Language as a natural phenomenon, censored

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A philosophical journal in Finland (Niin & Näin) invited me to write a brief opinion article concerning my perspective on language, which I accepted. The editors, however, rejected my contribution as too “controversial,” so I will post it here (unfortunately it is written in Finnish).

But there is nothing controversial in it. The article considers the possibility that we study Finnish language – any language, in fact – as a natural phenomenon, thus by using the 17th century natural scientific method instead of the earlier, Aristotelian system. It then elaborates some of the hypotheses in that field that I find supported by empirical fact. According to one such hypothesis, explained in the article, the human brain has a biological-structural computational ability to combine words and phrases recursively together. This is the assumption I, like many others, use in all my scientific papers. I then consider, briefly, some neurobiological theories of that ability and other related issues. I also cite certain linguistic phenomena (wh-islands) that are attested in every language and which are, therefore, likely to be biological in origin.

Yet, these ideas are still under strict censorship regimen in Finland, and too controversial to be published. They have been for the last 50 years. Such things cannot be mentioned even in an opinion article, not even if the contribution was invited and not submitted; not even if the author has published research in the stated framework for twenty years; and not even if they represent a mainstream view within the internal research community.

Silence must prevail.

The editors presented many objections. One was that my view of natural science as wrong, or perhaps too simple, but the method I introduce is lifted directly from Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Descartes, and Richard Feynman, among others, the latter whose lecture on the topic you can be find here. That method is taught to all 17-year olds in the Finnish high school who, like me, study chemistry or physics, or any nature science, and they all use it in their professional endeavours and are not allowed to use anything else. You cannot pass the national exam (“ylioppilastutkinto”) in physics if you can’t calculate an observation from a theory. Or if you try doing anything else. It is, furthermore, used by doctors, biologists, engineers, computer scientists. Doctors cannot prescribe medicine or an operation before a diagnostic hypothesis is supported by symptoms. Engineers must follow the same rigour when building bridges.

Yet, it cannot be used, or even mentioned, if you are interested in human language. In this, Finland is truly exceptional. What a stroke of luck that I don’t have to live there anymore.

Collective consciousness

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Do you have the same feeling that we have nudged one step closer to the end?

Let’s recapitulate some things that have changed.

At this point nobody will have any illusions that there will be an economic recovery from the money printing bazooka. General perception of our situation has changed. The collective consciousness has internalized the fact that we are in a very bad and chaotic place. Trillions of dollars and euros are printed and distributed willy-nilly.

Of course you and I knew that, but our opinions do not matter; what matters is the state of the collective mind, what people can assume everybody to know. That has an effect.

Remember when the money printing experiment began it was claimed that once the economy gets going the operation will be reversed. But it was not going to get reversed. It will only accelerate and accelerate it did.

So here we are today. At this point, everybody recognizes that something’s wrong. Illusions have vanished. In some very remote places like Finland illusions of prosperity and superiority still live on as if nothing has happened, but really not much anywhere else. Perhaps this experiment will end up, not with hyperinflaction or deflation, but with total chaos.

Printing money for free and distributing it by arbitrary political decision will kill any remaining incentives to do any real, productive work. There is no point in working or paying taxes. This is the system in communist, socialist nations. My prediction has been that we are heading towards on the long run is a communist system via eventual nationalization of all economic activity. We will not call it communism, but “mega stimulus”, “super-bonus for everybody” or perhaps “universal basic income”, but what it really means is that the central authority takes command of the whole economy.

How did it come to this? That’s a topic of another post. But if there are any big trends I have witnessed in my whole lifetime, being born in the 1970s, it is the slow downward spiral of the West and the ascension of China. Somebody decided it will be in our interest to ship our productive capacities to China.

But let’s move on.

America experienced an awakening as a consequence of the public execution of George Floyd, amplified by the poverty and hopelessness of those who languish in that sad oligarchy.

The image of USA changed permanently, most notably due to the disturbing images of police brutality. It was well understood that USA is a violent and oppressive oligarchy, especially in the countless nations USA has bombed and destroyed, but from this point on this image will be part of the collective consciousness. There’s no going back to the fraudulent “democracy”, “freedom” or “our values” mantra. That fraud is over, one era has come to an end.

Those notions, perfectly epitomized by Obama, have been replaced with “black lives matter”, “wokeness”, “#metoo” and other similar slogans, all perhaps unified by the hatred towards the heterosexual white male.

(I live in a remote village in Italy where these things have absolutely no meaning. I have long since given up trying to understand what that is all about. Perhaps I’m also too old to get it. If you are concerned with what pronouns to use when addressing me, please use “Your Majesty”, that can’t go wrong.)

There seem to be two meaningful forces at play here.

The Democratic Party establishment and the old ruling elite (including much of the legacy media and big tech) wants to use these mantras as empty slogans to get in power while diverting people’s attention and energy into pseudo-issues.

I don’t mean that black lives matter is a pseudo-issue; what I mean is that the oligarchy wants to direct it into one, towards empty slogans and totems, while the looting and destruction by the ruling elite can continue without interruption.

