Is it possible to have non-linguistic thoughts? | Page 4 | INFJ Forum

Is it possible to have non-linguistic thoughts?

Discussion in 'Philosophy and Religion' started by Ren, Jan 18, 2018.

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  1. Ginny

    Ginny Kassandra's curse

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    Yes. It's because the speech centre and the visual cortex are (in) two different areas of the brain. Associations need not be done through the language centre, therefore it is independent of thought. However, I guess not all the vocabulary is stored in one area, just like memories. That way, words can trigger memories and the other way around. And there's always music. Even though the speech centre is usually located in the left hemisphere, and prosody/melody is perceived with the right, even someone with a damaged or unusable left hemisphere can sing a song with the right words, because both have been learned at the same time. In addition, the singer might not recall the words that had been sung, or their meaning. Neurolinguistics really is kind of interesting, isn't it?

    With me, it depends on where I focus more how I perceive the picture. But it is never both at the same time.
     
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  2. OP
    Ren

    Ren Pin's android / The Maker

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    I would agree with this entirely. We need to give limits to the definition of what language is, or else it would be all too easy to just say that anything is potentially “like a language”, making the OP question fairly trivial in the process.

    Similarly though, we should restrict what a thought/thinking is. Otherwise, here again it would be too easy to say that any mental experience is a thought, and to conclude that since not all mental experiences are inherently linguistic, thinking/thoughts are not inherently linguistic. Trivial in the other direction.

    I'm surprised that so few people have tried their hands at defining what thinking/a thought is. What's your take, @dogman6126? What do you think makes a thought a thought? ;)

    Yes @Lady Jolanda I know you anticipated this problem about the definition of thinking like 2 aeons ago
     
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    #62 Ren, Jan 23, 2018
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  3. dogman6126

    dogman6126 Community Member

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    I'd say thought is whatever conscious processes are applied to either sense perception or other thoughts. Things like transformation that aren't actually happening, like imagining how to solve a Rubiks cube, or more complex things like abstract concepts I'd say are thoughts. Hopefully that's a decent starting point for a definition!
     
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  4. sprinkles

    sprinkles Well-known member

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    Would you say this person is thinking?
     
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  5. Ginny

    Ginny Kassandra's curse

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    I agree, but you claim that thought is based on thought without having established what a thought is. Sorry, but I figured this should be pointed out.
    So far, you have mentioned (abstact) concepts, transformations and conscious processes.

    I wish to elaborate on some of it. First, conscious processes on sensory perception. During sensory perception, be it visual, aural or anything else, it starts a chain of nerve activity, which the brain translates into (un)known information about what is being perceived. You could say, from this information, that this may be thinking. This process is fairly unconscious though, for those who aren't practiced in mindfulness. A question that arises here would be, according to your definition of thought having to be conscious, is thinking still the same for everyone?
    What happens when we are unconscious, are we devoid of thought? If so, then how do we dream, or in rare occasions, direct our dreams?

    I guess knowledge of any kind can incite a thinking process, even without any sensory input. It is what sparks most instances of thought, but also is the ability to recall able to do that. If we were to put either sensory input, knowledge of facts or events (memories) at the start of thought, is it included in thought or not?

    What we perceive as thinking process, it may be perceived differently. To me, the process is not fluid, even if the word implies it is. There are lots of images, stops, ideas, more ideas, going back to a prior point, which have the potential to eventually lead somewhere, a decision or conclusion.

    I think thoughts can be entirely visual, or sometimes less even. For example, when I sweep over a row of books (even films or CDs), there are images and feelings surfacing in my mind. Not necessarily words, although it does of course happen too, but they are more visual and aural than the literal words on the page. I think of scenes, but not entire scenes, pictures I imagined while reading. These are the first things that are happening. We are talking about fractions of a second here. It doesn't become conscious until I take longer to look at one thing.

    Can we call this thought?


    I mean, abstract thought, concepts and theories, they are what everyone knows to be thought. But what about the simple things? Where to we draw the line?
     
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  6. OP
    Ren

    Ren Pin's android / The Maker

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    I've been thinking about your example of the Rubik's cube for days and there just seems to be no way that it doesn't involve thinking. For a while I was considering the possibility that it did not meet the intentionality criterion, and therefore that it did not qualify as 'thought'. But this seems almost insulting to common sense, really. Surely the examples you gave of the Rubik's cube and Tetris involve some form of thinking.

