Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Language Acquisition - Part 5: The Problem Of Representation

The important question now is: Can we resolve all lingual non-equivalence representations?! - Superficially, yes - or better say, might be. But only superficially. Many inconsistencies will remain implicit and non-detectable, and some of those might be impossible to resolve. Consider the following scenario:
Say PersonX sees Red as Blue. He will NOT notice the difference between him and regular folks since he will start to refer to what he sees as Blue as "Red", but other people would see it as Red, thus avoiding confusion. Also say that PersonY sees Red as Green.
  • Imagine PersonX and PersonY as a baby brothers (with no knowledge of language).
  • In front of them is a red apple.
  • PersonX sees a blue apple.
  • PersonY sees a green apple.
  • Their parents refer to the apple as "red".
  • PersonX learns that the word "red", represents what he sees as blue color. (Result-1)
  • PersonY learns that the word "red", represents what he sees as green color. (Result-2)
Now, one year later:
  • Imagine PersonX and PersonY having learnt language.
  • PersonX sees a blue car.
  • The car is actually red. (Since PersonX sees red as blue)
  • PersonX says: "This red car looks amazing". (He says "red" because of Result-1)
  • When PersonY hears the term "red car", he visualizes a green car. (Because of Result-2)
  • PersonY agrees that the "red car" is amazing. (Result-3)
From Result-3, notice that both PersonX and PersonY refer to the car as "red", while each one of them sees a different color. They superficially agree about the color of the car being refer to as "red", while to each one of them the word "red" refers to different visual experiences (blue for Person X, and green for PersonY).

The above mentioned scenario reveals the shocking possibility that we might use consistent notation to represent our ideas, but those representations are not the same for all people. More importantly, there is a good chance that we superficially agree!! How can anyone be sure that when they refer to a certain experience by a certain word that others actually use the same word to represent that same experience?! I guess, we cannot!

Now assume that the visual experience of the color Blue is good, and that the visual experience of the color Red is ugly.
  • PersonX sees blue color as a good experience.
  • Regular people see red color as an ugly experience.
  • When presented by a red object, PersonX argues that its "red" color looks good. (Since he sees blue color)
  • Other people disagree with PersonX stating that the "red" color looks ugly. (Result-4)
In this scenario, using Result-4, disagreement is only superficial, because they disagree about what the term "red" refers to, not the visual experience itself, as PersonX and other people have different visual experiences.

So when we study Wittgenstein's quote:
"If a lion could talk, we could not understand him." (source)
We realize that the "understanding" that Wittgenstein refers to deals with deep meaning, not superficial meaning.

Communication in any form -or any language- is a communication of representations. We communicate representations of our feelings and ideas NOT the ideas and feelings themselves. It is impossible to communicate ideas, only representations of those ideas. This problem of representation is the basis of Representational Skepticism. Representationalism (study of the relation between reality and representations) is the main concern of cognitive sciences in general.

In this series:
Language Acquisition - Part 1: General Discussion
Language Acquisition - Part 2: The Influence Of Physiological Formation
Language Acquisition - Part 3: Deep Structure Hypothesis
Language Acquisition - Part 4: Ambiguities
Language Acquisition - Part 5: The Problem Of Representation
Language Acquisition - Part 6: Linguistic Determinism Hypothesis
Language Acquisition - Part 7: Possible Applications For The Investigation

12 comments:

Stoky said...

dude i really like the way u think.. its twisted but it gets to the point .. i tottaly get wht u mean .. keep it up ..

The Observer said...

wow! I was anticipating this, and it actually turned out to be even better than I expected :)

I guess that we can feel this difference of perception very strongly when we debate with other people. When the debate becomes long, we usually end up realizing that we don't agree on the definition of what we debate on. Sometimes as a result we end up insulting each other by saying you don't know the right meaning of what you are talking about.

I, personally, and I think a lot of others as well, has been aware of this issue unconsiously. That is why I do like to argue with other people in order to get some feedback from their own perception and compare it to mine so that I can feel more confident that I see things right.

It isn't an easy job, because people usually see things differently, and they more often don't say the truth.

I am happy to read this. It is good to see things that you feel in your daily life addressed in a scientifical way.

Thanks for the post..

The Observer said...

wow! I was anticipating this, and it actually turned out to be even better than I expected :)

I guess that we can feel this difference of perception very strongly when we debate with other people. When the debate becomes long, we usually end up realizing that we don't agree on the definition of what we debate on. Sometimes as a result we end up insulting each other by saying you don't know the right meaning of what you are talking about.

I, personally, and I think a lot of others as well, has been aware of this issue unconsiously. That is why I do like to argue with other people in order to get some feedback from their own perception and compare it to mine so that I can feel more confident that I see things right.

It isn't an easy job, because people usually see things differently, and they more often don't say the truth.

I am happy to read this. It is good to see things that you feel in your daily life addressed in a scientifical way.

