January 29, 2010

Yang Zhu's Garden of Pleasure Online

I was just forwarded a link by a close friend which contains the notorious seventh chapter of the Liezi (列子), complete with a freely downloadable MP3 audio book. Hugh Cranmer-Byng provides the introduction to this decades old translation from Anton Forke, which the same friend gave me as a gift in print (I had been using the same e-text to which the above link links.) a couple of years ago.

The Liezi fragment is by far my favorite reading of the Yangist Nachlass, though not the most academically stimulating (the Lushi Chunqiu [呂氏春秋] better meets said demand and impulse). It's good to think of that chapter as a good summary piece from which further arguments can be constructed by adding the Yangist pieces that are tucked away in a few other books from the period.


January 13, 2010

The Descent from Moksha to Utter Damnation

Natural language inspires great fantasy and crushes us with its reality. There is little satisfaction of the former and constant irritation and disenchantment from the latter. Unlike our formal counterparts, which are as pristine and minimalistic as they are deliberately contrived to be, natural languages, though they map (often over-elaborately) to these formal designs, are molded from the partly diverted adherence to a good intention of mutual conversational coherence in syntax, while simultaneously resisting that very urge in its waste heap of semantic disparity. The expert in language, regardless of the particular field, is already given an unpalatable chore. He must sort the garbage as though it were all recycling, take the mess of terms that have been dirt-farmed and muck-raked throughout history and categorize them in a manner that brings some semblance of “order” and formal intelligibility to the crass inventions of the formally apathetic.

This breeds a lot of resentment, as one might detect, but also a lot of idealism, which, as I later determined, idealized not only the speech of the community, but further the behavioral nature of humanity through the necessary conditions that would need to be in place for such a speaking community to coherently exist (if it can at all). Though I clearly started somewhere in the middle, much in the way that Dante dreamed up his heavens and hells from Earth, eventually I fabricated an (I believe) stimulating and accurate hierarchic appreciation for the ideal, real, and damning statuses of the language community, the supreme scenario being at the top and the increasingly hellish scenarios trickling under it until no further damnation could offer anything more coherent (possible) than the one above it.
  1. Moksha arises from omnipotence.– There is no language. All impetus for communication is killed off by instant satisfaction of those facets to our humanity that motivate communication with others.
  • Requirements: omnipotence and omnibenevolence, either of the speaking group or of a single entity “on high” who governs all of them.
  • Pitfalls: The consideration is logically incoherent for the following reasons:

