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April 20, 2009

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William James, You've Got It Goin' On

Jonah Lehrer tickles my brain-bone:

This reminds me of that great William James quote: “We ought,” he wrote, “to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but, and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue, or a feeling of cold.” What is James talking about? He’s pointing out that language creates the illusion of transparency. We pretend that we’re just describing the “substantive parts” of the world - those nouns we match together with adjective and verbs in neat sentences - but this substance is inevitably shaded by “transitive” mental processes we aren’t aware of, such as gendered nouns and quirks of grammar. In other words, language is a constraint on thought, a concrete riverbed for the stream of consciousness.

Posted April 20, 2009 at 9:51 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Braiiins, Language


I know this isn't exactly the same thing, but it made my similarly-tickled brain bone resonate a little: NYT story about 'character consolidation' on Chinese ID cards.

Language as riverbed; language as rule-set; language as fabric of space-time!

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