If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Tag: language

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

The image Searle wishes to project places the human front and center and downplays the rest nearly completely. In such a case, what else could one wish to map oneself onto but the human?

When, however, one realizes that the human being plays but an inconsequential role–that of dronelike bookkeeper–in a fantastically large and intricate system the interesting aspects of whose behavior take place on a slow-as-molasses time scale far more stretched-out than one can easily identify with, one starts to realize how ingenuous and wrong-headed it is to insist on mapping oneself solely onto the tiny human lost in the middle of it, because doing so completely leaves out of the picture the true source of the system’s complexity and interest.

(of Searle’s Chinese room argument)

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

Büstenhalter strikes me as just about as gawky as “blockbuster”. I’m not saying “bra” is a beautiful word, but at least it doesn’t sound like a harsh warning that a Communist border guard might have yelled out to stop some desperate would-be escapee from scaling the Berlin Wall.

Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

Music had stirred him like that. Music had troubled him many times. But music was not articulate. It was not a new world, but rather another chaos, that it created in us. Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! … Was there anything so real as words?

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene (1976)

Human suffering has been caused because too many of us cannot grasp that words are only tools for our use, and that the mere presence in the dictionary of a word like “living” does not mean it necessarily has to refer to something definite in the real world.

excerpt appears in The Mind’s I, ed. Daniel Dennett and Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1981

Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

The fried egg isn’t properly a fried egg till it’s been put in a frying pan and fried. This is something you wouldn’t do to a Friday, of course, though you might do it on a Friday. You can also fry eggs on a Thursday, if you like, or on a cooker. It’s all rather complicated, but it makes a kind of sense if you think about it for a while.

(from ‘For Children Only’, which is fantastic)

Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

Everybody does it, but because there isn’t—or wasn’t—a word for it, everyone thinks it’s something that only they do and that they are therefore more stupid than other people. It is reassuring to realize that everybody is as stupid as you are and that all we are doing when we are standing in the kitchen wondering what we came in here for is “woking.”

Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses (1988)

Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.

Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses (1988)

Valance had started out in advertising and his vocabulary had never recovered from the blow.

Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses (1988)

…names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth’s marvels, beneath the dust of habit.

Charles Baudelaire

Tout l’univers visible n’est qu’un magasin d’images et de signes auxquels l’imagination donnera une place et une valeur relative.

(Qtd. in a Larousse edition of Les fleurs du mal, I know not where from. I believe the full quote goes on, “c’est une espèce de pâture que l’imagination doit digérer et transformer.”

Roughly, “The whole visible world is but a warehouse of images and symbols to which imagination assigns each its own rank and value; it’s a sort of feed that the imagination must consume and reshape.”)