    • A plurality of omnipotent beings would itself hinder the actual ability for one omnipotent being to destroy another.
    • A single omnipotent being would be impossible for he would either necessarily inhabit no domain in order to lord over it or would be definitively identical to all of the actions of the domain.
    • The notion of “creation” already invokes action from being outside of a given domain during that creation, and in the case of all modal possibilities, would remove an omnipotent being from all of them, and thus make him impossible, just as a contradiction is (In short, creation of the whole modal universe is a contradiction.)
    • The notion of “omnipresence,” which would be one power of an omnipotent being, would mean that the omnipotent being is a member of the empty set (∅), which itself is the empty set, whose elements are nothing ({}).
    • That the omnipotent being has the power to be necessary, not contingent means that the being refers to a tautology, and thus is definitively equivalent to an infinity of vacuous truisms.
  1. Moksha arises via Earth's somehow established harmony.– There is no language. The overseer of this linguistic moksha is not omnipotent, but only dominant over all of Earth's processes; or otherwise, the probabilistics of human desires and inadvertent actions that coordinate and enable the desires of the entire speaking population is sustained until the whole of humanity simultaneously desired its own demise.
  • Requirements: a successful overseer of the Earth; or, a probability-defying feat of pure chance for the rest of human existence starting from whenever it began.
  • Pitfalls:
    • If bald happenstance and probability were not on the overseer's side, that overseer would require, too, that his unique requirement for this moksha status be maintained for his entire tenure as overseer (for the remainder of the existence of humanity), which could only be guaranteed with another overseer, and so on, ad infinitum. Either the singular omnipotent being would need to exist to cover for all of that, which is impossible, or just one of those beings would have to have a probabilistic anomaly working in its favor, which is radically improbable.
    • The probability end of this is very slim, and its fulfillment would not be known until the whole of humanity ended itself in its final, simultaneous, and collective wish, and as a result it would not be known to the speech-liberated community, itself.
  1. Language is universal (and so universally unambiguous) and universally intuited.– There is no such thing as inquiry into the meanings of terms or a request for clarification of sentence structure, as every definiens for a term is “blueprinted” in the mind of every individual and the syntax is likewise universally standardized and implanted. New terms are instantly learned as developments prompt the need for them, and those terms, too, are instantly learned by those for whom their interests prove relevant.
  • Requirements: super-intelligent telepathy, or the like; an elaborate, advanced network of neurologically implanted semantic programming and tightly ordered governance on lexicography with solely epistemic grounds for revision.
  • Setbacks: The requirements are beyond everyone's present technological, governmental, intellectual, and anatomical capacities and permissions.
  1. Language is universal and largely learnable.– Inquiry into the meaning of terms is purely a nominal requirement in order to engage in informed discourse on a topic. Those who do not know the meanings of the terms can be (with few exceptions) taught them, and until then are deemed incompetent to contribute to certain areas of discourse as objectified by the definitional truisms set by the universal language's semantic grid and syntax rules.
  • Requirements: a cultural inheritance in which the universal language is entrenched, a widespread perspective that the reversion to linguistic dispersion would be so anti-pragmatic that it frightens people into conformity with a universal language
  • Setbacks: The requirements are beyond everyone's present technological, governmental, and intellectual capacities and permissions.
  1. The universal language is learnable by a select population of speakers.– While it would not be possible for everyone to learn this universal language to some extent, a substantial population could learn to integrate that universal language into their regular affairs for successive generations. This would legitimize the necessary infrastructures (from parental immersion, to peer interaction, to institutional learning) in order for the universal language to propagate itself and possibly survive beyond the other languages. In time, the works of individual cultures' histories could be satisfactorily translated into this universal language, and so domestic concerns regarding the shift to a single worldwide dialect would fade into the background, and rather be a specialized paleontological-esque interest.
  • Requirements: a universal language, a sustained group of speakers.
  • Setbacks:
    • There is not yet a universal language, either auxiliary or naturally arising, which has gained sufficient appeal within a dominant population even to begin to chisel its semantics into one that provides a single proposition for which the term is its placeholder. Only the most primitive symbols have few semiotic variants in its written script, and those notational systems only allow for discourse on the most formal of affairs (i.e. on arithmetic, higher mathematics, symbolic logic, etc.). Those attempted auxiliary natural languages do make some headway in trying to offer some sense of primitive definition, but many at losses in semiotic ease, lexicographical ease, means of tidy semantic growth, syntactic familiarity, means of establishment in a substantive population, and so forth.
