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  • Michael Moorcock
    "a genuine philosophy for the 21st century"
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Good post and even better choice of Magritte as the perfect visual complement to the subject of discussion. Thanks for coming back to Wittgenstein. I still have yet to read him personally, but through your discussion of his brilliant work with language I've come to appreciate the considerable work he did.
I've always enjoyed conversations with people that turn into comparing ideolects and strong, specific associations with words.
But I think everyone on the planet has had some sort of angry and long discussion with a person, only to realize they've been arguing about two very different concepts. Not only do Wittgenstein's ideas about language seem to illuminate many "high-minded" concepts, they're eminently applicable in reducing cognitive dissonance as well :)

"people that talk about videogame genres tend somewhat towards both bellicosity and premature certainty."

Who, us? Surely not!

I can just see the last thought experiment summarised in one of Terry Pratchett's works...
Nobby: "It's a tomato. Bit squished."
Detritus: "Oograh." (Points at tree) "That oograh too."

Great post, this would explain a lot of the debate about storytelling in games.

It also prompts me to write my RT post.

brb lol

Thanks, I've thoroughly enjoyed this and your Wittgenstein post. =)

Not having read any Wittgenstein I've been pondering whether it is ever possible to confirm that two people are playing the same language game, or if this can only been shown by a clear breach of understanding.
You hint in that post that he does not precise the nature of this type of incongruence, which in a sense is even more devastating for what are when then left with to determine our (mis-)alignment?
Maybe I should go do my own reading! ;)

I'm not sure I agree with you that cognitive dissonance is likely to occur when several people with varied idiolects interact. This would require the individual to attempt to internalize the two conflicting world views? - which is not necessarily the case in a debate.

I'd like to add another slant to this too- a discussion of grounding theory - i.e. the concept that (and how!) people try to establish common ground. Of interest might be the work of Keysar and others. This is however limited in scope as this particular area is very much limited to object reference (referring expressions in computational/psycho linguistics).
I'm vaguely aware of a body of work on humor and idiolect, but have not read any work pertaining to idiolect and group membership (back to your reference on religion, and I am sure there are plenty other noteworthy societal divisions), though I'd imagine this must have been discussed plentifully.
Please do let me know if you can think of any references.

Again many thanks for the brilliant posts!

nomad: thanks for the comment and the kind words!

Is it possible to confirm that two people are playing the same language game? I would tend to say yes, albeit provisionally: one can always confirm the definitions of terms before discussion. But this process can be infinitely more lengthy than the discussions in question, so the question perhaps is when it is worth committing to this kind of ground work.

And to be honest, even when terms are defined, there is bound to be differences in the individual language games being played - its part of the fun of language! :)

Regarding cognitive dissonance in a debate, I take your point. The idea I was trying to raise is that differences in ideolect are like "unexploded bombs" of cognitive dissonance that can be set off by the use of the "wrong" word. Some terms are more inflammatory than others of course, but it's difficult to know in advance where such "bombs" might lie.

Thanks for the reference to Keysar; I've not looked at this before. It strikes me that this kind of agreement of terms is very much like the process Wittgenstein describes in the (hypothetical) establishment of a new language game. There is a sense, therefore, in which we might claim that while we become "language game literate" in general terms, we must establish the "house rules" in specific contexts. Certainly, people who work together benefit enormously from a common lexicon.

Alright, that's all I have time for but I *think* that's all the pending comments answered. Excellent - I might even have time to post something tomorrow... ;)

Best wishes!

"one can always confirm the definitions of terms before discussion"

... subject to grounding... which is fine if you're near each other and can point at things, but far, far more entertaining on (say) a blog.

Whilst reading this post I couldn't help be reminded of memes which were mentioned in Richard Dawkins' book 'The selfish gene'.

Social memes could well be a reason certain mis-understandings could arise due to differences in language.

Excellent post; very thought provoking.


Ha, you can see my criticisms of the notion of "memes" here, although it's not my best writing. In brief: there's no sign that culture and behaviour breaks down into atomic elements, so 'meme' is at best a metaphor.

Thanks for the comment!

I have an issue that you may be able to help me with, and I feel that this thread is a suitable enough place to ask. When I think, unless I'm composing a sentence or paragraph of some sort, I don't think in a language (at least a spoken one.) I've tried to talk to a few people about this, but ironically, or perhaps not, words seem to fail me in most instances.

This line of thought has led me to think of language as a more human construct than before. To put it simply, I think the human brain has it's own vastly more complex language, and that when speaking to others humans translate their ideas into a spoken language. This could possibly help to explain the prevalence of misunderstandings in speech.

C..: this is an interesting topic, one that I have explored in discussions with people who speak more than one language. I find that the majority of people can identify a "language of thought" and that it corresponds to their native language. When people talk in another language, there does not seem to be a 'translation step' so much as the thoughts are also transposed, so some extent, into the destination language.

Regarding the brain having its own language, this is in itself a major topic of research and commentary. Noam Chomsky famously believed in a grammatical structures being built into the brain, and although he has had some support from researchers the jury is still out.

From my own perspective, it seems to me that much of language is processed and recorded as associations; people with multiple languages acquire multiple associations for related concepts - it seems once you can do this once or twice, there is almost no upper limit to how many language associations you can stack up. (My great great grandfather on my mother's side, I'm told, spoke twelve languages and was the interpreter to the Pope, for instance).

Reasoning, however, can happen on a conceptual level independent of thought. For instance, artists for the most part seem to work entirely in this conceptual space, separate from vocabulary. In this sense, I agree with you that the "brain has its own language", and the conversion into words may be a separate step.

Rather than this being the brain's language from the point of view of a common human grammar my suspicion is that each brain has it's own conceptual "language" that relates to its internal synaptic wiring i.e. how concepts and ideas are interconnected within the brain. I'm a long way from anything concrete in this regard.

I hope to do some more philosophy of mind in the near future, but I haven't had the time to attend to that part of my reading list yet. :)

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