Mumble on linguistic relativity


Linguistic relativity is the theory that language affects thought. This is generally against the idea that humans have a common manner of ratiocination which different languages simply express with different sounds.

In its strictest form (as in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), linguistic relativism is fascinating, almost certainly wrong, and quite possibly crazy. Strong linguistic relativism hypothesizes that speakers of different languages have radically different phenomenological experiences. Imagine a language that has no past tense – strong LR suggests that the speakers would then have a different relation to time itself (perhaps none?), that their experience of time would be without history in the way we imagine it. This sounds like a strawman, but it’s precisely what Whorf claimed about the Hopi. Cf certain vulgar readings of Wittgenstein.

In a weaker form, LR implies that certain ways of thinking will be different due to different languages. The weaker form is… confused. No one is sure how strongly, or in what way, language will impact thought. In other words, a very uncharitable interpretation would be that weak LR is only a vague retreat from LR, one which leaves the field open to anything until it can be proven wrong.

This assumes that weak LR theorists don’t have a proper theory of what changes. They want to say that languages impacts quite a lot, but when pressed retreat to “language is different in some way”. This creates the impression that they don’t actually know what language would change. But the emphasis here is wrong: the issue is that they have no theory as to what is common to human cognition, and hence it appears that they’re just grasping at whatever they can. This is often colors, because for some reason colors are the go-to example for hard problems in phenomenology. Either way, that’s an academic distinction but probably helpful to mention for what follows. If we figure out what is common, then we can imagine what is open to variance.

Accept every proposition here and here. Then: Continue reading “Mumble on linguistic relativity”

Follow-up on aesthetics and information.

only makes sense with the first piece in mind/still clarifies less than I would have hoped

This is a further explication of a few things I introduced in my last essay. As such, it probably won’t make much sense without that/is not meant to stand as an actual essay. Continue reading “Follow-up on aesthetics and information.”

Theses on Social Currency




Economic laws impact our lives so mysteriously and with such awesome power that we resort to mythologizing them. Their effects are natural disasters, and we are confused animals on a windswept plain. They are dark, primordial forces that shift us around. And they do so seemingly without human input.

Job: imprecating the sky justly, but for that very reason utterly lacking comprehension.

It is no mistake that Chigurh is a primordial force that uses coins to determine his actions. Nothing is a mistake; everything is economics. Continue reading “Theses on Social Currency”

Foucault, Scoundrel

(a joke continued from here, this is not a full post)


CXXIV. [... ] For we are founding a real model of the world in the understanding, such as it is found to be, not such as man’s reason has distorted. Now this cannot be done without dissecting and anatomizing the world most diligently; but we declare it necessary to destroy completely the vain, little and, as it were, apish imitations of the world, which have been formed in various systems of philosophy by men’s fancies. Let men learn (as we have said above) the difference that exists between the idols of the human mind and the ideas of the divine mind. The former are mere arbitrary abstractions; the latter the true marks of the Creator on his creatures, as they are imprinted on, and defined in matter, by true and exquisite touches. Truth, therefore, and utility, are here perfectly identical, and the effects are of more value as pledges of truth than from the benefit they confer on men.

Novum Organum, Francis Bacon

The important point here, I believe, is that truth isn’t outside power, or deprived of power[…] (contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study, it isn’t the reward of free spirits,the child of prolonged solitudes, or the privilege of those who have been able to liberate themselves). Truth is of the world: it is produced by virtue of multiple constraints. And it induces the regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth; that is, the types of discourse it harbours and causes to function as true

The Political Function of the Intellectual, Michel Foucault

How gauche.