The Language of Use

It is interesting to see to what extent the ideas of use, of exploitation, or resources are permeating our language. Our civilization is a parasite of our planet and it is about to destroy our biosphere and this civilization is permeating our language and our concepts and categories.

If we try to say that something has a value in itsself, we are using the concept of value that comes out of the language of use. If we say something is useless, we are using a term derived from the term “use”. The concept of “open domain” still has the idea of use inside it. We seem unable to speak or think of something that is just itself and not getting its value from what we can do with it, without using terms and concepts that come from this language of use.

We have to try to develop a totally different way of talking and thinking. We have to develop a language of the useless and valuable-in-itself that is not derived from the parasitic ontology of our growth culture, a language that does not view the useless as something negative.



I don’t own any pet and I don’t intend to get one. I would only get a pet animal if I owned a sufficiently large plot of land, and that is not going to happen. In that case, however, I would maybe have a donkey (or a couple of them). I don’t know why, I have absolutely no idea why, but whenever I see donkeys, I am smitten :-). I somehow have a soft spot for them.

Other animals I like include Kakapos and Manatees. I hope we can manage to prevent them from going extinct (although I doubt that is going to happen). They cannot be kept as pets (better so), and the whole idea of having pets is a strange one, I think. It is a very strange phenomenon of our culture. Imagin coming into our culture as a visitor from a culture where the idea of pets does not exist…

A Note on Homosexuality in Muslim Culture

How strange! There is a long and rich tradition of Arabian homoerotic poetry that emerged as part of Muslim culture, obviously a trace of homosexual life in old times. Militant homophobia only entered muslim culture as a result of European colonization. As a result of European (protestant, Victorian) uptightness and law, this homophobic attitude entered the muslim mindset, and during the 19th century, homoerotic poetry disappears from the muslim world. Colonialism triggers a kind of inferiority complex among the colonized and then out of shame, they discard those aspects of their culture that are frowned uppon by the colonizers, and integrate the colonizer’s attitudes into their own identity. Stupid and tragic in its consequences.

Why Philosophy is Going to Stay

In a nutshell, philosophy deals with those subjects that cannot be completely formalized. The sciences are about areas of knowledge for which complete formal theories are possible. Scientism includes the belief that what is formalizable and what is real is the same, i.e. everything can be described in terms of formal theories. Analytical philosophy is trying to turn philosophy into a science, but if everything can be formalized, philosophy is (as some scientists state) unnecessary, so analytical philosophy is making itself obsolete.

However, if, as I think, reality cannot be completely formalized, science is inherently incomplete and philosophy is not going away. Especially, human cognitive processes cannot be completely formalized in principle. Each formal description of such processes is incomplete and partial. Cognition develops historically (something formalizable systems don’t do). Cognitive science then turns out not to be a science but a historical discipline. Human thinking does not follow fixed laws.

As a result, there is no complete and at the same time exact formal description of cognition and of its products, like society, culture, and even science itself, cannot be described completely in terms of a single formal theory. Philosophy is not going away. As long as you do “normal science” in the Kuhnian sense, you don’t need philosophy, but if you are working in any field of the humanities, or psychology or “social sciences”, you permanently need philosophy. Here, you do not have a fixed methodology. You have to be reflexive and look at what you are doing from a meta- (and meta-meta-…level) all of the time. You have to look at what you are doing critically all of the time. In the sciences, you also have to do that, but only occasionally, if you bump into anomalies and you have to shift your paradigm.

In mathematics, there are entities for which we can prove that a complete formal description is impossible. If such entities exist in mathematics, there is no a-priory reason why they should not also exist in physical reality. Human beings and their societies and cultures seem to be such entities for which a complete formalization is impossible. If that is so, philosophy is not going to go away.

