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Language & Lingustics

Language and Linguistics have been key issues during the twentieth century embracing everything from philosophy and psychology to physics and cultural studies. The work of Wittengstein is well known in these fields, perhaps less well known is that of the physicist Neils Bohr who commented that "we are all suspended in language so we don't know which was is up and which is down." Bohr pointed out that while physics may appear to be about measurements and the manipulation of equations most of what physicists do is carried out and developed during informal conversations. No matter how abstract may be the mathematics, the meaning of signs and symbols must finally be discussed using what Bohr termed "ordinary language".

Topics in this section include a discussion of Neils Bohr and David Bohm's views on the use of language in quantum theory, Bohm's idea of the Rheomode, a verb based language appropriate to quantum reality, Native American languages and world views, the way language is used in science, the role of language in psychotherapy, plus some speculations on the way language could change with the advent of cyberspace.

For a workshop with David Peat

Contents

Bohr and Language
Bohm and the Rheomode
Native American Languages
Peat and Ford
Language and Psychotherapy
Language and Cyberspace



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Bohr and Language

Neils Bohr
Neils Bohr

Within the classical world of Newtonian physics no essential discontinuity existed between description and reality, between the world, perception, discourse, communication and the use of language. This is not the case within quantum theory. When physicists discuss the subatomic world they inevitably use the words of everyday language that almost subliminally convey notions of separation, connectedness, interaction, inner and outer, simultaneity and duration, causality and objectivity. No matter how careful physicists may be they are constantly importing everyday concepts, that have been refined by two hundred years of association with classical physics, into their discourse.

Einstein's primary objection to quantum theory was not so much the element of chance (God does not play dice with the world) but that it did not allow for the existence "independent elements of reality." Unless reality exists quite independently of our human wishes, intentions and observations then, for Einstein, the world would not make sense. ("I refuse to believe that the moon does not exist when we don't observe it.") Bohr, by contrast, argued that such "independent elements" do not exist and, moreover, whenever we attempt to talk about such notions as the "underlying nature of quantum reality" we run into linguistic difficulties. Ordinary language constantly undermines and contaminates the discussion. It was only with the discovery and verification of Bell's Theorem that Einstein's position was finally found to be untenable. (Bohm's position remains a dissenting view from the majority for he believes that while a return to classical determinism is not possible an Ontology of quantum theory may still be achieved.)

Bohr's own writings on this topic are subtle, at times to the point of near obscurity. In his attempts to deal with language problems it is joked that after writing down one sentence Bohr would attempt to express exactly the opposite in the next. ("The opposite of truth is a lie, but the opposite of a Great Truth is another Great Truth.")

The nature of Bohr's writings therefore makes it difficult to determine his final views on "quantum reality", was he suggesting that such a reality is simply not available to discourse, or that such a reality has no existence? The French physicist Bernard d'Espagnat preferred to term it a "veiled reality".

Related Essays:
Alchemical Transformation: Consciousness and Matter, Form and Information
The Role of Language in Science



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Bohm and the Rheomode

David Bohm
David Bohm

David Bohm had deep respect for Bohr, even while not always agreeing with him. In particular Bohm would not accept Bohr's barrier to the possibilities of continued discourse about an Ontology for quantum theory. Bohm did note, however, that our (Indo-European) languages tend to be highly noun-oriented and well suited to discussions of concepts and categories. By contrast, quantum theory demands a more process-oriented approach, a verb-based language perhaps that emphasizes flow, movement and constant transformation. (Bohm's Holomovement - the movement of the whole.)

To this end Bohm developed the notion of a particular language form, the Rheomode, adapted to the discussion of quantum theory and, indeed, to consciousness. It is not clear if Bohm ever considered the Rheomode to have any practical consequences - ie that people would end up speaking it. However, he does appear to have encouraged staff and students at Brockwood Park School, England to experiment with the language. Towards the end of his life Bohm met with Blackfoot and Ojibwaj speakers and discovered that their own family of languages, as well as their process-world view, have much in common with the Rehomode.

