Friday, June 10, 2005

pretentious musing: (n) to get one's tom lehrer on.

Browsing through a couple of blogs that belong to Kram and Vinod, self-confessed geeks, prompted this train of thought. What if numbers, and not words, were the fundamental means of human communication?

It's because I couldn't understand the subtleties of what went on in Vinod's post. I'm no math. geek, I will never pretend to be one - even though I know what a Pythagorean triplet is. I could say I am a language geek of sorts. Is there such a thing, or is geekiness qualified by an interest in/ expertise/obsession with science? After all, one of the fundamental precepts of being a geek is that a given population is not able to understand or relate to you. Language is a learned and necessary skill whose point of divergence into unnecessary abstraction is much higher than that of numbers. Quite simply, if we all get our pretentious hats on, it's likely that Kram and Vinod will continue to understand and relate to my brand of geekiness long after I have given up on theirs. Why? Because language is much more fundamental to socialisation than math.

Now, the possibility of a world in which people communicated in numbers. Let's forget the reality - that we do live in a digital world and that lots of things in society are identified by numbers - and go back to feasibility. Why is it possible? Numbers, like words, are symbolic. They stand for a certain value. This is not a dog; this is the word - dog, standing for a canine creature. This is not the number 1; this is a symbol for the value of unity. Numbers, like words, are identity. Identity is creation.

What does language stand for? Reality. What reality? The sensual. In the most basic way our minds function, let's say it stands purely for the visual. What are the levels of meaning? At least two: the visual of the dog - insert four-legged furry canine of choice here - and the visual of the word, the shape of the letters d-o-g. (There's also the aural component and so on.)

Numbers also stand for reality. Is it a sensual one? Sometimes. One acre of land = what is measurable to the owner. But the way numbers function in our world are dependent on language: thus to convey the idea of numericity I have to employ the use of a visual symbol, a sound. The layman merely uses numbers as a supplement to lingustic reality. I wouldn't point to something and say - that's one. I would say that's one dog. (Actually I would say that's a dog.)

So for us, math is a subsection of language. Could it work the other way around? I don't see why not. It's only a matter of perception after all. Numbers would take on much more primal visual and aural denotations in the absence of the more widely understood verbal components of communication. There are infinite numbers; everyone could stand for something. Philosophies would be equations. (Philosophies are equations.) Poetry would exist in the realm of imaginary numbers - although every once in a while there would be a movement to make it accessible to the people and bring it back to ones and twos. Hate speech = -ve numbers? Numbers expressed differently by different races of people?

Would we be any closer to finding the answer (and the question) to life, the universe and everything?

I think not. There are decimal points everywhere.

Also; can animals count?

The point of this rambling: not to reinvent the wheel, or semiotics. I wanted to resolve the idea that language and math. don't work in very different methods, even if there are differences in the way humans with received learning relate to them.

eta: But I do think numbers would allow religion to set right what it has been mistaken about so far: god would no longer be One, he would be zero.


  1. Hey,

    Stumbled across your blog.

    And about language geeks, I went to a poetry reading a month or so back. It was then that I had my first real encounter with Geekus Literarius.

    And I thought engineers were geeky :) With their ill-fitting clothes and their feet on their chairs and their thick spectacles and dreamy eyes and pink and yellow handbags these guys were speshal.

    My friends are all in a tizzy about who this Roswitha is who commented on my blog.


  2. Language geeks are much worse than engineers, aren't they, when it comes to pretense? They do bathe more often ... ha, anyway, you hit on the right word. SPESHAL. We're all scented here.

    As for the frenz. Have you unveiled the mystery, or am I the leggy, raven-haired Spanish beauty you met in your travels across India once and helped out of a difficult situation, et cetera? ;)

  3. You are absolutely right when you say that language and maths are interconnected.Infact maths depends on language for its very survival.

    For instance any mathematical truth(including definition of a number) is accepted only if it can be expressed PRECISELY in words.Post 19th century there was a movement in maths which strove for rigour in definition which basically means ability to express all the mathematics humans in words thru definitions with the definition of set being the only self defined truth.A lot of late 19th century mathematicians were branded 'linguists'by the older school of thought which relied on numbers as self evident truths.

    As for maths replacing language,It is heavily impossible.First and foremost maths can be communicated only through a logically consistent medium(thats the primary aim of language according to russel-to make itself logically consistent).Maths in itself cannot be logically consistant or even a medium of transmitting logical truths.ok..ive blabbered a lot....for more check out Russels book on Introduction to mathematical philosophy.

  4. Pratteeeeeee. *huggle* How are you, man? Good with the filter coffee, last I heard! Thanks for coming along and commenting. It's a pleasure to read your thoughts!

    I don't know if math. and language are interchangeable; certainly evidence seems to point to the idea that language - and linguistic culture - are something of a product of our genes, an abstracted layer of protection to help the human organism decode the world. But you can't deny that the mechanics of the world are transferring themselves into the digital bit by bit. All very Matrix-ish, it's true. It may be that language's ultimate aim is to be logically consistent but there's no denying that as it stands now it is not perfectly correspondent with what it attempts to symbolise, right? Although I'm not certain why you say that math. cannot ever be logically consistent?

  5. Hi Sup,
    How have you been?No filter kaapi of late,thanks to bad tummy late.

    Coming to maths,Maths in itself cannot be logically consistent because of limitations of set theory,which forms the basic building blocks of mathematics(No set theory NO maths).Russel demonstrated its limitations with the famous russel paradox and later advocated type theory(his own invention)to substitute set theory,which however wasnt widely accepted because of historical reasons(WW2..).And there are issues like godels thm which prove that maths cannot be ever proved to be logically consistent.

    If you want to read on godels thm and impacts on post modernism check out the following link

  6. Oooh, sounds interesting. Thanks for education, Prattings. *clickies link*

    Get well soon, da! Are you in Chennai now or Bangalore?

  7. interesting thought indeed.