Editor's Letter

A Consensus, Promise, and Future: We are making our own future based on language

Eric Yoon | May 14, 2018

We as humans understand and develop a worldview of our universe and ultimately create it within our cognitive range. This means we are the entity that determines our own fate. What? Are we creating the universe? A commonly held belief is that the world has pre-determined universal principles and we forced to conform to these pre-defined rules. Linguistically speaking, however, isn’t the human cognition on the universe entirely based on his/her linguistic perception on the world; and thus, isn’t the imagination of our future that changes our own fate by and large originated from our language?

Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, released in November 2016, begins with a sudden ‘arrival’ of twelve unidentified alien spaceships that land on Earth, and creating panic in the world. This Sci-fi film is based on Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life," a short story published in 1998, that is based around the idea that, "the extraterrestrial life that foresees the future gives the human being the same linguistic ability to see the future.” This alien language is initially interpreted by people as 'weapon' or 'gift’ as they start developing a communication method with aliens. Through the process of understanding this foreign language, people can foretell the future; however, how will be the human worldview changed after the acquisition of this language that provides us with a new cognitive skill?

Will the new alien language change the entire human perception on our worldview?
© Paramount Pictures

Just as the new language and reason we created during the Enlightenment era has redefined our social perception on ‘child,’ the Earth in the post-alien era will also create another dimension of perception and social climate through this ability behind the alien language. However, imagining the post alien era is also an impossible task for viewers of this movie. Ironically, it is a difficult task for even the viewers to imagine the post alien era as even the viewers do not have the language and cognitive framework to express this new world.

In linguistics, the two components that form the basis of a new language or sign are ‘Signifier’ and ‘Signified.’ Signifier is a letter or sound itself, and Signified indicates the meaning of Signifier. For example, ‘ant’ is a Signifier arbitrarily and customarily defined by human beings, and the image and meaning of the ant drawn in our mind when we recognize the Signifier is Signified. When the Signifier is matched to the Signified, we create a linguistic concept and ideological perception of the subject. Therefore, the key to the birth of language / symbol here is the collective agreement among people of a combination of a signifier and signified.

According to Michel Foucault, ‘a madman’ was rather considered as a special person with an unusual energy and specialty than a person subject to the mental treatment until the Middle Ages in Europe. However, as we move into the modern era, humans have developed the language of the Enlightenment, which has divided our worldview into the rational and the irrational, or rather the normal and abnormal. The same applies to our perception on the concept of a ‘child.’ Until the Middle Ages, the human society had a lack of understanding and definition in language and perception of child as a social entity. As the society newly developed the linguistic distinction and ideological concept of child through this period, it has begun to acknowledge child as a subject to care, discipline and social protection. A being that has already existed without a clear distinction in our world ultimately gets linguistically and ideologically recognized and becomes a part of our worldview as special entity. Thus, the creation of this new word has eventually shaped human’s future with his/her own linguistic and cognitive range.

Steve Jobs and Nam June Paik believed that human-to-human communication would evolve from a vertical communication to a horizontal communication with smart devices in the future.
(L)Nam June Paik, Fluxus/Video, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1982 © Paik, Nam June (R) © Paul Sakuma / AP

This month we include articles on today’s digital world that Nam June Paik had imagined through his artworks, and on Andy Warhol and Duane Hanson, who made different interpretations of our world with the same simulacra strategy. As these artists did, we understand and suggest our world through text or image. Paik described the advent of a new digital world through his visual language, and engineers and people, who have come to terms with his narrative have established today’s digital world.

As such, our future will evolve with the consensus in the society based on our linguistic and ideological frame. We will continuously solve our facing issues such as climate change, famine, economic crisis, and social inequality based on our language. We all know that ‘good words are good cheap’ because we make our future in our own language.

This month's editor's letter is specially contributed by Eric Yoon, Co-founder of Eazel

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