The wonderful Pirahã

The Pirahã are all in the news again. And Pinker is responding on the Edge.

I hope you have heard of the Pirahã. They are this wonderful tribe in the Amazon who refuse to be civilized. Their language is odd, to the point where die-hard linguists come uncomfortably close to having to declare them inhuman because their theories are under threat. Its quite absurd to watch the squirming.

Anyhow, it seems to me that we have here a unique opportunity to study a people who have a different form of inter-P-world coupling. If we regard language as a means of structural coupling across P-worlds, they appear to have a weaker coupling, and thus, in a sense, live more within their individual P-worlds.

They do not live in a densely populated area. I suspect that urbanization and dense spatial packing of P-worlds led to a tightening of the coupling mechanisms between worlds. Our language is more probing, more demanding of a common understanding, and less tolerant of the idiosyncracy of the P-world.

I find the P-world/R-world distinction helps me to engage imaginatively with these sometime baffling issues. I hope others find likewise.

One thought on “The wonderful Pirahã”

  1. A structural analogy suggests itself in the different forms of stable coupling observed in carbon as diamond, coal and buckyball. Language, apparently, is the means by which a tight coupling among p-worlds arises, giving rise to the collective phenomena of memes. The Piraha seem to exhibit a different form of structural coupling, and hence a different relationship to memes.

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