Saturday, May 30, 2015

Digital & Dogs

Image result for digital icon

-  Ever had the experience of talking about one thing and suddenly you know the answer to another thing you were thinking about?
- Sure.
- Speaking a language is one special thing we do with thinking.
- And the others?
- Other. There is only one: we act. Speaking is story telling, a narration of something that happened in the past or a story of what we will do in the future. Thinking when not story telling is productive: every movement through the world gives a new version of the world to our senses which we actively combine with what we've perceived before, doing this always while looking for the kind of thing we want.
- Desire guides what sort of categories we look for.
- Yes. We look for what we want.
- Isn't there a kind of thinking somewhere in the middle, between telling stories, and making stories?
- There is. When we have made a new class to put the individual impressions, perceptions, images into, and we like what we see, we continuously produce that sight holding onto the memory of how we got there.
- Which is what you call contemplation of beauty.
- Which we have talked about many times before. It doesn't go on too long because of the demands of the body to move, to maintain itself.
- And once we move we immediately have more experience to lead us back to the sight of something new and beautiful.
- Yes. Now what happens when you are talking about one thing and you solve a completely different problem is that the language supplies new arrangements of images, versions of the world which then thinking without language, which never stops, pounces upon to arrange experience in a new way.
- Thinking never stops?
- No. It moves from story telling of language, to contemplation of beauty, to search for new classifications incorporating constantly arising new experience. That's only when we do thinking right. We often mix up the categories. Instead of language being the tool of thought, thought itself becomes the tool of language. We come to think it's beautiful when we repeat the same actions to have the same thoughts.
- Why isn't it if contemplation is?
- In contemplation we repeat the same thoughts, not actions, guided not by language but by memory. Language is a tool that helps us produce more complex learning than is possible without it. And as long as we are moving, not going backwards limiting thought by language, we are on the way to learning.
- Does thought tell stories without language?
- Certainly. The stories just aren't in words. All emotions are such wordless story telling: love, melancholy, joy, sadness, hope, dread, anticipation.
- I've read that animals don't use language in the way we do. Only human language is hierarchical: each new element builds on the previous ones.
- Each new element limits the possibilities by specifying what sort of thing in a class is meant: There is a dog. What does the dog do? It goes. Where does the dog go? To the door.
- Then if as some say we think in language, we are always progressively limiting our experience in the story we tell.
- That's correct.
- But if that's true, how do we connect one story to another?
- How indeed.
- What do the theorists say?
- They are silent.
- Theorists of language are silent.
- Do you remember the debate about whether analog recordings of music were better than the new digital recordings?
- Analog sound is richer. You don't think so?
- Analog is like thought, continuously moving forward. Digital is like language, one story after another.
- And like we are fooled by digital music's fast sampling followed by gaps of silence, we are fooled into accepting that our thought could be nothing more than sentence followed by sentence, that sentences are samples of thought.
- Languages, limited things composed of gap filled sentences, tend to fall into two basic classes of how their sentences themselves limit representation of experience.* They differ in whether they focus on activity or on things, focus on movement or on stasis. The ones that focus on things tend to have a separate verb for each thing mentioned, where those focusing on activity can make do with one verb with many phrases indicating the path of movement.
- Why two different ways?
- The distinction reflects the two phases of thought: new experience, then synthesis into new classes. You can see the same division in traditional sex roles: male focuses on activity, female on stasis.
- But why should we limit ourselves in this way in language and social roles?
- The most general reflection on thinking we can make with language is that we act, acquiring new instances of experience, then we class those instances.
- And we then wrongly constrain our thinking and social life on the basis of that reflection in language?
- Yes.
- Let's go back to animals and humans. If they don't use our special, progressively limited and often backward leading language, are they nevertheless thinking?
- Sure they are. I'll give you an example. In activity focused languages...
- Of which English is one?
- Yes. In activity focused languages we say things like, "The ball fell down to the floor". We don't add, "The ball is now on the floor", which stasis focused languages tend to do in a separate phrase.
- We infer it. If the ball is falling towards, it is going to get there, unless we hear in another sentence that it didn't.
- We take the language to thought for expansion and completion. Language serves thought. Now at least one dog has been trained to go get many named objects. When it is told to go get an object with a name it's never heard before, it goes to look, comes back, goes again, and then understands: the new object there among the many known named others must be the one with the new name, and that is the one he takes.
- The dog has experience of going to a place where many named things are to get "x". Then new experience is added: it goes to the place of many named things and sees a new unnamed thing is there. Like the ball that in activity language falls to the floor, with no added description in language of the ball being on the floor, but this is inferred by thought, so the dog hears, "go get "x" but completes the description of "x" with experience of that new unnamed object seen among the named others. And this appeal of language to experience you say is appeal to thought.
- Experience that can arbitrate and complete language seems to deserve the title.
- I'm convinced. Do you know why?
- Why?
- Because dogs have moods, and as you say, moods are thought without language. They feel, they think, only don't have complex hierarchical language.
- And we do, but when we reduce thought to language we don't think and don't feel.
* Dan Slobin, Mind, Code, Text

No comments:

Post a Comment