There is a tendency to suppose that understanding language is a discrete process, logical, chopped up -- whether or not 'cutting nature at the joints' -- and that we consult a sort of mental dictionary, one word by one, that allows us to analyse each word in a statement to see whether its meaning is being correctly, truthfully used, as found in Saussure and Plato-of-the-forms. Do the "signifieds" or "forms" exist? I doubt it.
In more modern, dialectical, social-interactionist representations of how we understand language, how we understand whether a statement is true or not, however, what we really do is simply say our statements to someone, most often an internal simulated someone, and run that meaning by them, and gauge their reaction. This is the way that Mead and Bakhtin suggest we understand words.
While forsaking the discrete model of language recognition, Mead argues that we are able to hear our thoughts from the 'perspective,' -- viewpoint or rather earpoint, or haunted sound box -- of a "generalised" other, it is not clear at all to me how we do this. That would seem to suggest that we model a 'cocktail party' (Ewing, J. personal communication, c. 1990) that listens to our inner-speech. But wouldn't this result in sort of inner cacophony of 'interpretants' (Pierce)? How would we reconcile all the ways in which our internal audience-plural can hear our thoughts? How do we unify our cocktail party of ears and interpreting reactions? And more to the point, how do we internalise an other at all? "Get out Freudian super-ego, Bakhtinian super-addressee, Meadian generalised other, I don't want you to here to hear, just for a minute!", I say, but fail of course in my verbalised request.
Richard Dawkins is "moved" by this quote of Jefferson's.
(Dawkins, 2008, p64) "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion." Are Jefferson and Dawkins being merely metaphorical?
See Dawkins as he gives his speeches, wincing. Am I the only one to feel he too is haunted by "her," his reason?
What if the dictionary or yardstick by which we interpret our words really were, almost, a woman? What if in that 'one side chamber'* of the mind were enacted the ear of a woman - wouldn't the shame of that homo-auto-aural-eroticism keep her in here, hearing, hidden?
Supposing "truth" - its arbiter - is a mental man in drag? Would that not temper our respect for "rational" truth and knowledge? Might it not, in the extreme, be fair to call reason a "whore" (Luther).
I find myself very impressed by Mel Gibsonianism (2004) who represents Satan, or the "sin" -- the problem of the human mind -- as a baby-holding woman, or as it turns out in the end, a supernatural, mental man in drag.
Eve was made of the side side chamber of Adam. The bible relates that God made women twice, first out of earth and then later a "companion" for Adam, out of his "rib." The translation of the Hebrew word to rib has recently be criticised since the only other place in which a real rib appears in the bible it is written with a different word, and while the etymological root is "rib," the word is predominantly used to mean "side" (15 times) and "side chamber" (10 times). When we think it seems to me our thoughts as resound around in the mind which (f interactional/dialogical interpreters of linguistic meaning such as Mead and Bakhtin are right contains a simulated other. I have used the metaphor of the Meadian mind as 'a haunted sound box,' but I think that as a metaphor, or literal description "'a side chamber' made into a companion called, Eve" is at least as good. And, further, while Eve and I can narrate myself and the world, these things are always only narrations or hypotheses and never 'the centre' (Dennet, 1992) of anything, nor in any absolute sense, knowledge, and to think so would be, a terrible mistake.
Bakhtin, M. M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays (No. 1). University of Texas Press.
Dawkins, R., & Ward, L. (2006). The god delusion (p. 64). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Freud, S., Strachey, J., Freud, A., & Rothgeb, C. L. (1953). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud:(1913-1914) Totem and taboo and other works.[1955 (Vol. 13). Hogarth Press.
Dennett, D. C. (1992). The self as a center of narrative gravity. Self and consciousness: Multiple perspectives.
Gibsonfs, M. (2004). The passion of the Christ. youtu.be/agKJt44KX2o?t=5m18s
Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.
Nietzsche, F. (2002). Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Cambridge University Press.
