A thought inspired by Wednesday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Sotah 28
More from r/JudaismMore posts in r/Judaism »
Speaking to you, myself and it.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
In the beginning we learned how to use words to talk to each other. Later, we learned how to talk to ourselves and today we speak to the inanimate world.
This speculative narrative for how language has developed is worth presenting in some more detail.
Humanity is a very social species. A single human being out in the savannah has little chance of surviving alone, so we developed the means to cooperate. The development of individual words and then primitive language is the key enabler for this core survival strategy.
Once you can hold a conversation with another human being, you discover that you can also hold a conversation in your own mind, with yourself. You can ask yourself about your beliefs and assumptions, question your own thoughts, and eventually you find criteria for sorting out which ideas are more likely correct – logic. Logic is just another form of language, but one that aspires to using words, and later symbols, in a constrained and careful manner.
Once you are able to plan and reason, you are not only capable of speaking to yourself and others, but also of speaking to inanimate objects. You can build structures and machines that will conform to your will, as expressed through logic and science.
In this early phase of technology, you do not literally speak to the machines. You use the words and symbols in your head to communicate with the machines. But now, we are at the dawn of the latest phase of communicating with machines. We can now literally speak to the machines. At first, only programmers could do so, but in the last few months, many of us have been talking to machines in English and other natural languages. Computers can now also speak to us.
The only problem is that in the course of these wonderful developments, we seem to have less time or inclination to speak to each other – specifically to those who do not think like us. The algorithms and thoughts of our computers decide whose voices we should hear.
Perhaps it is time to complete the circle of language that began with speaking to other people. Instead of letting our technology imprison us in separate thought-prisons, we should use computers to broaden the circle of our interlocutors and liberate our words and thoughts.