• Harry Hindu
    3.4k
    is not Issac pointing to some state of affairs like everything falling into a parentheses list, and by doing so isn't he pointing to some relationship between scribbles? Words are just scribbles with an agreed upon referent so that we end up syncing the images in our minds - what images in the mind another image (scribble) refers to.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    No. There's far more going on in @Isaac's posts than just pointing.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.4k
    Then you don't actually think, even though you're saying it, that I'm wrong and you're right. Is the state of affairs of you being right and me being wrong just another arrangement of scribbles on the screen or sounds being heard, or is it something else?
  • bongo fury
    513
    The problem with this account is that it underdetermines actual word use. I suppose you could (as has been tried) twist every word use example as drawing the listener's attention to something (object, concept, state of mind), but this is utterly trivial as everything falls into that parenthesised list, and following another's talk cannot be done without paying it some minimal attention.
    — Isaac

    Bang.
    Banno

    Indeed. A proof of how absurd the circumstance: a field linguist would be so spoilt for choice as to the right interpretation of native utterances as to make his task untenable.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    Harry, that not all of language is pointing does not imply that none of language is pointing.
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    I wasn't asking about correct usage. I was asking about what makes a word a word?Harry Hindu

    What makes a word a word is about the correct usage of the word "word".

    You seemed to think that I understood what "Na" means.Harry Hindu

    No, I think you understood what I meant by referring to it as a 'word', hence we don't have anything to discuss about whether it's really a word.

    I do understand the scribble, "word" and that "Na" isn't one.Harry Hindu

    This is what I was asking you about. By what method of arbitration are you concluding that my referring to "Na" as a 'word' is an incorrect use of the term?
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    There's far more going on in Isaac's posts than just pointing.Banno

    :point:

    Words are just scribbles with an agreed upon referent so that we end up syncing the images in our minds - what images in the mind another image (scribble) refers to.Harry Hindu

    But haven't I just given an example where this is not the case. If I yell "duck!" I'm not expecting that you sync my image of you ducking with your image of you ducking. I'm just expecting you to get your head down. In fact, I could prove to you with fMRI, that Pavlovian response triggers, even if they're words, pass neither through the ventral pathway of object recognition, nor through the areas of the cerebral cortex where we might expect with some concept recognition, but rather straight to the sensorimotor systems to get you to duck.

    I've used the word 'duck' to make you get your head down, and at no point did either of us have to picture someone ducking. I've simply learnt that that word in that context has that particular effect on the world, and, as @Banno's Quine quote nicely shows, alk that's needed for me to keep using it this way is "frequent predictability of verbal and nonverbal reactions".
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    In fact, I could prove to you with fMRI, that Pavlovian response triggers, even if they're words, pass neither through the ventral pathway of object recognition, nor through the areas of the cerebral cortex where we might expect with some concept recognition, but rather straight to the sensorimotor systems to get you to duck.Isaac

    Interesting example. What does it highlight then? For me, it demonstrates the developmental trajectory from iconic to indexical to fully symbolic levels of language. And how this becomes so as novelty (which would demand the whole brain being applied) becomes reduced to the simplest habit (where the brain simply emits a response without conscious deliberation).

    You have to wonder where “duck” became a word that could mean get your head out of the way fast? I would guess it arose iconically. The image I have is of the way a duck bobs its head. So there would have to have been some process of habituating that image within a language community - distilling it down to a learnt motor pattern where not stopping to consider the imagistic analogy was a major part of the deal.

    Shouting “magpie” might be a more meaningful command where I live. They have a habit of actually going for heads.

    But anyway, a key thing about symbols is in fact their lack of direct representation of anything they might represent. We call a duck a duck rather than a quack quack. The four letters and the sound they make could be the symbol for any habit of thought or behaviour. And that is precisely why they are so meaningful once we associate them with just the one (general) habit of interpretation. If some word noise is intrinsically meaningless, then that makes our employment of it the most purely symbolic. It is rid of the iconicity or indexicality it might otherwise have.

