Q: What is a fractal?

A: A fractal is a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be subdivided into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole. Fractals are generally self-similar and independent of scale.

There are many mathematical structures that are fractals; e.g. Sierpinski triangle, Koch snowflake, Peano curve, Mandelbrot set, and Lorenz attractor. Fractals also describe many real-world objects, such as clouds, mountains, turbulence, and coastlines, that do not correspond to simple geometric shapes.*

We all have our own worlds and are simultaneously part of a larger. Every element in this universe follows this pattern. A proton exists in a world with neutrons and electrons all having a unique identity. Concurrently, they also exist as a part of an atom. The atom has its identity and yet is just a part of a molecule. The interesting thing is that these different levels of identity have their own set of unique rules to govern them, as if they are each separate realities. These unique rules can be thought of as a language. When two atoms collide they are communicating information such as their velocity and mass to one another and this communication changes the information state of each atom, i.e. they change the the direction and speed at which they were traveling. It is the goal of many modern physicists to harmonize all of these realities and sets of rules (quantum physics, Newtonian physics, relativity, special relativity) into one Grand Unified Theory. To some, figuring this out would mean learning THE secret of the universe, the answer to it all.

I like to use the following metaphor to clarify these ideas as they relate to communication between human beings. Imagine yourself a pinball, interacting with the board, which signifies your world. All of the environmental elements on the table are other people. The paddles represent fate/God/free-will, pick your favorite word. Strangely enough, all those environmental elements that you are bouncing around and interacting with, people (You fall in love! Score 1,000,000 points!!) are actually pinballs on tables of their own perception where you are the environmental element (think internal reality/mind vs external perception). People are communicating with each other in a limited fashion while never sharing the same world. One simple thing remains true, and that is if the people in this network are able to communicate with each other better, the network will function more efficiently. Now just jump right into the ocean of trouble with me as we attempt a definition for God. God is the macroscopic combination of fractalized microscopic cogs that drives our Universe. This idea lays the groundwork for the true purpose of this writeup concerning the definition, use, and evolution of language.

Stephen Hawking in A Brief History Of Time starts with an anecdote: A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.

At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."

The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"

'You're very clever, young man, very clever,' said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down."

Sure, science stands smugly confident in the face of the naïvete of the old lady, but Hawking went on to concede some significance to her simple wisdom. Evolution has a tendency not only to conquer the 'less fit' species that came before, but also to incorporate certain systems that may continue to be beneficial. Grab the goods and ditch the trash. Think of evolutionary systems, and not species of animals or plants. The timescales are vastly different, and it is in the former where this process is exhibited. Picture a human body. At one point in the history of the Universe, the atoms that make up our body floated about in a system of their own. Now for the quick rundown (watch the millenia fly by!) : atoms form molecules, molecules from simple life, and progress to even greater organizations of life, with more self-sustaining functions. However many steps between then and now has brought us to the human organism, comprised of unique and specialized organs and tissues all master-minded by a devilishly powerful brain. The unexpected benefit / curse of this evolutionary system would of course be consciousness. And now that we have the paltry science out of the way, let us proceed to the delicious irony.

Webster 1913
Lan"guage (?), n. (OE. langage, F. langage, fr. L. lingua the tongue, hence speech, language; akin to E. tongue. See Tongue, cf. Lingual.)

6. The suggestion, by objects, actions, or conditions, of ideas associated therewith; as, the language of flowers.
There was . . . language in their very gesture. Shak.

Take a walk outside and take a deep breath. Take a look around and notice how the trees aren't desperately reaching to tear you limb from limb. Notice also how the birds cohabitate and even sing eachother awake. Sure, there is a constant cycle of predation and some very violent acts in nature, but it is all so well communicated, even between species, climates and geographies, that a sustainable, elegant system has functioned quite perfectly for millenia, and then; Enter Man : stage left.

The tendency for equilibrium just isn't within us. We have these supercomputers residing in our skulls that can create abstract forms. Such a powerful system is stifled by a limited connection to the other supercomputers locked away in their skulls. In response, to bridge this gap, we evolved to invent language. The spoken word is good, and quite social, but the written word provides the permanence we need to evolve our systems of communication consciously, from one generation to the next. In a fashion we have found a way to communicate not only directly to one another, but through time, albeit in only one direction. Humanity is the only form of life to expressly direct our own evolution and not simply rely on nature's slow process. Some humans become erratic in their attempts to communicate; to self-express. Music, art, revolution, religion and science blossom and die in cycles. The process of evolution is to try every avenue possible as most will end up as dead ends, but conversely, the right way only needs to be found once.

