Notebooks 2002 - 2004

 

 

100. ________________________________________________________________

The primary function of speech is to initiate and orchestrate cooperative activity. How can it do this? My theory is that speech incepts, or 'sets in motion' in a minimal way, some activity which speaker and hearer both have prior experience of. Every different bit of speech 'incepts' a different activity. Incepting, which can also be accomplished (though not so efficiently) by silent gestures, readies the hearer (and the speaker) for performing the activity in question. The speaker is able to get the hearer to do specific things, or at least ready him or her for doing specific things, just by speaking.

But how can speaking 'set an activity in motion' and 'ready' would-be participants in this way? My answer is that given speech amounts to a conditional 'commencing' of a given activity, because uttering that speech is actually part of that activity. One can commence the activity in question just as much by saying those words as by performing some other, ordinary physical action (or gestural version of it) which belongs in that activity.

Speech becomes part of learned activities, it becomes integrated into them, while the activities are being learned. Actions and activities are generally taught to the child by a demonstration and imitation procedure. The teacher gives a demonstration of the action and the pupil imitates. This usually culminates in their engaging in a concerted performance of the action, with child's contribution gradually increasing in competence. Doing the concerted performance, the teacher will use speech to draw the pupil's attention to particular stages and phases of the action being mastered. It seems to be a natural effect of any vocalisation that it attracts attention to the vocaliser and to what he or she is doing at the time. The teacher will use specific bits of speech - specific combinations of words, tone of voice, gesture, etc. - to flag specific parts of the action being learned. The speech both 'punctuates' the action, marking it off into phases and junctures, and concentrates the pupil's attention on those phases and junctures. This serves to discipline or 'structure' the child's perception and performance of the action. Because it is a concerted performance teacher and pupil are engaged in, the pupil repeats the speech along with the teacher. It becomes another shared part of the activity they are engaged in together.

Later on, the speech associated with an action is able to be used - on its own or in combination with physical movements (and/or gestures, facial expressions, etc., derived from these) distinctive of that action - as a signal for the hearer that the speaker is commencing a performance of the action. The speech serves as an invitation to the hearer to participate. And if the speech does not succeed in getting the hearer to actually participate - or, perhaps, immediate actual participation is not necessary in this case - at least, the speech will ready, or 'prime', the hearer for (concerted) performance of this action.

101. ________________________________________________________________

I say that thinking is not a process that goes on inside people's heads but a learned, voluntary action which people perform. What kind of action is it? To explain this one has to go back to an activity which I suggest is probably the most fundamental and distinctive feature of the human repertoire, an activity the infant begins learning within hours of birth and never abandons, and which provides the most profound satisfactions life has to offer. This activity - or, rather, it is a 'meta-activity', an activity performed on or with respect to other activities - can be called concerting. It is simply two or more people doing the same thing at the same time, together, each person aware that what the other people are doing is the same as what he or she is doing.

Because concerting is such a compelling thing to do, the concerting of particular activities is all the time being initiated by someone or other. The usual means of doing this is for person P (who wants to do X with person Q) to get Q's attention and then perform some recogniseable fragment of activity X. The fragment may be the beginning of activity X, or it may be some other action which is unique to X. By doing this, P is 'overtly incepting' activity X: P is inviting Q to participate in X-ing by performing some recogniseable bit of X in front of Q, in a particular 'ostentatious' or 'suggestive' way. Speech is one of the main means of overtly incepting, and hence initiating, shared activity. Generally, overt incepting, for the purpose of initiating concerted activity, is what 'communication between people' boils down to.

Covert incepting, on the other hand, is incepting that is done so subtly and quickly that, usually, no overt movement by the person is observable. The person commences and aborts the activity in one action, as it were. Or, it is some distinctive fragment of activity X other than the beginning that is simultaneously commenced and inhibited. What is the point of this covert kind of incepting? Obviously it is not to get another person to share in X-ing, because the other person cannot see the covert incepting being done. Or, rather, the other might see that P is covertly incepting activity of some sort, but have no way of knowing what activity it is. The main function of covert incepting is to temporarily ready the person doing it to perform, or to join in a concerted performance of, some particular activity. In many cases, no actual performance of X results from the covert incepting of X, or an actual performance of X does ensue, but much later. The point of covert incepting is just to activate one's ability to X, to organise oneself, prime oneself, for doing it. Covert incepting is like a private rehearsal of (concerted) X-ing, a very subtle and quick re-enactment by P of his or her past experiences of X-ing. Covert incepting is a kind of 'covertised' form of overt incepting and, although it cannot be explicitly social (because it is largely unobservable by others), it is nevertheless in some good sense 'inherently' or 'essentially' a social, communicative act. What is familiar to us as 'thinking' is, basically, covert incepting. In fact, most everyday thinking consists of the covert incepting of conversations, showings of things to people, explainings of things, etc.

