knowmad wrote:Stephen Pinker phrases it like this: "With a few thousand nouns that can fill the subject slot and a few thousand verbs that can fill the predicate slot, one already has several million ways to open a sentence. The possible combinations quickly multiply out to unimaginably large numbers. Indeed, the repertoire of sentences is theoretically infinite, because the rules of language use a trick called recursion. A recursive rule allows a phrase to contain an example of itself, as in She thinks that he thinks that they think that he knows and so on, ad infinitum. And if the number of sentences is infinite, the number of possible thoughts and intentions is infinite too, because virtually every sentence expresses a different thought or intention."
prolly could talk about that for a while...
Actually, this is why math nerds should not copulate with word nerds.
The one issue I would take with the Pinker quote is that he seems to treat the infinity of possible sentences as the reason for (or, perhaps, evidence of) the infinity of thought and intention. Perhaps language evolved as it did into an infinitely recombinable system because humans needed to be able to express an infinite number of thoughts and intentions. We need language so we can say to one another, "What if..?" and "Do you remember...?" and "I love it when..." with all the possible endings those sentences can have. And even if one begat the other, there is a mismatch between the infinity of possible sentences and the infinity of thoughts and intentions. There are thoughts, feelings, experiences, and intentions which cannot be explained or described in words.
Perhaps a mathematician or a philosopher can explain how it is that two infinities do not entirely overlap.
If you want drama to stop following you everywhere, try letting go of the leash.