The Next Sentence
The Mysterious Sentence
Not much really is known about sentences. They happen in your brain, and they express ideas or feelings. This seems obvious. But how they are made in the brain is far from obvious. One interesting thing about sentences is that it appears they do not happen at all without one human brain being exposed to other human brains. So a sentence is a social thing.
On the other hand, only one brain is required to bear an idea. When an idea happens in a brain, a sentence, or something very much like a sentence, may be produced – plop! – like a chicken laying an egg.
So sentences are little miracles. Few phenomena in the physical universe are understood less than the details of how sentences happen. The best science can do is stand with its pockets pulled inside out in baffled awe before this natural phenomenon.
And yet they are there. Sentences. And they are real things that have definable properties, algorithmic structures, and real measurable effects upon the physical world. Sentences happen one after another, by the billions every day in one or another of the 6,000 or so spoken languages on the planet. We understand how babies are made. We understand photosynthesis, metabolism, volcanoes, galaxies, electrons, and cancer far better than we understand sentences. And yet everyone feels at home with the little creatures.
Sentences, we feel, are the conscious product of our intentions. Do we build them word by word? Or do they happen in clusters of words? Can we stop them and start them at will? Do they exist somewhere in some unplumbed form before we find them in our consciousness? What evolutionary purpose do they serve? They are our spawn in a way as personal and individual as our biological children. More so, in fact, because they are ours alone. Once uttered, they can affect other sentences coming from other sentence makers. They can rattle a chain of brains that reaches around the world or across the internet. Of all the things we may be said to produce, we have a more god-like command and control over our sentences than anything else we make. Seems like we should understand what they are. We don’t as yet.