102. ________________________________________________________________

And yet apart from providing a new and plausible alternative to the received wisdom (about thinking being a brain process), what is the significance of this theory of thinking? Its main interest lies, perhaps, in the importance it attaches to 'concerting'. If the theory is true, and our distinctive abilities to speak and think are both nothing more than relatively simple improvements of the concerting ability, this puts concerting in the very centre of our picture of human nature. It is the key to us. In its educative, recreational, ritual and practical forms - and its various derivative and partial realisations - the concerting of activity determines the form of our lives. It is what we do. Our species has chosen concerting as our primary survival strategy.

Proverbially, apes ape. True concerting of activity, and several of its derivatives, such as communication by gesture, have been observed in chimpanzees - and cetaceans, for that matter. The main difference with respect to humans is that we are much more addicted to it; we are completely obsessive about it, and we are much better at it, and at devising new forms and abbreviations of it than any other creature. This truth about humans, though very simple, is surely massively important. It explains so much about us. The hypothesis of a primate biologically evolved specifically for concerting - and for versatility in concerting - coupled with our personal practical knowledge of concerting and its derivatives sheds good light on just about everything we do. I mean, there are lots of other interesting aspects of human nature, lots: but you can stop looking for the key factor. And yet, 'concerting' as the human basis seems disappointing, flat, banal - like discovering that the key to the universe is the number 42. OK, so the human does things in twos or more. Doing things in concert is at best only twice as interesting as doing things solo. From an objective, theoretical viewpoint this may be true. If the concerting thing is the uttermost that can be observed about the human modus, the core fact about it, and I think it probably is, and if explanations seem all fairly simple from then on, then this may be disappointing for the would-be social scientist, or for the philosopher who believes the truth about people is in a grail hidden well behind the scenes of everyday. But for the ordinary person, whose curiosity about mankind is properly tethered, the objective facts about concerting are not disappointing, nor, on the other hand, very interesting. His or her main interest in concerting lies in doing it: at football matches, in bed, in the bar, or through eating together, having a conversation, shaking hands, sharing a smile with a baby, and pointing out the rabbit on the lawn.

103. ________________________________________________________________

I am not alone in the world; there are other agents, and if they will not allow me to do what I desire to do I cannot do it. Moreover, there are few things which I can desire to do, and none that are of personal significance, which do not depend on the active cooperation of others. We need one another to be ourselves. This complete and unlimited dependence of each of us upon the others is the central and crucial fact of personal existence. Individual independence is an illusion; and the independent individual, the isolated self, is a nonentity. In ourselves we are nothing; and when we turn our eyes inward in search of ourselves we find a vacuum. Being nothing in ourselves, we have no value in ourselves, and are of no importance whatever, wholly without meaning or significance. It is only in relation to others that we exist as persons; we are invested with significance by others who have need of us; and borrow our reality from those who care for us. We live and move and have our being not in ourselves but in one another; and what rights or powers or freedom we possess are ours by the grace and favour of our fellows. Here is the basic fact of our human condition; which all of us can know if we stop pretending, and do know in moments when the veil of self-deception is stripped from us...

(John Macmurray: Persons in Relation, Faber & Faber 1961, p.211).

104. ________________________________________________________________

The expression the human mind is already a mistake. The word human is a scientific (biological) term distinguishing a certain species of animal. Being a scientific term it presupposes objective observation methods, etc. However, mind is an everyday actional term, presupposing empathic observations. Since empathy and objectivity are incompatible, the juxtaposition of human and mind is a solecism just by itself. [And this is quite apart from the other grounds on which one might dismiss the expression - namely, that, in the human mind, mind is being used without explanation in an attempted literal way, a way quite different from its standard (and hence meaningful) figurative uses.] Calling a person a 'human being' might be a bit odd too, for the same reason.