    • People stupidly and regularly prize the uniqueness of “their culture,” which often connotes a treasuring of “their culture's” native language. Reminders that people are selectively eulogizing periods in their history, engendering self-pride or personal resentment despite lack of basis for that pride or resentment in oneself, and attaching all sorts of claims of entitlement, specialness, subversiveness, esoteric insight, and other foul bullshit to their predetermined predicaments are met with opposition from exactly those bullshitters. Said opposition ranges from rhetorical resistance (in the place of good argument) to physical violence.
  1. Widespread multilingualism births a universal language.– Most, if not all people are fluent in two of the three most popular languages on Earth. With a source of universal contact assumed (e.g., the Internet), this will lead to increased integration of the lexicon, and it seems reasonable to predict that a convoluted, but approachable universal language will simply “bubble up” as a result of said interactions. The language will actually become universal because the multilingualism will cover a population of speakers that dominates the planet, and that will eventually pressure all of human civilization to acquire the one language that works “practically everywhere.”
  • Requirement: a global interest in the communication with those groups that speak the most popular languages on Earth (At present, English, Mandarin, and Spanish are the most popular languages on Earth and are all sought for commercial purposes.).
  • Setbacks:
    • Certain divergences from the popularly conceived syntax, even if they come at an increase in communicative efficacy if adopted, would receive biased rendering. The supplements would be simply dismissed as unintelligible unless immense research efforts favored the promotion of one adoption over another.
    • At present, most global interest in one form of communication is very chauvinistic, and so different factions compete, rather than cooperate in order for (most commonly) Chinese, English, or Spanish to become “the language that everyone uses.” This happens primarily in income-seeking industries where the product being offered is instruction in that language. There exist some exceptions, most notably the Language Infinity group blogging community, though it appears to be financed partly by those competing groups.
  1. A popular natural language with vexing deficiencies and excesses becomes the universal language.– Eventually, one language becomes the language that the whole world speaks, and foreign languages gradually die out. We are left with a history of untranslated texts and a trail of disenfranchisement of foreigners who are not native speakers or able to reach a native level of language skill.
  • Requirements: a victor in an analogously evolutionary struggle for language proliferation.
  • Setbacks:
    • The language chosen is incompetent to translate classic works from the histories of other civilizations, and so gaps intellectual history.
    • The singularity of the language chosen generates heavy resistance against the arbitrariness of rather unsavory features of that language, including needless and confusing syntactic devices, misleading and highly ambiguous rhetorical adoptions, and perversely difficult or particular semiotics or phonetics.
    • If variants of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis are proven, we may accidentally inhibit intellectual progress through our forethought-less selection of a language. (And this is not cured by any of the present natural languages that survive presently.) Every major language has features that make its communicability into another major language come at a huge semantic loss, and present translators do little to remedy the obvious losses that polyglots in other academic areas detect more easily.
  1. Multilingualism exists as a specialized skill among members of Earth's population.– Only a certain percentage of the world population retains the ability to speak more than one language. Polyglots are evenly distributed in their social standings. No great benefits or huge deficits arise on the whole for those who are fully bilingual.
  • Requirements: a sustained interest among members of the linguistically competent population to understand and utilize other languages; authoritative, yet conventional standards and measurements of acquired bilingualism; a principle of (interpretive) charity.
  • Setbacks:
    • Growth beyond this point is severely hindered by various chauvinisms that almost always condemn or condescend foreign language acquisition.
    • The principle of charity in interpretation can be violated or overused in the service of ulterior motives. In its violation, interpretations of text, speech, or other media involving natural language become demonstrably contentious, antagonistic, and deliberately aggravating to other speakers. With an open issue still standing over the feasibility of truly stating atomic facts in language, there is no decision that yet affirms or denies that the principle of charity could be infinitely violated, and thus render no interpretation adequate for the most exacting or pedantic interpreter. In the principle of charity's overuse, any text, regardless of content, may be bloated with ad hoc semantics shredding (i.e. the infinite allowances to accuse a given reading of ambiguity and to introduce infinitely many definiens for purportedly “homonymous” terms). This means that any text may be intentionally bastardized by the aforesaid moves and allow an interpreter or translator to express whatever propositions he wants from the text in order to defend the text against any formally rigorous attacks, and thus from the text's extinction. The text, itself, becomes non-falsifiable (and for the academically naïve, that's a sign that the work is a fiction or a vacuous tautology).
