Re: language and relationship

Robert Parks (
Sat, 22 Mar 1997 13:00:29 -0500


I was enjoying the dialogue, because it was, for a while, looking like a
dialogue. But your last communication did not directly respond to anything
Tim said. Instead you reverted to a meta-theory of why people would
disagree with you - i.e., they accept a different "paradigm". It does
appear to be a defensive mechanism in this case, if only because you have
not dealt with any of the comments that Tim made. So let me offer some
assistance to the process of dialogue. Let me try to take your "side" Gary,
and respond to Tim. But I would like to avoid the radical side-taking that
is implicit in setting up camps with paradigm banners

So, let me attempt to respond to Tim, from your or Flores point of view,
and get the dialogue back on track. First, Tim's important points:

On the other hand, much of our physical evolution occurred in an

environment in which culture provided much of the selective
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
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)

There are two key elements to this approach. First, language and symbolic
systems are inherently social/public. Flores' approach would tacitly direct
our attention to the biological basis of all symbolic behavior. But is
there any real difference in principle? I think not. Social behavior is in
some sense always biologically grounded, even when it is not biologically
directed. Second, a priority is given to sensory systems that presage the
full symbolic blossoming of our speech capacities. This I think is the key
element in dispute, so let me try to offer a Florean interpretation that
might challenge Tim.

What does a child feel on her skin before she feels it in her heart?
Warmth? security? love? The question can be put it terms of two options:
(1) the child feels something that is the SEED of "love", which becomes
"love" only when she can symbolize and generalize that feeling; (2) the
child feels something that is indeed "love" (not a seed of love) because it
is a particularly HUMAN way of experiencing warmth and security. It appears
to me that Flores would accept the latter interpretation. Our HUMAN way of
experiencing is from the beginning distinct and different from the
experiencing of other species, even before our symbolic activity has
blossomed as "language". The apparent similarity in experience to other
species is deceptive. The warmth and security felt by infants of other
species is real, but it is not pregnant already with human meaning. Human
meaning is an activity, and infants engage in this activity from the
beginning. It is qualitatively different from the symbolic activity of
infants of other species, because it has the character of being from the
beginning a "trigger" (to use Gary's term) to human symbolic activity of
the "language" kind.

Lets use an analogy from music. When a human infant hears music, the active
response is inherently different from the response of infants of other
species. It isn't a dry seed that blossoms only in later years, under
guidance of tutors. It is an active growing seed that captures the
"meaning" of the music in a particularly human way.

Am I doing ok? I think Flores might accept this. I think I might accept
this. I'm not sure. I'd like to hear the responses from Tim. In any case, I
don't think we will get very far by setting barriers of "paradigm" between

Paradigms develop not as full blown theoretical/psychological systems, but
as explanatory devises and research agendas built around "paradigm cases",
which act as models for future explanatory systems. The paradigm doesn't
emerge full blown in a theory, but in a case that can be modelled as the
theory is worked out. I would suggest, then, that you identify a particular
case, and offer your "languaging" interpretation. You may find others
agreeing with you on the case level, which might put them in a similar
"constructivist" paradigm, even when they don't follow Flores all the way
up the hill he climbs. There are, after all, many hills to climb.