    This makes me wonder whether Wittgenstein is wrong in his claim, or whether my OP question, with its reference to the possibility of non-linguistic thinking, actually misrepresented what he really meant. Maybe he conceived of logical reasoning, i.e. logic, as transcendent and universal and thus not really concerned with the expansion of "my world". Maybe by "the limits of my language mean the limits of my world", what he meant was not that all thinking has to be linguistic, but that non-linguistic mental events, including non-linguistic reasoning, do not really expand the limits of what I know, at least not until I have made sense of them within language.

    In fact it looks like we already have to add at least one restriction here: that he refers to the world of knowing-that (though even this is difficult), not to the world of knowing-how. Because learning to know how to solve a Rubik's cube, if it does not involve linguistic thinking, can still be considered an expansion of "my world", i.e. I used not to know how to solve a Rubik's cube but now I do know how - my world has expanded. So maybe Wittgenstein is thinking about a philosophy professor's world, lol.

    Very interesting and stimulating discussion anyway ;)
     
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  7. sprinkles

    sprinkles Well-known member

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    @Ren
    I see. Yes, there's intentionality in cube solving, as you have to recognize unique states since the pieces move in orbits. For example if you displace one corner, you must necessarily displace at least two other corners - it is physically impossible to not do this (without disassembly) so you must identify your corners in sets of three at the very least. In fact the last set of moves that you make must place all three of these at the same time without disturbing anything else, so they really are a recognizable set that you have to think about.

    There's actually a few "knowing that's" about cubes that you need to know before getting to the actual "knowing how."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubik's_Cube_group

    Edit:
    Also sets overlap. For example to move four corners, you must first move a set of three corners, then another set of three corners which contains two of the corners from the previous set - you're actually moving two corners twice, so the remainder is the fourth corner.
     
    #67 sprinkles, Jan 23, 2018
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  8. dogman6126

    dogman6126 Community Member

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    Sorry, let me clarify. Thought is the conscious processes part. I just added an observation that thought can be of either sensory perception or of other thoughts. You could push me in saying that the term "conscious" begs the question for thought, but I'd say conscious, meaning consciousness is sufficiently different from thought. Maybe not though.

    To answer your questions, no, I don't think thought must be the same for everyone. It could be though, depending on who or what is doing the thinking.
    The way I meant conscious is to say it must have awareness on some level, even if it is recognition in holding it in your mind. However, just holding it in your mind isn't enough. Here's an example of the difference between conscious process and thought. I'd say simply holding a sensory image in place is not enough to establish thought, though there is conscious awareness. As for dreams, I'd try pushing that dreams, while similar to thoughts, are a special case. However, I'm having trouble establishing a successful argument for that.

    If I understand you correctly, I'd say no, the constructive pieces of thought are not themselves thought. It is that which they construct that is thought. Maybe that helps? I feel like that was a vague response.

    I'd say that would be the edge of thought. Those memories, perceptions, and conclusions entering the edge of your awareness of them. To entertain them longer is to think about them.


    Do we need that line so well defined to answer this question? I think we can do well enough with the examples previously given.
     
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  9. Ginny

    Ginny Kassandra's curse

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    I don't think you got me just right, but it helped answer my question. I was asking if these inciting instances are part of thought or not.

    In essence, you say whatever-thought-is-before-thought has to cross the barrier into consciousness to become thought?

    Yes. I need a line in order to make a whole image. It can be added to in Derrida-ian fashion later. But we need a status to depart from, in form of a stable, working system.
    As for examples, which are you talking about? There were many.
     
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    Ren

    Ren Pin's android / The Maker

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    @Ginny @dogman6126

    Yes, I think setting bounds is pretty crucial. Consciousness could be seen as a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for thinking. The problem is that the unconscious is somewhat inaccessible to scrutiny and that if we were to accept that there are such things as unconscious thoughts, then it would become impossible to tell when one is thinking versus not thinking. We would fall into the good old trap of infinite regress, actually: if unconscious phantasms are thoughts, then what causes these unconscious thoughts and yet is not itself thinking? What is intuitively specific and particular about thoughts, versus other forms of mental states, would become vacuous. It’s true that dreams pose complications, but I’d also be inclined to consider them as ‘something else’ that thinking; there must be some extensive literature on this very topic, which I’m unfortunately not familiar with.

    Just a quick aside here, in relation to the unconscious: the Lacanian school of psychoanalysis, which still dominates the discipline in France and probably in other countries as well, is very strongly committed to the idea that the unconscious itself is structured like a language.

