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Alien Language

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Alien Language

Postby Rameses_Rex » Tue Mar 20, 2007 11:14 pm

I have yet another question. :)
If we would come in contact with something unhuman (be it aliens, or butterflies) that had a system of communication, would be ever be able to comprehend it. I know about how bees communicate by dancing, but their 'language' is only adequate to give directions and orders, they can't talk about anything significant, like culture or religion.
And better yet: what if some kind of life-form had a language that would so advanced that when you'd compare humans languages and their language(s) our languages would be like the bee-language for them.
Wittgenstein once said: "if a lion could talk, we wouldn't be able to understand him", but is this really true?

I came to think of this as there's some talking about 'thinking without words/language' on the fora lately.

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Postby Turendil » Tue Mar 20, 2007 11:58 pm

to mix my metaphors,

We shall build that bridge when we come to it.
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Postby acarrig » Wed Mar 21, 2007 12:12 am

Rameses - haven't you watched Star Trek? By the time we meet other life forms, we will have a Universal Translator that will do all the work for us. The best aliens, though, will be the ones that communicate telepathically.

I like thinking about aliens too :) . One of my favorite short stories to read is Voltaire's Micromegas - hilarious. What seems to make humans unique and able to communicate about more than directions and such (other than the obvious physical differences) is our consciousness - something that I think isn't very well understood. But I think any two beings that had consciousness and an ability to communicate with other beings could figure out a way to communicate with each other. Maybe I've watched too much Star Trek (just kidding....that's not possible), but I think it could happen.

BTW - Thinking without words doesn't work for me beyond some kind of visual-type mental images, which works well for thinking about making a bologna sandwich. But I can't think about beauty or truth or goodness in that way.
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Postby Turendil » Wed Mar 21, 2007 12:19 am

Star trek?

Reminds me of the situation, that explains the following. A recent college graduate is pestered by his father to get a job. He replies that Money symbolizes power over others, Power over others may best be obtained by gaining knowledge and knowledge is best obtained by watching star trek re-runs.

Or another story:

A college student at the University of paris in the 14th century returned home and argued convincingly to his father that the 6 eggs on the table were really 12. So his father ate all the six eggs on the table and said to his son you may have the other 6.
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Postby acarrig » Wed Mar 21, 2007 12:24 am

I don't get the stories - how do they relate to Star Trek?
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Postby Bert » Wed Mar 21, 2007 2:36 am

acarrig wrote:
BTW - Thinking without words doesn't work for me beyond some kind of visual-type mental images, which works well for thinking about making a bologna sandwich. But I can't think about beauty or truth or goodness in that way.

I think that the only reason it doesn't work for you is because we CAN'T ban words from our system after a lifetime of using them so that it becomes second nature.
It happens lots of times that I think of something much much quicker than it would take me to say the words to express the thought.
It seems so unlikely that someone like Helen Keller was not able to think because she did not know words. Her thinking process must have been different than it would be for those who do know words but that does not mean it was not thinking.
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Postby acarrig » Wed Mar 21, 2007 3:49 am

Bert-

I see what you mean. I sometimes have sudden flashes of thought like you describe. But, I can't really examine them or form them clearly until I sit down and write them - or speak them aloud. I think that is why people like to tell me I talk to myself :wink: I guess I should have said I find it hard to think well or thoroughly without words. Maybe, as you say, I'm just used to words.

Helen Keller is an interesting point. I don't know much about her, but I thought she was a wild lunatic of a child until Anne Sullivan came along and started teaching her things, including language. I'll look into it more.
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Postby cdm2003 » Wed Mar 21, 2007 2:04 pm

I'm pretty certain that we would eventually be able to figure out a mode of communication...perhaps not so esoteric as first to be able to discuss aesthetics or whatever, but eventually, even that would be possible. After all, we have managed to communicate fully with illiterate cultures (I use this phrase only to denote cultures without a native system of writing with no condescension intented).

Wittgenstein, I think, was wrong. Now, maybe if we heard a lion speak for the first time, we wouldn't be able to understand him. However, if a lion was trying to say "I'm very hungry" in lion-ese to me and I didn't immediately understand him...trust me...he'd make sure I eventually figured it out and would never forget it. :wink:

Bert, I also think, is very correct in saying that though Helen Keller may not have had English words racing through her head...she would nevertheless still possed a high-level of thought, though more than likely very different from what a hearing-person builds when they're young. An inability to communicate seems only to be born of language-depravation. Read here for a interesting though tragic example.

