Re: language and relationship

Gary F. Blanchard (
Sat, 22 Mar 1997 07:54:00 -0800

Dear Tim-

It's good to hear from you again. Thanks for your post. I'm happy to
accept your invitation to comment on your comments. Let me start with
some general points and see where we go from there.


RECONCILING PARADIGM CONFLICTS: The Nature & Effects of Differing Views
of 'Language.'

FIRST, I support Prof. Flores view that we humans 'live in
language,'meaning that we unawaredly experience a uniquely linguistic
reality, as a fish must unawaredly experience a uniquely H2O reality
-I grant that this view is in the nature of a new paradigm / model /
viewpoint / way of seeing the matter.
-I further grant that, therefore, there are many respectable people who
do not know about this view, and/or reject it.

I believe that I am in the former category, Tim, and you, Mike and
others are in the latter one. If I am correct, then our essential, basic
problem is to find out what diference of view is about, and how it might
be resolved to our mutual satisfaction. I think it would be most useful
to proceed at a general, overview 'level' first, and then perhaps get
into the next level of detail. I hope this is okay with you and Mike,
since this is after all a collaborative undertaking.

SECOND, from my understanding of the 'paradigm' work of the late Thomas
Kuhn, and others, I understand that an observer with an 'old' paradigm
likely will experience a 'new' one as different. Indeed, depending upon
the the observer and the nature of the new paradigm, this observer may
experience it as 'radically' different. By 'radically,' I mean
significantly discontinuous with the assumptions and approaches of the
'old' one, as for example a bicycle would be in comparison with the
space shuttle. Thus the 'new' is felt by the observer to be 'foreign' to
what is familiar to them.

This being so, the only recourse for this observer is to learn his/her
way 'into' the new paradigm. Alternatively, they can disregard the new
paradigm and continue observing reality through their original one.
(This process allegedly often occurs without the direct, conscious
awareness of the observer.)

The result, nonetheless, is that the observer preserves his/her former
state of being / seeing, or paradigm, and nullifies the new one.
History is replete with examples of this, and the phenomenon continues
to the present.

Ultimately the process, sometimes known as 'innovation adoption,'is
revealed to be quite personal and idiosyncratic, and often has social
and physical overtones. For the power of paradigms is the action which
their observer-holders ultimately produce. A quick example: White-power
skinheads who refuse to believe that the Holocaust happened, bond with
others who agree with them, and violence to others may result.

THIRD, in the matter of 'understanding' a new paradigm, especially a
'radical' new paradigm, there is a saying:

"Some things must be believed to be seen."

That is, one must trust the claims and assurances of another, who knows
about the new paradigm, in order to begin to reorient oneself sufficient
to apprehend/comprehend the new view.For example, the precepts of PCP
are unk own to me; I would have to declare you or another person I trust
to know about them to be my teacher, and then trust what you say until I
develop sufficient competence to begin making my own responsible way.
Note that this conflicts with the American tradition of do-it-yourself
and autonomy.

In my opinion, producing this trust in advance of proof takes daring
and courage. Doing so is easy to deprecate and ridicule, especially
from observers living in a tradition of trained skepticism and strong
commitment to another paradigm. It may even constitute a means of covert
social enforcement of the prevailing paradigm.

And yet, unless this trust is produced by the newcomer, he or she may
end up effectively nullifying the new paradigm, for reasons having
nothing to do with its merit or lack thereof, even though the contrary
may be claimed.

FOURTH, and finally, there is another saying:

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

I take this to mean that none of us can will ourselves to shift to a new
viewpoint; much more than rational self-direction is involved. As Kuhn
observed, ultimately paradigms are a social matter. To shift from one
to the other can be a great and difficult challenge for an observer,
especially when the consequences are felt by him/her to be great.

That's why we typically identify personal greatness as associated with
some change/paradigm shift whose outcome was not known at the time it
was undertaken, but it was undertaken anyway. A quick example: Gandhi.
How preposterous of that little man in a loincloth to adopt a
paradigm/belief that he could defeat the British Empire, without firing
a shot, and have India be free. Or Pasteur to think he could ease
suffering by modifying medical care to include precautions for killing
little creatures which could not even be seen by the naked eye. Etc.,
Etc., Etc.


Well, Tim and other friends, let me stop here, and ask for your comments
on what I have said. In this new paradigm of mine we accept that
'meaning' is the sole property of the hearer, even though we are
responsible for it because we have triggered it.

And the only way we have of knowing what 'meaning' our hearers have made
of what we have said is to ask them, and wait for their response. And
then go on from there.
SO......Comments? Mike? Others?

