"Each of you possesses the most powerful, dangerous and subversive trait that natural selection has ever devised. It's a piece of neural audio technology for rewiring other people's minds. I'm talking about your language, of course, because it allows you to implant a thought from your mind directly into someone else's mind, and they can attempt to do the same to you, without either of you having to perform surgery." [emphasis added]Hopefully by now, you've caught on to my own subversive juxtaposition. Briefly, I think this meme is cuter than it is true.
I call it a meme, because I seem to recall it showing up in Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, and I'm sure it's popped up other places too. Obviously, this meme brushes right up against other issues regarding language and thought. For instance, is language the structure of thought, and does language somehow constrain our thoughts? I'm not well versed enough in these issues to comment, and I only mention them here in order to say that I won't be saying anything about them, except for what I have already said.
Did that make sense? If so, I have succeeded in externalized telepathy. If not, that's sort of my point. Unsuccessful thought implants are a pervasive fact. Just ask the customer and the project leader, or the teacher and the student. If it were so easy to implant thoughts in others' minds, would schooling really take so long? Perhaps thought implant rejection can be blamed on external factors, like inattention on the hearer's part, or the complexity of the thought being transmitted, but I'd be surprised if that was all there was to it.
I'd guess, and this is where I enter into purest speculation, that successful communication between a speaker and hearer has a lot more to do with the fact that people are willing to attribute minds and intentional stances to just about anything, including other people, than with the design specifications of language.
In fact, the ability to implant (false) beliefs in someone else's mind is most definitely not only possible within the domain of language. Just ask Marcel Marceau.
Or, puzzle over this interesting item.
Perhaps language is better than other natural forms of communication at transmitting propositional content, but it's certainly not ideal for it either. If it were, then there wouldn't have been any need to develop formal logic, or propositional calculus.
So there is the problem that I want to create for this meme. Language does not really "implant a thought from your mind directly into someone else's mind," and insofar as it does, it doesn't do so uniquely above all other forms of communication. It's a pretty meme though, sort of like a poem about linguistics, and it's attention grabbing. But if it matters whether it's true and accurate, I don't think it stands up.