Related Essays:
Alchemical Transformation: Consciousness and Matter, Form and Information
David Bohm, Paul Cezanne and Creativity
Mathematics and the Language of Nature
Non-locality in Nature and Cognition



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Native American Languages

The Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis has been stated in several forms, the most general being that a connection exists between language and world-view, or between perception and language. During the 1980s and early 90s Peat had the opportunity to engage in dialogue circles with Native American Elders (mostly speakers of the Algonquian language family (Blackfoot, Ojibwaj, Naskapi, Cheyenne and others), but also Mohawk and Haida speakers.)

Speakers of the Algonquian family employ a strongly verb-based language. Their world-view is one of constant flux and transformation. In this there is some, possibly only superficial, resemblance to Bohm's Rheomode and the approach of Quantum Theory. (See Maps and a book (Blackfoot Physics also known as Lighting the Seventh Fire).

Related Essays:
Alchemical Transformation: Consciousness and Matter, Form and Information
Blackfoot Physics and European Minds
I've Got a Map in my Head



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Peat and Ford

With the linguist Alan Ford, Peat began a study of the way language is used in physics, how words are transformed in association with the development of ideas, and if language can act as a block to development of physics. The initial essay was very well received but further research into this general field remains to be pursued.

Related Essays:
Meaning and Structure in Biology and Physics: Some Outstanding Questions
The Role of Language in Science



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Language and Psychotherapy

Many analysts have observed the ways in which therapist and patient become coupled together during the analytic encounter, even to the point where the therapist gains access to private and highly details of the patient's conscious and unconscious. Within classical Freudian (and its offshoots) analysis this is attributed to the mechanisms of transference and counter-transference.

But how exactly does transference take place. Some have suggest underlying mechanisms, such as gestural or non-verbal communication, telepathy, the existence of some sort of physical or non-physical field, or alternatively to the structuring principles of archetypal "fields" which have been more recently described as "strange attractors". While not ruling out any of these alternatives Peat notices that nature often relies on the overdetermined and superfluous- a single goal can be achieved by a variety of different strategies. Thus to the notion of some sort of physical or semi-physical field of connection, Peat would add what he terms a "linguistic field". By this he means that from the time of the first interview, and on through the course of therapy, a common "linguistic field" is developed between patient and therapist - (or for that matter between husband and wife, or other couples or groups that interact in an intense and continuous way). In a linguistic field syntax and semantics are used in characteristically limited or stylized ways.

Peat proposes that Linguistic Fields could be used as a diagnostic tool, to determine the prognosis of therapy, as a mechanism for transference and counter-transference, and as a clue to therapeutic break-through - ie during a breakthrough the Linguistic Field would go though a period of rapid transition and restructuring to exhibit greater freedom.

Linguistic Fields may also be characteristic of certain groups - those engaged in war games or the military would be an extreme case in point. To enter into such a group is to undergo a subtle change in the use of language and, along with it, a change in perception, action, communication and social values.

Related Essays:
Alchemical Transformation: Consciousness and Matter, Form and Information
Unfolding the Subtle: Matter and Consciousness



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Language and Cyberspace

The obvious critique that can be brought against the practicality of Bohm's Rheomode is that languages can not be changed by artificial means. Wishing to understand the nature of the quantum world, or embrace the world view of the Blackfoot is an insufficient reason for language to change. But does this mean that, beyond changes of accent, slang and colloquialisms, that our languages are fixed and that the European languages will never enter into a world of flux and transformation? Like all forms of evolution, languages change rapidly or slowly when ecological niches open or close, or though the influences of social change or disruption.

There is one area in which evolutionary pressure may prove to be particularly strong and that is in cyberspace, the Internet and associated new technologies. Human beings are only now learning how to create and enter these spaces; spaces that can be structured in quite different ways from those of the ordinary, physical world. Even working with a PC requires us to respond not only linguistically but via muscular reactions, while holding a mouse, to a variety of linguistic and pictorial cues. But while the PC is quite static, new technologies can be far more dynamic and promise all manner of real-time feed-back. They are therefore ripe for the development of new language forms and novel means of communication which would give emphasis to notions of flow and transformation.


Related Pages:David Bohm  | Native American |

Related Essays:
Alchemical Transformation: Consciousness and Matter, Form and Information
Mathematics and the Language of Nature
Meaning and Structure in Biology and Physics: Some Outstanding Questions
Non-locality in Nature and Cognition
The Role of Language in Science
A Science of Harmony and Gentle Action
Time, Synchronicity and Evolution
Unfolding the Subtle: Matter and Consciousness



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