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Thought Experiment 5: Beetle in the Box

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Posted Mar 17, '08 at 2:13pm

Asherlee

Asherlee

5,189 posts

Knight

Alright guys, this one is a bit harder to grasp because I'm introducing some Wittgenstein's thoughts on language.

As always, this is a thought experiment and there is no right or wrong answer. Keep the discussion friendly and intelligent!

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Ludwig and Bertie were two little tykes. Like many children, they played games with their own private languages. One of their favorites, which mystified the adults, was called "Beetle."
It started one day when they found two boxes. Ludwig proposed that they took one each, and that each would only ever look inside his own box, not that of the other. What is more, he would never describe what was in his box or compare it to anything outside of the box. Rather, each would simply name the contents of his box 'beetle."
For some reason, this amused the greatly. each would proudly say that he had a beetle in his box, but whenever someone asked them to explain what this beetle was, they refused.  For all anyone knew, either or both boxes were empty, or each contained very different things. Nonetheless, they insisted on using the word 'beetle' to refer to the contents of their boxes and acted as though the word had a perfectly reasonable use in their game.  This was unsettling, especially for grown ups.  Was 'beetle' a nonsense word or did it have a private meaning on the boys knew?

To start off, Wittgenstein saw language as the same sort of game. It relies upon a combination of rules and conventions, not all of which can be explicitly stated, and which only players of the game really understand. So, the question is does the word 'beetle' refer to anything? And if it doesn't, what does it mean?

I'll interject after a few posts, because this is a bit hard.

 

Posted Mar 17, '08 at 3:15pm

Moegreche

Moegreche

2,855 posts

Moderator

Good ol' Ludwig.  And good ol' Asherlee.  I don't want to give too much away with this, but I do think it means something - which is just as much as any other word means - which might be next to nothing.
To me, "beetle" represents just as much here as the common usage of the word.  The ability to communicate is based on the principle that I must convey a thought or an idea.  But language is so limiting that I could never really convey a pure thought (if there is such a thing) accurately enough to make conversation or language anything but a flimsy and inconsistent means of conveying a state, not a thought.

 

Posted Mar 17, '08 at 10:17pm

Eshploded

Eshploded

503 posts

Wow. I'm usually don't think of language.

My thoughts right now are that pure thought could be an image that expresses all senses including bodily impulses. Like an imagined reality. Since language is so limited, it might take a whole different perspective to express without limitation.

 

Posted Mar 17, '08 at 10:20pm

Eshploded

Eshploded

503 posts

Whoops. I clicked enter too soon.

The word beetle might correspond to what I was saying.

 

Posted Mar 18, '08 at 3:55pm

Moegreche

Moegreche

2,855 posts

Moderator

Well, the point that Wittgenstein wanted to make with this allegory is that the contents of your mind are the same as the contents of the box.  Only you know what's in there, and we use certain words to try to describe what's in there, but these words don't express any kind of meta-concept.  The only thing someone can interpret from what you're saying is limited by what's in their mind.  There certainly seem to be similarities within minds, but only on a very very basic level.  You might consider it our basic "assembly language."
This allows us to express very simple states of existence (consider laughing or crying or screaming) but beyond the mere existence of that state, any interpretation starts to lose certainty.

 

Posted Mar 18, '08 at 4:13pm

Asherlee

Asherlee

5,189 posts

Knight

Well, I couldn't have said it better myself.

 

Posted Mar 18, '08 at 6:08pm

chiliad_nodi

chiliad_nodi

648 posts

I have actually felt this effect on numerous occasions on this site. I am defining a word slightly differently from someone else, and we are both stubborn about our veiws because they are both right, depending on the interpretation. The first glaring example of this was in the "plant intelligence" thread. Carlie defined intelligence as having thought, while I thought of it as reacting to your enviorment in a manner to keep you alive and perform (at least) basic tasks (basically artficial intelligence.)
This whole argument also falls under the "beetle" idea, as does moe's post. Both will be rebuked by several people who are equally coorect. (Assuming both arguments are "correct" (another abbiguous term))