Extinction / Meaning / Mind

From: Reed Konsler (konslerr@mail.weston.org)
Date: Wed 05 Mar 2003 - 14:24:39 GMT

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    Wade -
    "Once the cultural context is gone, it's gone. But, yes, perhaps there is another word to use, and that word is 'extinct'. Hieroglyphs, as symbols, managed to retain _some_, non-intrinsically cultural, information in the world, but, many other languages did not. But, and it's a big,, but, the culture that created those hieroglyphs is extinct, and there will no more hieroglyphs, although there will be other pictogram-based means of communication and record-keeping, and even replicated hieroglyphs in pendants and trinkets.

    I do tend to see 'extinct' and 'gone' as very similar to the point of full agreement. I suppose some DNA scientist might quibble, but we'll see if any mammoths are walking around in a few years...

    > Doesn't it also make sense to say that different messages will have
    > different meanings to you and me?

    Yes, it does, and I never said it didn't..."

    What I'm proposing is that the moment I translate something in my mind into a medium of communication and transmit it to you, the "cultural context" of that message is "gone". You might have the impression that we are in a dialectic, but (God forbid and knock on wood) I might get hit by a car today. It's just an assumption on your part that there will be a me in the future. Maybe it's a conceit on my part, but I believe that no one else uses language quite like I do. You might think that we are both speaking English, but if we were both fluent in Latin, or Hieroglyphics, then we could communicate using that language as well. Certainly, the further divergent our contexts are, or the further our context is from a past one, the harder it will be to communicate and understand. But it isn't a hard distinction; there is a continuum.

    I could create new hieroglyphics. I could carve them in stone on an obelisk and raise it in the middle of my backyard. That would be a form of communication, and it would have as much inherent meaning as writing the same message in English or Chinese. I don't understand how you can argue that some messages have meaning while others don't. This construct of
    "cultural context" is too vague to support the argument in my mind. What makes you think that we are part of the same culture? How do you define where one begins and another ends? How do you know when a culture is dead? Do Native Americans have a culture? There is a continuous line of ethnicity and preserved language, but many of their traditions and life-of-mind has been lost.

    I can see what you might mean if you said "meaning is in the culture, not the medium of communication". OK, communication has no intrinsic meaning...that makes sense as a theory. But, in that case, I would be more comfortable saying that "meaning is in the mind, not the medium of communication". I create theories about where I am in space and time, who is alive or is not, and other such things. But, for instance, I've never been to China and I don't speak Chinese. As far as I'm concerned, it might as well be hieroglyphics...except that it is *translated* by someone for me. I take this person's word for it. If someone translated Hieroglyphics I would take their word for it as well, assuming I trusted that they knew what they were talking about. But none of it has any inherent meaning until it gets into my head.

    From within my brain, there isn't any difference between wood carvings, hieroglyphics, or this text save that some of the information *appears* more accessible. Is it really, in an absolute sense? I don't know. I can't know. But that inability to understand doesn't limit the universe across time and space.



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