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  #1  
Old 06-27-2010, 11:37 AM
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Default Values Added: Technology and Faith (Jim Martin & Bill McGarvey)

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Old 06-27-2010, 02:15 PM
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Default Re: Values Added: Technology and Faith (Jim Martin & Bill McGarvey)

I found roughly the first half of this diavlog enjoyable. It was easy to abstract the discussion away from the religious vein, and think about how the new way of interacting with others through internet media, has taken away from direct interaction AFK. I am, as a matter of fact, questioning exactly the same issue right now. There’s perhaps a lot that can be discussed on this topic, which, is not limited or even intuitively linked to religious practice.

Towards the end, the talk started to be directed into more problematic topics.

This segment captures one of those polemic topics.

Perhaps the problem here is that religious people are not used to having their views challenged. Obviously in a church, it isn’t just that the lack of anonymity buffers opinions, but that the people in attendance are religious. As bad as critical and antagonistic views may feel, it’s been long due that communication starts to go both ways. For centuries (many) if not millennia, religious voices have had the unchallenged upper hand. It’s time to listen and reflect. Listening, really carefully, with open eyes and full attention, may reveal the darkness that lies within the church. Welcome criticism; correcting mistakes may be the only way to move forward.

I found that James’ statements about how anonymity in the blogosphere has fostered vicious attacks and ad hominem against religion, is at best, disingenuous. The Catholic Church (and most organized religions for that matter), has been the master in vicious attacks. Throughout history the entitlement that religious representatives adopt has become the justification for the most vicious attacks against those who have dared to dissent . An attitude of humility and reflection is what is called for. So, again, welcome that criticism. It’s been long due.

Overall this was a very interesting conversation.
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Old 06-28-2010, 09:19 AM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Values Added: Technology and Faith (Jim Martin & Bill McGarvey)

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Originally Posted by Ocean View Post
This segment captures one of those polemic topics.
...
I found that James’ statements about how anonymity in the blogosphere has fostered vicious attacks and ad hominem against religion, is at best, disingenuous. The Catholic Church (and most organized religions for that matter), has been the master in vicious attacks. Throughout history the entitlement that religious representatives adopt has become the justification for the most vicious attacks against those who have dared to dissent. An attitude of humility and reflection is what is called for...
I wouldn't say this indicates disingenuousness on James' part. His observation about anonymity is unaffected by any viciousness on the part of the Catholic hierarchy, which is quite identifiable as the Catholic hierarchy. The thrust of James comment was directed not at dissent, but the complete mindlessness of some anonymous comments.
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Old 06-27-2010, 02:35 PM
BornAgainDemocrat BornAgainDemocrat is offline
 
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Default Does technology get in the way of faith?

T.V. evangelists are Satan's spawn. Who needs enemies with friends like these? They make faith look ridiculous.
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Old 06-27-2010, 11:23 PM
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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T.V. evangelists are Satan's spawn. Who needs enemies with friends like these? They make faith look ridiculous.
Faith does not need help to look ridiculous - it does that on its own. As Mark Twain said:
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Faith is believing what you know ain't so.
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Old 06-28-2010, 08:55 AM
BornAgainDemocrat BornAgainDemocrat is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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Faith does not need help to look ridiculous - it does that on its own. As Mark Twain said:
From a recent review of William James:

James was not unsympathetic to religion, and on occasion he was prepared to call himself a Christian, though in a thoroughly secular and untheological sense. His abiding intellectual passion was a love of open-mindedness and a corresponding distrust of dogmatism and metaphysics. We should never forget, he said, that all our opinions – even our “most assured conclusions” – are “liable to modification in the course of future experience”. But he warned against allowing a distrust of dogmatic metaphysics to harden into a metaphysical dogma of its own, as seemed to be happening with some of the evangelising atheists of his day. He admired the evolutionary biologist T H Huxley and the mathematician C K Clifford, for example, but when they used the idea of “science” as a stick to beat religion with they were in danger of behaving like high priests of a new religion – “the religion of scientificism” – and defending it with the same intolerant zealotry as any old-style religious fanatic. Knowledge, for James, was not so much the pre-existing premise of human inquiry as a hoped-for future product, and science was more like a tissue of fortuitous insights than a monolith of solid fact. We would not have much chance of stumbling into truth if we let ourselves get too anxious about falling into error, and the first rule of an unillusioned epistemology should simply be: Relax! “Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things,” James wrote: “in a world where we are certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness.”
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Old 06-28-2010, 10:34 AM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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Originally Posted by BornAgainDemocrat View Post
From a recent review of William James:

James was not unsympathetic to religion, and on occasion he was prepared to call himself a Christian, though in a thoroughly secular and untheological sense. His abiding intellectual passion was a love of open-mindedness and a corresponding distrust of dogmatism and metaphysics. We should never forget, he said, that all our opinions – even our “most assured conclusions” – are “liable to modification in the course of future experience”. But he warned against allowing a distrust of dogmatic metaphysics to harden into a metaphysical dogma of its own, as seemed to be happening with some of the evangelising atheists of his day. He admired the evolutionary biologist T H Huxley and the mathematician C K Clifford, for example, but when they used the idea of “science” as a stick to beat religion with they were in danger of behaving like high priests of a new religion – “the religion of scientificism” – and defending it with the same intolerant zealotry as any old-style religious fanatic. Knowledge, for James, was not so much the pre-existing premise of human inquiry as a hoped-for future product, and science was more like a tissue of fortuitous insights than a monolith of solid fact. We would not have much chance of stumbling into truth if we let ourselves get too anxious about falling into error, and the first rule of an unillusioned epistemology should simply be: Relax! “Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things,” James wrote: “in a world where we are certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness.”
Meh. Science is not a "stick" with which one can beat religion. The "Church" of scientism is fabrication by the faithful used to duck the arguments science (more generally: empiricism) poses, and for which the faithful have no answers: What is the epistemic basis for belief based on faith? In what sense does an ontology based on scripture have any claim to truth? "It's in the book" is a terrible answer for the question "Why do you believe what you believe?". "Because it seems right to me" is an even worse answer. Science, of course, makes no claim to provide final answers. That humility, so utterly lacking from most religious points of view, provides the best reason to prefer one point of view over the other.
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Old 06-28-2010, 01:08 PM
BornAgainDemocrat BornAgainDemocrat is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

Dear AemJeff: Historically Christian faith has never been a matter of epistemology (of what we can and cannot know) but of finding (or, if you prefer, of desperately seeking) some kind of emotional order or sense in a world filled with violence, poverty and injustice. For those born into a world of bourgeois or upper-class comfort this has never seemed like much of a problem, and I can sympathize with that. But try to imagine getting through life if you were born in a country like Haiti today. In those circumstances the emotional need to believe in at least in the possibility of meaning or justice in life becomes physical, and not just for the individual but for the group. And who's to say what dying is like? It must be like something, and may turn out to be a "meaningful" event in the same way that the experience of music, art, or poetic justice in a novel or a love affair can seem "meaningful." And even if it does not turn out that way the hope may have been valuable, even indispensable. (The modern world was built on such hope "for things unseen".) So maybe what we are talking about is more like semantics than epistemology. Notoriously there is no "science" of semantics even though no one doubts that words have "meaning". But that is at best an analogy. And only part of the story. I recommend James's essay The Will to Believe for a much more articulate discussion of the issues. It is a classic.

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Old 06-28-2010, 02:24 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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Originally Posted by BornAgainDemocrat View Post
Dear AemJeff: Historically Christian faith has never been a matter of epistemology (of what we can and cannot know) but of finding (or, if you prefer, of desperately seeking) some kind of emotional order or sense in a world filled with violence, poverty and injustice. For those born into a world of bourgeois or upper-class comfort this has never seemed like much of a problem, and I can sympathize with that. But try to imagine getting through life if you were born in a country like Haiti today. In those circumstances the emotional need to believe in at least in the possibility of meaning or justice in life becomes physical, and not just for the individual but for the group. And who's to say what dying is like? It must be like something, and may turn out to be a "meaningful" event in the same way that the experience of music, art, or poetic justice in a novel or a love affair can seem "meaningful." And even if it does not turn out that way the hope may have been valuable, even indispensable. (The modern world was built on such hope "for things unseen".) So maybe what we are talking about is more like semantics than epistemology. Notoriously there is no "science" of semantics even though no one doubts that words have "meaning". But that is at best an analogy. And only part of the story. I recommend James's essay The Will to Believe for a much more articulate discussion of the issues. It is a classic.
There's certainly a science of linguistics. Semantics is partly empirical - meaning has little a priori basis, and grammar is, to a certain extent, arbitrary - and partly logical (even if referential logic can seem to transcend [or parody] any sort of formal understanding.)