    • The principle of charity, itself, requires some interpretation of its correct implementation, and that appears to require a highly technical account, which violates the principle that it supports. This is not a logical contradiction, but rather a severe hindrance in invocation of the often presupposed “virtue” of the principle of charity, since, as has been noted, its disuse and overuse both have severe consequences, and it only survives if at least some explanatory languages vigorously reject it.
  1. Monolingualism becomes universal among separate populations.– Everyone only speaks the language into which they were born. They coin individual terms in their own isolated communities, and they receive no foreign importation to their languages.
  • Requirements: communities in which each speak and devise languages that are mutually unintelligible to each other.
  • Drawbacks:
    • No worldwide standards of measurement and no universal notations will be invented. Communication of arithmetic beyond the number two will be impossible for some communities, while others will be able to have natural, facile discourse on complex mathematics.
    • The less linguistically advanced community will not be able to effectively learn from the more advanced one. Just to fathom the bigotry that would ensue from this (and the “justifications” for atrocities that would follow from that) is enough to call it hell for any militarily weak minority.
    • Any division in dialect that emerges from a preexisting language and becomes unintelligible to that original population likewise schisms the population in which the dialectical divide occurred.
  1. Humans are competent in language, but are (barring a single exception outlined in the requirements) universally incommensurable.– One constantly efforts himself to communicate, but the speaker's utterance never becomes understood as anything more than a phoneme or lexeme by any speaker (The listener knows that he's hearing a language, but has no clue what the other is trying to say.). However, the listener attempts to react in a manner as though he understood, too frequently acting against the illocutionary acts of the speaker.
  • Requirements: a system in which one non-communicative person is taught a language by exactly one speaker, but dies immediately when the formerly non-communicative person begins to use the language in a manner that would be comprehensible to the other; a brain defect that prevents the acquisition of foreign languages.
  • Drawbacks:
    • All interpersonal communicative effort is a vanity. No one understands anybody else.
    • Technologies must be constantly reinvented, since any tool that one invents that employs a symbolic system will only survive as a tool for the life of the owner.
  1. Humans do not possess language.– Human beings fail to produce any symbolic systems for communication or for their own private discourses (which in this case may be exemplified by a self-made map).
  • Requirement: homo sapiens sapiens with language-specific brain defects.
  • Drawbacks: Social relations are crippled.
  1. Human beings are compelled to be incommensurable.– No matter what the status of the language is, everyone misunderstands everyone else and acts on those misunderstandings. No perlocutionary acts from listeners correspond with the illocutionary acts from speakers because listeners are being constantly maligned at some stage (of language parsing, of referent association, etc.), or because they're just really huge dicks.
  • Requirements: shared or distinct lexicons among people; vastly diverse systems of commands for interpretation, or outright universal refusal to act on the patterns of a comprehended natural language.
  • Pitfalls:
    • This scenario is logically incoherent because it implies that the learning of any language is impossible. Any attempt at language instruction would be instantly misinterpreted in its conveyance to another. “Students” who behave randomly despite repeated stimuli demonstrate that they fail to adhere to or detect the pattern that the instructor is attempting to establish, and so are not acquiring any model, natural or formal, that would qualify as a language because they never integrate or apply rules for the construction of WFF's in any language (which, in natural languages, are sentences). Since sentences and other WFF's fail to be constructed, there is no device by which one could conceivably “fail” at offering a proper interpretation, since that very notion of failure already denies the possibility of there being coherently presented sentences in the language (and therefore, illocutionary acts that accompany it) for which one could judge proper correspondence in the perlocutionary act (i.e. There's no judge of felicity!). Language itself would be too much of a failure to fail in any particular instance.
    • The scenario presented at any level produces a paradox. The universal failure to act on patterns of a language would require that one behaves in accordance with any given sentence if, and only if that sentence is not the very same sentence. We would conclude that one does not act in accordance with any sentence, and therefore that one does not behave in accordance with the sentence, 'One behaves in accordance with any given sentence if, and only if that sentence is not that same sentence.' Not to behave in accord with that sentence is to behave in accordance with that sentence, and to behave in accordance with that sentence is not to behave in accordance with that sentence.
Any further linguistic damnation would only widen the chasms of inconsistency of the damnation that is presently at bottom. What remains of interest for me are the following questions:

First, is this descent rightly ordered?

Second, are there any intermediate positions that offer peculiar or fascinating results?

Third, assuming the correctness of this range of statuses of the world of speakers, where do we stand generally, and where do we stand in certain instances?