Notes on Language and the Semiotic Revolution

Some draft notes in connection to my recent article, to be worked out into proper articles:

The case of the Piraha language (see, for example, shows that a simple culture can do without a lot of the logico-semantic machinery that was long thought to be both universal and essential. “…Piraha˜ culture constrains communication to nonabstract subjects which fall within the immediate experience of interlocutors. This constraint explains a number of very surprising features of Piraha˜ grammar and culture: the absence of numbers of any kind or a concept of counting and of any terms for quantification, the absence of color terms, the absence of embedding, the simplest pronoun inventory known, the absence of “relative tenses,” the simplest kinship system yet documented, the absence of creation myths and fiction, the absence of any individual or collective memory of more than two generations past, the absence of drawing or other art…”

It seems likely that the ancestors of this small group probably had a more elaborate language and that this language might be the result of some process of simplification (maybe caused by cultural factors, maybe by a desaster that was survived only by some children, I don’t know) and is not a remnant from an earlier time, but it is interesting that the human brain is capable of so simple a culture and language that is laking all of these things. For example, there is no universal quantification in Piraha (i.e. no possibility to express sentences about all instances of some set, like “All people are mortal”. This indicates that universal quantification (for example) is not “hard-wired” into our brains. It is part of our culture. If that is so, it must have been invented at some point in history. (I think Kant thought of it as something a priori, and Hamann thought Kant was wrong because we get it through language – to be explored in more detail…).

If such semantic or logical devices are not genetically hard-wired into our nervous systems, they must have been historically invented at some point and are completely part of culture, and there must have been a time when all human cultures and languages where as simple as the one of the Piraha, or even simpler. So the “semiotic revolution” that seems to show up in the archaeological record, a sudden increase in the complexity of cultures (around 100.000 years ago in southern Africa and then spreading) could have been a completely cultural development.

Anthropologists often seem to asume that it was a biological/genetic change. The assumption seems to be that cognition evolved biologically step by step, with genetic changes in the brain enabling hominids to think in novel ways. Instead, the bulk of this development could have been completely cultural. Once a certain intelligence threshold is passed (at a far earlier point in time, I think even before the development of Home Erectus), language is invented and then bit by bit, new semantic and syntactic constructs are (culturally) invented. During this development, the cognitive capabilities, i.e. the range and types of thoughts that where possible, where extended, not by biological changes but by cultural inventions. At some point (and this might well have been the invention of universal quantification) cognition became markedly more complex because the expressive power of language increased.

The Piraha show that this is possible. The assumption that these changes where genetic then turns out to be pure speculation. It is just as well possible the semiotic revolution was purely cultural. There is also no reason to believe that other populations of humans (e.g. the Neanderthals or the Denisovians) had inferior cognitive abilities in genetic terms. They might have had simpler cultures. And the fact that they mixed with the people coming out of Africa indicates that it does not make much sense to view them as separate species. (The assumption that these where separate “species” then appears totaly arbitrary and a remnant of 19th century “scientific” racism).

A Question (A Thought Experiment)

Imagine you could be reborn and live another life, “somewhen” in the past. You could choose when in the history of mankind you would be born (+ or – 10 years or so) and where (+ or – a hundred kilometers or so). You would not be able to control if you are born as male or female and what would be your social status.

Which time and place would you choose?

Who is a Customer?

Many people using Facebook seem to believe they are FBs customers, but they are not.

The customers of FB are the businesses that pay money to FB (for advertizing, putting games or other stuff under people’s noses, etc.). The people who are using facebook are not the customers, they are the raw material that FB uses to make money. They and their private lives.

As non-customers, they have no right to complain about the way FB is treating their content. FB is not servicing them, but the custumoers of FB.

I think one better keeps out of FB (and similar systems). Personally, I don’t want my life to be used as a raw material mined by such a company. I am on FB to remain contactable for a couple of people who seem to do most of their communication over that platform, but I am no longer posting stuff there.

WP might also put advertizing on my page, but here, at least, I have an option to become their customer. FB is not doing that because then many people would opt out and that would reduce the value of their raw material that they can sell to their customers.