109. ________________________________________________________________

A new power source and guide for human behaviour. Not a set of biologically-installed mechanisms, modules, but, in the human case, a single mechanism - the mechanism of 'concert one's activity with that of the others', 'participate in the culture'. Biology puts the human infant here, with its tendency to concert installed, and leaves it. Although biological influences linger, and constrain our behaviour around its edges, for the most part they are irrelevant. The distinctly human motivational engine, what explains the vast bulk of our behaviour, starts up after biology has gone.

But how do they know what to do, if they haven't got a representation of reality inside their heads to guide them? They are behaving as it were in concert with their fellows. They are imitating behaviours they have seen before. And not 'blindly imitating', because agent P has seen many behaviours before and, for each, seen every little demand of its situation registered verbally and adjusted for. If there is no hand-me-down behaviour to copy in a given situation, P can effortlessly synthesise a new one - from several historical occasions of concert.

And why is this not an internal representation story too? How is P going to remember this, that or these behaviours to copy if he hasn't got some sort of coded representation of it/them in his head or elsewhere in his body? I am reminded of Bestor's fierce antipathy to 'trace' theories of memory. The story must be as follows. It is not true that one acts (not 'is able to act') (and acts appropriately, etc., if appropriateness happens to be in question) in virtue of having certain physical properties. That may be true of machines - but then, they don't 'act'. One's acting normally (that is, unimpeded by untoward physical influences) simply has to be taken as given. Or, rather, the action's antecedents in concerted activity must be taken as given. If you want to explain cultural transmission, cultural constancy (i.e., memory), then you are just indulging the bad old scientistic habits again, just barking again up the wrong tree, turning the same corner into the same cul de sac.

110. ________________________________________________________________

The mainly blank canvas, or cortex, that evolution leaves the human neonate with - clearing the decks for cultural influences to establish - is another good argument why biology, physiology, cannot underpin (in the senses of explain, determine, control, etc.) people's actions. People's actions are cultural items, and the human physiological scene has been set not for physiological control of the cultural but for cultural control of the physiological. With the human, the physiological steps back as it were, concedes the field. Indeed, it offers service. Once the new engine has started up, once concerting gets under way, the human moves out of the biological dimension. The person emerges. Physiology has from this point no relevance to our actions except a logistic and educational one.

113. ________________________________________________________________

As an action is learned, a neural firing program for it is established in cortex to make that action easier next time. The second or third time, the newly active synapses help organise the new action, stitch it together, tighten it up. The means that, the first time or two, actions have no 'neural underpinning' - or, perhaps, it has a very sketchy physiological underpinning, the one it gets when one is completely inexperienced but bouyed and carried along in a concerted performance. For the first time or two, one merely imitates. One can do anything, or make some sort of a fist of it. In some sense, the action is performed for one by the others. A very sketchy neural firing program is induced. [The Rizzolatti findings, and Sheldrake's 'morphic resonance'.] Later, with many further concertings and solo repetitions, the action becomes skilled and confident, adaptable, physiologically robust. But essentially, the physiology, the synaptic facilitation, is just for cementing in, for making that action reliable. The action is born, originally, in the concerted performance.

118. ________________________________________________________________

The expressions using language or language-use or the use of language - at least where it is putative functions or roles of language-use being talked about - invokes both the tool metaphor (casting 'language' as something wielded, employed) and the synecdoche whereby it is the tool or tool-use on its own that achieves or has the readying, hortative and/or educative, effect. In fact, although speech is usually distinctive, integral, indispensable, and the most important and noteworthy element, in educative-hortative activity, it is just one element, one contributing factor amongst others. From both in-context performance and developmental viewpoints, dispensing with the other, non-verbal components of educative-hortative activity is out of the question. Without being integrated with these other components, speech is just mouth, larynx and diaphragm movement, sound, and sussurations of warm air. That is not what is meant by 'language-use'.

119. ________________________________________________________________

The fire of consciousness at which we warm our hands is not inside us, although each of us carries a torch of it (outside our bodies, of course, on our person) to light our way. It is the great fire of our concerted activity.

120. ________________________________________________________________

Merlin Donald talks about an undercurrent of (primitive) mimetic communication, going on beneath (sophisticated) linguistic communication in modern social life. And he speaks as if speech has replaced mimetic communication. But concerting is going on all the time in social situations. It is the main event. It is what people do when they get together. The 'sophisticated linguistic communication' is to aid it, not to replace it. Sometimes a given individual is falling into line, falling in with the other, and at other times he or she is leading, and the other trying to fall in. I say in the thesis that concerting 'determines the format' of one's encounters with others. [But you have to exclude the autistic, the salesman, the predator, the 'off with the fairies', etc.]

