Is Language a Limitation?


“How do you think?”

It’s a simple question. But the answer, so far, is quite complicated. There’s millions of neurons firing simultaneously in our brain and a sizeable part of that power being utilised for thought. It is, in retrospect, quite fascinating and mysterious that this seemingly random and definitely extremely complicated interaction between neurons in our brain is able to generate patterns of logic, thought, consciousness and the ‘mind’. To be honest, I do not know the first thing about the biological realities of this phenomenon, but it feels great to wonder at this anyway. (Wondering again basically being this very complex interaction trying to understand itself, or in other words, the brain trying to understand itself)

However, this is not the topic of discussion that I want to delve in (partly because I know almost nothing about it). I want to take a different approach to answering the question “How do you think?”

Neglecting the involutary ‘sudden realizations/revelations’ that are often independent of language, we think in language. We discuss in language, we form opinions in language, we articulate in language. Different languages  stimulate different types of thinking and focus on slightly different parts of the brain. Some are more mathematical, some are more expressive/vivid. Some have really complicated rules while others are simpler.

I consider that at the current state of evolution, our brains, no matter how efficient or good the use be (consider geniuses and super geniuses), there is a limit to our capacity for understanding – even in a particular subject or domain. One can be the best in the world, but one cannot be the best. Our brains are like a machine and a machine is always defined by its limits. Fortunately, right now we do not know the limit of our brains capabilities and I am assuming (and I hope I am right), we are performing way below our current limits.

However, a machine can always be tweaked for maximum performance and efficiency .

Language is like grease for our brains. And while just any language is fine for general usage, what if there are certain languages that promote a more scientific and logical way of thinking? On the other hand, what if in a language (or even any language we know so far), no matter how hard we try, certain concepts cannot be properly defined or understood.

There are many things – abstract and physical- that cannot be defined accurately using language. Consider the definition of ‘cringe’ for example. The Cambridge Dictionary defines cringe as to ‘feel very embarrassed’. But, anyone who has cringed on seeing a cringy video on YouTube for example knows that it is not exactly ’embarrassed’. It is something that is hard to articulate using the English language. And instead of finding a solution to that problem, we have gone around its meaning in the official definition.

Isn’t there a possibility that there are certain concepts (which we may not have discovered or thought of yet) that cannot be expressed in (one or many) language(s)? Sure there is mathematics to express many things but articulation, expression and further conceptual underpinning is often better done in language (probably because of this wondrous ability of mathematics to express many un-explainable concepts, it is widely regarded as the ‘language for understanding the universe’). Along the same lines, because we often try to make sense of and explain new discoveries and observations using language, there is also a possibility that because of these hidden inadequacies, we are missing many understandings and revelations.

Is there a possibility that language turning out to be a limitation instead of a tool? Do we need to tweak language(s) at a fundamental level for adapting to different types of sciences? Or maybe even use different languages for different purposes and in different fields? Do we need to improve or even change the grease of our engines? Is language a big limitation today?

P.S.: A fundamental problem is that we will approach these questions using the same (possibly flawed) languages we are using now which makes future invented languages highly susceptible to carrying the same deficiencies.


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