Part III: The Rise of Science: The
Relationship Between Language and World View
HOW WE LOOK AT THINGS:
THE INFLUENCES OF DIFFERING WORLD-VIEWS
essay thus far will have served to indicate the contributions
made by non-Indo-Europeans and Indo-Europeans, and to show the
importance of interaction between them. Each in its own way has
played a part, Technology being developed considerably earlier
in human history than Philosophy, thus supplying the pabulum
out of which men who were motivated internally by curiosity developed
the edifice of Modern Science, and thereby carried Technology
much further along its way.
When philosophy and technology interact
A useful illustration of this process
of interaction is to be found in the story of the Fire-piston.
This is a device known over a wide area of Oceania, in a variety
of forms which nevertheless all operate on the same principle.
This little gadget is used by natives
to produce a light, and they do it as quickly as a man can strike
a match. It is a small cylinder of bone or bamboo as a rule,
about 2" or 3" long, and 3/4" in diameter, open
at one end and closed at the other. Into the open end a small
piston or plunger is fitted, also of bone or bamboo. It is fastened
on one end of a rod, at the other end of which is a knob. On
the plunger end is a small piece of dried tinder. The plunger
is inserted, the knob struck sharply to drive the piston down
in, and the piston assembly then quickly withdrawn and the tinder
will be found to have lighted. It may need to be blown very gently
to fan the glowing tinder into a flame.
tried to make one. Using the best (?) available material substitutes,
and obtaining a close enough fit between the cylinder and the
piston so that I actually exploded one model in which boiler
glass was substituted for bamboo for the cylinder, I was totally
unsuccessful in getting any signs of light at all. Then I discovered
that the natives drill a small hole in the closed end the cylinder
over which they place a finger in the down stroke, removing it
before withdrawing the plunger. This allows fresh oxygen to enter
as the piston assembly is withdrawn; thus the flame is not starved
of oxygen and extinguished. But still I could not get one to
work - and never have!
Reports on these things have been
received in Europe for years. The fire-piston the natives make
always seem to work easily. This is curious, because they have
no idea why they get a light, they only know that they can. Whereas
I can explain why the light occurs - but I can never get one!
These pistons were
introduced into Europe, especially into France, in the 18th century,
having been brought in by 'astonished travellers' as Henry Balfour
says in his Paper on the subject. 1 They came from Malay, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and
the Islands of Luzon and Mindanao. He speaks of how the natives
"nonchalantly take out a small piston, use it in an instant
to light a cigarette, and replace it in their pocket."
The cylinder of these samples
received in Europe was often wound with cord to stand the sudden
compression, much as cannons were with wire. Subsequently copies
were made and used in laboratories in Europe to obtain a light,
or for fun. Balfour does not believe it possible, judging by
their extensive distribution in the Far East, that the natives
borrowed the idea from Europeans. But in the meantime, interest
had been aroused as to the cause of the ignition, and in due
course, after some years, and stimulated further by some observations
of related phenomena, Diesel and Robinson independently sought
to design an internal combustion engine in which the compressed
gas in the cylinder would be ignited by the same method, without
the aid of any supplied electric spark. In reading the historical
background of Diesel engines, one is seldom made aware of this
anticipation by primitive people of the principle involved. In
some cases, the story is told in such a way that the possibility
of any such influence is not merely ignored - but actually denied.
1. Balfour, Henry, "The Fire-Piston,"
in Anthropological Essays, Presented to Edward B. Tylor,
Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press 1907, pp.17-49, especially
pp.17-19 and 37.
Lord Raglan feels this
is unwarranted. And he says: 2
This device has a wide distribution
in South-eastern Asia, and must one would think have often been
seen by European sailors and traders in those parts. Yet we are
asked to believe that no European had ever seen or heard of it
before it was "invented" by a Frenchman at the beginning
of the nineteenth century.
The truth of
the matter remains to be determined by further research. For
the present it serves as a beautiful illustration of the motivating
force in Europe as opposed to the native view of what is worth
spending time on. Our curiosity enabled us, with technical support,
to carry the invention to a level of usefulness of which the
native never dreamed. One wonders whether we would have thought
up the idea of an internal combustion engine with no supplied
ignition system if we had never been shown a Fire-piston.