Hope may be a perfectly good reason to abandon the pursuit of coherent epistemology, but it's certainly no substitute for that aim. I did spend some time reading James as a college freshman, and (translations of) Kierkegaard; but the "will to believe" is insufficient, just as introspection ultimately tells us very little about that which is not ourselves. Which isn't to say that we find meaning in metaphor - but, I prefer The world moves on a woman's hips! to In the beginning God created.... Who's to say the old rock song contains any less of the truth?
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Old 06-28-2010, 02:37 PM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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There's certainly a science of linguistics. Semantics is partly empirical - meaning has little a priori basis, and grammar is, to a certain extent, arbitrary - and partly logical (even if referential logic can seem to transcend [or parody] any sort of formal understanding.)
Semantics, a branch of linguistics, does not claim that meaning has "little a priori basis." "Chair" is a word we use to mean the object you're probably sitting on. Some words can be less ambiguously defined than others, and some words refer to non-existent things, but semantics doesn't challenge meaning; semantics is the scientific study of meaning.

Grammar (syntax and morphology) isn't arbitrary either. It follows logical rules that make linguistic communication possible.

You probably mean that natural language has arbitrary elements in this sense: In different languages horse is Pferd, caballo, soos, and so on. English nouns do not have gender, Spanish has two genders and German has three. But none of that means language is arbitrary; it's still a logical, rule-based system with some outlying exceptions (i.e. noise or bugs in the system).
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Old 06-28-2010, 03:18 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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Semantics, a branch of linguistics, does not claim that meaning has "little a priori basis." "Chair" is a word we use to mean the object you're probably sitting on. Some words can be less ambiguously defined than others, and some words refer to non-existent things, but semantics doesn't challenge meaning; semantics is the scientific study of meaning.

Grammar (syntax and morphology) isn't arbitrary either. It follows logical rules that make linguistic communication possible.

You probably mean that natural language has arbitrary elements in this sense: In different languages horse is Pferd, caballo, soos, and so on. English nouns do not have gender, Spanish has two genders and German has three. But none of that means language is arbitrary; it's still a logical, rule-based system with some outlying exceptions (i.e. noise or bugs in the system).
I mean that a token, such as "chair," has an arbitrary basis. There are relationships between languages, certainly; and "chair" certainly has precursors and siblings - but if you're coming from somewhere outside the system - the proverbial Martian - you would need to begin to develop your understanding of meaning from direct observation. So, you're right: "no a priori basis" was too strong. But, with the exception of occasional onomatopoeia, those hierarchies of symbols aren't likely to resolve themselves into some concrete relationship to what they denote.

Also, I think I acknowledged the logical, rule based nature of grammatical systems. But each of those systems is based on a subset of the logical space they inhabit. The specific configuration of any particular grammar is arbitrary, also based on historical accidents (and largely unconscious choices.)
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Old 06-28-2010, 05:52 PM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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The specific configuration of any particular grammar is arbitrary, also based on historical accidents (and largely unconscious choices.)
I don't know what you see as the arbitrary part. Chomsky and others have pretty well established that grammar is universal and has a deep rule-based structure and biological base that generates the specifics of each natural language. But you don't need Chomsky to observe that there are language universals. For example, virtually all known languages have a Subject Verb Object syntax. It may be structured SVO, OVS, SOV, OSV, VSO, VOS, but all grammars have to express SVO somehow. Verb tense is another universal. All grammars must have rules for past, future, present at the most basic.