Pierce, C. S. (1894). What is a Sign?. Philosophical Writings of Peirce, 98-104.
I recently wrote about speech as auto-affection (Derrida) or, in plainer terms, mental masturbation.
The defining characteristic of human language is its non-iconic, non-idexical, social, arbitary-ness. In other words, human words have no connection to whatever they mean. They do not resemble what they mean, nor do they have a physical connection with what they mean. Their meaning depends upon social convention.
Mead argues that language enables us to 'see' ourselves from the point of view of others, or a generalised other. This is presented as a cognitative advantage. Without language we'd not be able to have a self.
Chomsky too, argues that language must be a cognitive advantage because (1) it is difficult to see how it could have evolved as a communicative medium without there being simultaneous evolution of more than one individual, and (2) the majority, he claims, of language is self-spoken. Chomsky (2002) writes
The girrelevanceh [of communication] to human language is, however, far deeper. The reason is that–as Hauser also observes–language is not properly regarded as a system of communication. It is a system for expressing thought, something quite different. It can of course be used for communication, as can anything people do – manner of walking or style of clothes or hair, for example. But in any useful sense of the term,communication is not the function of language,and may even be of no unique significance for understanding the functions and nature of language.Hauser quotes Somerset Maughamfs quip that gif nobody spoke unless he had some thing to say,...the human race would very soon lose the use of speech.h His point seems accurate enough, even apart from the fact that language use is largely to oneself: ginner speechh for adults, monologue for children. p76-77
The fundamental condition that language has to meet is that it can be used, that the person who has it can use it. Actually you can use language even if you are the only person in the universe
with language, and in fact it would even have adaptive advantage. If one person suddenly got the language faculty,that person would have great advantages; the person could think, could articulate to itself its thoughts, could plan, could sharpen, and develop thinking as we do in inner speech, which has a big effect on our lives. Inner speech is most of speech.Almost all the use of language is to oneself,and it can be useful for all kinds of purposes (it can also be harmful, as we all know):figure out what you are going to do,plan,clarify your thoughts, what ever.So if one organism just happens to gain a language capacity, it might have reproductive advantages,enormous ones. p148
But then, Hejung Kim (2002) has demonstrated that East Asians have a cognitive *disadvantage*, when doing intelligence tests if they are forced to use language! So if language were a cognitive aid surely it would help East Asians too.
Returning to Mead, language requires that we model an other - an imaginary friend in the head - in order to understand it. Mead presents this as a self-cognitive advantage.
But early research by Nisbett (1977) who showed that our linguistic statements do not explain our psychological reality. We talk about ourselves to ourselves, but the narratives that we make up, are indeed made up stories. They are just stories
So what is going on? Language is not communication.Language does not give rise to a cognitive advantage about the world or self.
But language does require, as Mead and Bakhtin (1981) point out, an other, or the reaction of an other. Language in Pierce's terms an "interpretant" and that in its majority use as inner speech, we model an other to get that interpretation. That is the advantage of language, to Kanzi the bono bono ape who evolved language in the lab, to children, and to the first language speakers. Language creates others. Language provides us with an unreal 'comforting' other that does not require a listener, or sounds. It facilitates our inner-speech, and by creating a chimeric alter-ego to comfort us, keeps us silent.
Did some palaeolithic mother work out that if she gave her kids some language, they would make pretend mothers for themselves, and stop bugging her?
Jesus is an unpaid babysitter
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20
Eve was made not from a rib, but from a Adam's "side", or "side chamber". I sometimes think of language creating in me a sound box, like that of a stringed instrument, except haunted.
Bakhtin, M. Mikhail Mikhailovich. The dialogic imagination: Four essays. No. 1. University of Texas Press, 1981.
Chomsky, Noam. On nature and language. Eds. Adriana Belletti, and Luigi Rizzi. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Kim, Heejung S. "We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking." Journal of personality and social psychology 83.4 (2002): 828.
