Panini and Cognition (3)
Consciousness and Speech Series XI.
Sacred Speech Masterclass XI, part three.
Baba Rampuri, in his introduction to Panini, discusses the enormous impact the sage Panini has had on both the ancient and modern worlds. He describes Panini’s great text, The Ashtadhyayi, the ancient grammar of the Sanskrit Language, whose logic has been adopted by computer programming languages, whose insights on cognition have enabled cognitive scientists, and whose discipline guided the ancient vedic sacrifices. For over 2500 years he has inspired those who think about speech and consciousness, about the connection. Pāṇini’s grammar exploits a range of brevity-enabling devices to compose what has often been described as the tersest and yet most complete grammar of any language in the world.
Panini’s work in representing and processing knowledge with a somewhat different emphasis has parallels in many ancient disciplines. Thus grammarians have long considered questions of relating facts about the physical world and cognition to linguistic expressions. Likewise logicians have developed formal structures to relate events and draw inferences from them. This is seen best in the work of ancient Indian logicians and grammarians. Many contemporary developments in formal logic, linguistics, and computer science are a rediscovery of the work of the ancient masters of sacred speech. But apart from the question of a correct history of ideas it raises the following important question of significance to Sanskritists as well as cognitive and computer scientists: Are there other rules in ancient Indian logic and grammar that may be of use in making further advance in cognitive and computer sciences? A little bit of history shows why this is a valid question. Nineteenth century Western linguists did not see the signicance of the context-sensitive rules of Panini’s grammar. In fact their fundamental importance was seen only when Paninian style structures were first introduced by Western linguists such as Chomsky about 45 years ago.