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Postby Rameses_Rex » Wed Mar 21, 2007 2:08 pm

Universal translators would do the job, but that not the question, that's just a solution to the problem if the answer to my question is no.
I just wonder if a language of a species other than humans would be comprehendable for humans. Our sense of 'conscience' may be different from that of theirs. And think about what Frank Herbert said: "Remember that blind blind people can't see, or deaf people can't hear, what blindnesses might we all not have?" (not his exact words, but that's the point of the quote)
Telepathy would be great though, since no words would be involved. :D
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Postby acarrig » Wed Mar 21, 2007 3:31 pm

cdm2003 wrote:Bert, I also think, is very correct in saying that though Helen Keller may not have had English words racing through her head...she would nevertheless still possed a high-level of thought, though more than likely very different from what a hearing-person builds when they're young. An inability to communicate seems only to be born of language-depravation. Read here for a interesting though tragic example.

Best,
Chris


Would you say that Genie from the story had high levels of thought, though she had no language? I doubt it. It seems to me that the extent of your ability to use language is the extent of your ability to think. I like to read Richard Mitchell, and his book Less Than Words Can Say has something to say about the importance of language in thinking. Here is a little quote:

Everyone who has succeeded in learning a foreign language has come to "think" in that language, as we say, although we probably mean something even more complicated than that. Now it seems that there are millions of Americans who can't think even in English. How is it with them? Do they plan, or do they merely fantasize? Do they solve problems, or do they simply rummage around for a suitable slogan? Are they the people Socrates had in mind in thinking about that unexamined life that wasn't worth living? Can they examine life?

People in that condition don't think of themselves as being in that condition because they don't think of themselves--they don't think at all. To think, we must devise connected chains of predications, which, in turn, require fluency in language. Those who are fluent in no language just don't have the means for thinking about things. They may remember and recite whatever predications experience provides them, but they cannot manipulate them and derive new ones. Mostly, therefore, they will think and do those things that the world suggests that they think and do. For some of us, it must be very important that people in this condition remain in this condition, for we have obviously devised ways to see to that.


As you can see, he is concerned here with the importance of a mass of nonthinkers to the stability of elites. But I am convinced he is right about needing language to examine life - and think at high levels, like you say.
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Postby Rameses_Rex » Wed Mar 21, 2007 8:58 pm

who are fluent in no language just don't have the means for thinking about things.


Yes, that might be true. You'd need language to learn how to reason, to learn how to make senseful arguments and to learn how thought come one after antother. But once once you've acquired that, isn't it possible to rule language out of the proces? Once you've learned how to think correctly with the training language gives you, i mean. When you've studied something long enough, can't you do it by heart? If you've cooked a meal for a hundred times using the recipe, can't you eventually do without?
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Postby Bert » Wed Mar 21, 2007 10:51 pm

Helen Keller is an interesting point. I don't know much about her, but I thought she was a wild lunatic of a child until Anne Sullivan came along and started teaching her things, including language.

She was not wild because she couldn't speak, hear or see. She was wild because her parents thought she couldn't be trained.
Would you say that Genie from the story had high levels of thought, though she had no language? I doubt it.
I doubt she had a high level of thought but I think that was due to abuse and mistreatment.

It seems to me that the extent of your ability to use language is the extent of your ability to think.

I think that someones ability to use language will have an effect on the ability to think but you statement is way to strong for me to go along with.
I know people who can talk themselves out of a wet paper bag but who show that their ability to think is barely more than that of a hammer handle.
There are examples of the other extreme as well.
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Postby acarrig » Thu Mar 22, 2007 2:12 am

Bert-

It's difficult to know how a child would fare without language who wasn't abused, because witholding langauge would be abuse. With Helen Keller, I didn't mean to imply that she was civilized only by language. She was abused in a way, too. Looking at that last sentence you quoted of mine, it looks strong to me, too. I've known people with great powers of expression that were not thoughtful at all. Just because language gives you a way to think, doesn't mean you'll do it. But I still do think that the better grasp of language you have, the more you are able to think clearly. And I don't see how thinking without language would get very far. Plus, if you wanted to communicate it, you'd need language to do that.
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Postby Arvid » Thu Apr 12, 2007 9:07 pm

Is language externalized thought or is thought internalized language? I believe the latter is much closer to the truth.

