Re: intersubjectivity

Gary F. Blanchard (
Mon, 21 Apr 1997 09:32:45 -0700

Dear Tim-

Thanks very much for your responses to my questions. You have given me
much to think about and I appreciate your partnership in inquiry.

I. One quick observation, as I mull your comments:

So what you and I are doing, here, in our discussion, is talking about
the phenomenon of talking. Would you agree?

II. And one quick question:

Would you agree that a synonym for 'symbol' is 'icon'?

III. And one quick response to your question,"Are we making sense to
each other yet?"

That appears to me to require a mutual response.

But if you ask, 'Am I (Tim) making more sense to you (Gary) yet?' then
I first would have to compliment you on asking what I regard as an
excellent question. Then I would perhaps reply that:

I see you as learned, civil, and a serious student -- within the
limits of your inherited world view.

I see evidence that your world view is, like that of just about all of
the rest of the world's people at this point in history, largely or
totally objectivist. The effect of this, in my opinion, is to
unconsciously distort one's construing/interpreting, with powerful
effects on one's relationships with oneself and the world.

I say these things against the backdrop of my own experience. I was
unwittingly objectivist in my paradigm of construing/ interpretation
for most of my 58 years. Indeed, it never occurred to me to be
otherwise; I had no notion that an alternative even existed!
Fortunately for me, however, I met teachers who, over time, showed me
a different view, often over my severe and unremitting objections. And
now I believe I can demonstrate that I am more free in my
construing/interpreting, in that I am fluent in both objectivism and
constructivism, and can operate in either paradigm.

I believe that you, like so many other distinguished, honorable and
sincere members of this list, apparently believe you are in the same
situation. But if I am correct with my evidence (which I would be glad
to provide, if there is a willingness to see it), then really you are
caught in an illusion, of which you are unaware. I would liken the
condition to that of a cat which believes itself to be a dog. If the
cat has human capacities, one probably never will be able to convince
it that it is mistaken.
And yet, by all the standards and conventions we have established, it is
still a cat.

But if it is happy, and does no harm, why not leave it be?

I hope I have not offended you or others with these small remarks, and
that perhaps they may even serve to provide us with an additional,
fruitful source of inquiry and constructivist advancement.

Best, Gary

> Tim A. Connor wrote:
> On Sat, 19 Apr 1997, Gary F. Blanchard wrote:
> > What does 'the capacity to symbolize' mean?
> > What does one do, or is one witness to, when 'symbolizing' occurs?
> > What IS a symbol?
> >
> I'll quote Geertz here, just because he says it better than I could: "[A
> symbol is] any object, act, event, quality, or relation which serves as a
> vehicle for a conception--the conception is the symbol's 'meaning'.... The
> number 6, written, imagined, laid out as a row of stones, or even punched
> into the program tapes of a computer, is a symbol. But so also is the
> Cross, talked about, visualized, shaped worriedly in the air or fondly
> fingered at the neck, the expanse of painted canvas called 'Guernica' or
> the bit of painted stone called a churinga, the word 'reality' or even the
> morpheme '-ing.' They are all symbols, or at least symbolic elements,
> because they are tangible formulations of notions, abstractions from
> experience fixed in perceptible forms, concrete embodiments of ideas,
> attitudes, judgements, longings, or beliefs."
> The capacity to symbolize is, therefore, the capacity to produce tangible
> formulations of conceptions and to apprehend the conceptions embodied in
> those tangible forms. It depends on specific parts of the brain that are
> more developed in humans than other species; it seems that chimps and
> gorillas can be taught to symbolize (to some extent), but that only humans
> do it spontaneously (as far as we know to date).
> It should be clear from the above that while some human behavior is always
> symbolic (language most obviously), almost any human behavior or it's
> product can be. I am symbolizing as I type these words; you are
> symbolizing as you read them (I suppose one could distinguish between
> expressive and receptive symbolizing). And it is by this exchange of
> symbols that we come to better construe each other's symbolizing. It is a
> recursive and multi-leveled process, and not one that is entirely
> reducible to overt, observable behavior. We are, after all, talking about
> meaning, which is constructed in the interpretation as much as in the
> expression.
> >
> > What is it 'to construe'?
> > What kind of process / action / event is this?
> > What is its nature?
> >
> "By construing we mean 'placing an interpretation': a person places an
> interpretation on what is construed. He erects a structure, within the
> framework of which the substance takes shape or assumes meaning. The
> substance which he construes does not produce the structure; the person
> does....Construing is not to be confounded with verbal formulation. A
> person's behavior may be based upon many interlocking
> equivalence-difference patterns which are never communicated in symbolic
> speech. Many of these preverbal or nonverbal governing constructs are
> embraced in the realm of physiology....the overlapping functions
> ofpsychological and physiological systems in this regard help to make it
> clear that psychology and physiology ought not to try to draw preemptive
> boundaries between themselves. We recognize that the psychological
> notion of construing has a wide range of convenience, which is by no
> means limited to those experiences which people can talk about or those
> which they can think about privately" (Kelly).
> An example: Imagine yourself sitting in a comfortable chair in a quiet
> room, relaxed, maybe even a bit drowsy. I come up behind you and whistle
> very loudly. The sharp contrast between silence and sudden noise triggers
> neurons in your brain stem, and your reticular activating system sends
> arousal signals throughout your brain, and also to your endocrine system.
> Within a second you are wide awake, your heartbeat is accelerating, and
> you are preparing for fight or flight--you have construed the sudden noise
> as a potential threat (without any symbolic or even conscious processing).
> As higher cortical functions are activated, you construe the noise as a
> whistle and look around for the source. Seeing me, and knowing I'm not
> dangerous, you reconstrue the whistle (at a higher level) as an annoying
> prank, construe your own arousal as a false alarm, and feel it begin to
> subside. You may then construe my behavior as an expression (a symbol) of
> hostility toward you, and construe me as an inconsiderate jerk. You make
> a sharp comment; I may then construe you as an oversensitive, humorless,
> idiot and eliver a sarcastic retort; or I may construe your behavior as
> the result of an adrenaline surge, construe my action as indeed
> inconsiderate, and apologize for startling you. Which might lead you to
> reconstrue me...And so on.
> Are we making sense to each other yet?
> Tim