Mathieu Guerin

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Languages evolve. What is the significance of language death facing the human race?

If you think of a plant as having leaves interspersed at equivalent intervals, you may see an algorithm forming spontaneously in nature. This step, then this step, then this step, and repeat. Another example is the geometric shape of cauliflower or broccoli which are algorithms occurring in nature, manifesting through the observable phenomenon of fractals. If you take those rules and let a human interact with the variables, you get something like the Mandelbrot Set.

If you think of black box trading or algo trading as they have occurred by nature in the human invention of the stock market, you have algorithms again which are causing humans to use/alter real, physical space to incorporate these algorithms within their own machine to maximize it's efficiency (see Kevin Slavin's talk on algorithms).

What does this have to do with language or culture?

I speculate that this shows us a mathematical proof that human behavior is bound to biological rules (epigenetic rules), thus bound to hitherto ungovernable nature. Given this "bypass" of freewill in the human race and based on the fact that more languages die every year than are being created, we can observe that nature's course is to achieve unification of the human race, maybe to amplify cooperation and improve the fluidity of network building. This pattern points directly to the death of diversity in a cultural, linguistic and even genetic way. Monoculture seems inevitable.

In the spirit of memetic, a subject that ironically has spread like wildfire in the past few years, I might paraphrase Susan Blackmore when she exclaims "We are the meme-machines!" Geneticists' work illustrates that humans are bound to those epigenetic rules that guide/conduct behavior, and memetic illustrate that our ideas are basically governing themselves through our living fleshy brains.

Will globalization continue to bottleneck diversity in culture forever? Have we become the tools of innovation? How imminent is the Third Replicator?

  • Aug 21 2011: The idea of a mono-culture is intriguing, and a unified language would progress this immensely. We can see it today, not just in the technology available to us, but even more so in the current global corporations that spread internationally (i.e. McDonald's, GAP, Hugo Boss). These corporations bring a commonality to various cultures, and create similarities across various cultures. By creating these similarities, different ideologies are brought together to be compared and chosen.

    One problem with the idea of mono-culture, though, is the loss of diversity in the world. As the various cultures are slowly broken down they lose the aspects that make them unique, and thus able to create different views for the same thing. I think this is a dangerous problem, as the diversity of different cultures is not only what pushes forward cultural and technological revolutions, but also creates these revolutions. We must be careful to preserve what is lost while we move forward to combine.

    In closing, I think that while one language would make things much easier from a development, innovation, and manufacturing standpoint for a long while, it is a dangerous tool as it is just the beginning of a loss of the cultural diversity that both divides people, but also leads to a form of tolerance and innovation that must be preserved if we are to continue forward as a race, and as a culture.
  • Aug 16 2011: Hi Mathieu,

    It was our complex collaboration and reciprocation that propelled the human race past lower species of animals. Of course, it was due to our dramatically superior brains that directly led to said collaboration and reciprocation, but these two characteristics were the primary gateways that brought us into a whole new echelon of conscious existence here on Earth. I agree our species is gradually progressing towards "monoculture." We see this progression when we look at Facebook, cell phones, and the Internet. In my opinion, technology is the next gateway that will bring us together and thrust us towards a more sophisticated society of fluidity and a singular culture.
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      Aug 17 2011: Good points. I think that technology IS the monoculture. From the perspective of "duality", the more it encroaches on our behavior the more it takes over our perception of reality. The more we need it and the less it needs us. Which is frightening and beautiful.
  • Aug 16 2011: Very Interesting thoughts!
    More likely that language will also speciate to conform to a combination of technology and culture, with each word embracing a wider range of knowledge/experience.

    If we conclude, with McLuhan, that the alpha betic text produced diversity by its nature, then uniot would develop only by developing a text system far different from the alphabet, but that has become a techology of thinking deeply patterned over thousands of years.