Another somewhat analogous case
is that of porcelain. In this connection A. L. Kroeber says this:
It was the desire to avoid the
expense of importation that led to the experimentation that finally
produced the desired product [in Europe]. The consequence is
that we have here what from one angle is nothing less than an
invention. Superficially it is a "parallel" in the
technical language of ethnology. However, it is equally significant
that the invention, although original so far as Europeans were
concerned, was not really independent. A goal or objective was
set by something previously existing in another culture: the
originality was limited to achieving the mechanisms by which
this goal could be attained. If it were not for the pre-existence
of Chinese porcelain, and the fact of its having reached Europe
there is no reason to believe that Europeans would have invented
porcelain in the 18th century, and perhaps not until much later,
if at all.
The need to understand: an Indo-European
But it seems that quite apart from
such practical research, there exists in a surprisingly large
proportion of Indo-Europeans a desire for understanding for its
own sake. In fact, this feeling goes back a long way and
2. Raglan, Lord, How Caine Civilization?
London, UK, Methuen, 1939, p.15.
3. Kroeber. A.L., "Stimulus Diffusion," in American
Anthropologist, vol.42, Jan.,1940, p.1, 2.
actually accounts for
the halting of further technological advances at one critical
point in history. Farrington says: 4
There is room for doubt that
the Ptolemies who financed the great scientific effort of Alexandria
were interested in the practical application of its result...
But a feeling was prevalent among the Greeks that Science ought
to be useless.
about 100 A. D., in spite of some expressed regrets that mechanics
was being expelled from the company of the liberal arts, yet
goes on to praise Archimedes for his lofty contempt (even to
the extent of refusing to demonstrate certain theorems with diagrams)
for practical achievement and for anything requiring manual labour.
Although his engineering feats had won him a reputation for superhuman
ingenuity, Plutarch tells how he still refused to leave behind
him any treatise on mechanics or any art whatsoever that touched
on the practical.
The balance between practice and
theory is a sensitive one, and it is hard to know at what point
further theorizing should be discouraged and practice should
begin. It is a current problem in the education of science for
while it seems such a waste of time to let a man live in a kind
of Ivory Tower, yet it so frequently happens that out of such
an atmosphere where reflection in isolation is possible and where
such mulling over of things as prompted entirely by a curious
mind is given freedom, there accrues to the world at large some
unexpected practical gain. There are some courses in the University
of Toronto in which the Professor will actually refuse to give
an answer to a practical question! This happened during the War,
when many practical problems required urgent attention -- yet
true to his convictions, the Professor held that such questions
were premature at that stage of our course. Yet the answer was
needed then - not some months later. But in principle I think
he was perfectly right, though it was my own question he refused!
Henri Poincare says: 5
One has only to open one's eyes
to see that the triumphs of Industry, which have enriched so
many practical men, would never have seen the light of day if
only these practical men had existed, and if they had not been
preceded by disinterested fools who died poor, who never thought
of the useful, and who were not guided by caprice.
4. Farrington, Benjamin, Science in Antiquity,
Oxford, UK, Home University Library, 1947, p.190.
5. Poincare, Henri, Science and Method, translated by
Francis Maitland, New York, NY, Dover Publications, p.16.
two differing views
But Technology is still essential
-- and prior. The Greek venture as Farrington put it, "was
not killed -- it died": 6 it had reached the limit of possible expansion within
the mold in which it was cast. No further progress could be made
without experiment, and without the technical aids for measurement
and observation. Because these were missing, development came
to an end.
