Tuesday, April 12, 2005

LBDES: Reasoning Over Statements is a Major Area Where Language Can Affect Thought

As part of the Looking Back Down Explorer Street series of posts...

On the topic of Language and Weilding Abstractions...

While it may be clear that there is potential for problems to arise through language use, it is less clear that they do occur with sufficient frequency, and with sufficient damage, to warrant making much of a fuss over them. After all, we pick up language naturally as children, and we seem to get by on a day to day basis. But despite this, I think that poor language use can and does have substantial negative affects on our thinking, and I want to explain why I think this.

I believe the problems mainly occur when we reason over langauge statements. And this seems to be a common part of our langauge use. In verbal conversations, we recall what we and others have said, and think about the meaning of those statements. Especially if it's an argument. We reason about the consequenes of the views expressed in those statements. We think about what is consistent with those views, and what things aren't. We tend not so much to recall the meaning of what is said, but rather what is said, from which we then rederive the meaning. In other words, it is easier to remember what was said than exactly what was meant.

We tend to be able to deal fairly well with the meaning of utterances if we are directly taking in that utterance, such as if you were listening to someone else say it. We automatically follow all the background conventions to derive the meaning of the statement from its literal statement. When, however, we have to explicitly reason about the meaning of a statement, such as considering what other things it entails, what it contradicts with, we are not so good. We can't just use our automatic, unconscious system to extract the meaning and then reason in terms of that meaning. We have to actually consciously be aware of those subtleties and apply them when reasoning about the statements.

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