PHIL -- Culture vs. Language, Species

Chris Holt (
Tue, 28 Mar 1995 19:55:11 +0100 (BST)

From: "Andrew C. Esh" <>
> First of all, I think there is a misunderstanding among us about the use
> of VR to get around the language barrier. Some of us are saying that it
> will work well, since we don't have to use words, other are saying that
> the meanings will still not get across, because of the differences in
> culture. I tend to be one of the former.
> I am having trouble with this culture thing. I understand that someone may
> not know what a house, or a car is. I also understand that I will probably
> not recognize the foreign culture's replacements for the things I find
> familiar. The part I have trouble with is the question: "Isn't a car still
> going to be a car, no matter what the cultural background of the
> observer?" I mean, if I'm walking down a virtual beach with a frisbee in
> my hand, and I meet an Aboriginal, is he going to expect to see a
> boomerang in my hand? Maybe it's important that he sees a frisbee, so
> that he knows he has to ask me what it is, and I can then show him.

Well, suppose you enter someone's visual programming environment, all
ready to test it out, and it looks like a garden. Is it obvious that
the fruits on the trees are demo programs, that the various herbs by
the side of the path are operations, that you construct your program
by stirring them into a big iron pot while incanting some formulae,
and that the result will appear in the gazebo in the middle? Or suppose
you enter another environment, and it looks like a machine shop, with
a bunch of tools on the wall, a few filing cabinets to take them from, and a
workbench in the middle? Which of these is closer to things you would
find familiar, and know how to interpret? How much does that depend
on your culture, and the actual terminology I've used in describing
them? I don't think it's that objects in themselves will be a real
problem; it's that metaphors will differ, and we're going to have to
learn to dance among them, and synthesize our ideas with them, and
them with each other. Will you expect a box with a double helix
on it to contain a genetic algorithm? Will other people?

[This should probably be on the vrworlds mailing list, rather
than here; but I do think vrml should take into account that
people will want to customize their viewers so that standard
objects like files and directories fit into particular kinds
of themes. This is tied into the old discussion of logical
vs. physical descriptors, a la <strong>..</strong> instead
of <b>..</b>.]

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