Without being a doctrinaire Whorfian, I think it's undeniable that the language we think in to some extent channels our thinking processes. It may be possible to say anything in any language, but what's important is what your language FORCES you to say. Human languages are (pace Chomsky) so incredibly diverse in this (even though I believe they may have historically developed from a single "Proto-World" language) that it's hard to imagine an alien language not being considerably more different.

To the extent that we could never understand it? I don't know. That would depend on what we meant by "understanding." I certainly think we would have trouble appreciating each other's literature. Even in Greek, an Indo-European language, I'm having an incredibly hard time with quantitative verse!

I think basic communication would be possible, however, with any species sufficiently tied in to the real universe to develop the technology that allowed us to communicate. While we're on science fiction, though pre-Star Trek, H. Beam Piper's "Omninlingual" (available at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19445 or http://manybooks.net/titles/piperh1944519445-8.html) argues that common scientific knowledge would be the Rosetta Stone that would "crack" a (dead) alien language. (But read also "Hellspark" by Janet Kagan!) I agree this might lead to a basic practical understanding, but could a true meeting of minds be based on that? I don't know; it's fun to think about, though. Thanks for bringing it up, Rameses!
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Postby cold fusion » Sun Jul 29, 2007 8:56 am

Is language externalized thought or is thought internalized language? I believe the latter is much closer to the truth.


No,I think it is language that externalized thought.
If we don't even have thoughts first how could we be possibly able to express them in language,no matter spoken or written?It is unimaginable.
For the "alien language" case, I had thought of it for times previously...
By now my answer is...impossible.
We have still many other things to consider besides the language.For example we couldn't hold a firm belief that our LOGIC is universally accepted.Our logic-thought comes from matters of the world,but not from void.How will the physics come if people live on an anti-matter planet?
And how about the others,maths,logic&language?
Universally translatable...quite doubtful.
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What is language?

Postby Kevin1a » Tue Oct 09, 2007 8:02 pm

I think the first thing we must do in order to answer your question is define "language". What is language? What is its origin? On the most basic level I would define mathematics as an objective medium for the transferrence and concrete verification of fact. Math is concrete and is percieved objectivly throughout nature, though it may be represented variably. Conversely, language is a medium for the transferrence of feelings, opinions, and ideas. It can be percieved variably by different cultures, races, and species. It does not appeal to the nature of reality as does mathematics.
If we were to meet an advanced intelligent species we could expect them to understand facts, but it would be impossible to explain to them concepts such as happiness, love, or hate as these rely on emperical knowledge that we cannot expect an alien species to have.
Only if the aliens share this empirical experience do I believe linguistic communication is possible.
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Re: Alien Language

Postby Jefferson Cicero » Wed Oct 06, 2010 4:23 pm

I would think aliens would have some kind of language or another, but we cant be sure what kind of a communication organ they might have.
It might make sounds we cant hear, or even use vibrations, etc.

By the way, Ramases Rex, you're looking a little sickly today. Are you feeling well? :lol:
'Greek had to be simplified, and Latin had to be replaced with Italian, because we barbarians stole so many Greek and Latin words.'
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Re: Alien Language

Postby gfross » Sun May 29, 2011 11:15 am

Rameses_Rex wrote:I have yet another question. :)
If we would come in contact with something unhuman (be it aliens, or butterflies) that had a system of communication, would be ever be able to comprehend it. I know about how bees communicate by dancing, but their 'language' is only adequate to give directions and orders, they can't talk about anything significant, like culture or religion.
And better yet: what if some kind of life-form had a language that would so advanced that when you'd compare humans languages and their language(s) our languages would be like the bee-language for them.
Wittgenstein once said: "if a lion could talk, we wouldn't be able to understand him", but is this really true?

I came to think of this as there's some talking about 'thinking without words/language' on the fora lately.

Regards


May I suggest that you read the Explorer Race series of books and the Shining the Light series by Robert Shapiro? Also visit the Lazaris (pronounced luh-ZAH-riss) website. I have been friends with Lazaris for about 30 years.
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