121. ________________________________________________________________

Someone who is optimistic about what life has to offer, who thinks that really good things are easy, who overestimates the intelligence, goodwill and energy of others. You bring them down to earth - gently, before life does it rudely. You always leave one window of hope ajar, a small one - because you want optimisim to stay alive, not just in him or her but in yourself. You never know: one day it might be useful.

122. ________________________________________________________________

Why is thinking token concerting (i.e., the covert tokening of a concerted performance) of some action, rather than just token solo performance of the action?

(A)Thinking implies an inability to do something and, historically, we have overcome inabilities to do things by being shown how by others, that is, by educative concerting. To induce the desired ability in ourselves we re-enact as far as possible (considering we are alone) a scenario in which some other person is showing us how to do X.

(B)Thinking implies doubt, doubt about what is the salient reality in a given situation. We are in the habit of settling doubts by either asking someone what the story is or, at least, by inviting someone else to corroborate what we believe. Thus, to resolve the doubt by thinking we must imagine concerted (not just solo) perceiving, referring, describing, etc.

125. ________________________________________________________________

Consciousness is not itself a product of biological evolution. Consciousness is a learned (and relatively late) derivative of the concerting matrix of activities. Concerting can, with one minor reservation, be described as a product of biological evolution. The reservation is as follows. The neonate comes equipped with biologically-innate imitative abilities such that, after about two months of appropriate exercise on and with appropriately interested others, these abilities will develop to the point where the concerting of simple actions becomes possible. It might also be reasonable to say that the infant, or the infant's brain, is biologically programmed so that the advent of concerting (at two months or whenever) and subsequent practice of it has an immensely rewarding and invigorating effect.

126. ________________________________________________________________

For all his ability to see through walls of figurative language, the philosopher Clark Kent is still rejected from the Army (of the people). He fails the eye test just because he chooses to read not the chart in this room, which the rest of us read, but the chart in the room next door.

128. ________________________________________________________________

All action is concerted action - although, often, the other participants are not actually present.

129. ________________________________________________________________

The Act of Thinking has a simple message. Everyone believes that thinking goes on in people's heads. I say it doesn't. I say thinking is an action we perform.

130. ________________________________________________________________

If rule-following is a form of concerting - which seems reasonable enough - then it may be possible to extract significant concerting-satisfaction from just cleaving to a code, just following the rules of a particular social group or clique. Sipping one's tea with the little finger crooked, wearing that brand of clothes with the hems just so, etc. And the neatness and rightness, and righteousness, of some of Jane Austen's characters, their attractiveness, could be explained by their being able to suck up a goodly supply of concert-satisfaction just from their being neat and right and righteous. Mores for pleasure.

131. ________________________________________________________________

Why novels are so inherently unrealistic in their having plots (that is, shaped plots) or characters and character development, or narratives at all. Life is actually to be experienced (is it not?) in disjuncts, in at every turn great hanging clusters of alternatives - either this or this or this or that and if this then that or this or that and this? Or every step is as if in a bog, decisionally miring one in complexity of possibilities. Now picture Sartre striding, wielding like Excalibur the bright existentialist blade, choice, hacking at reality, cutting it down to manageable size, striding, hacking, being. The sound of the sword ringing out - being!

132. ________________________________________________________________

A landscape which contains man-made things - artifacts: a spade, a field, a fence, a building, a tree with a grating, an orchard or park even - prevents one from relating fully even to what natural features of the landscape remain. Artifacts have such power to distract. Anything man-made is an implicit communication from another person - its perhaps notional maker and/or user. The artifact bespeaks and makes the observer imagine at least the activity of making the object (or whatever), if not the kind of activity involved in using the object. One sees a pair of scissors and imagines using them. That is, artifacts invariably moot human activity of one sort or another and human observers are very susceptible to mootings and imaginings of activity involving other people. In an environment which has been used and left littered with use-objects one is all the time having to think of other people. The (notional) other people are as it were superimposed on the use-object with their arms out beseeching, imploring that one join in (at least in imagination) with them and their activity. These people interrupt one's thoughts. This precludes the kind of direct observation of nature - from the context of a real or imagined group of one's own choosing - that is capable of healing the soul, of re-charging the batteries of concert. [Even artifact metaphors in prose will distract in a somewhat similar fashion.]

