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Natural Languages & Linguistic Empathy — a First Essay on the Impact of Phenomena such as Presence, Awareness and Focus on Social Cohesion

To begin, I wish to contextualize my writing of this chapter within so-called “real world” history. I normally try to remain aloof from engaging with ephemeral inkstains on cheesecloth, but since this very chapter is actually sort of antithetical to the so-called “real world” views of most propaganda industries, I think it is perhaps useful to entertain ourselves with the so-called “real world” thesis first.

To do so, I will start off by quoting from something posted just yesterday (by Josepha) at — I encourage you to read the entire piece (which is just a few paragraphs long and will hardly cost any significant amount of time). To wit, I wish to jump to the conclusion right away:

[…] as you do all of these things to support your community, however you’re defining it, remember that you do not personally hold all the responsibility for “making things work” today.

One thing I particularly enjoy about Josepha’s communications, is that every word counts. She does not use “fillers”. So “however you’re defining it” is not an empty concept — it is very significant. Since everything in the universe sort of “hangs together”, when we make the subjective choice to include some things into our own interpretation of community (and at the same time exclude other things), that decision is indeed odd (and somewhat reminiscent of the “ignorance” issue I addressed in the previous chapter [ ] ). To imagine that some events on the other side of the world (more or less “real”, depending on how you’re defining your concept of “reality”) have absolutely nothing to do with the here-and-now notion of the price of bread is at the very least naive. How far an enlightened person is willing to overcome their own ignorance of “other” things is, however, something each subjective person must come to terms with according to their own subjective preferences.

For Josepha, this thought exercise began with “My first thought was, of course, whether anyone in the WordPress community lived in any affected areas.” I hope I have already pointed out how this statement is a very “real world” statement — and I find Josepha to be very aware of the “real world” in many ways, and I feel her interpretations of “real world” situations to be outstandingly clear, useful and in total they have a generally “positive” impact on the “real world”.

Now I will turn to the other side of the coin — and I also wish to simply note here, in passing, that the whole “thesis-antithesis-synthesis” argument is acually no longer practical at all, because of the vast increase in the degree of literacy worldwide (and therefore, it seems more realistic to speak of billions of concurrent viewpoints — i.e. however large the global literate / enlightened population is). I expect that many will read into the following a rather fantastical point of view, attributing it with such characteristics as “seclusive” or “ivory tower” arguments.

Natural Languages & Linguistic Empathy

Empathy seems to be most often viewed as a matter of interpersonal communication. Yet my own views of (“natural”) languages as (evolutionary) technologies — evolving over many generations much like the way many kinds of physical and chemical phenomena have evolved to be involved in various biological functions — seem to take on a less distinctly personal character, and from a more extreme perspective come across as impersonal natural phenomena.

To focus our attention, let’s take the example of human spoken languages. Without a doubt these require not only a large degree and perhaps also a particular kind of brain development. Likewise, they would also be impossible without the physical characteristics we might refer to as vocal apparatus technologies (not only vocal chords, but also tongue, lips, teeth and other “instruments” originally developed for entirely other purposes (mainly food intake).

Yet to make several quantum leaps forwards in time, in my humble opinion we present day humans, as linguistic beings, can also empathise with not only other persons but also with concepts circumscribed by the languages we use. We can smile or frown, we can express “happy” or “angry” as strings … and with such strings we can transmit such ideas to each other — to other members of our linguistic communities, who we feel speak the same (or at least sufficiently similar) languages.

We can exercise and practice (practise?) our language use. We can pay attention, we can attend to, become aware of others’ ideas, our own interpretations may mirror the expressions others use, our own expressions may intentionally influence others’ interpretations of our own ideas, opinions, thoughts, feelings and such things.

We can be present not only during interpersonal communication, but also in the presence of concepts, such as “global warming”, “love”, “hate”, and “kitchen cabinets” (and obviously many things more — indeed, a nearly infinite number; see also Chapter 5, “Infinity vs URL” [ ] ). All of these linguistic concepts are related with each other (as Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out many decades ago), and also with the so-called “real” world. For example, when we talk about “global warming” we are talking about a very real kind of hot air (and also other things becoming hotter) … and such discussions will also involve other concepts such as “energy”, “fossil fuels” and “economic development” (the theory this is based on also goes back several decades and is generally referred to as “Frame Theory”).

The technology of language (and in particular “machine readable” language, roughly equivalent to “written” language) continues to grow at exponential rates, and some (e.g. Elon Musk) are even calling into question whether humans will be able to continue managing the technology. My own gut feeling is that evolution will continue to take care of humans, not the other way around.


By New Media Works

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