    Anyway, here we are only very superficially veering away from the OP question – by asking how thinking itself comes to be (and ceases to be?), we are essentially saying: “If thinking, in a manner of speaking at least, comes before language, then in what way does it do that?” So it’s essentially the same question, except seen from a different perspective. I think that Wittgenstein conceived of thinking as instantly and spontaneously linguistic, i.e. that from the moment it comes into being, it is always already in some way woven into language, or the reverse. But if we don’t agree with that, and commit to the view that there must be thinking before language, which at the same time is not in the opaque realm of the unconscious, then we need a genealogy – not of thought, but of thinking itself as it ‘comes to be’ or takes place in our minds. Take the case of Wittgenstein's duckrabbit as as example: what is the nature of what happens between seeing the picture and thinking "this is a duck / rabbit"?
     
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  11. bonfire

    bonfire Community Member

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    I don't know if that's related to non-linguistic thoughts, but it reminds me of an experience I have once when I worked as an interpreter. While I was listening to a person from whom I need to translate their words, my mind somehow was gone into a trance state that I didn't even realize that I didn't hear the words in another language until my boss at that time nudged me to translate those phrases too. To me it sounded like I heard both languages and understood them in a non-verbal way that I couldn't explain, not as in "this is a word that has the meaning and nuance that's different from another language" but as a vibration of meaning which both simultaneously makes sense.
     
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  12. The Ringmaster

    The Ringmaster Regular Poster

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    Most of my thoughts are both linguistic and visual, a dream playing out in my mind with subtitles. I do also think musically on occasion.
     
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    Ren

    Ren Pin's android / The Maker

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    That's a very interesting account. Did it happen to you just that one time? I think we could really benefit from your insights as an interpreter.

    My first impression from reading your words, though, is that language was still very much happening simultaneously with thinking – like it was the gateway into those thoughts that felt non-verbal to you. This would not seem to be in opposition to the idea that language is directly woven into thought and vice-versa.
     
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  14. bonfire

    bonfire Community Member

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    It's only that one time that I was conscious of what happened because it happened when I was around other people. But it might have happened several times before. I had a vague memories of something like this like a deja-vu when I read, and words became images in my head, instead of words as themselves. There are several subtly 'weird' incidents like this when I was by myself that I couldn't put my finger on, and eventually brushed them aside because I thought I was just imagining things. I don't know if this can benefit anyone, lol, but thanks for being interested.
     
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  15. wolly.green

    wolly.green Permanent Fixture

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    Well let's take a look at aspects of thought individually to glean a possible answer.

    Reason: This is an aspect of thought that is completely automatic, and thus not linguistic. Consider the following.

    ¥ € ° ¥ €

    What comes next? I think all of you know which symbol is next. Although some of you may know the name of the symbols, those that do not will notice that completing the list was a non linguistic task.

    Memory Recall: Suppose a house you walk past every day of your life has changed somehow. You notice something is different, but you can't put a finger in what it is. After looking for a moment you realise: "Oh! They cut down their apple tree". A tree is missing, and you noticed even before you were able to articulate it. This seems to imply that memory recall is not completely linguistic. Although some memories might very well be, this shows not all of them are.

    Awareness: Suppose you are in class writing your notes when you hear a bird tweeting outside. You turn your head briefly before returning to note taking. In this situation, you may have been 'aware' of the bird tweet, but that does not mean you were conscious of it. Further, just because you reacted to it does not mean that you had to use 'language' to be aware of it. Have you ever put your hand on a hot element and reacted automatically before being aware of the fact that you have reacted?

    If reason, memory recall and awareness do not depend on language, then it follows that thought cannot be completely linguistic.
     
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  16. Matt3737

    Matt3737 Similes are like songs in love.

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    It's quite difficult to interpret this statement due to the inherent ambiguity of several of the words which may also be compounded by any potential translation issues. Here are a couple of quotes of his from the Tractatus that can give us some context:

    Wittgenstein's emphasis on the "limit/limits" and boundaries of language come naturally when attempting to contemplate a particular concept as a whole as you have to define what it constitutes and what it does not. So in trying to conceptualize the boundary between the thinkable and the unthinkable we run into the paradoxical problem of thinking about the unthinkable or the inconceivable.