133. ________________________________________________________________

In the human case it’s not the organism that is the agent, it is the culture — represented in and acting through the organism (or the person). The extent of our cooperation — how it penetrates every cranny of our lives — makes this so.

The human neonate — grist for the ber-organism. Culture appropriates the individual and, considering the helplessness of the latter, thank God for that. Our own culture, like an alien space invader, has taken over our bodies and is puppeting each of us through life. Or perhaps it is concerting that is the puppeteer (meta-organism, usurper).

How does the culture 'act through the person'? It first pre-programs us in educative concerting sessions of innumerable activities. When we subsequently encounter (perceptual, verbal, intero-somatic) elements of one of these activities when one is alone, activity is induced in the remainder of the neural firing program for that activity. Solo X-ing is first covertly and/or overtly tokened, and then actioned.

What is the person? A ghost flitting about in the no-man's-land between culture and the (individual human) organism.

134. ________________________________________________________________

You could have a philosophy course (or book) for absolute beginners in which the lessons consist of the presentation first of a description of something, then of the asking of one or two questions - of the kind: assuming the description is true, can we infer X? Can we infer Y? Can we infer not-Y?, and so on. The idea of exercising particular muscle groups in preparation for skiing, or perceptual abilities in preparation for bird-watching - or whatever. One (or a hundred) of the lessons would concern what can and can't be inferred from apt metaphorical descriptions. And you would eventually get to demonstrations of how descriptions of the physiology of the body have nothing to do with the nature of actions.

136. ________________________________________________________________

A metaphor or model for the respective contributions (to the determination of human (people's?) behaviour) of biology and culture: Perhaps the computer analogy is of some use here. It is the programmer who determines what a computer does (or "does"). Moreover, unless it has been programmed, a computer cannot do anything. The brain's programmer - or, really, the programmer of the whole human body - is culture.

138. ________________________________________________________________

The human body is the form culture has adopted. It requisitioned our bodies when we were still hominids and has since changed us significantly in order that we may better serve its purposes.

139. ________________________________________________________________

JP said at one point that my achievement in The Act of Thinking was to re-clothe the concept of thought (mind, consciousness, etc.) with its social and practical context. This implies that it is only the separating-out, the isolating of thinking from its activity context, that has mystified it, that has reified thinking into something that exists in its own right independent of our activity. This conceives my philosophical job as the reversing of a deeply entrenched synecdoche-whereby effects and powers due to whole established social practices (such as concerting, communicating, readying-for-action) are attributed to just one component (or a sort of 'conditional derivative') of those practices. However, I have to say I think that the reclothing, the synecdoche-reversing, was only part of the job. Unless you can get the metaphors off thinking (qua topic) and then see it for the action it really is, it would never occur to one that it has a practical and social role. It would never occur to one that it is just one element of a complex social practice which, as a whole, has the power and is 'where the action is'.

141. ________________________________________________________________

My empathy argument suggests that science's final frontiers - the explanation of life and the explanation of consciousness - are never to be crossed. The concept of something that is alive is the concept of an agent, of something that can do things. That is, life is an actional concept. And, as the empathy argument says, actional concepts require empathy to understand and are thus out of bounds for the scientist. The concepts of chemistry and molecules, however, are objective, scientific concepts. This means that the question of at what point life enters such-and-such a complex molecule must be unanswerable. We can either view the complex molecule objectively, in which case there is no life in it, or we can empathise-in which case it ceases to be a complex molecule and becomes an agent, a quasi-person. There is no point at which it is both. When the switch-over to the empathic mode of perception comes, the scientific attitude has already gone and, with it, any possibility of objective explanation. For the same reasons, there is no possibility of scientifically explaining consciousness. Consciousness is an actional concept and to relate consciousness to neurophysiological phenomena, which presuppose an objective heuristic, is impossible. As soon as we look at the one, the other disappears, and vice-versa. There is no possible nexus or interface between the two. They are and always must be incommensurables.

