Let’s call it a “World”, shall we?

Language Rules The (Cognitive) World

How realities, perceptions and relationships depend on the tool of definition by language.

Our world is an array of definitions we chose to apply. Definitions we chose because we need them to categorize perceptions so that we can realize them. And to do that, humanity developed language (and is in turn constantly being developed by it).

At university I once heard a talk about neuroscientific history. It’s been a long time ago and although I still remember it was an interdisciplinary research colloquium that concluded a term, I have forgotten the name of the lecturer and the title of his speech. Anyways, the guest lecturer talked about a simple table. I recall him stating that the table was a table not because of any inherent attribute, but because we saw it as a table. Now be that as it may – the real question for me was: what made that table matter for me, for us, for everybody in that room? And would it still be a part of the world if no one saw it? I think not. Existence does not equal reality. The English word reality stems from the Latin word res (a thing, something materialized and perceived) after all. And realities are, in truth, mere perceptions.

The world we live in is not the same as the world. While we all wander the same planet, each of us lives in an individual world. Because while the table might still stand at the very same position, if I do not perceive it (meaning if I don’t see or feel it) I wouldn’t know of its existence and therefore it wouldn’t be part of my world even though it would still exist. Now, what does this have to do with language?

My answer is: Everything. Go ahead and test yourself – try to perceive anything without using language. No matter whether it is a thing, an idea or an emotion, nothing will be tangible without the structuring tool of definition. What time is it? Are you hungry? How are you to know what you feel, let alone trigger the adequate reaction if you cannot define it? Are you happy? Do you feel cold? Does your patience wear off? Do you like what you see? Did you find something you had been searching for (or something that found you by surprise)? How are you going to pass along information to others without a common code to communicate? Words, phrases, language are our way to build this world from our perceptions and they are our way to share it with the people around us. Humans are social beings who put high priority on interhuman relationships. That is why we share information. We try to make parts of our world parts of other peoples’ world, connecting ourselves via creating shared sections of our individual worlds. And we do that all the time, forging bonds by inviting people in. In order to do so we need to show them. How? Language. Welcome to the world as we name it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s