Thursday, December 04, 2003

More Than Words for Snow (2)

I've talked recently about language influencing and shaping thought; here's another example of that.

John: "Come on Fred, we need a real effort here. We need to have that report done by the end of the week, we need to try really hard at it".
Fred: "Okay, but this isn't a matter of how much I want to get it done - this isn't a matter of simply trying hard".
John: "Thomas Edison said 'Success is 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration'"
Fred: "Umm, but... alright, whatever".
Assume that Fred is right, it really isn't possible to finish it by the end of the week. Fred couldn't think of a way to respond, though some of us may be able to. The bare claim that all it takes is effort is there in your face, what can you say to that? Anything you say might make it look like you're trying to avoid putting in the hard yards.

How do you argue that it's not a matter of putting in enough effort? If you put in enough effort anything is possible. Supposedly. Of course, that's not really true, but it is difficult to argue that in such situations - we're talking about a report here, not jumping over the moon.

Success here is referring to two things. There's success-as-hard-work and success-as-finishing-report. Success-as-hard-work is referring to a success that came about as a result of hard work -- a success that exists. Once you have that notion of success in your head, that notion of successes that have come about, it's easy and natural to connect the success in success-as-finishing-report up to it. They're both successes, they can't be successes and at the same time not both successes. Doing so, however, is a mistake.

One -- the success in success-as-hard work -- refers to something that has come about, while the other -- the success in success-as-finishing-report -- refers to something that may or may not come about. As soon as you connect the report-finishing success with the hard-work success you are taking it to be something that exists -- and if a success is there, it's been achieved, it's possible.

This is entirely independent of whether finishing the report is, in reality, possible to do before the end of the week. This linking is, I suspect, what is primarily responsible for that gravitational pull towards agreeing that, yes, it is just a matter of hard-work.

BTW, if anyone who happens to read this has any pointers to web-pages, books, papers etc on the intersection of langauge and thought, I'd be interested to hear about them.

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