A slave class, which did all the
manual labor, rendered such activities quite improper for a gentleman
and a scholar. Experiment was discouraged because it was socially
incorrect to use one's hands. It was not until very much later
in history that trade gave rise to a technically proficient and
prosperous Middle Class, thus changing the situation so that
skilled labour became an honorable occupation. Then men began
to feel that perhaps after all a gentleman could tinker a little
- provided of course it was not for money but was only for the
advancement of pure learning or for the amusement of the less
But now the fine instrumentation
required for exact measurement was now possible -- which it had
not been before. Such was the background of the founding of the
Royal Society. As a matter of fact, the Society was pre-eminently
an association not of scholars and learned men so much as of
curious amateurs interested in experimenting for the fun of it
and anxious to get their hands on the few pieces of experimental
equipment then available for the first time. Yet it must also
be said that many of its charter members were also deeply interested
in problems of industry and commerce. 8
Moreover it is clear that mere
experiment for fun would hardly be likely to yield many useful
results. As lago Galdston put it: 9
6. Farrington B., Science in Antiquity,
Oxford, UK, Home University Library, 1947, p.193.
7. Dircks, Henry, The Times, and Scientific Labours of the
Second Marquis of Worcester, London, UK, Quaritch, 1865,
8. Galdston, lago, "The Dawn of Experimental Science,"
Ciba Symposia, vol.8, June-July, 1946. p.350.
9. Galdston, lago, "The Rise of Modern Research,"
Ciba Symposia, vol.8, June-July, 1946, p.354, 355.
of observations leads nowhere. It is only when these observations
are integrated by ideas yielding scientific generalizations and principles
that they effectively advance Science
It involves more than the extraction
of a general principle by the process of summating so many old
and newly acquired facts. It involves rather the formulation
of questions to be answered by the process of experimentation.
But the questions are not of an elementary character, and the
experiment involves patterns not ordinarily found in Nature.
Research then aims not so much at uncovering the ways of Nature
as to force nature to yield up her secrets.
is something that other peoples have been loath to do. They do
not dare, or care, to tamper with Nature because it is personal,
any more than we do with people so long as we believe that people
are persons and not merely things. One enters into communion
with an individual if one is concerned with understanding his
motivations, and in the same spirit all non-Indo-Europeans seem
to have sought to enter into communion with Nature in order to
understand her 'motivations.' Only by such methods did they believe
it possible to gain some measure of security - and (by the persuasion
of magic) a small controlling interest. To them, Nature was un-predictable
as people are unpredictable.
Magic vs science; the part played by logic
There has always been disagreement
as to whether Magic is Science in the making. Some authorities
hold that it is -- usually because they have found to their surprise
that the native is quite logical in his use of it, granted his
initial beliefs. No native would waste good magic on poor soil,
and often there are very exact rules surrounding the application
of it which suggest that there is a rationale to it all in the
minds of its practitioners. This is not always true, but it very
often is. Besides, there was a certain element of good sound
common sense in many cases. Samuel Kramer points out that the
Sumerians believed firmly in the magic of incantation - but also
advised one to do what one could to help. The Sumerian farmer,
for example, was recommended to pray appropriately to the gods
of the soil to prosper the newly planted seeds - but he should
also scare the birds away! 10
10. Kramer, Samuel N., From the Tablets
of Sumer, Indian Hills, CO, Falcon's Wing Press, 1956, p.63.
Cassirer says: 11
What is characteristic of primitive
life is not its logic but its general sentiment of life. .. .
He does not ascribe to himself a unique and privileged place
This is what
distinguishes Magic from Science, and sets the two virtually
in opposition To achieve the second, one must abandon the first
entirely: and this means more than merely saying one does not
believe in Magic any more - it means an entirely new view of
Nature-Man relationships. The I-thou of Magic must
give place to the me-it of Science. But granted this sense
of kinship towards the world around, a kinship which is largely
the basis of all forms of Totemism, the native then works as
logically with his Magic as a man would who sought to persuade
an acquaintance (whose friendliness is not completely established
yet) to "change his mind."
In reviewing a book African
Worlds: Studies in the Cosmological Ideas and Social Values of
African People, edited by Daryll Ford, the reviewer John
Middleton points out: 12
What may at first seem a jumble of
superstition is . . . seen to form a coherent set of beliefs.
Once certain premises are accepted -- including some denied by
Western Scientific theory, then the entire structure built upon
them is logical and reasonable.