Mead, George Herbert. Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist. University of Chicago press, 2009.
Nisbett, Richard E., and Timothy D. Wilson. "Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes." Psychological review 84.3 (1977): 231.
Pierce, C. S. (1894). What is a Sign?. Philosophical Writings of Peirce, 98-104.
Swift, Graham. The light of day. Pan Macmillan, 2011.
Ernst Mach (1897) proposed that the basic stuff of the universe that physics should explain is phenomenon. To explain what he meant by phenomenon, he drew his famous picture of his visual field (below)
It is very well documented that Einstein was influenced by Mach's phenomenalist perspective. I argued in a previous post (Einstein was Batty) that the reason why nothing travels faster than the speed of light is because no human-perceived phenomenon can travel faster than the speed of light. But this is not entirely true. As mentioned in the previous post, if there were things travelling faster than the speed of light then we would be unable to observe them directly, but we may be able to observe their effects, with the very weird time-reversal consequences predicted by relativity.
E.g. if two blind bats, with excellent (hypothetically perfect) sonar were hanging in a cave and hunter came in with a gun, which fired super-sonic bullets, and shot one of the bats, then the bat that survived would 'see' his friend fall down, and afterwards 'see' the hunter load up and shoot. In other words, the bats would see cause and effect reversal or@retrocausality. This type of phenomenalist retrocausality would not fall foul of the Max Black's "bilking argument" since it would not be possible for the bat to prevent the cause of the effect that she had just observed. The bat might well set off towards the hunter in the attempt to prevent him from firing his gun, but she would never make it in time. If she flew faster and faster, then again as predicted by relativity, she would feel her own time frame to slow down, as the echoes of the hunter now approaching her faster than the speed of sound, would make the hunter's time frame faster, and the hunter to appear to be super 'fast at the draw'. As we have seen, super-sonic flight speeds should allow the bat, under the theory of relativity to reverse time and stop that darn hunter. But not so fast! If the bat could fly at supersonic speeds, she would never have experienced the retrocausality in the first place. If the bats were supersonic, then their fastest sense would be that of touch (and bullets would not hit them anyway).
All these manipulations of time are predicted by the theory of relativity (though I do not think it is predicted to happen in practice). In other words, I think that relativity can be understood from a phenomenalist perspective, rather than in terms of a 'cosmic speed limit'.
At the same time however, if it were simply the case that we are bats, and there is a world out there that does not reflect our sonar (light) or moves too fast for us to observe it, then just as the bats should, and do I believe, 'see', strange cause and effect reversals, we should also be seeing similar effects with reversed or at least invisible causes. Since we are not seeing them, perhaps then Einstein did discover the cosmic speed limit? As I said in my last article, bearing in mind our evolutionary similarity to goats and our general insignificance in the cosmos, I think it extremely unlikely that we should be able to know and sense at the cosmic speed limit. So where is the retro-causality, where is the "spooky action at a distance" that should be observed if things are moving faster than the speed of light?
Perhaps sound is pretty slow and light pretty fast. But even bearing that in mind, due to our insignificance on the cosmic scheme of things, I would expect a lot of things to be moving faster than we can perceive. What percentage of things should we be unable to experience? Most things I would guess. I think that it would be very bold to suggest that we could even perceive 5% of things, and more than 95% of universe should be quite, or almost, beyond our ken.
Enter dark matter. Since the 1970's, gaining full acceptance I think in the 1990s, astronomers and physicist have become persuaded that there is not enough visible matter to explain the high speed of rotation of galaxies, and not enough energy to explain the high speed of the expansion of the universe. Galaxies should not be as rotating as fast as they do without disintegrating, unless they contain more mass than we can see. Likewise the universe should not be expanding so rapidly than based on estimates of the amount of mass and energy that we can see. The only explanation for these phenomenon is that there is dark matter, which, together with "dark energy," makes up about 95% of the mass of the universe. We are only seeing 5% of the mass of the universe.