Saying grammar is arbitrary is something like saying plants are arbitrary because there are many different kinds. But photosynthesis and DNA are not arbitrary. Evolution is not arbitrary.
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Old 06-28-2010, 06:23 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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I don't know what you see as the arbitrary part. Chomsky and others have pretty well established that grammar is universal and has a deep rule-based structure and biological base that generates the specifics of each natural language. But you don't need Chomsky to observe that there are language universals. For example, virtually all known languages have a Subject Verb Object syntax. It may be structured SVO, OVS, SOV, OSV, VSO, VOS, but all grammars have to express SVO somehow. Verb tense is another universal. All grammars must have rules for past, future, present at the most basic.

Saying grammar is arbitrary is something like saying plants are arbitrary because there are many different kinds. But photosynthesis and DNA are not arbitrary. Evolution is not arbitrary.
I understand what you're saying, and I know for sure that you're the expert here. But, I'd argue, first, that in every way that matters, evolution is arbitrary. Evolution is a feedback process - textbook chaos. Order only appears because there are semi-stable configurations (strange attractors, in the parlance) that the patterns within the process will tend toward. But there are lots of those patterns, and they're really sensitive to minute changes in a huge number of parameters. I'm not a mathematician, but to my knowledge, predicting the progress of such systems has a lot in common with trying to predict objectively stochastic systems. Photosynthesis and DNA are unlikely to be the only mechanisms possible to produce the functions they have in terrestrial life. They happen to be the lottery winners in a long process that has probably tried trillions of of other things. Under other conditions, possibly even under the same conditions - had some early accidents gone another way - things could conceivably be very different.

I'd guess that the same holds true for language. It's hard to imagine that every possible configuration has been tried and had the opportunity to compete fairly. I don't know about a biological basis for the underlying structures - so far as I know that's an informed hunch, not a direct observation. (Even if it's so, you can't rule out the possibility that other, equivalent, configurations could have evolved.) But, if you consider language in the abstract, it's not too hard to imagine, for example, other sets of tenses that could accomplish everything that human languages can do. Off the top of our heads, they're not likely to be as good as what we already have. But it's just not possible to rule out the idea that there could exist other patterns, possibly bizarrely unlike what we understand, that could do the job even better.

But, my prejudice is to view language, and morals, among other things, as formal systems like arithmetic and chess - just bigger and messier and vastly more complicated. I'm open to being shown that's not the case, but I'm pretty skeptical about that.
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Last edited by AemJeff; 06-28-2010 at 06:50 PM.. Reason: much clarification
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Old 06-28-2010, 08:02 PM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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But, I'd argue, first, that in every way that matters, evolution is arbitrary.
Ok, I get what you're saying now that you've spelled it out. Thanks.
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Old 06-29-2010, 09:13 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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The specific configuration of any particular grammar is arbitrary, also based on historical accidents (and largely unconscious choices.)
Please explain further. It seems that the configuration of grammar is anything but arbitrary.
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Old 06-29-2010, 09:42 AM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Please explain further. It seems that the configuration of grammar is anything but arbitrary.
I have a post to Wonderment trying to explain that. But, in short, I didn't say "grammar is arbitrary." Rather, there are an infinite number of possible grammars, and the particular ones we understand are arbitrary examples out of that much larger set of possibilities.
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Old 06-29-2010, 10:15 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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I have a post to Wonderment trying to explain that. But, in short, I didn't say "grammar is arbitrary." Rather, there are an infinite number of possible grammars, and the particular ones we understand are arbitrary examples out of that much larger set of possibilities.
Yes, I read it. What you did say is that the configuration of grammar is arbitrary. In your post to Wonderment you go back to evolution and say that is arbitrary. I would say, not entirely so. There are characteristics common to the things which survive, one of which is that the characteristic favors survival.

I guess you said that there could be other characteristics that by pure chance either didn't emerge or didn't survive and that is what makes the whole process arbitrary. I just think the word arbitrary denotes something like 'it really doesn't matter' rather than the way you lay it out.
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Old 06-29-2010, 10:31 AM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Yes, I read it. What you did say is that the configuration of grammar is arbitrary. In your post to Wonderment you go back to evolution and say that is arbitrary. I would say, not entirely so. There are characteristics common to the things which survive, one of which is that the characteristic favors survival.

