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Our World of Lists

The world we live in is quite an interesting place. Its structure, and especially the way that we perceive its structure, is worth observing.

When we read or write, we do so linearly. We only read one word at a time, and when we’re done, we go on to the next word. Sentences are treated as lists, where only one element at a time can be read. Our inability to comprehend anything other than lists is remarkable.

You may object to this. Sure, we read linearly, but we can also read non-linear graphs, flow charts, and even just clusters of words. While it is true that we can read such structures, we always convert them into lists, taking in one word at a time. Because time is linear, we can only perceive one thing at once before moving on to the next one. Sometimes we are able to package multiple things together and perceive them as one thing, but we cannot truly perceive more than one item at once.

Although we perceive things as lists, it is difficult to imagine things being any other way. How else could we perceive things? Perhaps in a data structure other than lists, for example binary trees, language would be more versatile. Language, of course, is not the only instance of our list perception — it is simply a very common one. What would language be like if we perceived it as a binary tree?

Well, it would be a lot less linear, that’s for sure. The whole idea of language would be a lot different, and perhaps more expressive. It’s difficult to imagine, though, just because our minds are so fundamentally grounded in lists.

The world outside of lists is an interesting one to speculate about. Where might this speculation lead?

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Categories: Language, Math
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