Time – “move on, nothing to see here!”

Like a mirror, the ruins reflect the image of those who look at them: between the memory of what has been and the hope of what will be, man contemplates the familiar image of time, his double.

(Michel Makarius, Senior Lecturer, University of Paris)

Time is unlike the spatial dimensions in that we have no control over where we stand within it. We can choose to stand in particular space. We can move to another place, and move back and then we can choose to move somewhere else. If we decide to live by the river and then the river floods we can move up the valley or stay where we are. Within limits we are quite happy with the dimensions of space. Not so with time. We have no choice where we stand. We are at point x, and then in the next moment we are at x+1 and then x+2 and “hey stop for a moment, I want to enjoy the view”! But time keeps pushing us on in one direction only. We can never go back to where we were before. Time is the riot police inching us down the street step by step. And then we suddenly realise that there is no crossroad at the end. Just a drop into an abyss. “Who are these police?” “Do they not have any humanity?” Continue reading “Time – “move on, nothing to see here!””

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Consciousness – a home coming

We like to think about consciousness as those times when we draw close to ourselves and look deep inside ourselves – right down into the depth of mind. And we seem to find that we are quite satisfied that we are still there and hanging in. “It is still me, and I am still human, and I think therefore I am”. But it is also very easy to let go and use language for all sorts of things. A football manager screaming instructions to his players on the side of the pitch. Or a teaching presenting a class. The act of looking in on ourselves and reflecting on who we are is like coming home after a long day out. We come home to check out who we are and that we are who we think we are. But then in the morning we are quite happy to move out and go quite far away. Take chances and ramble. It seems that introspective consciousness is something we only need in small doses.  Continue reading “Consciousness – a home coming”

It’s language, stupid!

A scene in The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien has three trolls bickering and quarrelling all night until the light of the dawn comes up and turns them into stone. Gandalf, the wise wizard, had unknowingly kept them arguing all night.

 For just at that moment the light came over the hill, and there was a mighty twitter in the branches. William never spoke for he stood turned to stone as he stooped; and Bert and Tom were stuck like rocks as they looked at him. … “Excellent!” said Gandalf, as he stepped from behind a tree, and helped Bilbo to climb down out of a thorn-bush. Then Bilbo understood. It was the wizard’s voice that had kept the trolls bickering and quarrelling, until the light came and made an end of them. (The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien)

Sometimes it feels as if language is tricking us into talking all night long: never quite allowing us to understand each other, always leaving doubts, always requiring repetition and clarification. Maybe we too, one dawn, will be turned into stone, destined never to speak again! Continue reading “It’s language, stupid!”

What is a mind?

Language is the DNA of the mind.

I have a mind. That I am pretty sure of. But how do I know that you, the reader, has a mind? How can I be sure that anyone except myself in this world has a mind in the way that I have one? Philosophers have argued this point for centuries and some believe it is only possible to be certain that you, yourself, have a mind. This is called the problem of other minds. A closely related problem is the qualia problem: even if I know that you have a mind like mine, how can I know what it is like for you to experience the world? Can I ever know what it is like for you to see red? Does your sensation of seeing red match mine? Continue reading “What is a mind?”

Animal Language: Separation of a kind or degree? (part 2)

Part 1 of this article is here.

Language, Communication and Thought

For the linguist, the opportunity to redefine the question of whether apes can be taught the rudiments of a language is perhaps a good chance for him to come to terms with the esoteric nature of language; for after all it is language than provides him with his domain. And of all the muddles that he seems to have put himself into in trying to defend his fort, none is more obvious than the presumption that language should be equated with communication. Continue reading “Animal Language: Separation of a kind or degree? (part 2)”

PMQs Watch

Corbyn negotiates with the Chamber

The example below is a good example of how the current speaker at the dispatch box, Jeremy Corbyn in this case, often has to negotiate with the chamber to establish their rights to the floor. Corbyn has become well known for introducing questions from members of the public at PMQs. In the transcript below, it is interesting to note that the ‘groans’ from the Conservative benches actually start when Corbyn says ‘sent’, interrupting Corbyn and indicating that the Conservative benches were perhaps waiting for the first question of this type. Continue reading “PMQs Watch”

An app that can read your mind or maybe not?

By Daniel Hartworth

Swift Key Neural:

the world’s first smartphone keyboard software that uses an artificial neural network to predict and correct language.

Swift Key Blog is here

Swift key are an software company, most notably known for their original, and highly successful, mobile keyboard ‘swift key’. The feature that stood them out at the time was the simple 3 word suggestion layout and the ability to customise the keyboard in various ways. Continue reading “An app that can read your mind or maybe not?”

Animal Language: Separation of a kind or degree? (Part 1)

Language is one of the most precious elements we have. It is so precious that it has been the centrepiece of a struggle by various branches of the sciences to discover its origins and define it for many generations. The behaviourists laid claim to it in the 1950s and gave it a special name, ‘verbal behaviour’, to entice it into their field to lay among the other behaviours that they so obviously owned. Chomsky, at the end of the decade, stole it back for the linguists by asserting language was an innate, modular part of the mind, unlike any other form of knowledge. Recently, the cognitive scientists have staked their claim for the ownership of language by suggesting it is learnt as a general cognitive skill, the way all skills are learnt. What is it about language that makes it so wanted? Continue reading “Animal Language: Separation of a kind or degree? (Part 1)”

The Genes of Mother Nature (Origins of Language)

If this sentence represents a theory of language evolution in the human species, then the full stop at the end represents the fossil records that we have on which the theory rests.

It is no surprise that the Societe de Linguistique de Paris in 1866 placed a ban on the discussion of the origins of language within the journals of the day given the speculative nature of the task. The last couple of decades however  has seen an explosion of ideas from linguists, anthropologists, biologists, cognitive scientists, palaeontologists and the like to try and account for the origins of this enigmatic form of communication. Language evolution is once more a respectable field of study. Continue reading “The Genes of Mother Nature (Origins of Language)”

How much does language weigh?    (A thought experiment)

Imagine that you are sitting in a hotel room one week in to a visit to a city somewhere in the world. You have spent the whole week exploring the city: north, south, east and west. There is nowhere on the map that you haven’t visited yet. You have even been up the skyscrapers and down the subways in your efforts to explore this city.

In your hand you hold a device. I won’t say what this device is at the moment but you can probably guess. As you open up this device suddenly a secret passage (a fifth dimension) opens up in front of you and you are able to move through this passage and continue exploring the city. (Think of this passage as akin to platform 9 ¾ in the Harry Potter series if you are familiar with this.)

This secret passage doesn’t run north, south, east or west. It doesn’t run upwards or downwards. In fact it takes up no space in the space-time continuum that we assume the fabric of the universe is made of. However the passage allows you to explore the city in ways that you could never do physically. Continue reading “How much does language weigh?    (A thought experiment)”