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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

90.A Meditation on the momentary origins of language

No matter how closely I monitor my stream of consciousness, no matter how vigorously in focus my attention on the moment-by-moment content of my conscious awareness, I can only begin to record a small part of the rich and constant flow of fleeting images and part-formed sentences and pulses of feeling/thinking that form its content.

An image forms - of a butterfly, cramped within its cocoon, laboriously eating and scraping its way out into the open, there to spread its wings and fly. But that’s not it; my ‘thoughts’ aren’t pre-formed. Just as the universe exploded into existence from virtual nothingness, to become what it is, so my sentences form. Gas clouds of fragments of feeling and intention coalesce to form words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs.

We seem to be a long way from describing this process, this event, with anything like scientific accuracy. Chomsky suggests some of the ‘mechanism’ that might be at work – a capacity, wired-in to our brains, that predisposes us to generate sentences (as embodiments of meaning or thought). But what prompts the ‘grammar machine’ into action. In this materialist view of things, who does the intending? How does this happen? How do I ‘intend to mean’?

You end up with an infinite regression. I can buy the neuroscientists’ account: that chemicals prompt the firing of synapses, that messages are carried to action-centres in the brain. But what sets the chemicals in motion in the first place?

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