Strapped into a similar device in another room is a young woman, Jill.
Inside a third room, hunched over an array of electronic sensors, is Professor A., a small white-haired man of enhanced years and retarded personality---the “A” is for Arnold---and a post-graduate student, B.
The Professor is speaking about the experiment. “In addition to symbolic data, that is, words and numbers,” he says, “the VR simulators receive and transmit data inherent in all the sensory modalities: visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, equilibrioceptive, nociceptive, thermoceptive and proprioceptive...”
The Professor turns to face the student.
“...sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, balance, pain, temperature and the position of body parts in relation to each other?” responds B.
“Your understanding of proprioception is a little weak,” says the Professor, “but aside from that, not too bad. ”
Professor A. returns his attention to the control desk, gnarled fingers pushing buttons, turning dials and flicking switches.
“The experiment is iterative,” he says, “with data transmission at the commencement of each iteration. Currently, the subjects are receiving data relating to that which in English is referred to by the word "dog". Canis lupus familiaris, to be precise, mammals of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora. Creatures that bark and fetch sticks.
“For the next 13.44 minutes, gigabytes of data will stream and be streamed into the minds and nervous systems of our subjects. The datastream comprises symbolic data---mainly biological, sociological and cultural content---as well as sense perception data---visual, auditory, tactile etcetera etcetera as discussed previously.”
“What’s the aim of the experiment, Professor?” asks B, “What’s the hypothesis that’s being tested?”
The Professor removes his spectacles and rubs his eyes.
“I expect to derive results that will revolutionise the fields of Linguistics, Psychology and Anthropology, creating a paradigm shift of unprecedented proportions,” he says.
“The aim? Given your current level of knowledge, you would not be able to understand the technical objectives in any depth. However, I can tell you I expect the results to be of major importance in terms of developing a deeper, richer theory of mind, reconciling Chomsky’s generative grammar and de Sassaure’s semiotics.
“In addition, the results will facilitate greater understanding of the so-called binding problem: how the unity of conscious perception is created by the distributed activities of the brain and the central nervous system.
“Lastly, but by no means least, the experiment will test the applicability of Godel’s incompleteness theorems to language as a formal system.”
“Sorry Professor,” says B, “you lost me there. “
“I’ve spoken extensively on this throughout the semester,” sniffs the Professor irritably, “in very simplistic terms the experiment will help decide whether language produces meaning, or meaning produces language, or both, or neither.
“Now, We proceed to the next phase of the current iteration.
“In phase 1, the subjects received data---dog-flavoured data so to speak! In phase 2, the subjects will transmit data. That is, each will describe what ze experienced in phase 1. Ze will speak aloud the word that ze feels best describes the data ze received. Then ze will enter the word into the keyboard of the VRS.
“Once the input has been processed, the VRS will convey to each what the other has said and typed. Note, however, that Jacques speaks, writes and understands only French; Jill only English. So the VRS will translate Jacques' input into English, and Jill's into French.
On one of the control desk monitors, the Professor and student watch the subject known as Jill using the VRS keyboard to type the letters “d”, “o”, and “g”. From the control desk speakers comes the sound of Jill's voice as she speaks into the VRS microphone, “dee oh gee spells dog”.
At roughly the same time, the subject known as Jacques types the letters “c”, “h”, “i” “e”, “n”, “n” and “e”. A quick smile flashes across Jill's face as she types, “No need to get personal, asshole!”
The message appears on the screen in front of Jacques’ eyes, as well as on the monitor in front of B and the Professor.
“What’s happening, Professor?” asks B, “Why is Jill angry?”
“She is pretending to be angry. That's the whole point. On receiving the datastream Jacques keyed in the French word “chienne” which corresponds to the word “dog” in the English language.
“However, in French and many other languages, nouns are gender distinguished, whereas in English they are not.
“In French “chienne” is the feminine form of the noun. So the translation software outputs an English word that refers to the feminine form of “dog”...”
“Oh, I get it,” says B, “so Jill is ironically pretending to believe that Jacques has called her a ...bitch!”
“Not quite. Not the whole truth. Can't you see the nexus, plexus if you prefer, between language and meaning? Can't you apprehend the disconnect, dissonance if you like, between truth and reality?”
Can't you see you're annoying the fucking living shit out of me thinks B, as the Professor prattles on.
continued... at Iteration #2