    Language is one of those words that can be very difficult to define as we're not really referring to any particular language or verbalization act (sign language still counts). I believe most have interpreted "language" in a broader sense to be an act of reference and meaning. We run into a similar paradoxical boundary when we try to express the inexpressible in order to communicate to others what Wittgenstein would say to be either "nonsense" or "senseless". We tend to revert to a 'nonverbal' meaning rather than a 'non-linguistic' or inexpressible interpretation instead.

    Wittgenstein's notion of the senseless and nonsense was itself not a commonly understood one (and continues to be a matter of disagreement) as he made a distinction between what was sensibly able to be said and what could only be shown.

    Thus, the nonsensical was a much broader category than someone might initially suspect and was not considered worthless.

    Indeed, the Tractatus itself, was regarded by Wittgenstein to be nonsensical as it did not say anything sensible, but that it was attempting to show us something not able to be properly expressed:

    It was during this time that the foundation of mathematics was revealing numerous paradoxes and inconsistencies that undermined attempts at fully formalizing the entirety of mathematics. His teacher, Bertrand Russell, had his own paradox named for him and which had devastated Gottleb Frege right before publication of his work:

    This issue of inconsistency being introduced into formal systems would lead Wittgenstein to attempt to remedy the problem:

    This would seem to indicate that he wanted to remove or disregard any and all self-reference in language (grammar essentially being nonsense) in order to formulate an internally consistent formal language. The fact that he considered it a nonsensical paradox would remain an external assessment and would not introduce any internal inconsistencies. Though he would later disregard much of the Tractatus in his posthumous work, Philosophical Investigations, as he moved away from the idealistic formal language that he thought had resolved all philosophical problems towards ordinary informal language use.

    In conclusion, I'd venture to guess that this statement was a more nuanced statement (it'd be considered nonsensical by his own standard given that he'd have to know something that he cannot know i.e. his own limits) than something like the first statement I quoted from the Preface of the book.
     
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  17. John K

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    This is a fascinating thread – I only joined the Forum in the last few days, so I hope you don’t mind me dumping a load of comment rather late in the day. Off the top there are several things that strike me.

    At first sight it seemed obvious that I have non-linguistic thoughts. If I’m driving behind you and I’ve had a bad day and my Se is playing up and you’ve pissed me off by driving too slowly, I may tailgate you if I’m not being a good lad. I don’t go through any kind of narrative in my head that says something like “why doesn’t this ??!!!££$$$ get out of my way, let’s tailgate him or her” – I just do it and my action expresses it all, both to me and my victim. The person in front gets the message and may respond non-verbally in like kind …. maybe doing what I want, or maybe not, but they get the message (I’m actually usually the victim, so I know from experience). Similarly, when we had a cat, it could tell me it wanted to go out, come in, or wanted feeding, or comfort, without any language whatsoever – I may have narrated my response in my head sometimes but mostly not. Again, when I watch a ball game, I can’t believe for a minute that the very fast exchange of information between the players is expressed as language inside their heads – some of it certainly is, but a hell of a lot isn’t because there isn’t time.

    But whenever I get anywhere near this sort of question, I get lost quickly in what I understand are some of the great philosophical mysteries. I sadly don’t have the analytical skills myself to understand the depths of these, or the patience to wade through very a complex edifice of definitions and reasoning from the professional guys, often in very dense technical and idiosyncratic terminology. Take the assumption that the everyday “real world” is out there as it appears to our common sense. On reflection, I don’t see how it can be, so I don’t feel that what I experience as the real world is actually real in a hard-concrete sense. I think someone else made a similar point in other comments on the theme. I can only scratch the surface of this thought before either losing my way or going on about it too long, or both, but I’ll see where it goes ….

    For example, at a very basic level, everything around us is made up of a very few types of sub-atomic particles and energy types, mixed up together in almost infinite variety. According to current thinking in quantum mechanics and particle physics they are pretty insubstantial, and not really located anywhere definite in either space or time. When I touch anything it’s the negative fields of the electrons in my hands repelling off those in the object I touch that is at the root of the sensation, but my electrons never actually really touch the others – if they could, I gather there would be rather unfortunate results. At this level of the physical world it seems to me that there are no distinct objects-in-themselves such as trees, rocks, suns, moons, people, dogs, dog mess, etc – just loads of the same quantum particles doing what weird quantum particles do. Similarly, there are, for example, no colours as we experience them either, only photons of a particular energy and wavelength.