I doubt whether
there is any dissent among modern Anthropologists on this point,
though there may be occasionally two mutually contradictory premises
in some particular native thought system which introduce confusion
(to our way of thinking) into the line of reasoning. There is
evidence, as Levy-Bruhl showed clearly enough, that the "law
of contradiction" is not always observed by primitive people.
Yet they can rationalize their contradictory beliefs very often
when pressed to do so. It is very essential to stress this point,
because it is not a question of intelligence at all.
11. Cassirer, Ernst, Essay on Man,
New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1944, p.82.
12. Middleton, John, reviewing Daryll Ford, Editor African
Worlds: Studies in the Cosmological Ideas and Social Values of
African People, (Nature. Oct. 16, 1954, p,715.)
Languages: influence on view
There are several reasons for the
absence of Science (and Philosophy) among non-Indo-Europeans,
but none of them as far as I can discover, has anything to do
with the absence of the power to think logically.
As we have seen, two reasons in particular, which may possibly
be related, are worthy of further consideration. The first is
this all-pervasive sense of kinship with Nature, a world-view
in which things do not have characteristics but characters.
This will be dealt with in the next Chapter.
The second reason is a language which
is so specific that it does not permit the abstraction of generalities.
Let me explain this a little more fully first. I think I can
do this most readily by using two quotations and then commenting
E. B. Tylor, one of the founding
fathers of Anthropology, says this:13
Abstraction is noticing what
several thoughts (or situations) have in common and neglecting
their differences; thus a general idea is obtained by not
attending too closely to particulars. [Emphasis mine]
And Max Muller,
one of the founding fathers of Linguistics says this:
An empirical acquaintance with
the facts rises to a scientific knowledge of the facts as soon
as the mind discovers beneath multiplicity of single productions,
the unity of an organic system.
And then an
illustration: Newton discovered the concept of gravitation and
its laws by taking into account three groups of phenomena which
are entirely unrelated to the merely perceptive observer: freely
failing objects, the movements of the planets, and the alternation
of the tides.
Now in a sense non-Indo-Europeans do
see the "unity of an organic system" of which Muller
speaks, but it is not through observation of the common elements
achieved by neglect of the particulars, but rather by a transfer
of ideas, in which the social life of man is attributed to Nature,
and the whole Universe becomes a
13. Tylor, Edward B., Anthropology, New
York, NY, Hill, New Science Library, 1904, p.41.
14. Muller, Max, quoted by C. G. Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious,
translated by Beatrice M. Hinkle, London, UK, Dodd and Mead,
single integrated Society -- a Giant
State -- in which man is a very little frog. Because human nature is so
unpredictable, they tended to note changes in human activity and to ignore
the uniformities, and accordingly to notice the exceptions in Nature also,
and to forget -- or ignore -- the regularities, at least to take little
interest in them. Regularities of behaviour are safe, and one does not
need to worry too much about them. It is the irregularities that one must
take steps to insure against. One has to do this, if one's life is not
too secure. "The Boss is in a good mood today" brings as much
comfort to the office gang as favourable weather did to the non-Indo-European
and noting the fact was important for everyone's well being. As soon as
the exceptional occurred it had to be evaluated. Frequently it was frightening.
Usually appropriate action had to be taken to deal with it.
What to us is an interesting phenomenon,
to them was a dangerous Omen. The secret was to cajole or persuade
or scare or even cheat Mother Nature to change her mood and behave
normally again, i.e., peaceably. You can fool people, so you
can fool Nature too, if you know how. Thus arises Magic. It is
a gentle or forceful reminder to Nature to fulfill her obligations.
It may seem silly to us. But it is not unusual to find oneself
kicking a chair that has 'got in the way, or getting angry with
a motor that 'refuses' to start. The extent to which this animistic
spirit is found even among College Students today is quite surprising.
It has been reported upon recently.15
But to return
to the observation of what is common rather than what is exceptional,
it is in this capacity that man becomes a 'species maker', and
begins the formation of classes of things. Such classifications
are the first step towards the creation of abstract concepts.