    So my point seems to be that we have a process of refinement going on. And the different views on what language is can arise from focusing on either pole of its developmental trajectory. Both sides can feel right as there is evidence for opposing views depending on whether one focuses on the early iconic and imagistic stages, or the late symbolic and unthinkingly habitual stages.
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    For me, it demonstrates the developmental trajectory from iconic to indexical to fully symbolic levels of language. And how this becomes so as novelty (which would demand the whole brain being applied) becomes reduced to the simplest habit (where the brain simply emits a response without conscious deliberation).apokrisis

    Interesting. I saw it going the other way. The reason I mentioned "Na" was that it is from a class of words which I don't see as ever having indexical meaning - "Shhh", "Oi", "Hey", "Ah"... They're word's which just 'do something' on a very primitive level. They're still cultural though, so I think that puts them squarely within language still. Someone from 300 years ago on the other side of the world might not know what on earth you're doing if you asked them to "Shhh". They still require a community of language users to use them that way, but they haven't been through any iconic or indexical stages, they are just 'when I make this sound, you do this action' and we learn the correct response through childhood. We know that "Na na na na" is just part of syncopation, we don't try to work out the meaning. When the teacher says "Shhh!" everyone falls quiet (if they don't there's trouble), the learnt response is direct.

    The evidence of directly learnt responses to words opens up that possibility even with words whose meaning is also referential - ie just because a word refers to something, it doesn't mean that's always what it's doing in an expression. As Wittgenstein says, "Slab!" doesn't just refer to the slab, it gets the assistant to bring it. "No!" doesn't cause a baby to contemplate the sate of mind in the adult that this negation might be referring to - it gets them to stop. What's interesting about "No!" is it stops even children who (through maybe autism) have not fully developed a theory of mind yet. If you asked them about another's intentions, they might well become confused, but if you yell "No!" when they're reaching for a second biscuit, they'll stop reaching for it - not just stop doing everything - stop doing the thing they had in mind to do. Now, "No!" can't index their own desire to stop (they clearly didn't want to), if it indexed the adult's desire that they stop we'd expect to see the same confusion we see when talking about other people's intentions, but we see neither, they just stop. "No!" just stop them. It just does something to the world, by Pavlovian response, no semantics of any sort required.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    What's interesting about "No!" is it stops even children who (through may autism) have not fully developed a theory of mind yet.Isaac

    It even works on cats.
  • StreetlightX
    5.9k
    It even works on cats.Banno

    You clearly don't know the cats I know.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    ok, some cats.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.4k
    Harry, that not all of language is pointing does not imply that none of language is pointing.Banno

    So the corollary is that every thing we do is largely pointing? Harry is thus largely correct?apokrisis

    So you're falling back on your prior comments and now disagreeing with Streetlight? Can you please be consistent because if you're not, you're not using words at all, you're just making scribbles on the screen.

    No. There's far more going on in Isaac's posts than just pointing.Banno
    Yet you can't say what that is that is going on in Issac's post that is more than pointing and Issac can't answer a simple question about what makes some scribble or sound a word.

    But haven't I just given an example where this is not the case. If I yell "duck!" I'm not expecting that you sync my image of you ducking with your image of you ducking. I'm just expecting you to get your head down.Isaac
    Sounds like we're saying the same thing. Strange, that you can say the same thing using different words? Doesn't that mean that the words point to the same thing, just like different scribbles from different languages can point to the same thing and what they point to is what is translated between the different scribbles? What is it that you are translating between languages if not what the scribbles point to?

    How am I suppose to know that "duck" means get my head down if I don't already have that notion in my head? What if I didn't duck, and made a quacking sound instead? Did you "use" words if I didn't do what you imagined me doing? Or is it that you used words, and that I just didn't get the gist of what you were pointing at?

    he reason I mentioned "Na" was that it is from a class of words which I don't see as ever having indexical meaning - "Shhh", "Oi", "Hey", "Ah"... They're word's which just 'do something' on a very primitive level.Isaac
    And how exactly are we suppose to know what to do when hearing these sounds if not having a mental image of the behavior prior to hearing it? Watching someone else respond to those words is how we learn what those words point to - a behavior.

