"If you havenâ€™t read Daniel Evererttâ€™s fabulous Donâ€™t Sleep, There are Snakes about his work as a linguist in the Amazonâ€”well, stop whatever you are doing, go directly to Amazon and enjoy.
After 30 years living with and studying the Piraha, a tribe living in the Amazonian basin, Everett has concluded that neither Chomskyâ€™s argumentâ€”that language is innate to humans and there are universal laws of grammarâ€”and Skinnerâ€™s argumentâ€”that language is completely learned and genetics account for nothingâ€”are correct.
Instead, Everett posits that language and culture are completely intertwined and you cannot study one without the other. Furthermore, and this is where things get really interesting, Everett believes that grammar is significantly less important than culture-based meanings and constraints on talkingâ€ are the key.
So whatâ€™s the big deal?
This is the deal: About 40 years ago, University of Chicago psychologist (and Flow State guru) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argued that the human brain takes in about 400 billion inputs a second (some people now feel this number is as high as one trillion) but only 2000 bits of information make it up to consciousness.
Those 2000 bits are what we call conscious reality.
We are now pretty sure Csikszentmihalyi was right in his assessmentâ€”but whatâ€™s really curious is that none of usâ€”no matter the speciesâ€”experience the world exactly the same.
That is, we all see 2000 different bits of information, thus we all live in different worldsâ€”quite literally.
Some of this is straight up anatomy. Cognitive Ethologist Patricia McConnell (also in a compelling article about Everettâ€™s work) points out: â€œthe sensory system of each species creates a different reality than other species.â€ Her example of this is beesâ€”who see colors that humans canâ€™t see (and we see colors they canâ€™t see). Either way, when we glance at a solid yellow flower, bees instead see a swirl of lines and hatching and shading that literally acts as pointers and landing strips driving them towards the pollen within..."