There is the possibility that this dark matter and dark energy is located in dark bodies somewhere out in space, but it seems also quite likely that like bats, we are swimming in stuff that we can not sense. Bats can't tell when the sun comes up (dark energy for a bat), nor see things that go faster than sound until they slow down.
Could it be that dark energy is dark for a similar reason?
Another explanation of dark matter provided by J. M. Ripalda (1999, last updated in 2010) from the university of Madrid, proposes that some matter in the universe is not "dark" but "past-pointing", and concludes his paper with the following remark
"The concepts of gdark energyh and non-baryonic gdark matterh are unnecessary. The fact that we experience time as always going forwards is due to the separation of past-pointing matter and future-pointing matter by gravity (a spontaneous local symmetry breaking). On a large scale, there is no garrow of timeh. "
I am not capable of understanding the mathematics used to support Ripalda's assertion, and I find it difficult to conceive of time actually, not phenomenologically, running in reverse anyway (except in Spanish films). But if the currently observed anomalies explained by "dark matter," can be explained by the presence of "past-pointing matter," then we have a similar situation to that found in the bat thought experiments. Bats, if their sonar were good enough, would experience all sort of time reversed events. Bats with good enough sonar would see planes that arrive before they take off, humans beconning people who had already set off towards them, and bullets that killed their neighbours before the bullets were fired. They would detect in their environment, in other words, the effects of "past-pointing matter".
From our point of view, and indeed from the bats point of view if they were able to think about it enough, this does not necessarily mean that "past-pointing matter" or the reversal of time is the best explanation. It might merely be better to assume that they, and we, are facing a phenomenal wall, due to the speed of the medium of their fastest sense. Hence, I suggest that the "speed limit" found by relativity, and that "dark" or "past-pointing" matter can better be explained in a phenomenalist way.
Strangely, I can't seem to find many other people pointing out this obvious phenomenalist explanation for the 'cosmic speed limit' other than "george.baldwin" from Avrille in France, who posts to this forum.
Mach, E. (1897). Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations. (C. M. Williams, Trans.). The Open court publishing company. Retrieved from http://www.archive.org/details/contributionsto00machgoog
Mach, E. (1907). The science of mechanics: A critical and historical account of its development. Open court publishing Company.
Ripalda, J. M. (1999). Time reversal and negative energies in general relativity. arXiv preprint gr-qc/9906012. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/9906012
Scholars are surprisingly unsure as to why there is language at all. One okay, easy-read but fairly in-depth book about this is Jean-Louis Dessailes' (2007) "Why we talk: The Evolutionary Origins of Language."
The author argues that for a long time that hunter gatherers had language, without much in the way of technological or social advance, so it is difficult to see the adaptive advantage of having language. Greater social cohesion, catching free-riders, negotiation, and (the author's answer) the ability to brag politically, are some possibilities. The latter possibility, arises out of the authors observations that of all the supposed unique characteristics of human language, the one that genuinely remains is that we spend a lot of our time telling interesting stories, like we are saving up interesting, temporally separate pieces of information to brag to other people about later. This ability to brag can, like peacock feathers, be converted to social power. Dessailes theory of the evolution of language is thus very similar to that of Geoffrey Miller (2011) who argues that the origin of the, very large, human brain is similar to that of peacock feathers, since, in Dawkin's summary, "being clever is sexy" at 1 minute 35 second into this video.
All these answers, are to greater or lesser extent pragmatic, rather than illusory. My own answer is be adapted from Derrida's thoughts on self-speech, as "auto-affection". Another way of saying "auto-affection" is, as I think that Derrida makes fairly clear in his chapter on Rousseau in "of Grammatology", 'mental masturbation:' the fabulation of an other or dyad within the psyche so that one can enjoy the release of libidinal energy. This is a pretty distasteful theory, and I think that is partly why it enjoys little popularity or even straightforward exposition - Derrida is very cryptic about what he is talking about.