    In fact, I could prove to you with fMRI, that Pavlovian response triggers, even if they're words, pass neither through the ventral pathway of object recognition, nor through the areas of the cerebral cortex where we might expect with some concept recognition, but rather straight to the sensorimotor systems to get you to duck.Isaac
    Ok, but this doesn't happen instantly. I have to learn what the word means, which means that I have to see others react to a sound in such a way consistently, meaning more than once, to know what is expected of me when hearing that sound. And for you to know how to use that word, you had to have a visual and auditory experience at some point in your past of seeing someone put their head down when you heard that word spoken. You had to be able to predict what would happen if you say that word, and predicting involves imagining.
  • Asif
    215
    To think that words dont refer or point to something or some intention every time is wild. Seems the worship of wittgenstein et al goes beyond common sense.
    This behavioural bogusocity is just more platonic authoritarianism that makes language some objective fixed generalised entity with some ad hoc additions when the theory falls apart. Language is use! What a trite nothing statement!
    Language is Intention....How about that?
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    "Shhh", "Oi", "Hey", "Ah"... They're word's which just 'do something' on a very primitive level.Isaac

    Seems a bit grand to call them words. Is anything much lost by calling them social signs or expressive vocalisations?

    I associate words with being parts of sentences. So they are really about the nested hierarchical nature of true speech acts. Components arranged by rules.

    Your examples are certainly part of the pragmatics of social co-ordination. But they stand outside the grammatical system in which a word is a semantic unit being organised within the constraints of some syntactic rule.

    “Hey” stands alone quite happily as the social context provides sufficient information to allow it interpretation as a sign. But we are doing something else when we are using a grammatical structure of words to convey the interpretative context via semantic symbolism.

    The evidence of directly learnt responses to words opens up that possibility even with words whose meaning is also referential - ie just because a word refers to something, it doesn't mean that's always what it's doing in an expression.Isaac

    Sure. Words are always vocalisations. But vocalisations don’t always need to be words to be part of a social system of coordinating sign. That seems obvious enough from the grunts, hoots and hollers of any social species.

    My claim is only about what makes grammatical speech so special - the power of symbols and rules. That doesn’t rule out every other step along the way to full fledged language. They don’t have to be eliminated from the repertoire. We are still social animals as much as grammatically structured thinkers.
  • Isaac
    2.8k


    I didn't say that such responses were.learnt without recourse to mental imagery (that would be a different argument). I only claimed that they are used without such recourse. My use of the word "duck" to someone which has learnt the appropriate response, dies not (in that use) involve any mental imagery or conceptualising in either the speaker of the responder, as such it is false to say that words always point to things. Sometimes they don't.

    I should re-iterate, I think, that this aspect of words triggering a Pavlovian response is only one small part of the argument against ostention in general. As @StreetlightX has already said, you really ought to read Philosophical Investigations for a broader picture. I'm focussing on something very specific here.
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    Seems a bit grand to call them words. Is anything much lost by calling them social signs or expressive vocalisations?apokrisis

    No, I suppose not. Only perhaps the similarity with words which have become symbolic or triggers, there seems a neat connection there to 'words' which always were.

    they stand outside the grammatical system in which a word is a semantic unit being organised within the constraints of some syntactic rule.apokrisis

    Not sure they do. I'm not particularly well versed in grammar, but "shh" or "ah" still has a correct place in sentence structure doesn't it? You couldn't put them just anywhere and expected to be understood?

    My claim is only about what makes grammatical speech so special - the power of symbols and rules. That doesn’t rule out every other step along the way to full fledged language. They don’t have to be eliminated from the repertoire. We are still social animals as much as grammatically structured thinkers.apokrisis

    That's fair enough if you circumscribe it that way, I suppose one could. Would words used purely emotively or as behavioural triggers then cease to be words, would they be, by their use, ruled out of 'grammatical speech'? Is saying "no" in answer to a simple question using a word, but saying "no!" to banno's cat something else?
  • Pfhorrest
    2.9k
    This has probably been pointed out already somewhere in this thread, but the point of starting an argument by stating definitions is to clarify which of multiple possible uses one means by a word.

