The Limitations of Language

As humans we live in a relatively narrow band.  Our dimensions are at a human scale.  In relative and universal terms, we don’t travel that far, certainly not up or down, we don’t live very long and we mingle with a small group of associates.  Our languages have been developed to describe our world in these small terms and this gives rise to problems when we try and think in the abstract.

When it comes to the very large or the very small then our language can become a barrier to our thought processes.  It simply breaks down.  The concept of a billion light years or a fraction of a nanometre cannot be covered by the words a long way or a tiny distance.

When trying to explain those things that we cannot see or are just too big to comprehend we revert to a clumsy derivative of our earthy language.  We stretch our metaphors beyond breaking point.  When we hear talk of string theory we can do nothing but imagine bits of string.  Space time leaves us blank and multiverses and eleven dimensions boil our feeble brains.  Talk of a big bang makes us think of a bomb explosion with light and noise, when at the time it was infinitesimally small and there was no noise.  Visible light did not exist for perhaps another three hundred thousand years.

There is no doubt that we are intelligent creatures.  The fact I am typing this on a laptop should give you a clue.  Just look around you to see the marvellous things we have achieved yet our language is iterative.  It is built upon layers of time.  The whole of human history can be told in our languages.  Our future, however, is a different thinking.  Our language is designed to describe experience and not the unexperienced.

To imagine the unimaginable is a paradox and the constraints of our languages act as barriers to the thought process.  All analogies ultimately break down under fire.  No matter what words we use to describe something in analogous terms it is very hard to break out of the analogy.  We cannot invent words either as they have no empirical context.  Perhaps that is why new ideas van take so long to get going.  It takes time for people to assimilate alternative meanings to our expansive yet limited vocabulary.

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