Sunday, 2 November 2014

The ugliest moron in Nottingham

Suppose you visit Nottingham city centre, pick out any well-built young chap who is also a stranger and say to him:-

Strewth you must be the ugliest moron in Nottingham, why don’t you piss off and get some plastic surgery?

I’m guessing here, but I think the response would be an example of what philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine called the interanimation of sentences. In other words your sentence would animate another sentence from that well-built young chap, probably quite a short one. Your sentence would be a stimulus to his response.

Of course the response may also be physical, so nothing said here should be construed as advice.

Willard Van Orman Quine was one of the most interesting philosophers of the twentieth century. His phrase, interanimation of sentences is typically neat and easy to understand. It reflects how sentences generate other sentences, as if they stick together, one drawing out another, often in a fairly predictable sequence. It’s a common feature of Guardian comments.

So as well as responding to the physical world we respond to sentences too, which we all know but tend to forget as we pretend to be rational. We are animated by sentences and our animation is a matter of previous conditioning - or learning as we tend to call it.

We have the ability to write, say and think all kinds of things which we’d never actually come out with except in a context where their use is socially permitted or encouraged. Not even in Nottingham.

In other words, we have a vast repertoire of things we could say and a much more limited repertoire of things we are ever likely to say in any realistic context. Context, social pressures and previous conditioning decide which is which.

So most of what we could say remains unsaid forever.

Political correctness aims to keep things that way.


Macheath said...

The guest on a recent Radio 4 programme drew attention to the sea squirt.

After an active youth, this creature settles down on a rock in mid-life and never moves again. Since all it needs to do henceforth is filter seawater for nutrients, it then begins to reabsorb its redundant brain.

His analogy was dementia - 'use it or lose it' - but I can't help wondering whether something of the sort happens on a lesser scale to humans who allow their day-to-day interactions to degenerate into a series of those sentences without the leavening of conscious thought - and how much of a role a lifetime of television viewing plays in the process.

A K Haart said...

Mac - I'm sure we are in danger of losing contact with the physical world in favour of a world of words and images. Language probably isn't enough without physical stimuli.

Politicians need to get out more - literally.

Sackerson said...

Dylan Thomas: "Shut, too, in a tower of words..."

A K Haart said...

Sackers - maybe we need to hew more wood and draw more water to stay connected.