    Another example - I can’t experience you at the same time as you experience yourself, because it takes a finite time for the physical input from you to get to me, and even longer for my mind to process it into something I experience and can respond to, so you are present to me only in your past. What’s worse, if you go to the shops and I stay home, we will have followed different space time tracks and you will have aged a little less than me when you get home, so am I the same me that you left behind when you went out? These time difference effects are very small unless you recently took a bus here from a small planet orbiting Betelgeuse or something like that, but they are real and measurable.

    I definitely don’t experience these apparently hard realities directly - only darkly, and through the lens of science. So as far as I can see, the external world, as I do experience it, has to be a synthesis of input through my senses of these quite mysterious esoteric sources, together with something in my brain that translates them massively and maps them into the world I actually perceive. Then there are all the things we take for granted as real and very much part of the world, but which we won’t find anywhere in the so-called physical world – love, fear, thought itself, money (does anyone know what it really is in its essence?), ethics, etc. It seems that everything I experience takes place within a model of the world inside my head which is pretty subjective, and which I have been building all my life, but which is anchored to the external world (I hope) through quite tortuous, but thankfully unconscious, processing via my senses. I think there is actual evidence of this from things like Oliver Sacks’s “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”, or closer to home, my father who is 98 and has a form of dementia - he can no longer tell his dreams from his reality a lot of the time.

    Another thought – it’s perhaps the arrogance of consciousness that makes me think that all the thoughts I experience are things I make or do. But often, they actually come to me in a similar way to things in the external world, as not-me things that I experience. On rare occasions I even experience myself as something like a thought projected from somewhere else inside me, so perhaps I myself am a word spoken by something else?

    So where does all this meandering take me in the end with the original Wittgenstein question? Well it seems to me that everything I experience - the external world, my inner thoughts, feelings, perceptions, emotions, memories, whether conscious or unconscious, the lot - is based on the constructs of this world model in my head that is the only thing I can possibly experience directly. If that is so, you could argue that Wittgenstein was correct: you could say that all the components of my world are a form of language because the whole lot of them are synthesised symbolic representations together with a form of hyper-grammar, used in powerful and sophisticated combinations to provide the matrix and the dynamics of my life experience. Even I, as I experience myself, am probably one of these symbolic representations. Such a “language” would perhaps echo the power and numinous quality of the Old Language, the Language of the Making, in the Earthsea stories by Ursula Le Guin. More prosaically, and boringly, it may be analogous as well to a computer software system many magnitudes of sophistication beyond any in our computers today. But calling this a “language” sounds to me more like a matter of choice of viewpoint and definition rather than true insight or discovery.

    There is an awful lot of recursiveness in all this – thought and language being used to think about thought and language. In maths that kind of thing can lead to wild, chaotic and very interesting behaviours in the “solutions” to a problem. Maybe that’s what happens sometimes in philosophy as well. For example, when I refer to science is this not just another of these mental and partly subjective models inside my head: so can it really give me a true objective insight into hard physical reality? How can I reflect on myself: who is looking and what is it looking at, and what is watching the interaction to keep it on the rails? Can I really use language to analyse itself, or is this like trying to pick myself up with my shoe straps? And what about things that may exist in some sense but which can’t be put into any form of symbolic language: can there be such things and, if so, are they things that we can never experience, and if so do they really exist at all; but then does something’s existence depend on my ability to experience it, which sounds pretty dodgy to me. Lots of fun to be had here I think ….. better stop now because I’m definitely on the verge of getting lost!

    Very many thanks for the question - I've really enjoyed having a play with it!
     
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  18. sprinkles

    sprinkles Well-known member

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    Ren

    Ren Pin's android / The Maker

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    Bumping up this thread for those who are interested, because I came across a video in which Chomsky discusses the topic in enlightening fashion.

    See from 28:35:

     
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  20. Roses In The Vineyard

    Roses In The Vineyard Community Member

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    The problem with language as it is understood by most doesn't carry the full breath of intentions, emotions, states of mind, and mental imagery ect the person or persons is wishing to share or what had brought to that point where there is language being used leaving being only the bare bones for which is open to interpretation sometimes wildly so by others. One of the best examples of this open to interpretation is religion particularly the Bible where much of the old ways of thinking that led to that are long gone and the modern mind just gets it wrong on so many levels. Another issue is on a cognitive level where people must conform to what is ultimately for some a downgrade as everything must be square and as others expect including in personality and in limitations. It wouldn't hurt to explore and come up with interesting metas as to how to play with and use words outside the usual paradigm that doesn't have to make unnecessary compromise integrity of said language.
     
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