    See for examples my recent thread about moral objectivism, where in the poll question I state the things I’m not asking about and the things I am asking about in different terms, so that people won’t think I’m asking a different question than I am. Of course that depends on people being able to use the words I’m using to state the definition, but there is still a usefulness to stating a definitionally to avoid ambiguity.
  • bert1
    522
    This has probably been pointed out already somewhere in this thread, but the point of starting an argument by stating definitions is to clarify which of multiple possible uses one means by a word.Pfhorrest

    What Pfhorrest said.
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    Not sure they do. I'm not particularly well versed in grammar, but "shh" or "ah" still has a correct place in sentence structure doesn't it? You couldn't put them just anywhere and expected to be understood?Isaac

    They are used outside of any grammatical structure. That was my point.

    What is the future perfect of “shh”? “I will have shh-ed John before he could speak.” That would be using shh as a word to describe an action. So shh is both the action and - if used successfully in a grammatical structure - a symbol of the action. And quite a primitive symbol in being an icon of the action.

    It actually sounds a bit wrong unless a poetic effect or some other pragmatics was intended in “shh-ed”. We would say shushed or some other word that removed the confusion of whether we were suddenly telling our listener to shut up in the middle of a sentence.

    Would words used purely emotively or as behavioural triggers then cease to be words, would they be, by their use, ruled out of 'grammatical speech'?Isaac

    There is a neurological pathway difference when we utter emotion driven words like “fuck” or “bugger”. The limbic part of the cingulate cortex - the emotion processing part of the higher brain which is the social vocalisation area of the mammalian cerebrum, responsible for screeches and cries - produces these kinds of expressive, but stereotyped, noises.

    Grammatical speech is handled by a different set of circuits. So - as we know when we are overtaken by inarticulate rage - the two actually feel like competing forces for control of out vocal cords. We may swear in colourful habitual phrases even. But something different is happening from formulating novel acts of speech.

    This is one of the things about symbolic and grammatical speech acts. Every sentence can be a fresh surprise, even to us. We wait to hear what we say so as to judge the sense of what we now seem to think. It is a live attempt to solve a problem when we seek to put the world into words.

    Swearing at someone is not a creative effort at that same abstracted level. It is using the cingulate’s rather more limited vocal repertoire of some well used vocalisations to bring about some result or other in a social setting. Or just to complain about life in general.

    Is saying "no" in answer to a simple question using a word, but saying "no!" to banno's cat something else?Isaac

    Logical thought is a grammar that is designed to have a yes/no answer. Telling someone no as a social expression is giving them that answer before they even asked the question.

    The cat will certainly understand your angry and warning tone even if you were to growl “yes” as your habit. And if you say “no” sweetly, the cat will struggle to read your intentions.
  • tim wood
    5k
    The cat will certainly understand your angry and warning tone even if you were to growl “yes” as your habit. And if you say “no” sweetly, the cat will struggle to read your intentions.apokrisis

    No. What matters is both the proximity of what the cat likes and your expression of "dislike" and its force. Tell your cat tomorrow what it did wrong today and you won't accomplish anything. And in this you're correct: say no sweetly and even if immediate that won't work. As to the force required, it has to be gauged to what the cat will appreciate, and it can take a lot to earn a cat's appreciation.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    "Shhh", "Oi", "Hey", "Ah"Isaac

    "Oi" isn't in the Shorter OED; I'd bet on it being in the full version. The other words here are.. "shhh" is spelled "sh".

    Claiming they are not words, for the convenience of a definition of "word", is special pleading.
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    What matters is both the proximity of what the cat likes and your expression of "dislike" and its force. Tell your cat tomorrow what it did wrong today and you won't accomplish anything.tim wood

    How did you manage to extract that as something I might assert as being otherwise? Do you not think that was an omission of the bleeding obvious? :grimace:

    As it happens, I was having to deal with the whims of my cat - its insistence on sitting on my lap – as I tried to tap these words on the keyboard. So I am well aware of the pragmatics of these things.

    Even forceful speech is no use. Physical propulsion is what is required. :grin:
  • Banno
    8.9k


    Sure.

