Language and Action: An Incomplete Philosophical Idea

It’s a strange thing how language precedes understanding and action. Or maybe it’s not strange. Maybe it’s universal the way a seed precedes a plant (though I’m sure Monsanto is working on a way to subvert this), or clouds come before the rain.

Human beings have a peculiar mix of curiosity and ego. We all want to know everything, but we don’t want to put ourselves in the subjugate position of learning anything. We want the rest of the world to assume we were born with the knowledge. This is why your friends will talk with (misplaced) authority about metaphysics or string theory, confident that no one else in the room knows enough to pick up on the inconsistencies or gaps in knowledge.

What does this have to do with anything?

It has to do with hope. Stay with me, here.

When computers first came on to the scene, there was no language to describe them. And of the few people who knew the vocabulary, only a fraction of those knew how to actually use one. But here we are decades later and an entire culture and subcategory of every human tongue has been developed to describe this relatively new concept. The everyman can speak accurately about processor speed even if they don’t know exactly how that speed is made. Magic, probably. I don’t know. But my point is, what was once a mystery, the proprietary knowledge of geniuses with thick glasses, pocket protectors, and expansive imaginations is now accessible to the common man. My 2 year old nephew works a cell phone as if he had one in utero. The world is changing, irreversibly, and it all started with the language, with familiarity.

The same thing applies to the cosmos. We have always known they were out there, vast beyond comprehension. But it took a few martyrs and a bit of time for us to accept our place in that vastness. And now we can see with robotic eyes into parts of space that contain things that stretch the limits of our imagination. Our imaginations did a good job, but we’re finding that the space between our ears is nothing compared to the space in… well… space. But the same thing is happening. Language is changing. Quasars and black holes and geocentric orbits are words that your local tattoo artist may be using, correctly. And as our forays into space continue and expand, eventually the understanding of just what is possible will not be the sole property of mental giants like Hawking or Einstein. Someday, centuries from now they will be considered by normal people to be simultaneously genius and naive.

So really, what does this have to do with anything?

The answer is still hope.

The world is a mess. Few would debate me on this point. But the realities of the messy world continue to be the esoteric knowledge of far too few people out there. We have yet to develop a language that connects to every common person. But that is changing. Day by day, more young people, motivated, and capable beyond comprehension are discovering that there is something wrong. And more importantly, they are deciding to do something about it. And so their families learn about these things from them. And their mom’s friends tell their kids and so on. And a new language is developing. A language of hope. Eventually there will be a critical mass of people who can speak intelligently about the realities of this messy world. And then in the same way we all figured out how to use computers, there will be action. We are following in the footsteps of the far too few who came before us. There were people out there doing this kind of thing better than we were, with greater difficulty and less commendation. They were the first to speak the language of hope. We’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating. We don’t think we have any answers that are gonna save the world. All we’re really trying to do is spread the word.

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