I guess you said that there could be other characteristics that by pure chance either didn't emerge or didn't survive and that is what makes the whole process arbitrary. I just think the word arbitrary denotes something like 'it really doesn't matter' rather than the way you lay it out.
Not "it doesn't really matter," but "it can't be predicted."

That is, we have no way to reliably understand the relationships between inputs and outputs. I mean arbitrary as in seemingly random. (Of course it is possible to make local predictions sometimes - as long as a particular equilibrium remains in force - but it's those shifts from one apparent equilibrium to another (e.g. [in fairly simple terms] dinosaurs as the dominant terrestrial lifeform, to dominance by mammals, to dominance by a single hominid species) that are especially hard to get a handle on.
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Old 06-29-2010, 11:08 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Not "it doesn't really matter," but "it can't be predicted."

That is, we have no way to reliably understand the relationships between inputs and outputs. I mean arbitrary as in seemingly random. (Of course it is possible to make local predictions sometimes - as long as a particular equilibrium remains in force - but it's those shifts from one apparent equilibrium to another (e.g. [in fairly simple terms] dinosaurs as the dominant terrestrial lifeform, to dominance by mammals, to dominance by a single hominid species) that are especially hard to get a handle on.
I think I answered this but it isn't showing up. But I have some more thoughts. I'm still having trouble with the word arbitrary. I think you may be fudging when you say seemingly random as opposed to random.
I also don't think it's true to say one can't reliably understand the relationship between inputs and outputs. Surely evolution can be understood in this way.

gotta go to work.
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Old 06-29-2010, 11:16 AM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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I think I answered this but it isn't showing up. But I have some more thoughts. I'm still having trouble with the word arbitrary. I think you may be fudging when you say seemingly random as opposed to random.
I also don't think it's true to say one can't reliably understand the relationship between inputs and outputs. Surely evolution can be understood in this way.

gotta go to work.
I'm not sure what you think I'm fudging here. I do (as always) recommend James Gleicks's masterpiece. It's an engaging read, and an eye opener in regard to the nature of the world.
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Old 06-30-2010, 09:25 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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I'm not sure what you think I'm fudging here. I do (as always) recommend James Gleicks's masterpiece. It's an engaging read, and an eye opener in regard to the nature of the world.
There is a difference between seemingly random and (really) random. Seemingly denotes that there may be an underlying 'unrandomness'. Also, if you are making a case that the configuration of language is random, perhaps you can tell me something that is not random. I get the idea that we are here because of a lot of mutations or accidents, some of which succeeded and some which did not. But when you get to the level of language are you saying anything useful when you say its configuration is random?
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Old 06-30-2010, 10:26 AM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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There is a difference between seemingly random and (really) random. Seemingly denotes that there may be an underlying 'unrandomness'. Also, if you are making a case that the configuration of language is random, perhaps you can tell me something that is not random. I get the idea that we are here because of a lot of mutations or accidents, some of which succeeded and some which did not. But when you get to the level of language are you saying anything useful when you say its configuration is random?
I'm telling you that any particular grammar has a history that is effectively unrepeatable. That it would have been impossible to predict any particular instance of a grammar emerging from the process by which they become instantiated. The mutations and accidents that lead to such things are themselves unpredictable; and the effects of those mutations and accidents are likewise beyond anybody's ability to anticipate - again because there's no reliable way to - a priori - match up inputs with outputs in a chaotic system. And I'm asserting that both the evolution of organisms and the evolution of language are clear examples of chaotic processes.
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Old 06-30-2010, 10:57 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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I'm telling you that any particular grammar has a history that is effectively unrepeatable. That it would have been impossible to predict any particular instance of a grammar emerging from the process by which they become instantiated. The mutations and accidents that lead to such things are themselves unpredictable; and the effects of those mutations and accidents are likewise beyond anybody's ability to anticipate - again because there's no reliable way to - a priori - match up inputs with outputs in a chaotic system. And I'm asserting that both the evolution of organisms and the evolution of language are clear examples of chaotic processes.
OK so you might be able to contrast an experiment in a laboratory with the way language developed. In a controlled environment, every time you mix certain chemicals you get a certain reaction.