Thanks for the post..

Tala said...

We communicate representations of our feelings and ideas NOT the ideas and feelings themselves. It is impossible to communicate ideas, only representations of those ideas.

if i put in other words, what you are saying that i can't quantify a visualisation, a feeling or a thought and copy it to someone else's mind literally coz they will still see it, think it, feel it their way..

so i use representation.

what is the role of experience? what if i am communicating something i didn't really feel or see, something of imagination, something without a personal experience. what if they didnt experience it before, how would i know they understood me,, how real could that be?
imagine how many things we dont communicate because we dont know a representation for.. such as weird thoughts or crazy dreams, dreams itself. could it be that we dont understand it, so we dont find a representation and it stays as minor so we dont talk about it.

but you know, i dont think its too complex, its there, but its because we are not so sure that its mutual for all unless we make mind readers to know :P

No_Angel said...

ok i think we you are loosing track of the purpose of a language.
the purpose (IMHO) is to use terminology thats is agreed upon by the commons that is not empirically specific but within an acceptable range.

So when you say "How can anyone be sure that when they refer to a certain experience by a certain word that others"
the answer would be representational psychology, questionnaires and statistics.
empirical tools in general.
Also one thing to note languages evolves depending on the environment, for example what other language has so many word for a camel !

If a mind is not challenged it won't think :)

Devil's Mind said...

No Angel:
"ok i think we you are loosing track of the purpose of a language." - I am discussing the limitations of language, which indirectly relates to how we use language, and our understanding of its applications.

"the answer would be representational psychology," - How is that?! Please elaborate.

There are several approaches to "overlook" (but not solve) this problem. Functionalism for example is a good walk around, because in that philosophy, we don't care what people think in their hearts but only what they show to the external world. I agree to Functionalism, but this doesn't provide a concrete solution to dismiss representational skepticism, just a reason to overlook it.

"questionnaires and statistics. empirical tools in general." - Sorry, a very big NO!! First we have the superficial agreement problem that I describe using (Result-3).

Secondly, it is well known that statistics have no power to dismiss philosophical views.

To give your view some credit, your approach tries to go the empirical science way (Very similar in nature to the Functionalism approach). But empirical science is fallible and prone to errors. Back again to the famous Newton example: Newtonian physics were shown wrong. Why?! Because they were empirical physics. Even the current modern physics are prone to the same errors of Newtonian physics, because they too are empirical physics.

The point is, empirical science is good, and basically the best of what we have, BUT it has many limitations when considered in a philosophical perspective.

Consider this challenge: Can you use empirical science to prove that we are not in The Matrix?! (I hope you know that film). Personally, I believe the answer is NO.

Tala:
"imagine how many things we dont communicate because we dont know a representation for.. such as weird thoughts or crazy dreams, dreams itself. could it be that we dont understand it, so we dont find a representation and it stays as minor so we dont talk about it." - Very true. When we fail to find a representation for our thoughts, we fail to communicate them. This is another evidence that we cannot communicate ideas, only representations.

The Observer:
"I guess that we can feel this difference of perception very strongly when we debate with other people." - True. But a bigger challenge is when you agree with someone like in the (Result-3) case. This is the mind blowing realization.

"so that I can feel more confident that I see things right." - I disagree here. Why do you assume that if you see things differently then there is something wrong. I guess its perfectly normal to see things differently, because each one of us has a mind of his own.

The people who realize that each person sees things differently came up with different conclusions. Basically, there are many schools of thought.

The first school is that all views are true. That is to say, when two people see things differently, both of them are objectively correct! - Personally I disagree to this, because it violates the simplest laws of logic: The law of non-contradiction.

Another school of thought is that when people see things differently, they both are objectively wrong. (In certain applications, I find this view to be truthful.)

There are other schools, but I won't be mentioning them now.

Stocky:
Thank you. I hope you continue visiting this blog. :)

The Observer said...

"Why do you assume that if you see things differently then there is something wrong. I guess its perfectly normal to see things differently, because each one of us has a mind of his own."

yes, I am quite aware that it is normal for people to see things differently, but I am talking about when for instance 10 people agree on something and you disagree of that, then it is more likely that you have a wrong perception than of them.

I know that you would say that it doesn't matter even if they were 100, they might be all wrong, and I would be right, but I am talking in terms of having the same chances and knowledge.

No_Angel said...

haha youngin arguing against a brick wall :P

Tala said...

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all the best for a great year and an outstanding extraordinary successful crazy life ahead.

Devil's Mind said...

:) Thank you a lot Tala! Its a very nice gesture from you! :D

The Observer said...

Happy Birthday devil's mind :)

You are only 21?! You sound older, as in being more mature :)

Devil's Mind said...

Thank you Observer. So I sound older?! Well, dunno, but yeah, probably so, cuz I spent much of my life hanging out with people older than me.