How accurately can language decribe the world?

This is a question that has allways been bugging me, and it resurfaced after a discussing on this board. I basicly try to be your average materialist. But when I actually sit down and try to describe the world I find I allways have to force myself to do it. And the result mostly feels like a lie…

Written language and logic is awfully binary. It doesn’t seem to do the world justice. You can do a lot more with spoken language in a face to face conversation, but it still doesn’t seem all that suited to codifie more abstact knowledge in.

Sure, it’s all we have, but even then it might be better to refrain from using language in this way because it’s overly suffocating.

What’s your view on this? And if you think it has his used this way, how far do you feel you can run with it?


ask wittgenstein


Which one?

Language accurately describes the world, yes.
But it does not equal it.

This is the nature of your struggle.

To further clarify…

The three most effective methods of conveyance are spoken language (including primal and cultural audible sounds, such as, “OW!” or, “AAAAHHH!” or, " sigh "), visual imagery, and audible music (as opposed to written).

This is why film evokes and provokes so effectively.

The spoken language accomplishes two things: it give you the thought itself (which written can do as well), and it gives you the implications of the thought (which written cannot do; the parameters of how something is said).
The visual imagery gives the identity of, and the context of the thought.
And the audible music gives you the emotional relation of the thought.

These three things together are the most effective ways of conveying what a thought is as close as can be accomplished to experiencing the thought existentially for the first time personally; experiencing first hand.

It is still not the same, but it is radically close enough to contain the very real ability to cause very tangible provocation.

the late ludwig, not the early one


It all depends upon the language I would think. You could use more than one language to do so. In fact you probably would have to use every living creature’s language to do so. Even lovebirds have a language to describe the world as they see it. Its a language that I can only grasp the rudiments of so far. I can make the ones that I care for shut up with a specific whistle all 25 of them stop any movement or noise with that whistle for about 5 to 10 seconds. Its a wonderful reprieve for me. :laughing:

How accurately is the question.

Not very. I intended it to be open ended, and see what people would come up with. I was fishing for idea’s on what can be done with language and what can’t. And how you can use it in other ways maybe.

I like what the Stumps has written, made me think on what a thought is, and the relation to language.

Edit: I misread your post. “How accurate is my question” I read.

But yes, I agree, obviously a yes and no answer to the question won’t do it. The title should have been “How accurate can language decribe the world?”. In fact, i’ll change it.

“True” and “real” aren’t synonyms.

That’s great :laughing: . We have a plague of wild chickens running arround the neighbourhood, there must be at least 50 of them. Do you by any chance know the sound to shut up cocks (pun intented)? That would be a find.

I know a couple of languages, and dialects, it’s surprising that every language has a different feel to it, and how different languages seem more suited for different things. The closest I came to expressing myself as i felt was right was when i spoke in the dialect I was raised in, with a couple of longlasting friends. But that was a language loaded with self-invented words and concepts… Other languages feel more restricting, especially the standard dictionary versions of them.

Yes, got it. Truth is applicable to statements, and real is just what you sense. Are you implying one should give up trying to capture what is real?

I wouldn’t say that necessarily. What do you mean by capture?

Interesting. So basicly you’re saying we think, just like we experience. Thought is more than language. I’ll have to think about this.

And doesn’t that imply that written language is hopelessly inadequate to convey thought?

I mean when I talk or write something i’d typically want to tell what is real (if that was my goal at the moment). I don’t really make the distinction with truth, or at least not consciously. I took it to mean it’s better to be aware of the difference, and aim for truth, not real.

Maybe it’s because it’s Friday afternoon, but I’m confusing myself in trying to answer you. Or maybe I’m just plain confused.

:laughing: Or maybe it’s me confusing you… or language is just plain confusing.

Maybe what I thought you were getting at was something like this :

If i say something true, it only about that specific statement. “I did not have sex with that women” was a true statement depending on how you define “sex”, but only marginally touches real. You allways leave out more than you can include, it’s how language works. Real is everything, true is one specific statement. If one tries to translate what is real into language, one will allways be frustrated because language doesn’t lend itself to it. So it’s better to be aware of the proces of language and aim at something attainable, truth, not real.

The written language isn’t exactly inadequate, but it is definitely it’s own.

The written language is the inspiration for everything else that conveys thought.
As such, it is best to convey a thought in written form with an understanding that the interpretation of that written expression of the thought will give way to other thoughts because the identity and emotion are foremost lacking in written language.

This is why novels that go into great length of detail trying to explain every little aspect to the reader, in hopes of getting the thought more clearly expressed, fail to connect well when compared to novels that give only an adequate amount of detail so that your mind is free to create the identity and emotional context that the written language is conveying.

So when you discuss concepts like philosophy, you could realize this; that philosophical writing is like a painting; it lacks identity, context, or emotional tangibility.
It is up to the reader to attach those things to the piece, and in so doing, will change the interpretation more radically than if the piece had arrived in more full accuracy to the thought you personally had in all the sensations that you had the thought.

Your thought in other minds is their thought to control.

we see the world through lenses of language - so in some sense specific languages are biased approaches to reality - language shapes thought, it makes memory possible - it makes higher levels of thought possible (metaphor, narrative, mathematics, science) - it constricts thought and perception in some ways just as it facilitates them in others - it dictates through description - Yes, i would say language accurately describes reality in some sense, at least at the level of fundamental tautologies - broadcasting the episode and then recording what it sees as official history. Reality becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy precisely as a result of language’s epistemic monopoly, each determines the other. you might just as well ask how accurately the world reflects language’s models of it - it doesn’t matter which way you phrase the question - either way, the answer is highly accurately because language is how we know the world

:laughing: :laughing: Well I only understand simple love bird and that is because I tend to them 3 times a week for at least 3 hours each time. Trust me they are noisy buggers. They do have a language though as do your chickens. If you observe them and listen you might find the warning noise that shuts them up. Generally birds become quiet when a predator is observed by a bird, a warning sound is issued they all freeze and become quiet unless and until they are attacked. Good luck chickens have larger lungs and make louder noises than little love birds, I feel for you.

You do realize that language is more than just sound right? Truth and real. We speak with our bodies and our tones as most creatures do. True and real communication requires verbal language, body language and tone. Its possible to accurately describe the world face to face with such. But it would require all languages from all creatures that communicate. Each part of the world is seen and known differently. I realize that going to this length is not what you intend but, just using humans with tone, body and verbal would give a broader more clear picture. That is possible in this day and age thanks to video.

Well, the roosters usually start at 4-5 AM, bidding up to each other. Even if i knew the sound, getting out of my bed that early is no option :smiley: .

Yes, I do realize this. I think I usually have a fairly animated style of conversing. Tonight I had a great evening with some friends, just what I needed. It made me realize how confined written really language is. Unfortunately written language, or better very dry written language, is the larger part of my job as a legal counsel. Reading, writing and also talking in that robotic style all the time, sometimes makes it difficult to leave that mode, and find “my voice” again, if that make sense. Doing philosophy in my spare time doesn’t help either :smiley: . I need to find another job.

Thanks for the reaction.