New McCarthy Piece in Nautilus Magazine

This topic contains 16 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 5 days, 23 hours ago.

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  • 01 Dec 2017 at 8:36 pm #9908

    Richard L.

    Re: “I also wonder what he [McCarthy] thinks of the movie Arrival, if he’s seen it.”

    Well, I saw ARRIVAL and have read Ted Chiang’s book of stories. His “Story of Your Life” was interesting for what it says about time (lost in the movie, but there in the text). I thought it was also interesting that the aliens were cephalopods and I wondered if the reference was to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu (or has everyone been reading the same books on deep consciousness I mentioned above?).

    [edit] I have withdrawn the dumb rhetorical question. McCarthy should be interested in Ted Chiang’s story because he is interested in linguistics, and “Story of Your Life” presents several interesting problems. I had to go back this morning and read it to “get it.” The story soars in my estimation. I think I’ll watch the movie again too.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  Richard L..
    02 Dec 2017 at 2:22 am #9910


    I havent read the William Burroughs book that several people mentioned in which apparently language is compared to a virus. The only Burroughs book I’ve read is Naked Lunch.

    Can somebody hand me a towel for the egg on my face?

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  mother_he.
    02 Dec 2017 at 1:43 pm #9914

    Richard L.

    Re: “Can somebody hand me a towel for the egg on my face?”

    A small thing, that. Of course language, once invented/discovered, probably did spread something like a virus–or like gossip, as Keith Devlin had it in THE MATH GENE: HOW MATHEMATICAL THINKING EVOLVED AND WHY NUMBERS ARE LIKE GOSSIP.

    So perhaps Dennis McCarthy printed out the thread here and gave it to Cormac along with the postings at the Nautilus site.

    Cormac McCarthy says he doesn’t know what the subconscious is. Well, the standard dictionaries all define it as the unconscious and it doesn’t seem to have been a rhubarb anywhere but in the original thread here. I don’t feel any egg on my face for that because, regardless of what anyone else says, I believe that there are degrees of consciousness. It’s not either/or, not black or white.

    Sometimes we’re only barely conscious of something dim, out of reach. Sometimes we know but we still don’t know, as the song says. Subconscious seems to me to be a better description of some things just below the surface than unconscious. Think of the sub-soil as opposed to the deep clay. Consciousness is layered.

    02 Dec 2017 at 6:32 pm #9915

    Rick Wallach

    ““….no matter what your view of the nature of reality they can have no existence in the absence of an eye or something very like it.”

    Same is true for the tongue. Say what you will about reality, it’s still the best place to get a steak.

    02 Dec 2017 at 6:51 pm #9916


    I had thought the matter already settled with Jean-Pierre Brisset’s nineteenth century linguistic and philological work with the various Frog languages and French. Language is not a human invention. We already knew it when we were frogs.

    03 Dec 2017 at 5:09 pm #9919

    Richard L.

    Re: Steak and Frogs

    Hey, this thread is already a greater source of amusement than the original thread. This is the one that should have been handed over to Cormac.


    Upthread efscerbo astutely pointed out the possibility that Cormac McCarthy might have seen the movie ARRIVAL, which was made from the Ted Chiang story, “STORY OF YOUR LIFE.” And efscerbo suggests that if he hasn’t seen it, he might like it, or at least parts of it.

    Here’s Cormac:

    “There is more to be considered concerning the structure of language. Our understanding of the world at large is formed by our experience of that world in a way which is difficult to exaggerate. This is Nietzsche on the subject, even if he doesn’t go far enough:

    However far human knowledge may extend or however objective that knowledge may appear to be it is nevertheless largely only our own life stories.

    Now this of course jibes with the title and spirit of Ted Chiang’s story about a linguist who is given the job of translating the language of the alien heptapod cephalopods who have appeared on earth. She tries and fails to verbally translate their language, but the aliens begin to give her representative charts with symbols and mathematical equations which she finally begins to translate. The aliens have a different way of thinking about time and so their language contains the past, present, and future in the same diagram.

    With experience, the linguist is able to think in their language to a degree and this allows her to see her own future. She says that before she learned their language, “my memories grew like a column of cigarette ash, laid down by the infinitesimal silver of combustion that was my consciousness, marking the sequential present.”

    But after she learned their language, “new memories fell into place like gigantic blocks, each one measuring years in duration, and though they didn’t arrive in order or land contiguously, they soon composed a period of five decades,” ending with her death.

    It is both more complicated and more logical than that, something I didn’t realize until I went over it again:

    The physical universe was a language with a perfectly ambiguous grammar. Every physical event was an utterance that could be parsed in two entirely different ways, one causal and the other teleological, both valid, neither one disqualifiable no matter how much context was available.’

    “When the ancestors of humans and heptapods first acquired the spark of consciousness, they both perceived the same physical world, but they parsed their perceptions differently; the worldviews that ultimately arose were the end result of that divergence. Humans had developed a sequential mode of awareness, while heptapods had developed a simultaneous mode of awareness…’

    . . .—–. . .

    “With this language, I can see how my mind is operating. I don’t pretend to see my own neurons firing; such claims belong to John Lilly and his LSD experiments of the sixties. What I can do is perceive the gestalts; I see the mental structures forming, interacting. I see myself thinking, and I see the equations that describe my thinking, and I see myself comprehending the equations, and I see how the equations describe their being comprehended.”

    In the movie ARRIVAL there is a tension that isn’t there in “Story Of Your Life,” and while that makes it more of an alien movie, it makes it less of a linguistic movie. Both are worth your time. Perhaps even worth Cormac McCarthy’s time.

    07 Dec 2017 at 4:38 pm #9926

    Richard L.

    It would be nice if I could make the trip to the New Mexico conference in February, the agenda for which now includes replies to Cormac McCarthy’s published reply. I’ll start trying to persuade my wife.

    I certainly enjoyed Julie Sedivy’s A LINGUIST RESPONDS TO CORMAC MCCARTHY, published in Nautilus. She appears to make an argument that matched Max Tegmark’s theory, that all language is mathematical, that it started out as simple equations (as in Robert Calassio’s KA from the Sanskrit) but evolved shortly into compound mathematics and equations suggestive of computer language.

    She says:

    “Mathematically, we could say that a phrase formed by an adjective plus a noun corresponds to the intersection of the sets of things denoted by the adjective and the noun.”

    The simple becomes compound and then complex. And she talks about songbirds and human music, which uses a lot of the same “neural circuitry.” Lovely stuff on a lovely subject. She disagrees with McCarthy on some things, and no doubt there are a large number of her peers who disagree with her. As with a McCarthy conference, we can have diametrically opposed ideas yet acknowledge our shared delight in all of the subjects at hand, respectfully.

    Max Tegmark’s detractors are numerous as well, but unlike McCarthy, he frequents the internet and will argue his ideas on internet forums under his own name. See, for instance, here:

    Some of those dismissing him are no better than clowns throwing cream pies, but Max Tegmark is polite and argues in reply with his logic of an algorithm, which still leaves the pie-throwers cold, probably honestly because they just don’t understand how an algorithm works.

    What do you do after such a one-sided bout? You shrug it off and just keep moving. The world is as it is.

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