“Wilkins! Yes! I’ve considered decorating these walls with some graffiti of my own, and writing it in the Universal Character.. but it is too depressing. ‘Look, we have invented a new Philisophical Language so that when we are imprisoned by Kings we can scratch a higher form of graffiti on our cell walls’”

Henry Oldenburg

I’ve been recently reading Neil Stephenson’s Quicksilver in which is a fictionalized account of the process of creating An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language. Part of the idea was to develop an alternative to Latin (widely used in learned circles) which wasn’t so arbitrary as Latin. The task which Wilkins set himself was to categorize and classify all entities, actions, methods, ideas, etc… known to humanity and to then organize them into a language in which words which are conceptually similar are formed as similar. It sounded sisyphean and foolish!

Then I wondered: “What if he had the power of computers and the resources of the modern internet”? At that point it started to sound less sisyphean and more like my kind of foolish.

Open questions:

  • How would I group similar words together?
  • The goal is to make similar words somehow similar in syntax, but how can we make sure they’re not too similar?
  • Does it make sense for more common words to be shorter?
  • How would words be generated / represented?

I plan on playing with / investigating this idea in a series of short posts as I go. I’ll also be making any source code available on my github account