But non-Indo-Europeans have not tended to form them, either because
their languages do not have terms for classes of things and they
thus lack words to convey or inspire thoughts of this nature,
or because for some reason their minds do not tend to observe
these relationships. In the latter instance, they would not invent
words for classes of things. In either case, their language should
reflect the absence of categorizing tendencies, and this appears
to be so.
Moreover, to observe what is common
in several situations when only one situation is present to the
observer at the moment, requires a certain kind of total awareness,
an escape from the present and a
15. Dennis, Wayne, "Animististic
Thinking Among College and University Students" Scientific
Monthly, Apr., 1953, p.247-249.
consciousness of other events not
now related to the immediate situation. Only thus can general laws be
recognized. For example, a bullet fired horizontally, no matter what the
muzzle velocity of the gun may be, will theoretically reach the ground
at exactly the same time that a bullet merely dropped from the muzzle
does. This law is an ideal one, and is seldom if ever realized in fact
due to other considerations. But the points that only a special kind of
mind would even think about it, let alone anticipate the fact. Certainly
it is not obvious in the sense that one could assume it without giving
much thought to the matter. The fact is there, but it is not obvious,
and it could probably never be 'observed' in actuality.
Theorizing depends on telling "lies"
in a classic work on the inductive nature of Science, seeks to
make it very clear that there is more to the discovery of scientific
laws than merely the recognition of existing facts. The relationships
are what count, and in a sense these relationships do not exist.
They are mental creations, although when once discovered they
thenceforth may appear to be self-evident. Whewell says:16
Induction is familiarly spoken
of as the process by which we collect a general proposition from
a number of particular cases; and it appears to be frequently
imagined that the general proposition results from a mere juxtaposition
of the cases, or at most, from merely conjoining and extending
them. But if we consider the process more closely, we shall perceive
that this is an inadequate account of the matter.
facts are not merely brought together, but there is a new element
added to the combination by the very act of thought by which
they are combined. There is a conception of the mind introduced
in the general proposition, which did not exist in any of the
observed facts. When the Greeks, after long observation of the
motions of the planets saw that these motions might be rightly
considered as produced by the motion of one wheel revolving inside
of another wheel, these wheels were creations of their minds,
added to the facts which they perceived by sense. And even if
the wheels were no longer supposed to be material, and were reduced
to mere geometrical spheres and circles, they were not the less
products of the mind alone -- something additional to the facts
observed. The facts are known, but they are insulated and unconnected,
till the discoverer supplies from his own stores a principle
of connection. The pearls are there, but they will not hang together
till someone provides the string.
16. Whewell, William, The Philosophy of
the Inductive Sciences Founded upon Their History, London,
UK, Parker, 1840, vol.2, p.213, 276.
speaking subsequently of the relationships between Technology (which he,
like older writers, terms Art) and Science, Whewell says:
Thus Art in its earlier stages at
least, is widely different from Science, independent of it, and
anterior to it. At a later period, no doubt, Art may borrow aid
from Science; and the discoveries of the philosopher may be of
great value to the manufacturer or the artizan. But even then,
this application forms no essential part of Science; the interest
which belongs to it is not an intellectual interest.
The one activity
is a search for solutions to practical problems, the other for
solutions to intellectual ones. The first result in the invention
of devices and techniques, the second in the invention of theories.
Theories are related to the ideal, while techniques are tied
to the actual. The former are often contrary to experienced fact,
and in this sense are deceptions. The idealized theories of little
boys are called 'lies,' but of men, they are the stuff of science.
Curiously enough it is more characteristic of the Indo-European
to tell lies than it is of the non-Indo-European, in spite of
popular opinion to the contrary. In fact, A. Irving Hallowell
says that the American Indians did not even have a 'category
of fiction' as he calls it. 17 They had stories that we believe are contrary to
fact, and therefore in this sense 'fictional,' but they believe
them to be history -- or they believed that they were essentially
true. They did not invent stories to amuse their listeners.
