Grammar is a funny one. We can stickle for it, but its the play that makes it exciting. In that sense, perhaps the rules of the universe are like a grammar.
I realise I’m losing a lot of people by describing grammar as ‘exciting’. I’m also nervous that any bold proclamations will potentially lead to this post being scrutinised in more detail than normal for grammatical infringments.
But fuck it, says I.
Grammar is a system of rules for making words sensible. It takes a while to learn, and there’s a finicky details to gripe over. It has that odd effect of being ubiquitous enough to feel intuitive. It comes like an instinct to the native speaker, and frustration and hilarity comes in its mistranslation. I have a passion for the way people stronger in other languages bend the rules of English to fit into their own schema. Its a fascinating thing, for a geek like me. That people who’ve never met speak in a similarly bent shape, is quite wonderful. It fills me with delight. For no good reason. I just like hearing people speak.
That’s an example of what makes grammar fun. Its in its bending that its curiousness is exposed. I enjoy twisting my sentences with archaicisms and technically correct but bewildering structures. I like breaking the rules in ways that change the sense of a phrase. Grammar is there to smooth communication, but it also allows you to speak in odd ways. It is one of the pleasures of writing and speaking.
Anyway, I’m going too far into one side of things and steering clear of the other part of the question.
What can one say about everything that hasn’t already been said?
The rules of the universe appear to be ones of physics. Things fall apart. Time goes forward. Mass bends. Light is the fastest*. Does that constitute a grammar?
You can go further up the reductionist funnel too. Look at the way chemicals or animals or people or societies interact. Do they follow rules or trends? Is that a grammar?
The problem is, that we are extracting these grammars the wrong way round. We don’t know the view from behind the curtain, we just guess on what we observe. We’ve got increasingly good at making observations, and have a growing wealth of information on which to make our rules, but they are still the wrong way round to constitute a grammar. We know the rules of grammar, we aren’t computing them from the way language is used (although, perhaps we are, or we did, presumably grammar was set in stone by people trying to control the languages around them).
But the universe does appear to run on rules, to the best of our awareness, and part of the fun of life, like the fun of grammar, is playing around on the edges.
Try and stretch the universe, and the world around you, just a little.
See how it sounds.
*Fuck tachyons. And ‘facts’.
Illustration by Henry