    Often, especially amongst those pretending to philosophy, clarifying which of multiple possible uses one means by a word is the bone of contention.
  • Isaac
    2.8k


    Yes, it seems that way to me too, especially when, as I was trying to show with my Pavlovian trigger examples, we end up that way having something which is one minute a 'word' and the next no longer a 'word' because it's been used differently.

    Sure.

    Often, especially amongst those pretending to philosophy, clarifying which of multiple possible uses one means by a word is the bone of contention.
    Banno

    Exactly. What all too often happens is that definitions are insisted upon first, creating a subset of language in which only those definitions are used on the world, the argument is had and the resultant points are then pasted back onto the world as if they applied to all language use. "For the purposes of my argument 'Jabberwockey' means X, my argument shows that X=Y, therefore in the real world 'Jabberwockey' means Y". Basically half the threads here are like that.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.4k
    "Oi" isn't in the Shorter OED; I'd bet on it being in the full version. The other words here are.. "shhh" is spelled "sh".

    Claiming they are not words, for the convenience of a definition of "word", is special pleading.
    Banno
    And claiming that they are is begging the question, so why don't you and Issac brainstorm and come up with a definition of "word". What makes a particular sound coming from someone a word? Does the sound have to come from their mouth? What about the sound of them sneezing or coughing, or vomiting. What about sound effects? If someone makes a fart noise with their mouth, does that qualify as a word being used? What if people react in some way to those sounds? Does that mean that those sounds were used and therefore that is what qualifies the sound to be a word? But then humans react to all sorts of things that aren't just sounds and scribbles, so what makes some sensory stimuli a word and another not?

    Isn't a word both a sound and scribble? Does the sound point to the scribble or vice versa? How did we learn that some sound is the same as some scribble, and that scribbles can be used the same way as some sound?

    I didn't say that such responses were.learnt without recourse to mental imagery (that would be a different argument). I only claimed that they are used without such recourse. My use of the word "duck" to someone which has learnt the appropriate response, dies not (in that use) involve any mental imagery or conceptualising in either the speaker of the responder, as such it is false to say that words always point to things. Sometimes they don't.

    I should re-iterate, I think, that this aspect of words triggering a Pavlovian response is only one small part of the argument against ostention in general. As StreetlightX has already said, you really ought to read Philosophical Investigations for a broader picture. I'm focussing on something very specific here.
    Isaac
    Right, and what you learned is what the sound/scribble points to - a behavior. Just as we learn to ride a bike or drive a car, it takes focus to learn something new. Once you learn it and become an expert at its use (which takes time and using it more than once, so using them takes practice and while you are practicing you haven't yet rerouted the information from consciousness through your subconscious yet), then you don't need to focus on it any longer. It is no longer necessary to route the information through consciousness, as consciousness is used for learning, it is the center of attention. Just because you no longer route the information through consciousness doesn't mean that what you learned is no longer the case. It has to still be the case for you to be able to not focus significant mental energy on the process. It can be handed off to the automated sub-conscious.

    I asked you what if you used some word and I didn't respond as you predicted? Does that mean you used a word or not? When that happens wouldn't you mentally revisit what you learned and consciously try to re-learn it's use, just as when something new happens when riding your bike or driving your car, you have to refocus your attention on what it is that you are doing and using?

    So when are you going to explain what makes some sound or scribble a word? When are you and Banno going to explain what you mean by "use" when using a word if you can use a word in such a way that doesn't include some kind of correlation between the word and some idea or behavior (what it points to, refers to, correlates with or symbolizes)? You and Banno are avoiding answering the necessary questions.
  • EnPassant
    395
    If one's goal were to understand a word, one might suppose that one must first understand the words in its definition. But this process is circular.Banno

    "We cannot define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers, who sit opposite each other, one saying to the other, "You don't know what you are talking about!". The second one says, "What do you mean by know? What do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you?" ~ Richard Feynman
  • Banno
    8.9k
    why don't you and Issac brainstorm and come up with a definition of "word"Harry Hindu


    The OP goes as follows:
    Look up the definition of a word in the dictionary.

