Language Is Power, Raised to the Power of N

Jerry Zhang
June 8, 2022

Language Is Power, Raised to the Power of N

"Knowledge is power.", so they say. But where and how do we get our knowledge? Very little, if any, knowledge is born with us.  If knowledge is the currency that made us the most powerful species on earth, then the tool we used to gain our knowledge must be powerful to the Nth order: without it, we would have gained no knowledge, and thus powerless. Furthermore, whatever tool we used to gain our knowledge, we must be born with it.

Taking stock of our meager innate assets, we only find three items that we are absolutely sure of: I exist, I experience, and I cohere. The first we learned from Descartes, the second we inferred from Locke, and the third we picked from Hume. Descartes gave us a starting point. Locke allowed us one small step from this starting point : sucking, grabbing, tracking movement etc. We are left with one last item to create the rest of our magic power.

One thing is clear though, we all did it. Even at very young age, we all gained a lot of knowledge of things that are far away and even things that don’t exist anywhere. How did we do it? How did we learn things that we have never seen, heard or touched? Things that no one has seen, heard or touched? The secrete lies in a tool that we all have at some point: language. We learned most of those things from what we are told, from what we hear, from what we read and from what we imagine, linguistically.

What is language? Anything that stands for something else is language: a picture, a sound, a gesture, a drawing, a fire, smoke, or roses, as long as they stand for something else. Some languages are WYSIWYG: only intuition is needed to understand them. This includes all of our sensory signals: they stand for the external sources that generate them and can be understood intuitively. Others are symbolic: the methods for their interpretations must be learned separately.

How did we learn language itself? We learned the intuitive languages using our innate abilities to experience and cohere. Building on the intuitive languages, we learned the symbolic languages by learning their interpretations intuitively.  

Whoever creates a system that can understand language, creates an independent source of power in the full sense of the word: physical, social and otherwise. Legend has it that when asked, Matthew Boulton boasted1, “I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have - POWER.” In our case, the answer might be something like: “We are creating what Matt and Jim were selling, raised to the power of N.”

Jerry Zhang
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