part that I have more difficulty finding with many science writers.) Though I must say bhTv is pretty good in that respect. All the sci-writers I have discovered thru bhTv: Horgan, Johnson, Zimmer, Preston, & Shubin (so far) have struck just the right balance of detail vs. generality, in my opinion.

Other then Horgan's Ten most beautiful Experiments, and Wolfram's A New Kind of Science[though I never finished this one,damn flood!], I haven't really liked any if the sci-writers books here I have leafed through. All to general for me.

If they wrote for me though, sales would probably plummet, as the the two things I am working through aatm are Ptolemy's Almagest [Most depressing book ever, he was so close to making the leap Copernicus did, but it doesn't look like he get find it in himself to abandon some of Aristotle's stuff] and Chaotic Behavior of Deterministic Dissipative Systems by Marek+Screiber [which is making me feel stupid,ugh].

{edit}
I am not really sure why bloggingheads generality does not bother me..perhaps because I am usually just listening to it in the background as I do others.

uncle ebeneezer
05-07-2009, 09:27 PM
Well, to each his own.

I would recommend Zimmer's Microcosm and Parasite Rex. While definitely aimed at larger audiences, they are stories and perspectives you wouldn't find elsewhere.

I'm the opposite of you. There's so many great scientists out there with great ideas who can't write for a damn. That's why I love the guys who can tell the story without losing too much of the technical stuff.

bjkeefe
05-07-2009, 09:32 PM
I love science, but usually stay away from the books aimed at a general audience because of how I hate how they try to cover big ideas. They are way to general for me, I hate vagueness, and instead love getting into the details.

I know what you mean, Sw, and there is no doubt I've felt that way about any number of books on scientific topics aimed at the general audience.

However, there are also at least scores of them that I have loved over the years, some because they provide enough specifics, perhaps; others because they offer an introductory level that's suited to my knowledge and possibly provide a good starting point for further reading; still others for sure because the writing is just plain good.

A while back, I think before you joined this site, B'head John Horgan announced a list that he had put together, called "The Stevens Seventy Greatest Science Books (http://www.stevens.edu/csw/stevens70/Part_I_A-G.html)." I recommend giving that list a look, and I would say that if you haven't read a good chunk of what's on that list, you might want to reserve final judgment on "books aimed at a general audience." (Here is John's announcement post (http://www.stevens.edu/csw/cgi-bin/blogs/csw/?p=85) about the list.)

I would also suggest, from what you said elsewhere (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=112646#post112646), that if you wanted to get better at expressing your ideas (until the tags get implemented, at least), you could do far worse than sampling a few of the masters from this list.

uncle ebeneezer
05-07-2009, 09:44 PM
I would also argue that more general/science-writing benefits from the fact that the authors can tie together several disciplines and be more creative with their theories, than specialists are allowed. Horgan's "End Of Science" and Johnson's "Fire In the Mind" being perfect examples of great books that propose ideas and connections that a specialist would be hesitant to suggest.

bjkeefe
05-07-2009, 10:05 PM
I would also argue that more general/science-writing benefits from the fact that the authors can tie together several disciplines and be more creative with their theories, than specialists are allowed. Horgan's "End Of Science" and Johnson's "Fire In the Mind" being perfect examples of great books that propose ideas and connections that a specialist would be hesitant to suggest.

Good point. Overviews and big-picture perspectives can be very instructive, not to mention interesting.

Thanks, dad!
05-08-2009, 03:54 PM
alright, cool! good deal, man. he's definitely the man for that topic. he's done many talks and talkshows including (i think) TED, EDGE.org, and lots of youtube stuff if you can't wait. he's got a pretty mean head of hair, too;)

Starwatcher162536
05-10-2009, 02:24 PM
I have not finished reading it [only about 120 pages so far], and while I find it interesting enough to finish, I am having minor objections to some of the books assertions/reasoning. Most of these probably would be considered to be nothing but quibbles to many here, but for me, these minor things place suspicions on the book as a whole.

For one example, on page 30:


[...]
And as we would expect from comparisons between languages, there are areas in which BEV [Black English Vernacular] is more precise then standard English. He be working means that he generally works, perhaps that he has a regular job;He working means only that he is working at the moment that the sentence is utteres. In SAE [Standard American English], He is working fails to make that distinction.
[...]


The above may illustrate that BEV is more capable of expressing that particular ideas more concisely then SAE, but it does not show that BEV expresses this idea more concretely then SAE.

If I were to do a similar comparison, but instead with German and French, I would not stipulate that the expressions used for comparison would need to be composed of an equal number of words.

I think He be working and He working should be instead compared to He is working and He is currently working but that is only a temporary state. From that, I would argue that BEV is expressing the idea more concisely and SAE is expressing the idea more concretely.

Of course this conclusion must also be questioned, as I find this whole experiment flawed. I am not really proficient with BAE, but I assume that BEV also has more complex sentences that would express the idea above more concretely.

I see no way to show conclusively that one permutation is the ideal permutation [within one language] for maximizing some desired attribute of the idea's transmittability. Therefore, I do not see how this experiment can have reproducible results, a basic necessity in science, as different researchers would choose different sentences as ideal.

I am open to the claim that I am misunderstanding something, as long as you can back it up.

AemJeff
05-10-2009, 08:00 PM
I have not finished reading it [only about 120 pages so far], and while I find it interesting enough to finish, I am having minor objections to some of the books assertions/reasoning. Most of these probably would be considered to be nothing but quibbles to many here, but for me, these minor things place suspicions on the book as a whole.

For one example, on page 30:



The above may illustrate that BEV is more capable of expressing that particular ideas more concisely then SAE, but it does not show that BEV expresses this idea more concretely then SAE.

If I were to do a similar comparison, but instead with German and French, I would not stipulate that the expressions used for comparison would need to be composed of an equal number of words.

I think He be working and He working should be instead compared to He is working and He is currently working but that is only a temporary state. From that, I would argue that BEV is expressing the idea more concisely and SAE is expressing the idea more concretely.

Of course this conclusion must also be questioned, as I find this whole experiment flawed. I am not really proficient with BAE, but I assume that BEV also has more complex sentences that would express the idea above more concretely.

I see no way to show conclusively that one permutation is the ideal permutation [within one language] for maximizing some desired attribute of the idea's transmittability. Therefore, I do not see how this experiment can have reproducible results, a basic necessity in science, as different researchers would choose different sentences as ideal.

I am open to the claim that I am misunderstanding something, as long as you can back it up.

I'm loathe to get into the weeds here, but it seems to me that another way to make Pinker's point would be to say BEV has a verb tense that doesn't exist within SAE. Since any language of sufficient complexity can be forced to express most things, given a long enough string of words, I'm not certain that your distinction is as important as you're implying it might be.

For example, if SAE had no future tense, I could still say to you "Imagine that it is tomorrow and I am working. Please use this premise in your planning." But use of the future tense adds precision and clarity to an expression of the same thought: "I will be working tomorrow." It's clear to me that for this particular example the version of SAE with a future tense has a clear advantage. In the limited sense used in the example you gave, it seems just as clear that BEV has a similar advantage compared to SAE.

Starwatcher162536
05-11-2009, 09:09 AM
Pinkerton doesn't seem to have to high an opinions of the Sapir-Whorl hypothesis...

and I have to say, he is making some good points against it.