And this is equally true apparently of the people of the early
Middle Eastern Cultures. As Frankfort says in his Introduction
to The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: 18
In telling such myths (as the
Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians had) the ancients did not
intend to provide entertainment. Neither did they seek, in a
detached way and without ulterior motives, for intelligible explanations
of the natural phenomena. They were recounting events in which
they were involved to the very extent of their existence.
This is an important
point, for it is their involvement with the situation which excludes
objectivity and makes it virtually impossible for the non-Indo-European
(unless influenced by Western Culture) to stand aside and see
the relation which exists between what is present and what is
17. Hallowell, A. J., "Myth, Culture
and Personality,' American Anthropologist, Dec., 1947,
18. Frankfort, H., H. A. Frankfort, The Intellectual Adventure
of Ancient Man, Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press,
Hoijer points out that the Hopi, a pueblo people of the south-west, cannot
tell certain kinds of lies', their language simply does not permit it.
Thus they may speak of 10 men but not of 10 days, because you can have
10 men at one time, but only ONE day at a time.
19 They may speak therefore of a time 'after the
tenth day' if necessary, and so forth, but not often days. There are other
reasons why they do not speak of 10 days, one of which is that strictly
speaking they do not speak of one day either -- in the sense that we do.
Intervals of time do not exist in the kind of discrete way they do for
Such a view of time becomes complicated,
for living entirely in the 'now' all the time eliminates the
future tense also. Thus a man has either done something or is
doing it -- he cannot, strictly speaking, say that he will
be doing it in the future. If he has planned it sufficiently
to be able to say this, he has already begun to do it now. So
the future becomes the present; what he will be doing becomes
what he is doing now. In fact, even in English we may speak in
the same manner, as for example when we say "I am going
shopping tomorrow with a friend," where we should perhaps
more properly say "I shall be going shopping tomorrow, etc."
There is a wonderful illustration
of this way of looking at time, in a story told by Melvin Kyle:
A desert traveller went with
a missionary friend to visit one of the 10,000 mud villages in
the Nile Valley. The night was not a restful one in a native
home. The next morning the traveller wished to return as soon
as possible to the boat on the Nile. The missionary however,
knowing the demands of courtesy, insisted that they must not
go until after breakfast, but expressed the hope that breakfast
might be expedited. "Oh", said the host, "breakfast
is just ready."
One hour and an half after
that time by the traveller's watch, a match was struck to kindle
the fire to cook the breakfast. And some time later still, a
cow was driven into the court of the house to be milked to provide
the milk to cook the rice to make breakfast.
Was the host
untruthful? Not at all; he did not reckon by time but by events.
He had no way of determining the passage of time. When he said
'Breakfast is just ready," he meant it was the next thing
19. Hoijer, Harry, "The Relation
of Language to Culture" in Anthropology Today, edited
by A. L. Kroeber, University of Chicago Press, 1953, p.562.
20. Melvin Kyle, quoted by Chester K Lehman, "Biblicism
and Science," Journal of The American Scientific Affiliation,
vol.6, Dec., 1954, p.4.
household economy, that they would
do nothing else until that thing was done, and that everything done was
to that end. He reckoned only by events.
Benjamin Lee Whorf states that
the same is exactly true of Hopi thinking. The native who is
planning to hoe his garden tomorrow is doing it today - by having
planned it. Today and tomorrow are the same thing, in intent.
Hebrew has no distinct future form
either. The tense of all verbs is either present or past (perfect),
a thing either being done already, or being done now. For human
activity the Present Tense is made to take the place of the Future,
as though it was not possible to think of action as actually
being done in the future.., it is in fact a fiction. But not
so with Divine Activity. Future action is so certain where God
is the Doer, that it can safely be said to have now been done,
and so the Perfect Tense is used. Hebraists refer to this as
the Prophetic Perfect.
World view: influence of grammar on view
Thus the grammar of language
in such instances determines the patterns of thought for the
growing child. To some extent he does not 'think' lies of this
kind, and cannot deliberately tell them. Yet as we have seen,
speaking of what is contrary to fact is basic to all forms of
theorizing. Negative numbers are completely fictional - though
being in debt is real enough! Practically every scientific law
involves some fictional element since it is always stated as
true 'ideally', or 'in a perfect vacuum', and so forth. As Else
Frenkel-Brunswik put it, "It is precisely the fictitious
concepts rather than those fully definable by observables that
enable science to proceed to explanation and prediction."