    Then look up the definition of each of the words in that definition.

    Iterate.

    Given that there are a finite number of words in the dictionary, the process will eventually lead to repetition.

    If one's goal were to understand a word, one might suppose that one must first understand the words in its definition. But this process is circular.

    There must, therefore, be a way of understanding a word that is not given by providing its definition.

    Now this seems quite obvious; and yet so many begin their discussion with "let's first define our terms".
    Banno

    And there was this:
    There will be amongst us those who hold that there is such a thing as the meaning of a word; and that any worthwhile theory of language must set out, preferably in an algorithmic fashion, how that meaning is to be determined.

    There will be others, amongst whom I count myself, who think otherwise, and will go along with Quine:

    "Success in communication is judged by smoothness of conversation, by frequent predictability of verbal and nonverbal reactions, and by coherence and plausibility of native testimony.

    Success in communication is judged by smoothness of conversation, by frequent predictability of verbal and nonverbal reactions, and by coherence and plausibility of native testimony."
    Banno

    And yet you insist on our providing a definition. One might be tempted to conclude that you have not followed what is going on here, Harry.
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    [Some] hold that there is such a thing as the meaning of a word; and that any worthwhile theory of language must set out, preferably in an algorithmic fashion, how that meaning is to be determined.Banno

    [Others] will go along with quine: Success in communication is judged by smoothness of conversation, by frequent predictability of verbal and nonverbal reactions, and by coherence and plausibility of native testimony.Banno

    These don't have to be two incompatible views. They could be two extremes of a continuum.

    The general algorithm is a logical division of things into figure and ground, signal and noise, information and entropy.

    Sometimes differences make a difference. Sometimes differences are a matter of indifference. So the general algorithm is the pragmatic one of how divided do we have to make the world so as to be able to talk about the world usefully?

    Communication is smooth when two speakers are on the same page. They read the world the same way in terms of what is figure, what is ground, what is signal, what is noise.

    Further difference-making is a wasted effort as that is pursuing differences that don't make a difference.

    But equally, the communicative balance breaks down if the speakers discover some remaining vagueness in their language. A lack of bivalent precision - a failure to understand now about differences that do make a difference - becomes something that demands further work.

    So a community of speech (or semiotic interactions) relies on hitting that Goldilocks balance of being neither too vague nor too crisp, neither too indeterminate or too determinate.

    When communication goes smoothly, that only says a productive balance has been achieved. Some pragmatic division of reality into figure and ground - as a shared psychological model of that reality - has been reached and is serving its particular purpose.

    But purposes change. A sharper view may be required. A stricter definition of terms becomes a useful exercise.

    Or maybe the opposite applies. The discussion is too bogged by irrelevant details. Differences that don't make a difference. A greater degree of vagueness about the parts will allow a better focus on the whole.

    Does a cat always have two ears, four legs and whiskers? Generally and yet not always. A smooth conversational balance relies on a remarkably well tuned ear for an appropriate degree of definitional precision.

    So the algorithm involved is a triadic balancing act. It is a system framed by its black and white extremes, then all the shades of gray that emerge as the choices inbetween.

    The world can't be a matter of "every difference making a difference", nor "no difference making any difference". It can't be all signal, or all noise. Not if it is ever going to include a "point of view" worth speaking about.

    Instead speech relies on a world of contrast - that part which we find it worth speaking about, and that part we also speak about by not in fact referring to it. What we leave out of speech acts is just as important when having a conversation.

    Hence the pragmatics of also resisting the idea of giving definitions. Stopping to do that interrupts the smooth flow. The interpretive context of every proposition should be taken as read. To speak about it would be redundant. Or worse yet, it would fail the test of being the part not being spoken about. The part of every speech act that is drawing the line at the pragmatically right place in terms of an appropriate ratio of figure and ground, event and context, signal and noise.

    Speech acts have their negative space as well as their informational content. I somehow feel this isn't well understood in Philosophy of Language discussions. But it should be obvious from the practical psychological basics of cognition.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    Coincidentaly, I was just reading Wittgenstein’s forgotten lesson.

    I wonder what you make of it.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.