Re: Intersubjectivity

Gary F. Blanchard (
Tue, 29 Apr 1997 09:17:13 -0700

Dear Bob & Tim & All-

I would like to offer a comment on the claim 'we live in language.'

First, a little background which may be of interest:

I believe I am the source of the statement, 'we live in language,' on
this list, having relayed it as an appendage on my email (later
shortened, thanks to Devi) from a prose poem written by Maturana's
student and colleague,Dr.Fernando Flores.If I am in error, please

Dr. Flores, or 'Fernando,' as we students of his know him, is a former
Cabinet minister and executive in Chile who was imprisoned, tortured,
and later exiled from Chile when the Pinochet dictatorship overthrew the
elected government, killing Pres. Allende and others, in the late 70s.

Rescued by Amnesty International, Fernando joined his family in
California and enrolled at Berkeley for his PhD. His best-selling
dissertation was comething like: Computers & The Office of The Future.
He then started a training company to share his ideas around the US, and
wrote a book (below) with Dr. Terry Winograd of Stanford.

He and his staff taught and coached me, and several thousand other
students, around the US and elsewhere for nearly ten years, how to grasp
and operate in this new paradigm called 'the Language/Action
Perspective.' (I subsequently have come to refer to this as
'constructivism,' following the book REALITY ISN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE).

For what it's worth, this new 'language as action' paradigm were
developed by Flores,Winograd and their associates from the fields of:

~Artificial Intelligence: (see Winograd (Stanford) & Flores (UC
Berkeley), UNDERSTANDING COMPUTERS & COGNITION, 1988 ~The Biology of
Cognition: (see Maturana (Chile)& Varela(Paris), THE TREE OF
KNOWLEDGE, circa 1987
~The Philosophy of Language (Speech Acts): (see John Searle, articles
and book on Speech Acts) circa 1998, paper?

Simultaneously Fernando founded Action Technologies []
with Dr. Winograd, to produce and market the world's first 'groupware'
software,'The Cordinator.'More recently they have developed an
innovative new approach to Business Process Reengineering, known as
'Action Workflow.' (For further information, consult their website: including sprightly, visual tutorials.)

Incidentally, Dr. Flores' and Winograd's commitment to education and the
future is so strong that they give, completely free, Workflow software
and support to educational organizationsfor use in their organizations.
(See their website, above.)

Thus, whatever one may think of this notion of 'living in language,'
these scholar-entrepreneurs have created a whole new approach, and
business, with a worldwide reach, based on it. Indeed, a few years back,
Fernando was featured in FORTUNE magazine for his success.

AND, whatever one may think of the notion, one must recognize that IF,
as I and others maintain, it is indeed a radical new paradigm (or change
in beliefs), then it is likely to be resisted by, and/or
incomprehensible to, persons who hold a different paradigm. (See Kuhn,

I don't 'know' why. But I believe it is due primarily to the fact that
the 'Language/Action' distinction is a radical (i.e., discontinuous),
new (novel), paradigm (or discourse), of the nature of human action and
being. That is, it does not follow logically or sequentially from
existing paradigms, such as the paradigm (discourse) of Psychology. Thus
its legitimacy and soundness, as measured by the established paradigm,
is not apparent, or lacks 'high face validity.'

This is nothing more than every new idea has encountered. (See THE
BUSINESS OF PARADIGMS training video, by futurist Joel Barker.)But,
ultimately, we can change if we will to. As the old saw holds: When
the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And then what was
incomprehensible, silly, or downright nutso, may make sense. And we
must ask: did the world change. Or did we?

That's something which the many of you teachers probably know only too
well, from your own daily labors. That, plus the fact that the best
teachers are the best students.


Best, Gary


Robert Parks wrote:
> Tim, I like your distinction between "model of" and "model for".
> Interesting how such small words operate in the background, shaping our
> understanding.
> >The more I think about it, the less satisfying I find the "live in
> >language" formulation (even taking "language" in a broad sense). I think
> >it points to something important, but is too restrictive in its view of
> >human experience. It seems to suggest that thought is fundamentally
> >verbal/symbolic, which does not seem to be supported by any evidence I
> >know of. Aphasics can function quite adequately in most areas of life,
> >and their conceptual and problem-solving skills can be relatively intact
> >(sometimes there's some difficulty with sequencing) even though they can't
> >produce and/or comprehend language
> I'd like to add to the discussion of the possible meaning of "living in
> language", but since it seems to be a phrase from Maturana and Varela, and
> since I haven't read enough of Maturana and Varela to give them their due,
> I'll limit myself to a comment on my own interpretation of the role of
> language.
> Surely there is pre-verbal experience. Everytime I awake in the morning,
> there are sounds in my experience that I can't immediately interpret -
> alarm clock, radio, birds, cat...etc. And there are experiences that I
> might never interpret without bringing them to attention - for example, the
> crinkly feeling of the skin on the back of my knee when I stretch out. But
> I think there are three claims that might be defended. (1) language is
> essential to sharing experiences as "human" experiences; and (2) this
> sharing is crucial to the creation of a self with conscious awareness; and
> (3) the community that effectively nurtures this sharing of experiences
> also effectively nurtures the fullest development of selves. The creation
> of this community is the core of politics, according to Aristotle.
> >I don't think I've read enough of Gergen and the other social
> >constructionists to have a good grasp of their view of language/culture
> >as a psychological system. What I've read seems rather vague--language
> >is invoked without any real analysis of the process by which it
> >structures construing. Also, they seem to me to reify society as much as
> >more individualistic theorists have reified the self. It seems to me
> >that it's here that we really need the dialectical perspective--to look
> >at the tension between the socially constructed meaning systems that
> >individuals internalize, and the personal meaning systems that they enact
> >socially. Without that dialectic, one seems to fall into social
> >determinism on the one hand or solipsism on the other, and both seem to
> >foreclose on the possibility of what I see as the most distinctive
> >quality of human beings--our boundless inventiveness and creativity.
> >Individually and collectively, we constantly come up with new responses
> >to old situations, something other animals do infrequently, and usually
> >through genetic mutation. How do we do it?
> In this note on dialectic you have put your finger on the problem. Well said,
> Bob