31 October 2010
| Uncompleted draft
An Appropriate Syntax for the Future
beyond the conventional rules of thought
- / -
Conventional syntactical approaches
Possible mode of thinking in the future
It is readily assumed that many theories frame reality in ways that will be considered meaningful and relevant far into the future. A degree of historical humility suggests another possibility. Ironically this suggestion derives from the arrogance with which the insights of the past are now viewed through the eyes of many authoritative disciplines.
Basically it is relatively easy to demonstrate with current methods that the thinkers of the past were simply wrong -- or "not even wrong", as physicists like to frame such aberration. However this then implies that those of the future, and perhaps a not too distant future, might well view much of current thinking as equally primitive and inappropriate. Or would the authorities of today want to assume that the future will see itself as beholden to the theories and frameworks of today -- cognitively dependent on a conceptual imperium which has colonized the future?
Aspects of this argument have been well summarized by Anthony Gottlieb (The Limits of Science, Intelligent Life, Autumn 2010). :
No group of believers has more reason to be sure of its own good sense than today's professional scientists....Yet this fact sets a puzzle. If science is careful scepticism writ large, shouldn't a scientific cast of mind require one to be sceptical of science itself?
Gottlieb quotes the conclusion of Patricia Fara (Science: A Four Thousand Year History, 2009), to the effect that 'there can be no cast-iron guarantee that the cutting-edge science of today will not represent the discredited alchemy of tomorrow'. He acknowledges that this is surely an understatement:
If the past is any guide -- and what else could be? -- plenty of today's science will be discredited in future. There is no reason to think that today's practitioners are uniquely immune to the misconceptions, hasty generalisations, fads and hubris that marked most of their predecessors.
The present period is however characterized by every indication of a very high order of incompetence in global governance, with very little indication of uptake of insights to remedy this. Is the ordinary individual then simply to accept the outpourings of the multitude of "professors", claiming appropriate knowledge, and the capacities of the even larger multitude of "doctors", whom one might assume had the capacity for remedial action?
It's a fair bet that many of today's scientific beliefs are wrong, but only your grandchildren will know which ones, and in the meantime, science is the only game in town. Or, as Hilaire Belloc put it, in a rather different context:
...always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.
This sounds like approval for what many regret as the emergence of "nanny state" governance in which authorities calim to know what is best for all and one is strongly advised, if not obliged, to accept this view. Unfortunately this view comes at a time when, irrespective of incompetence, abuses by authority would encourage all but the naive and credulous to consider other possibilities (Abuse of Faith in Governance: Mystery of the Unasked Question, 2009).
The argument which follows therefore explores the possibilities that the very syntax, through which reality is so conveniently and conventionally articulated, might be radically called into question by the future. The argument might be considered consistent to a degree with those of Paul Feyerabend (Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge, 1975; Conquest of Abundance: a tale of abstraction versus the richness of being, 1999).
*** end of science
Conventional syntactical approaches
Syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing sentences in natural languages. It derives from the Ancient Greek term for "arrangement" -- ordering together. In that sense it could be considered the essence of the integrative thinking recently so well summarized by Jennifer Gidley (****). However, as the focus for various disciplines of linguistics, syntax attempts to describe languages in terms of those rules, preferably general rules applicable to all natural languages -- possibly extended to included artificial languages. There are distinct theoretical approaches to this challenge:
- Generative grammar: This hypothesizes the existence of a generative grammar on the assumption that language is a structure of the human mind. The preoccupation is to produce a complete model of this inner language (known as i-language). A variety of generative theories are explored
- Categorial grammar: In this case syntactic structure is attributed not to rules of grammar, but to the properties of the syntactic categories themselves, namely a noun phrase or verb phrase, which can be decomposed into smaller syntactic categories.
- Dependency grammar: By this approach structure is determined by the relations (such as grammatical relations) between a word (a head word, defining the syntactic type) and its dependents, rather than being based in constituent structure.
- Stochastic/probabilistic grammars/network theories: Theoretical approaches to syntax (known as stochastic grammars) based upon probability theory. These may make use of a neural network or connectionism.
- Functionalist grammars: A number of such theories, although focused upon form, are driven by explanation based upon the function of a sentence (i.e. its communicative function).
The radical approach considered here must necessarily appreciate the creative intellectual effort devoted to the matter by competing disciplines and schools of thought. How are these understandings held to offer an integrative understanding, or are some simply already to be discredited by their competitors? Furthermore, it must necessarily be asked to what extent these theories take into account the nature of the discourse between their practitioners and how any individual is to derive benenfit from their essentially fragmented preoccupations. Furthermore, it is more than obvious that innovation in language in many sectors -- whether "in the street" or "on the web" -- is not inspired by such insights to any recognizable degree.
Possible mode of thinking in the future
There is a sense in which people are effectively imprisoned by language, especially when there are requirements for grammatically correct expression -- with which employment opportunities may be associated. Legal sanctions may even be applied in the event of infringement of rules.
Supposing the future sees the possibility of liberating itself from such constraints as an essential basis for a qualitatively fulsome life. Such liberation logic has been evident in many areas of life over the past decades. It is evident to a degree in innovative use of language. The question is whether an even more radical degree of innovation might be embraced by the future which would then see the current epoch as deplorably (if not ridiculously) constrained -- somewhat as the present sees various behaviours of the past.
To explore this possibility it is necessary to consider syntactical elements that are not subject to question and are taken as givens at this time. These might be variously clustered but the purpose here is to recognize the degree to which they are entangled. Consider for example:
although only one type of category, it is the sense in which they purportedly define a bounded experience which the future may call into question. They reflect the construction of a boundary around an object. A "dog" may be framed in this way, rendering it unquestionable that it is other than a "dog". But of course it is readily understood that it could be an "animal", seemingly an abstraction of "dog" -- just as a "dog" is an abstraction of that of which it is composed -- "leg", "tail", etc. The flexibility evident in these framings of meaning suggests that the future may be even more creative, as explored in cubist paintings -- or the creative assertions of fundamental physics regarding any matterial object. Definitions of nouns may become negotiable, as already explored by the European Union in defining various "vegetables" as "fruit" in order to circumvent restrictive directives. From a systems perspective, how any system is to be usefully bounded is an initial preoccupation. Just as political constituencies are notoriously subject to gerrymandering, the same opportunity may be available conceptually -- conceptual gerrymandering for all.
Disciplines will undoubtedly remain free to label categories from their own perspective -- recognizing however that all are free to do the same, if that enhances the quality of meaning they can derive from experience.
- nominative -- denominative experience -- a "denomination"
- univ decl hum rights