After having visited Puerto Rico earlier this spring, enjoying the sights, sounds, culture, food, history, and so forth, I returned stateside with a desire to learn Spanish. For one thing, being deeply afraid of the onset of memory loss and deterioration of cognitive function, I am looking for things to do to stave off mental erosion. Studies suggest – and it makes intuitive sense to me – that those who speak more than one language have brains that age better than those of monolinguists. Learning any new skill can help fight off dementia – learning to juggle, play guitar, etcetera.
At the same time, I have an interest in computers and how they work. I enjoy gaming and just got my Oculus VR headset for my Samsung Galaxy 7. It’s cool. Disappearing into digitized worlds that completely envelope has been an enjoyable distraction from my every-day-bills-to-pay reality. So, in an effort to begin understanding the computers and tech that are changing our lives, I’ve enrolled in a computer programming class via edX and Harvard’s Department of Computer Science. The class is CS50 and it’s on-line learning at its finest.
As I struggle to pick-up the rudiments of vocabulary and grammar in both Spanish and C, I’ve begun wondering: To what extent are these languages the same and different? To what extent is the fundamental binary code underlying C or PHP or Java similar to the genetic code underlying our brain’s language software? Is there in any sense a binary code that is at the root of our ability to comprehend language? Or if our brains are in fact wet quantum computers, what will the development of dry quantum computers teach us about ourselves? And what serves as the brain’s compiler? And who wrote it’s operating system? Evolution? God? Or was it a collaborative effort? Sometimes, don’t we humans appear to have been designed by committee?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1. In Genesis, God speaks and reality comes into existence! With Schrödinger and his Cheshire-like cat, the observer dependent universe was revealed. Now, the hard sciences have begun to grapple with the possibility understanding consciousness is necessary to a complete model of physical reality. Consciousness may not be merely a side effect of the brain and its evolution, but rather matter and energy may be dependent on consciousness.
But whose consciousness?*
Indeed! In the beginning was the Word!
I don’t propose that apologists for religion and atheists such as Stephen Hawking or Neil deGrasse Tyson will be singing Kumbaya anytime soon over matters like Intelligent Design. But, whether were religionists or not, if consciousness is the bedrock foundation of the Whole Shebang, then the mystery of language and what it is becomes yet more interesting and vital. For the instructions of the universe may be more than just descriptive equations woven into the fabric of space-time. Rather, they may indeed be a code – a language – and perhaps only the summary of the instruction manual to the universe – CliffsNotes. And our innate human ability to learn language from birth may mean we’re not just star stuff, but that we are hardwired into the cosmos itself.
Is it possible that language is not merely how all that is is described, but how all that is described is?
In any event, such deep thoughts and highfalutin revelries make for nice diversions from the more mundane tasks at hand for students of Spanish and C. Difficulties like memorizing verb conjugations, and looking for missing semi-colons amidst lines upon lines of code. That is the hard work of mastering the many languages used to describe and/or construct both mundane and virtual reality.
* Note: Understanding consciousness as being necessary for matter and energy rather than the other way around does not make one a theist. Just as Stephen Hawking has lost the God of gravity and found instead that gravity is his god, so Buddhist believe consciousness is the foundation of everything, yet still deny a personal godhead.