This Universe developed its own set of laws for governing communication, or interaaction, soon after the Big Bang. Life as a system got instinct as its set of laws that govern interactions among the various organisms. At this stage of the game, humans have invented a myriad of languages in an effort to increase the capacity and quality of communication. I am not referring to the languages of different lands (Spanish, French, Japanese, etc.) but languages such as music, body language, the written word, the spoken word. It seems that with all of these options available for communication, especially with the noosphere of interacting intelligences that is the internet, that humans have it all figured out. What then of this lingering sense of tragedy, the ineffable sense of loneliness that no person can ever shake? People often tend to mistake 'words' with 'language' in passing conversation. After a little thought, it is obvious that the written and spoken word are only types of language. In fact, language has one definition as a system by which we organize all of our thoughts. The goal of communication then is to be able to express that one system of thought to another entity. It is said often enough that no two people are alike, and I sincerely hope that this doesn't refer solely to physical appearance alone. No two people think exactly the same. That being said, each person has their own system for organizing their thoughts. Some use pictures and emotions; others have logical libraries of facts while still others prefer to operate solely on color and music. Everyone has their own created language in their head. The first wonder is that we are able to translate this personal language. The second is that we are able to communicate this translation to another individual. But of course, we realize that it is never, ever entirely accurate, or even perfectly received and understood by another entity. We are always striving for more perfection in our language, our self-expression, if only to experience a greater sense of communion.

A creation of perfect language would have many consequences. Saying three little powerful words: (if you had the guts to), 'I love you' would no longer rely on the receiver's memories and experiences to conjur up the full impact of your communication. In the presence of a ubiquitous language, those three little words are guaranteed to issue forth a total understanding by both parties. Powerful streams of tears would literally drop the receiver to their knees. Negative words (I use the term 'words' here for the sake of a common understanding; who is to say what form the next evolution of language will take?) like hate and WAR would be treaded on very carefully. Just the simple idea that every person would be imbued with the full import and devastation of war could arguably eliminate its practice.

This is all so very idealistic on paper, but the trick would be to avoid the hive-mind or the Orwellian 1984 vision of Newspeak. Controlled language means controlled thought. This creation of a perfect language utopia could easily fall into dystopia. The paradox must coexist for this 'perfect language' to be any benefit at all. The ability to communicate perfectly with one another must also allow for individuality. Computers on a network achieve this without a hitch. They have their established protocols, and minus packet-loss or hardware failure, there is never any ambiguity as to what a computer means when it is sending a message to another computer. (For more information on ideas like this, follow the Vernor Vinge link below). A computer is one thing, but I don't think that TCP/IP is going to be the answer for the human mind. Telepathy is closer but I still think that it is missing either some vital data or a very important question. This author knows neither the question nor the answer, but the possibilities are enough to keep me musing for the rest of a short lifetime.

A Few Avenues for Further Exploration

Living Language

"Language is living when it is ostensibly dead. Words in a poem, an essay, a love letter, were given birth in a dialogue. To my mind, they are akin to the terminal moraine that a glacier leaves, or better, the way tree branches wave in the wind."


Vernor Vinge on the Singularity

"The post-Singularity world will involve extremely high-bandwidth networking. A central feature of strongly superhuman entities will likely be their ability to communicate at variable bandwidths, including ones far higher than speech or written messages. What happens when pieces of ego can be copied and merged, when the size of a selfawareness can grow or shrink to fit the nature of the problems under consideration? These are essential features of strong superhumanity and the Singularity. Thinking about them, one begins to feel how essentially strange and different the Post-Human era will be -- _no matter how cleverly and benignly it is brought to be_."


The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky

Outlines how the mind may function as a large number of 'dumb' operators that perform simple tasks. It is only through their interconnectedness that we get human-intelligence as we know it today.


visible language

It's possible to imagine a virtual reality that was driven by a speech-operated synthesizer where the various parts of ordinary speech, adjectives, modifiers, subjects and objects were interpreted by the cybernetic environment as topological manifolds of various shapes so that speech would then generate a visibly beheld topology. And its possible to imagine a future world where in setting up marriage contracts or in negotiating corporate takeovers, in areas where clear communication, clear expression of intentionality was very important, that people would actually go into the virtual reality to use the visible language because its capacity for conveying intent would be much greater than ordinary spoken language.

-Terence McKenna


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