Sincerely, Gary Blanchard


Tim A. Connor wrote:
> Gary & Mike
> While I think there's an important point here--that language is a dynamic
> process, not a "thing"--it seems to me that to define a construct as
> broadly as Maturana (and his followers) would have us do "languaging" is
> to virtually empty it of useful content. By defining language as all the
> activity by which we coordinate our activities with others, we end up
> asserting not only that "without language we have no relationship" but
> "language is relationship" (or maybe "languaging is relating"). It is
> equally true that without relationship there is no language--there has to
> be something to coordinate, after all.
> The problem is not that any of these propositions are invalid, but that
> they tend to paper over useful distinctions among different kinds of
> symbolic and communicative activity. To impose a PCP frame on Maturana's
> system for a moment: What is the contrast pole to "language"? If there
> is nothing in human experience that is not language, what use is the word
> anyway?
> Certainly in evolutionary terms relationship precedes verbal language (our
> primate ancestors were social long before they learned to talk, and it
> seems likely that the major adaptive advantage of our overgrown forebrain
> is that it enables a social species to become more effectively social
> through the use of symbolic modes of communication). On the other hand,
> much of our physical evolution occurred in an environment in which culture
> provided much of the selective pressure--so we are biologically adapted to
> experience the world--including our own bodily sensations--through
> symbolic systems that arise from relationships with others and so are
> public: "A child counts on his fingers before he counts 'in his head'; he
> feels love on his skin before he feels it 'in his heart.' Not only ideas,
> but emotions too, are cultural artifacts in man." (that's from Clifford
> Geertz's essay "The growth of culture and the evolution of mind," which I
> cannot recommend too highly).
> So while I think there's much value in attending to the way language (and
> other cultural systems) structures our world, I think it's useful to limit
> the meaning to something like its common usage (something close to
> Watzlawick's "digital communication"). This makes it easier for us to
> attend to the differences between sending e-mail, dancing, participating
> in a religious ritual, playing peek-a-boo with a baby, using a finger to
> model a problem in manipulating a toy, solving an algebra problem, making
> love, reading a map, and listening to or performing music. There are
> other ways of noting the similarities among all of the above than
> subsuming them under "language."
> Comments?
> Best,
> Tim
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> Tim Connor, M.S. "Psychotherapy is not
> Pacific University an applied science, it
> School of Professional Psychology is a basic science in
> 2004 Pacific Avenue which the scientists
> Forest Grove, OR 97116 USA are the client and his
> <> therapist"
> --George Kelly
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> On Thu, 20 Mar 1997 wrote:
> > >>
> > >> > "Without language,we have no relationships.
> > >>
> > >> What about early attachment relationships, which begin around 6 months
> > >> of age and earlier, between infants and adults -- would it be fair to say
> > >> that babies don't have relationshps with their parents?
> > >------------------------------
> > >
> > >I have wondered about this as well, Mike. But what I have come to
> > >realize is that I was attaching a conventional, Objectivist
> > >interpretation to the term 'language' --- namely, that there IS
> > >someTHING, some entity, which we call 'language.'
> > >
> > >But is there? What evidence is there for it?
> > >
> > >I have concluded, after long study, discussion and reflection, that I
> > >can locate no such evidence. I am left with the conclusion that we use
> > >the term 'language' to denote a metaphor, or a linguistic
> > >distinction/concept, but not a demonstrable 'reality.' In the final
> > >analysis,then,the traditional Objectivist interpretation of language is
> > >thing-oriented, static, and potentially misleading and illusory.
> > >
> > >However, if we join noted Biology of Cognition scholar Humberto
> > >Maturana, we can reframe or reconstruct our interpretation of 'language'
> > >to a view which I believe is more in keeping with Constructivism (see
> > >Attachment). We can begin to think in terms not of a thing, but of a
> > >dynamic action process of languagING, in which we
> > >coordinate action with ourselves and others, continuously, publicly and
> > >privately, throughout all the conscious days of our life.
> >
> > Hi Gary:
> >
> > Your comments about language as an activity rather than as a fixed
> > structure are rich and thoughtful. I think that it is an appropriate
> > point to make. I agree that we should avoid speaking of language as
> > an abstract structure, and speak of speech, speaking, utterning, and
> > the like. However, as rich as your comments are, I may have been
> > addressing a different point. The poem suggested that without language,
> > there are no relationships; it suggests the priority of language in
> > psychological functioning. My point was simply that sign activity is but
> > one vehicle of psychological functioning. I gave early attachment as
> > an example of how there could be a relationshiup, but not signs or speech.
> >
> > Here is another example, a classic one, from Piaget. Piaget was watching
> > his 15 month old girl as she played with a toy clown with long feet. The
> > feet of the doll became caught in the low neck of her dress, and Jacqueline
> > could'nt get them out. After her failed attempt, Jacqueline "put her hand
> > in fron of her, bent her forefinger at a right angle to reprduce the shape
> > of the clown's feet, described exactly the same trajectory as teh clown and
> > thus succeedded in putting her finger in the neck of the dress..."
> >
> > In this example, the child is using the trajectory of her finger as a
> > symbol to "stand for" the movement of the clown. This is not sign-
> > activity. Piaget, in fact, sees such symbolic uses of action as a
> > forerunner to signs. Again, my point is that we think and relate in many
> > ways, sensori-motor actions, images, emotional expereicne, that are not
> > necessarily instances of sign activity.
> >
> > Best,
> > Mike Mascolo
> >

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"We come to others and they come to us, in language.
"Without language,we have no relationships.
"In language we are faithful and we betray;
contract marriage, and file divorce.
"In language we raise children, and bury our dead.
"In language we sing, dance, and make love.
"In language, we forgive, celebrate and commit.
"We live in language."
-Fernando Flores,PhD,author,Ontological Design Course;
and (w/ T.Winograd,PhD),"Understanding Computers & Cognition."
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