Noam Chomsky once pointed out that one of the most important functions of the propaganda apparatus is to direct and narrow down the topics that can be discussed. The establishment will try to co-opt the movement and direct it into something that has no real meaning, so that the oligarchy can continue its rampage. They do publicity stunts, kneeling here and there, worship this and that totems; there will be black lives matter mega concerts and declarations by corporations and celebrities, and many other things, but only as long as they do not change anything that has any real meaning.

This empty “hope and change” worked during the Obama era, but it seems to me that it no longer works. The “moderate rebels” or “democratic freedom fighters” in the USA, to use the terms Americans use of violent anarchist and looters in other nations, will not go away, and I have the feeling – looking this from the outside, however – that the establishment will not be able to get away from this with empty slogans. There will come a point at which the sleeping giant wakes up, when things are so bad that empty slogans will not be sufficient. Perhaps we have reached that point.

This brings up the second issue, real grievances of people, especially young people, living under oppressive conditions in an oligarchy, with no future, no real prospects of decent life, no job, only debt. For them, these notions are unifying elements, components of the collective consciousness that allow them to fight against injustice as a collective force. A rebellion or insurrection needs common goals and ideals.

In Afghanistan, in a nation Americans bombed for twenty years, people were united by their hatred towards the invaders, and such was the power of the collective consciousness there that it allowed the freedom fighters to resist the violent empire, which now stands defeated and humiliated.

The same collective force could accomplish the same in America, to defeat the empire. It has happened; Bolsheviks did it in Russia, and they were a minority group. The problem, though, is that visceral hatred towards one group, whether based on skin colour, gender, communism, sexual orientation, or Jewish background, will, if such a force gets into power, result in a human catastrophe of epic proportions.

What America needs, in my view, is their own version of Vladimir Putin. When Putin came into power, Russia was humiliated, destroyed and looted by Yeltsin, the West and its oligarchs. It was very near collapsing completely. Today, it stands on its own feet and has improved by almost all measurements (GDP, life expectancy, health care, geopolitical power). The old oligarchs no longer reign. While we destroy and bomb everybody and anywhere, Russians remain calm and rational, patiently repeating the proposition that we should perhaps follow some norms of international law? To no avail.

But the moral of this story is that the defeat of the oligarchy and its empire and a violent collapse need not occur together.

Deflationary death spiral continues

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The figure illustrates the number of unemployment claims in the US. It shows that we are still inside a deflanatory collapse. The situation here in Europe is not any better, although the problem surfaces in another form.

Deflation means that money does not change hands and/or is used to pay down debts. It disappears.

Produces and sellers (hotels, factories, shops) no longer have customers, hence no work, hence the unemployment. People and businesses can no longer service their debts, which leads into bankruptcies: cancellation of both debts and assets.

Later, governments are starved of tax revenues, which will spread the contagion to the fixed income sector (public administration, pensions, universities) that still live inside an oasis of illusion.

And that’s it, the end.

While the market forces want to deflate massively and desperately, central banks and governments try to maintain the status quo by printing money. That explains what is going on today. The idea is that money printing would substitute for the money that disappears. It does not have that effect. It sadly goes into the creation of isolated asset bubbles, as it always did.

Money printing is not an evil plan to take possession of the world, but an attempt to keep the status quo. There are two ways out of the current predicament: deflation or inflation. Deflation means “debt cancellation by bankruptcy,” and it favours savers at the expense of those who have debt. Suddenly those who have cash can buy everything for pennies, while the debtors lose everything. Inflation means “debt cancellation by destruction of money,” which favours those who have debts and destroys all savers, rendering their savings worthless.

This explains why the nations in the EU cannot come to a common agreement on monetary policy: northern saver nations have different interests than the southern debtor nations. As long as the interests do not align status quo will remain and nothing happens. Once they align, however, things will move forward quickly.

The situation here in Europe is also different due to the enormous and illusory welfare systems, “free” health care, and so on. When the private sector crumbles, the public sector kick in to arrest the collapse. Here in Italy unemployed live with their parents receiving unnaturally generous pensions. All this will come to a sad end, however. The public sector cannot sustain its operations unless there is a private sector that can be taxed. How this dilemma is sorted out determines what will happen to us.

“Smart work” for Italian medieval villages

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I was 25 when the Nokia boom landed into the Finnish universities. All experts of any academic discipline, whether they were computer scientists or musicologists or biologists or nurses or farmers turned overnight into world class experts on mobile phones and ubiquitous computing. Billions were moved from one set of hands into others. The results, as we now know, were a disaster. Most of Nokia was destroyed in a few years.  Read More

How ”free” is Finnish word order?

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Finnish word order is claimed to be ”free”. But can we quantify this statement?

I did some experiments. I took 24 basic finite construction types and created all possible word orders resulting in a corpus of more than 100000 sentences. I then took random samples of 1000 from that and judged them for grammaticality. What I found is summarized in the Figure 1 below. Read More

Finnish is not a Neanderthal language: a new paper

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Some time ago I published a small paper in which I argued that Finnish is a normal Homo sapiens language with fully recursive syntax, not a retarded word salad language based on a list of words and communicative intentions. The paper can be found from here. This is first part of a larger study that will hopefully be published later this year. The claim is controversial, but I think there are sufficient reasons to merit a paper supporting the recursion hypothesis. Read More