I would say that every human language has to have certain characteristics. It must address certain aspects of human experience because that is what it is for. It must address things like space, time and causality. It would be useless if it didn't. The actual words are not the issue here. It is the meaning embedded in the words.
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Old 06-30-2010, 11:42 AM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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OK so you might be able to contrast an experiment in a laboratory with the way language developed. In a controlled environment, every time you mix certain chemicals you get a certain reaction.

I would say that every human language has to have certain characteristics. It must address certain aspects of human experience because that is what it is for. It must address things like space, time and causality. It would be useless if it didn't. The actual words are not the issue here. It is the meaning embedded in the words.
"Must" isn't a word choice I'd use. I'd say that successful language constructions survive because they have a function that somebody finds useful. The more useful that function is, or becomes, the more likely a particular construction will become a more important part of the evolving language. And, of course, the opposite happens, too. That's why human languages work so well - they adapt to our needs.

By the way, I'm really not certain that "time, space, and causality" are necessary elements of our languages. I'd say that those are pretty damned useful concepts to have a language express - but the proof that they're necessary - that is that there is no other set of concepts that could as elegantly and efficiently express certain fundamental relationships as well as those - would be something to see. Without getting too deep in the weeds - there's a lot in modern physics that sets the colloquial ideas those words represent into a context where they almost seem kind of parochial in the greater scheme. I'm sure you could at least argue that our ideas about those things are derived from our language.
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Old 06-30-2010, 12:13 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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By the way, I'm really not certain that "time, space, and causality" are necessary elements of our languages. I'd say that those are pretty damned useful concepts to have a language express - but the proof that they're necessary - that is that there is no other set of concepts that could as elegantly and efficiently express certain fundamental relationships as well as those - would be something to see.
Perhaps you could prove they are necessary by noticing that they appear in every human language.

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Without getting too deep in the weeds - there's a lot in modern physics that sets the colloquial ideas those words represent into a context where they almost seem kind of parochial in the greater scheme. I'm sure you could at least argue that our ideas about those things are derived from our language.
Or, just as likely, our language derived from our ideas about those things. We may never be able to conceive of the world as it really is. But our notions of how the world is is in the 'good enough' realm.
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Old 06-30-2010, 12:28 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Perhaps you could prove they are necessary by noticing that they appear in every human language.
That might come close to proving that most human languages are related, but it couldn't prove necessity.


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Or, just as likely, our language derived from our ideas about those things. We may never be able to conceive of the world as it really is. But our notions of how the world is is in the 'good enough' realm.
That's another conversation, I think. Our perception of the world is extremely narrow, and our understanding of it is paper thin. "Good enough" is a judgment that requires a context. Different people will make that judgment in radically different ways. Who's to say what the "right" judgment would be?
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Old 06-30-2010, 02:50 PM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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By the way, I'm really not certain that "time, space, and causality" are necessary elements of our languages. I'd say that those are pretty damned useful concepts to have a language express - but the proof that they're necessary - that is that there is no other set of concepts that could as elegantly and efficiently express certain fundamental relationships as well as those - would be something to see.
You need to distinguish between human languages (known as natural languages) and other kinds of communication we might refer to as "language": the " language"of math, physics, music, non-human animal communication, computer "language," etc.

Human language, given our bodies and our brains, must account for our propriopception, our theory of other minds (universal in humans), our understanding of time (events can occur now, before, or later) and space (up, down, over there, here), quantity (none, some, more, many), and so on.

To say that these elements of human language are not "necessary" seems misleading to me.
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Old 06-30-2010, 03:33 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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You need to distinguish between human languages (known as natural languages) and other kinds of communication we might refer to as "language": the " language"of math, physics, music, non-human animal communication, computer "language," etc.