Our own language structures
our thoughts also: and although we assume it is expressing for
us an actual and objective view of reality, the assumption might
not be true. It seems as though it must be, since it has given
us such wonderful powers of prediction. Yet there are people
of other languages, and men of learning, who suggest the need
for caution here.
Benjamin L. Whorf has made this
21. Frenkel-Brunswik, Else, "Meaning
of Psychoanalytic Concepts and Confirmation of Psychoanalytic
Theories," Scientific Monthly, Nov., 1954, p.293.
22. Whorf, B.L., "Language, and Logic" in The
Technology Review, (vol.43, no.6,April, 1941), republished
with several other papers under the title Collected Papers
on Metalinguistics, Foreign Service Institute, Department
of State, Washington, DC, 1952, p.21.
We cut up and
organize the spread and flow of events as we do, largely because,
through our mother tongue, we are parties to an agreement to do so,
not because nature itself is segmented in exactly that way for all
to see. Languages differ not only in how they build their sentences
but in how they break down nature to secure the elements to put m
these sentences. . . . As goes our segmentation of the face of nature,
so goes our physics of the cosmos.
other hand there are Chinese scholars, well acquainted with the
Western tradition, who hold that it is a mistake to suppose this
is any more than a provisional analysis of reality. It needs
correctives, the kind of correctives which may be supplied by
the world-view in terms of other types of language. One supposes
that if Chinese were to become the universal language, a very
real possibility considering their population growth (though
we tend to assume meanwhile that English will be!), we would
in time accept a quite different world-view.
The efforts made by some groups
to produce an inter-lingua might in the end, if they were extremely
successful, impoverish the world beyond measure. In an article
touching on this particular question, Alexander Gode quotes Benjamin
Whorf as having said: 23
I believe that those who envision
a future world speaking only one tongue, whether English, German,
Russian, or any other, hold a misguided ideal and would do the
evolution of the human mind a great disservice. Western Culture
has made, through language, a provisional analysis of reality
and, without correctives, holds resolutely to that analysis as
final. The only correctives lie in all these other tongues which
by aeons of independent evolution have arrived at different,
but equally logical, provisional analysis.
And in a recent
book which collects a number of miscellaneous Papers by the same
writer, there is this statement which is relevant here: 24
23. Whorf, B.L.: quoted by Alexander Gode, "The Case for
Interlingua," Scientific Monthly, Aug., 1953, p.90.
24. Whorf, B.L, Language, Thought, and Reality, Selected Writings
of Benjamin Lee Whorf, edited by John B. Carrol, Boston,
MA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1956, p.252.
thinking is most mysterious, and by far the greatest light upon it
that we have is through the study of language. The study shows that
the forms of a person's thought are controlled by inexorable laws
of pattern of which he is unconscious. These patterns are the unperceived
intricate systematizations of his own language. . . . His thinking
itself is in a language, in English, in Sanskrit, in Chinese. And
every language is a vast pattern-system, different from others, in
which are culturally ordained the forms and categories by which the
person not only communicates but also analyzes nature, notices or
neglects types of relationship and phenomena, channels his reasoning,
and builds the house of his consciousness.
But as Whorf
says -- "thinking in a language" does not necessarily
mean the use of spoken words. That is to say, one need not give
vocal expression yet the thought is carried nevertheless
in terms of language. This is clearly seen for instance in the
case of Helen Keller who will walk up and down in times of stress
(such as in the preparation of a 'speech') talking to herself
with her fingers! Helen Keller's teacher, Miss Anne Sullivan,
makes a strong point of this. She says, "The ordinary man
will never rid himself of the fallacy that words obey thought,
that one thinks and phrases afterwards." 25
25. Helen Keller, The Story of My Life,
New York, NY, Grosset and Dunlap, 1905, p.419 (as stated
by her teacher, Miss Anne Sullivan, in the section written by
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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