Language - symbolic (not iconic or indexical, see Pierce, 1894) signs - allows humans to represent themselves in a way that is arbitrary, depending upon a social system, not upon any similarity or physical connection between the sign and whatever it refers refer to. Symbols can leave the constraints of the environment. This Cousins argues (2012) allows us to think up new symbols, new ways of seeing and using things, and promotes social, technological advance.
Remember however that it is claimed by Dessailes that language was not accompanied by much technological advance from its birth in the palaeolithic. The age of language is argued to be, by Chomsky in this video, 100,000 to 200,000 years ago, long before the neolithic/agricultural revolution of about 12,000 years ago. That is for at least about 90,000 years or 90% of its history, we and our pre-human ancestors were using language, and making cave paintings, and seemed to have become religious as attested by the fact that we were burying our dead, but we were not doing a lot in the way of practical technological advance. This point is contentious. Other archaeologists claim that there was a continuous chain of social innovation, so the link between language and social innovation (Cousins, 2012) may well be correct.
The non-iconic, non-indexical nature of symbols, also means that they are "iterable" (Derrida) or repeatable, quotable, as such function in the complete absence of the author (Derrida), and further we can and need to understand them in communication, from the point of view of a real or internalised other (Mead). This ability to present ourselves objectively to ourselves may have all sorts of cognitive, or communicative advantages, but it also has imho a much more emotional, rather iccky, psychological advantage. Words as symbols, are like little mirrors; or self-addressed postcards (Derrida). They are a little bit of ourselves that we set apart from ourselves, that we see as if from the outside. Unlike sculpture which in the palaeolithic can and often does provide a first person perspective of self (McDermott, 1996), language, like mirrors, by the way it functions as part of social code, always provides a view from the other.
Returning to Dessailes book, he recounts that experimenters have been attempting to get primates to speak for a long time with quite a lot of success with some Chimps and with massive success with a particular bono bono called Kanzi.
The only primate to have evolved (autonomously learnt) to speak like a human is a bono bono (close relative of a chimpanzee) called Kanzi.
Here I quote from Dessailes book
gWhen Matata weaned Kanzi and had to be separated from him tor a time so as to be bred again, he was left alone. The research team thought they might be able to try teaching him what they had failed to teach Matata, though he had never shown an interest in her keyboard, except to push keys at random. But his behaviour once he was separated from his mother, upset this plan: as soon as he was left to himself, he spontaneously started to touch keys on the keyboard, not at random or in response to a prompt, but in a way that announced his own actions. For example, he would touch the lexigram for apple, then go an fetch an apple. This proved that not only did he know the meaning of the symbols on the keyboard, unlike Matata, but that he had learned them quite spontaneously. This observation was, to say the least unexpected.h p62
Wow! There it is. The evolutionary origin of language. I repeat that in large part this experiments succeed in not only teaching, but creating the situation where language almost spontaneously, *evolved in the lab*! I think that they should have paid more attention to the characteristics of Kanzi's language:
1) It was self descriptive - a self narrative.
2) It occurred in isolation, recently separated when the speaker was probably lonely.
3) It was therefore in a sense self directed, or perhaps spoken off to someone that Kanzi imagined might be listening/watching, or as Mead argues understood from the point of view of an other - in this case his mother Matata.
4) It was to a large extent Ex Post, after the even. Kanzi was predicting that which he had already decided to do, as demonstrated to be the case in humans too by the work of Libet and more forcefully Soon et al.. In this way language appears to be causative when really it only creates this impression since it is "postdicting" predicting the past.
This is I think the advantage of language for the individual. It supplies the myth of a dyad, "presence", presence of the meaning of the words, which can only be achieved by the presence of others. Language is usually seen as a communicative or cognitive tool, and through it being able to see ourselves from the point of view of the other, a cognitive advantage. However, language allows us to be a narcissistic in a linguistic mirror, and through self-narrative, provide us with the illusion that we are never alone.