Human language, given our bodies and our brains, must account for our propriopception, our theory of other minds (universal in humans), our understanding of time (events can occur now, before, or later) and space (up, down, over there, here), quantity (none, some, more, many), and so on.

To say that these elements of human language are not "necessary" seems misleading to me.
I would need to be shown an a priori distinction between "human language" and the larger set of possible languages - besides the tautological distinction that "human" languages are those spoken by humans - that categorically excludes any configurations other than those that have already found their way into human language. That's a hard thing to show. I think the idea that certain elements are necessary is a valid hypothesis; but it seems to me that burden of proof belongs to whomever makes that claim.

I love the word "proprioception" - I've never encountered it before. I don't see how we can be confident that that the we account for issues of time and space and quantity are the only, or even just the most optimal, ways to dispose of those things. For example - consider a language that accounts for quantity in strictly non-discrete terms. (No integers, just more and less, and perhaps modifiers for order of magnitude.) Or verb tenses that account for things that may change, as distinguished from those that cannot. Imagine defining chiral relationships strictly in radial terms, instead of left/right.

I'm getting way past my competence here, in trying to answer your question. But all I'm really saying is that I we should make as few assumptions as possible about the abstract limits of things we only somewhat understand.
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Old 06-30-2010, 10:50 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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For example - consider a language that accounts for quantity in strictly non-discrete terms. (No integers, just more and less, and perhaps modifiers for order of magnitude.) Or verb tenses that account for things that may change, as distinguished from those that cannot. Imagine defining chiral relationships strictly in radial terms, instead of left/right.
There are languages which account for quantity the way you describe. And there are verb tenses that account for all kinds of things besides strictly action.

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But all I'm really saying is that I we should make as few assumptions as possible about the abstract limits of things we only somewhat understand.
I continue to think it is reasonable to assume that the language we have is the way it is because it serves us and the reason it serves us is because it reflects the way our brains work.
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Old 06-30-2010, 11:03 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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There are languages which account for quantity the way you describe. And there are verb tenses that account for all kinds of things besides strictly action.



I continue to think it is reasonable to assume that the language we have is the way it is because it serves us and the reason it serves us is because it reflects the way our brains work.
In reference to verb tenses - the possibilities are vast, I think. My example was just an off the cuff idea of how to encode "past" and "future" differently than we do currently.

It's perfectly reasonable to say that our languages serve us. But, it's a tautology to say that human language reflects how human brains work. What I'm saying is that I don't believe that we can say that our languages are encoded at the highest level of abstraction possible. Our brains may work perfectly well with very different language structures than we currently use. Why should we assume that we can rule that out?
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Old 06-30-2010, 11:38 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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It's perfectly reasonable to say that our languages serve us. But, it's a tautology to say that human language reflects how human brains work. What I'm saying is that I don't believe that we can say that our languages are encoded at the highest level of abstraction possible. Our brains may work perfectly well with very different language structures than we currently use. Why should we assume that we can rule that out?
In this paragraph you are saying two things. 1) saying that human language reflects how brains work is a tautology. 2) It is wrong to assume that the structure of our language is the best possible way that language could be structured.

First, I think this whole discussion arose when I asked why you described the configuration as arbitrary. I'm still questioning this description because the I believe that the structure/ configuration is not arbitrary but instead reflects the way we think. In other words it's not just an arbitrary arrangement which we have learned to work with.

As far as the tautology aspect...how is saying that language reflects the way the brain works a tautology? unless you think that language and the brain refer to the same thing.

As far as assuming that our language is the best possible way that language could be structured.... I don't think that.
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Old 06-30-2010, 11:43 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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In this paragraph you are saying two things. 1) saying that human language reflects how brains work is a tautology. 2) It is wrong to assume that the structure of our language is the best possible way that language could be structured.

First, I think this whole discussion arose when I asked why you described the configuration as arbitrary. I'm still questioning this description because the I believe that the structure/ configuration is not arbitrary but instead reflects the way we think. In other words it's not just an arbitrary arrangement which we have learned to work with.

As far as the tautology aspect...how is saying that language reflects the way the brain works a tautology? unless you think that language and the brain refer to the same thing.

