Looking at the Wall...

Implications -- Set Three

  1. Let's look at this perception issue a bit farther. Consider the two diagrams, both containing the same numeral.


  2. In the top diagram, it is VERY easy to spot the number--the mind isolates the whole VERY quickly (indeed, initially). But in the second, because parts of the number are shared by other WHOLES, those parts in use by other wholes are NOT 'assembled' into the proper whole FIRST. We see two patterns and our brain locks them in (as in the 'snow' picture above). For some of us, we have to 'find' the number by cognitively processing the figure into is parts and looking for the parts (as wholes!) first...thus if we know that this number has a right-angle in it, we will start looking for right angles FIRST, and then 'back out' somewhat to see if we can see a whole in some isolated field of the picture. In other words, we will find a likely locus of a whole, 'remove' other competing wholes by limiting the field of attention, and then 'look again'...we generally see it after this step.

  3. This has some interesting implications for philosophy of language. For example, in a causal theory of language, in which word-meanings are grounded in 'naming events', there is an obvious problem with the ostensives of the referent. In other words, to say that we cause a meaning for 'cat' by pointing to a cat and uttering the phoneme sequence 'c-a-t', sidesteps the HUGE problem of what we pointed at. It is literally impossible to point to something in 3D and with that gesture precisely delimit some object in spacetime! Even in 'empty' space, to point to a tennis ball and say 'tennis ball' does NOT select ONE meaning from the following list: the ball, the color of the ball, the motion of the ball, the concentric sphere around the ball with a ring diameter of 2 cm, the texture of the ball, the front surface of the ball, some specific region on the surface of the ball, the cream-filling of the ball (in a dream world, of course), etc. Ostensives can NEVER be made fully explicit, for even each of the above phrases needs increasing descriptions to earn increasing specificity.

  4. But notice now that I have run smack-dab into my original problem. If pointing doesn't work, and I am forced to be increasingly explicit and precise in specifying the content of the word "tennis ball", then I can NEVER get there--my attempts at increasing precision will hit the wall, and I will be pushed sideways to other words and complexes.

  5. So our 'pointing' mechanisms MUST work, somehow. There must be some correlation between the language bubble imprecision and the imprecision of the 'ostensive' world. (I have discussed this some above, and will do more on this later).

  6. Consider the word 'push'. At first glance one could see clearly how that word could be grounded in early experience. "I'll show you what 'push' means--feel this!"...or "watch this". But without tons more description, cases, delimitations, generic applications, range-limit indicators--we don't get it. "Push" is just too imprecise, EVEN in 'precise usages' (e.g. the blow pushed the nail into the wood exactly 3 mm).

  7. Or consider 'consciousness' (or 'inner states' such as 'fear'). How could we EVER as a society be able to talk about this?! Pointing is so 'pointless' in this context [;>)]...If intersubjectivity somehow doesn't work; if we are not epistemically constructed alike somehow; if we are not correlated to the external/internal universe somehow; if our internal levels of imprecision don't match the external levels of precision somehow--then the show basically stops!

  8. To sum this up: to ground word meanings in experience is to guarantee imprecision. But, since this imprecision derives from concrete/macro-experience it is stable, solid, useful--imprecision notwithstanding.

  9. Consider this account of the gestalt of 'causality' by Lakoff and Johnson (Metaphors We Live By), p.69f:
    Standard theories of meaning assume that all of our complex concepts can be analysed into undecomposable primitives. Such primitives are taken to be the ultimate 'building blocks' of meaning. The concept of causation is often taken to be such an ultimate building block. We believe that the standard theories are fundamentally mistaken in assuming that basic concepts are undecomposable primitives.
    We agree that causation is a basic human concept. It is one of the concepts most often used by people to organize their physical and cultural realities. But this does not mean that it is an undecomposable primitive. We would like to suggest instead that causation is best understood as an experiential gestalt. A proper understanding of causation requires that it be viewed as a cluster of other components. But the cluster forms a gestalt--a whole that we human beings find more basic than the parts.

  10. The above discussions focused on pattern recognition in the visual space, and only obliquely dealt with pattern recognition in discourse, but the same phenomena of gestalt-centric occurs there as well.

  11. It is well known that we 'correct' sentence-bits on the basis of what we THINK it says/should say. We filter conversations by subject matter (at a subconscious level), we hear sentence meanings BEFORE we 'notice' the individual words. (For a discussion/overview of this data, see my notes on How we process communication).

  12. The main observation of this section: Not only do we live in a macro-level world, we live in a gestalt-first/elements-later world. Patterns are primary; components are secondary (assuming they can be identified and held in context well enough for non-destructive analysis.)

Go to the next in the series.
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