The origin of language in this auto-effective, self comforting behaviour, is not so preposterous when one considerer that the sage author of this book argues that language was originally for showing off to others, bragging, politically. Nor is it so strange when compared with the theory of Geoffrey Miller regarding the human brain: "being clever is sexy." In the theoretical absence of an environmentally adaptive, pragmatic advantage of language to the speaker, these white, modern, male authors propose that the listener (presumably a female) is duped. As even today, the 'WEIRD' (Heine, 2010) self-enhancer appears to dupe those around him, when in fact the merits of his so doing are intra-psychic: he dupes himself. Kanzi, likewise, is bragging to himself, being attractive, even sexy, to himself, and enjoying the resultant "auto-affection," enough to do so without any reward from the experimenters.
The advantage for the species is however pragmatic. That individuals from any species play this game, that they become split, narcissists in this way, results in state where all members are possessed or infested with the ghost of their parents. This state is useful when it is remembered, that since Dawkins, we realise that the unit of evolution is the unity of replication - the gene - and not the individual, which is merely a 'vehicle' for the gene. The behaviour of individuals needs to bent to the demands of a social, familial, or above all, genetic level. When the complexity of the individual vehicle reaches a level where the objectives of the gene and the individual are at odds, then all that genes and evolution can do (other than to regress to species with more socially dependent individuals) is offer the individuals illusions. When there is conflict, genuine conflict, then no truth, only attractive illusions, can be offered.
I am arguing thus that the advent of language facilitated morality, its advantage to the species, because it provided, to the individual, a form of proto-porn.
The earlier part of this blog post, and asking the question 'why do we have language at all, was inspired by Steven Cousins, who has his own answer.
Cousins, S. D. (2012). A semiotic approach to mind and culture. Culture & Psychology, 18(2), 149–166. doi:10.1177/1354067X11434834
Derrida, J. (1998). Of grammatology. (G. C. Spivak, Trans.). JHU Press.
Derrida, J. (1987). The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. (A. Bass, Trans.) (First Edition.). University Of Chicago Press.
Dessalles, J.-L. (2007). Why we talk: The evolutionary origins of language. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.jp/books?hl=en&lr=&id=VW_v_9AGLKUC&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=The+Evolutionary+Origins+of+Language&ots=4ISep5M-RJ&sig=Wugyqxqs5dB-5WzAzeSu-HFYBMo
Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). Most people are not WEIRD. Nature, 466(7302), 29–29.
Libet, B. (1999). Do we have free will? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(8-9), 47–57. Retrieved from www.centenary.edu/attachments/philosophy/aizawa/courses/i...
McDermott, L. R. (1996). Self-representation in Upper Paleolithic female figurines. Current Anthropology, 37(2), 227–275.
Miller, G. (2011). The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. Random House Digital, Inc. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.jp/books?hl=en&lr=&id=QG-8PbZb4csC&oi=fnd&pg=PA25&dq=geoffrey+miller+evolution&ots=W6VHpczgXj&sig=5ncu0gsOv1iJ6nchuqEZzqznOSs
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.@iIt is only the vocal gesture that is fitted for this fort of communication, because it is only the vocal gesture to which one responds or tends to respond as another person tends to respond to it. p 67j
Peirce, C. S. (1894). What is a sign? Theorizing communication: readings across traditions, 177. Retrieved from http://www.semioticadelprogetto.it/download/CSP%20-%20What%20is%20a%20sign.pdf
Savage-Rumbaugh, E. S., & Lewin, R. (1994). Kanzi: The ape at the brink of the human mind. Wiley. Retrieved from http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search/display.do?f=1995/US/US95125.xml;US9533108
Soon, C. S., Brass, M., Heinze, H. J., & Haynes, J. D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature neuroscience, 11(5), 543-545. projects.ecfs.org/pchurch/ATBiology/Papers2012/unconsciou...