Michael H Goldhaber on Sun, 26 Aug 2007 14:27:44 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> language virus


In addition to my recently posted quibble about the phrase that
interested you, I have a more serious quibble about the concept of
a "language virus." This suggests a connection with two notions:
computer "viruses" and "memes." Both in turn have their rots in a
biological metaphor, and in my view have been accepted much too

Consider the difference if you had simply termed the phrase that
concerns you "a clumsy new usage." New usages always enter language,
and with them, in general , comes a slight shift of thought. In the
Watergate era, the phrase "at this point in time" was lumped in with
and derided as much as much more serious Nixonian evils. But the
phrase implies that time is a spacelike continuum, so that we are now
situated at one point on a timeline; further, we shall be at another
point later on, and things may appear different then. This conveys a
quite different thought than "now." It is true that often people are
lazy in their adoption of a new usage, and pay little attention to
the original considerations that might first have led to it. But it
seems quite plausible to me that a difference in thought continues to
underlie the "point in time" usage. It is not necessarily a disease.

Minds are not computers; neither are exactly like the contents
of petri dishes in which biological viruses (or virii) can be
grown. The primary things that pass from mind to mind are thoughts.
Analogizing thoughts as either computer programs or as independent
self-replicating forms of near-life (which are what biological viruses
are) belittles thought and human culture. I see this as dangerous.


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