Scientific Sense Podcast

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The importance of language

A recent study (1) that shows the individual's language preferences could affect what she sees is interesting. But more importantly, one has to wonder if disparate languages drive the apparent cultural, social and policy differences across the globe. If so, that will be unfortunate.

Complex language, apparently the only differentiating quality of the human animal, has gotten them far. They could communicate thoughts, innovate, memorize and survive in the Savannah. They have been creative, perhaps starting in clicks and music and progressing toward more complex structures. In the modern context, languages seem to share common roots in Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, and Afro-Asiatic with a few unusual divergences in the Pacific and South India. But the larger three streams of language progression appear to be distinctly different in architecture, specialization, and use. If the general hypothesis that language shapes one's comprehension is true, we may have separated ourselves into three different worlds (not to mention smaller ones in the Pacific and South India), purely by chance.

The human brain has been trying to cope with language forever. Language is an unnatural leap for the animal and the brain could not have coped with the idea without great effort. Reinforcement learning would have led the three cohorts of humans into a higher and higher association of language with outcomes. Thus, they would likely reject observations from outside that do not fit. Their science, religion, closely follows with few cultural variations. And, their organizational philosophy, objective functions, and expectations have diverged significantly.

A technology that integrates the three distinctly different streams of language could be a necessary condition for humans to make the next leap.


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