As far as assuming that our language is the best possible way that language could be structured.... I don't think that.
Just answering on the narrow question of tautology: It has to be true that human languages reflects how human brains work. A language that didn't have that characteristic wouldn't work for humans - so it's true for every human language, regardless of any other consideration.
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Old 06-30-2010, 11:54 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Just answering on the narrow question of tautology: It has to be true that human languages reflects how human brains work. A language that didn't have that characteristic wouldn't work for humans - so it's true for every human language, regardless of any other consideration.
Actually there are theories of language that say that the way we think is a reflection of language and that language is the primary influence of the way we think rather than the other way around.
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Old 06-30-2010, 11:57 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Actually there are theories of language that say that the way we think is a reflection of language and that language is the primary influence of the way we think rather than the other way around.
I think it works both ways and that it's going to be really hard to definitively disentangle that relationship.
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Old 07-01-2010, 12:01 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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I think it works both ways and that it's going to be really hard to definitively disentangle that relationship.
That's what cognitive science is for. As always, asking the right questions is key.
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Old 07-01-2010, 12:15 AM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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That's what cognitive science is for. As always, asking the right questions is key.
We agree!
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Old 06-29-2010, 12:01 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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I think I answered this but it isn't showing up. But I have some more thoughts. I'm still having trouble with the word arbitrary. I think you may be fudging when you say seemingly random as opposed to random.
I also don't think it's true to say one can't reliably understand the relationship between inputs and outputs. Surely evolution can be understood in this way.

gotta go to work.
Before I forget, let me strongly second Jeff's recommendation. That is a great book, both as an introduction to some of the concepts he's speaking of, and just in and of itself for reading pleasure.

Second, some of what's being covered by the word arbitrary might also be understood in terms of by convention; e.g., what words mean, how grammar rules come into being, operate, and change over time.

Third, it is not fudging to say seemingly random, at least not in this case. It is actually more honest/more correct than just saying random, because what's being discussed here does actually stem from some initial dependencies and ongoing constraints and inputs. The problem is, it's really hard to untangle these things, so the result has the appearance of being random. Or, perhaps, you'd never be able to recreate what you have again, due to the complexity and sensitivity inherent in the process (evolution of language, say), so it has some of the flavor carried by the colloquial meaning of random. But this takes me back to my opening sentence. I think if you read that book, you'll see exactly what Jeff is trying to say.
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Old 06-30-2010, 09:39 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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Second, some of what's being covered by the word [I
arbitrary[/I] might also be understood in terms of by convention; e.g., what words mean, how grammar rules come into being, operate, and change over time.
But in this sense I think language is not at all random. Words are the way they are for very specific reasons. And the rules of grammar say a lot about the way we think.

Again, maybe in some meta sense everything is random, but saying that about everything isn't saying much at all.
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Old 06-30-2010, 10:15 AM
Steve Steve is offline
 
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Default Re: Does technology get in the way of faith?

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the rules of grammar say a lot about the way we think
Can you elaborate? What do the rules of grammer say about the way we think?
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Old 06-30-2010, 12:03 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Can you elaborate? What do the rules of grammar say about the way we think?
It has to do with what grammar contains. We are interested in certain things. Some would say that this is because of our survival needs. We notice certain things. Some would say that this is an indication of how we think. For instance, we believe in causation. Many words, chiefly verbs, point to that belief: begin, cause, force, make, start. and embedded in those words are other concepts such as force dynamics, which measures intentions and interests.

In fact every word contains an amazing amount of information. Take for instance the word fill in contrast to load. You can say She loaded the wagon with hay or She loaded hay into the wagon. You can say She filled the wagon hay but you can't say She filled hay into the wagon.


This may seem like a silly distinction but it applies to a classes of verbs which are called container-locative or content-locative verbs. There is something different about fill and loaded which isn't apparent at first glance and which we certainly never learned in school but which we can hear when they are spoken.

Why is that? One possible reason is that in the first instance 'loaded' what you are focused on is the content. But when you get to "fill" what you are focused on is the container. All of these aspects tells us about what humans are interested in, what we notice and what is necessary.
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