Language Is A Virus

Words and language are but a virus preying upon our brains from birth.

Exploring Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Back and Back, we’re left with a peculiar takeaway; words and language are but a virus preying upon our brains from birth. However, this virus is symbiotic and the backbone of human culture–and culture is the foundation of our intelligence.

On the surface, language seems to mimic top-down intelligent design. We humans are the creator of our language so therefore we are in control of it. However, Dennett inverts the paradigm and ties the phenomenon to evolution, demonstrating how language is as organic as natural selection. “Children acquire this natural language by a quasi-Darwinian process, achieving the competences that are the foundation for comprehension by a process that is competent without comprehension” (197). The child becomes immersed in language from birth and bootstraps themselves into comprehension through a massive and unconscious process of trial and error (197).

Dennett explains that humans are genetically, or instinctually, wired to develop language and that we are uncontrollably immersed in it. We naturally attribute meaning to words through the senses in a variety of ways, embedding language into our cognitive ability—thought almost becomes all but impossible without language, and separating the two is practically unfeasible. By anthropomorphizing words, Dennett uses the analogy that words compete for survival and the only way they continue to exist is by attaching themselves to host brains. The users of these words spread them like viruses, contaminating new hosts by using these words.

In this sense of language, the process becomes entirely uncontrollable to the individual. In order to preserve our own existence and thrive in the game of human / cultural survival, language is completely necessary. However, I’ve personally wrestled with the question of language for many years. While in my opinion Dennett is unquestionably correct in his explanation of the process and affordances language has provided for humans, it is also our greatest limitation. As noted, language evolved alongside humans and it isn’t perfect. Philosophy often scrapes at the outer edges of thought and therefore is constrained by it [the language we use to construct such thoughts]. Original ideas, or trying to communicate new ways of thinking or discoveries is a monumental task when none of the current vocabulary or the necessary structure of language has not yet been developed (simply lacking the tools needed) to express the idea. In these instances, language is constricting the flow of information rather than fostering it.

Advancements in languages through writing, math, and computer code have created highly accurate copies of information and the dissemination of it. Controlling language in such a way—digitally vs analog—is also a form of evolution; though more of a “creator” top-down structure than Darwinian evolution. The way we are introduced to language and the way that language shapes our thoughts is uncontrollable, however understanding this process and developing alternatives to natural language offers a level of control and the potential for unprecedented advancement. Somehow operating outside the confines of language spurs development, but those developments must be consolidated within language in order to be shared with the culture and to be put to any practical use.

Newsletter

Enter your email below and never miss news and new releases from SW Hammond.



Pick Up Your Copy

  • Prime
  • Kindle
  • Paperback
  • Hardcover
  • Buy
News
SW Hammond
Believe me, you guys—I am so in love with these characters! Well, it has been quite the summer. Those of you who keep in touch and check out...
SW Hammond
Writing With The Human Condition In Mind I had the pleasure to sit down with James Kelly on his talk radio show and podcast, Aspects of...
SW Hammond
Spectacularly printed coffee table book filled with tons of photography. It’s been a long time coming, but the hardcover version of The...
Culture
SW Hammond
No matter your political stance, newspapers are organizations of sensationalism, partisanship, editorial opinion, and payola. Journalists...
SW Hammond
Today was… difficult. October 2, 2017—the day of the Las Vegas Massacre. It was technically the night before, but the world woke to another...
SW Hammond
See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. While there is absolutely no moral equivalency being drawn between good and evil—right and...
Media
SW Hammond
From Altair to Bayek, AC Origins is a homerun when the franchise needed it the most. I’ve been avid AC player for over a decade—I’ve played...
SW Hammond
Hold on… Can’t type—my trigger finger has a cramp from holding down R2 two hours straight… I’m don’t know what Three Fourths Home was...
SW Hammond
Life Is Strange became a perfect storm of teenage angst, friendship, and hipster quirkiness backed by thoughtful storytelling and a...
Music
SW Hammond
Sarah Saturday's dreamy-reflective bedroom pop rock project captivates and compels with earnest songwriting. Sarah Saturday might be my...
SW Hammond
Maybe you can never go home again. But if you could, Ghost Notes would be the soundtrack. For some reason I’ve avoided writing about Ghost...
SW Hammond
Guilty Pleasure? Embarrassed??? Hardly. As much as I love music, and devoted a significant amount of my life to it, I can still be pretty...
Philosophy
SW Hammond
The answers I’ve arrived at could have never been told to me—as I cannot tell them to you—they were achieved through realization by...
SW Hammond
On every measurable scale, no matter which side you are sympathetic toward, The Shortest War In History adds to the long list of Unjust wars...
SW Hammond
Knowledge is not an edifice built upon a foundation of indubitable facts, but an interpretative web of mutually supporting beliefs and...
Memoirs
SW Hammond
I was finally able to extract a bunch of data from an old hard drive. I was sure it contained old writings, school projects and music but...
SW Hammond
As I’ve become older, out of my twenties for a couple of years, I’ve found myself settling into a pattern of reveling in solitude. When I...
SW Hammond
I used to pour my guts out. Seems the only way I ever understood my feelings were to read them. The collection within these pages used to...