Sunday, July 15, 2018

Wittgenstein's Lion 
In Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein famously said that "if a 
lion could speak, we could not understand him". This seems 
contradictory, because of course if he is speaking, it seems like we 
would understand him. But for Wittgenstein, the words themselves don't 
so much convey meaning, but express intent that is confined within a 
particular situation that takes place within our shared culture and 
experience. So, for example, if a surgeon is performing surgery and 
said "nurse, scalpel", it isn't simple the two words together that 
convey the meaning of the surgeon wanting the nurse to hand him a 
scalpel, it is their shared knowledge of what a surgery is, and what 
is expected under those circumstances. If, for example, the nurse and 
surgeon are later at a company dinner, and the surgeon says "nurse, 
salt", in the same cadence, this will be understood to be a joke, 
parodying the former circumstance. Nothing about the words themselves 
really conveys this, but only the shared world that both the nurse and 
surgeon occupy. This shared world is necessary for any language to 
function, and learning a language is not only learning the words, but 
the world in which we are expected to use the words. 
On the hand, if a lion could suddenly speak English, it wouldn't 
matter much, because the world that the lion exists in is so divorced 
from ours, that his expressions, desires, and intents could still 
never be communicated. The lion doesn't know what a surgery is, or a 
dinner party, or a joke for that matter. Likewise, we don't know what 
sort world the lion occupies, so words would be useless. This 
phenomenon isn't as outlandish as it might sound at first, and even 
occurs frequently among humans. For example, I had two coworkers who 
played World of Warcraft constantly, and would talk about it at lunch. 
They could speak to each other for ten minutes, in English, and I 
wouldn't be able to decipher a single sentence. It isn't because I 
didn't understand the meaning of the words, but because I had no 
ability to relate the words to a situation or world that I knew, so 
the meaning was lost on me. If I can't understand a conversation about 
a video game I haven't played, even when I've played similar games, 
how can I be expected to understand a conversation between lions? 


OrbsCorbs said...

I suggest that lions are already speaking to us. The real yackety-yackers are the tigers.

Only domestic cats (pets) can run with their tail vertical.

Anonymous said...

Its those Jaguars ya gotta watch out for.

All action - NO TALK!

Audubon Zoo in New Orleans shut down early on Saturday when a jaguar escaped from its habitat and killed six animals. Zoo officials said this is the first time in at least 50 years that one of its animals has killed others.

"This is by far the biggest incident we've had, the biggest magnitude, the biggest tragedy we've had," Ron Forman, head of the Audubon Nature Institute, said in a news conference.

The 3-year-old male jaguar, Valerio, got out of his enclosure around 7:20 a.m., before the zoo opened, according to Managing Director Dr. Kyle Burks. He mauled four alpacas, one emu and one fox in nearby habitats before being sedated by a vet team nearly an hour after his escape, the zoo said. Three other animals were being treated after the incident. Officials said the killings appeared to stem from territorial disputes.

The jaguar was safely secured in his night house. Vice President and General Curator Jack Hamilton said the jaguar was "doing what jaguars do."