October 23, 2012

Breaking Through the Limits of My World

You've heard it said, "The limits of my language are the limits of my world". It's one of the famous quotes from the only book ever published by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I'd like to share a bit of my personal experience on this matter as I curate content about exoplanets via social media tools such as twitter and google plus.

In the last few years of the ongoing discoveries of new exoplanets, I have indeed felt the limit of language in my attempt to describe the new ideas that is brought by the awareness of new worlds. I have often felt that our existing language(s) are not sufficient to support the new changes that will occur in our ways of thinking.
Aside from the English language, I speak another language and a dialect distinct enough to be considered as a unique language by itself. I experimented with shifting the language of my inner thought from one to the other, and I observed that without the proper words to describe any new concept, the mind is truly limited to effectively grasp, describe, or share new ideas. With this realization, I wondered what other concepts I am missing as a result of not knowing other languages. And I yearned to know more ideas. I longed to break free from the limits of language.

As I tracked the breath-taking pace of exoplanet discoveries, I stumbled upon new ideas, and new avenues of thought--about other planets, and on the topics of life elsewhere, on interstellar travel, and on the future of humanity. Yet I am at loss for words to efficiently share those new concepts that bubbled inside my mind.

I am sure others have felt the same. Here are some examples: how would one describe a double exoplanet transit in one word? As what happened with our observations of KOI-94 some has called it 'Exosyzygy'.

Another recent discovery of a pair of stars orbiting a planet (PH1) which is orbiting another pair of stars, I'm sure we don't even know what words to describe unique events on such a system (can we imagine an 'exoclipse' or 'multiclipse'?).

Some words I had to make up in order to make the idea fit within a constrained medium such as twitter. For some phrases I had to borrow and mash up some words. The words listed below are only a handful that I felt I had to 'invent' in order to express some concepts concisely: Exolife, Exogazing, Exoplanetary Thinking, exogasm, Hab Worlds, Known Worlds Law, exostellar, Habitable Bubbles, exoplaneteers, exoprobe.

I'm not sure if they were used before, or if these words will appear in the Google Ngram Viewer someday, but I am sure that the never-ending discovery of new planets will constantly create a plethora of new words as humanity's noosphere expands further onto other worlds lightyears away. And thus breaking through the limits of our world trains our minds to break through the limits of language itself.