According to an alarming new analysis of the climate corpus, natural concept change can’t account for the dramatic saltations we’re witnessing in what scientists say the Earth’s climate means.
Climate philologists say the motion on the dial far exceeds background rates of semantic drift, and shows no sign of damping. They’re increasingly worried that—with recent disturbances in weather, consensus, acidification, pollution, skeptic, global, conspiracist, conspiratorial, trick, hide, what the peer-reviewed literature is, the scientific method, knowledge, evidence and other previously-stable concepts—verbal weirding could represent the new normal.
But Stefan Lewandowsky, Bristol University’s Professor of Cognitive Science and a regular CN contributor, doesn’t need to see the data. He’s already convinced that things are getting more frequent—because it’s happening to him. Anecdotally.
“Sometimes,” he confides, “I can’t even predict what a given term is going to mean by the time I finish a paper about it! People [who read my cli-psy research] are scared and confused.”
It’s even prompted Lewandowsky to rethink the legacy of a figure once dubbed the Chemical Ali of Climate Change for his predictions that children “won’t know what snow is.”
“We all enjoy a good laugh at the expense of David Viner, but I suspect we might find the invoice coming back to us sooner than I suspect,” argues Lewandowsky. “Do your kids know the IPCC’s current definition of snow? When’s the last time you asked them?”
For his part, he admits, “I’ve never tested my kids. Part of me is afraid of the outcome, I think.”
You can tell it bothers him. Furrowing his brow, Lewandowsky swings his famous analytical cannon around, leveling it at himself.
I look away. It’s involuntary—I’ve seen enough carnage in the cli psy wars; I know what Lewandowsky’s balls do to men downrange. Ugly, closed-casket things. Finally I hear the sonic boom.
“It’s… my brain,” he concludes. “My brain is afraid to ask.”
Most scholars are now unanimous: language change is real, it’s happening, our activity is to blame, and only human action can stop it.
Suppose we’re right, but refuse to do anything, allowing our activity to continue. It’s not the end of the world… is it?
The systems of meaning production fail; the coin of language no longer buys the cloth of thought; in language labs around the globe, dysphemism treadmills go Sisyphean and a million mice, dead of exhaustion, lie ejected about the place. Once the Satanic semantic centrifuges become perpetual confusion machines, they’ll have no more use for mouse… or man.
And this is your idea of not the end of the world?!
Apparently we live in two different worlds. I don’t mean to be patronizing, but one of us is crazy, reader, and I’m pretty sure it’s not me.
Remember, the thinkers who’ve studied this crap for decades agree: it was only thanks to a relatively gentle period of linguistic expansion, starting around 1000BC, that the great coastal civilizations with which we’re familiar today survived their infancy, the rest is history, yadda yadda yadda, and so forth.
But push the system too fast and the premises we take for granted flip their bools.
When that happens, say the scientists, and I tend to agree, then we may as well burn the journals and recycle the encyclopaediae. At that point, the only account of the natural world with any explanatory or predictive power will be Revelations.
It’s a view increasingly shared by everyone.
“Last time the English lexicon was in such rapid flux, starting around 1066, it seems to have caused the Norman conquest,” says Naomi Oreskes, who teaches logic.
“And still the silly apathists shrilly shriek ‘language has always changed!’ Which is true, of course,” concedes the half-geologist, half-historian, part-time science fiction trilogist and Professor of Majority Opinion in Earth Sciences at Harvard University.
I sense a ‘though’ coming.
“What their lies don’t tell you, though, is that it’s the rate of change that matters. If you don’t believe me, ask your local Englishperson what happened a thousand years ago. Ask them why a green and pleasant land ran red with the flower of the Saxon nobility.”
I have to wonder: is it too soon to say the inactivists have blood on their hands?
“Too soon? Are you joking? Sometimes it’s hard to tell with you,” Oreskes rebukes me.
“But no, it’s not too soon to say that, it’s too late. Now we actually have to do something.”
Unfortunately, that’s the last thing anyone wants to do.