The Shaping of Human Thought

I came across a very interesting article on the Pirahã tribe of Brazil, a group of people whose language does not define numbers above two. The study of this tribe has been significant for linguistic determinists who believe that language determines the way humans think and perceive the world.

I got to thinking about our use of metaphor, especially in thinking about social networks. Additionally, I am intrigued at how we use our knowledge of the natural world to describe our own reality, or use it to improve our tools. For instance, I love this description of Mute, an anonymous file sharing utility that has been developed through principles underlying the collective intelligence of ants.

However, in thinking of the Pirahã, I wonder how our own language and our use of metaphors limit our own thinking. When we use metaphor, we pay attention to certain aspects of reality … but I think what is important is what we fail to pay attention to, or come to ignore. So, I looked for something that would help to describe what I was thinking … and this was as close as I could get …

“Gathered together as a community huddled under one particular umbrella we grow into believing our assumptions so strongly that we don’t even notice their existence. We grow into believing our exemplars and metaphors are reality, not just representations or models of reality.”

I’m not exactly sure where I am going with this … and that’s OK. I guess, in our hypertext, email-focused, (X)HTML and RSS world, I wonder if McLuhan was meaning something similar when he said “we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us“, or is there something else I am missing here.