142. ________________________________________________________________

No doubt some people do 'narrativise' their lives - that is, they maintain, as an accompaniment to their actions, some sort of cumulative covertly incepted commentary on those actions. At the back of his mind, such a person thinks of his own life as a story told, or drama played, for an audience. Very likely, it is people who have as children been told many stories or who have as adolescents and teenagers read many novels or biographies (or works of history, social science, etc.), or been impressed by many films or radio or TV programs. The quality of the language and the concepts with which one narrativises one's life will depend on the quality of the texts one has been exposed to and impressed by in one's early years. No doubt also, narrativisation can (given that the basic concepts underpinning the self-generated text) provide some stability and support in a person's repertoire. Narrativisation must also (if the language in which it is narrativised is the common one) make it easier to communicate one's actions, intentions, ambitions, etc., to others and also make one's repertoire more subject to influences from others. But are there people who, from poverty of early linguistic experience and subsequent illiteracy or isolation from cultural texts, do not narrativise their lives? If so, is there silence at the backs of these minds? (2.2.04)

146. ________________________________________________________________

How does speech work? I mean all kinds - not just reference, description and hortation (the big boys) but thanking, greeting, praying, cursing, bidding, promising, nominating, christening, etc. The basic principle is that of 'the invitational tokening of specific concerted activity' as described in TAOT. That is, all speech can be understood as the speaker's performing - in an ostentatious and invitatory (and perhaps abbreviated or stylised) way - some component action in a well-known form of concerted activity, for the purpose of getting the hearer to participate with him or her (or imagine participating with him or her) in an actual performance of the concerted activity in question. [Chimpanzees or infants doing this with mime.] This can be called the 'proposing' of a certain concerted performance.

In the past I have bought into accounts (such as those of Wittgenstein, Malinowski, de Laguna, Austin, Vygotsky) that equate speech with, in Wittgenstein's terms, 'making moves in language-games'. The picture here is of some concerted and/or cooperative practical activity which is mediated or expedited by means of speech acts - the latter functioning as signals for specific phases and junctures in the proceedings. To perform an effective in-context speech act is to move the language-game along a stage, it is to advance the play. And the speech is as much a part of the action - albeit it has an organisational, public-relations role - as any more physically substantial actions there are in the activity or 'game' in question. I don't want to erase this picture, rather, I want to modify its emphasis and add detail. The language-game picture makes speech a component, playing an 'organisational, public-relations' role, within the context of practical activity. So the speech is part of the action. I would like to abstract the speech, along with its managerial role, out of the infra-level (mainly physically manipulative) activity, and read it as meta-action. The speech is still a form of activity all right, only, we need not see it as part of the concerted practical activity (its raison d'tre) but as meta-action that operates on and guides that practical activity.

So, instead of speech having two kinds of role vis--vis practical action - an initiatory 'proposing' role to get the game up and running, and a subsequent in-game role expediting particular phases and junctures in the play - it has just the proposing role. Speech functions first to propose activity X and then subsequently, once X is under way, to propose successive specific states of play within X. The states of play can be thought of as 'concerted activities' in themselves. In practice, it often happens that specific states of play of some activity are cued/proposed without the activity in general having been cued beforehand. The state of play drags the proposal for the activity as a whole along with it. The speech act implies an appropriate activity context for itself.

147. ________________________________________________________________

Even being by design in the same place as someone else is a form of concerting. One puts oneself in a situation wherein one is committed to sharing the ambient perceivings of the other. The most part of person-to-person love is concerting: being in the same place (as above), walking down the street holding hands, going on a picnic or for a swim, eating and sleeping together. One desires to concert one's own doing with the delightfully styled doing that the other exemplifies. The love is the cleaving, the colouring of one's own behaviour with her, his style.

I often use the verb concert with implying also reciprocate and cooperate with.

148. ________________________________________________________________

Cultures have an interest in ensuring their members' thinking is constrained (and their behaviour is thus docilely conformist). Trail-blazing is certainly not for everyone.

151. ________________________________________________________________

The idea of an autonomous solo consciousness, an island consciousness in Donne's terms, is carried to an extreme if we think of consciousness as located in a certain body part (the brain) inside a biologically-evolved organism (the human primate). Not only is consciousness then isolated by virtue of being inside an organism, but this organism has its nature determined by and is brought into being by impersonal (hence, of course, asocial) biological forces. At the other extreme are Platonic notions of a group mind that we all participate in

Mine is a compromise view in this context. I say that the activity people engage in (or, 'human organisms engage in', if you must) is, at least in principle, concerted - and in this sense people are as one. They act as one. And to the extent the activity echoes in individuals afterwards, in their 'minds', in their 'consciousness', the concert echoes too.

153. ________________________________________________________________

My idea is that the essentials of human being - mind, consciousness, self-awareness, language, morality, etc. - are cultural phenomena, developed after biological evolution gave us homo sapiens. This is just to get away from the idea that cultural phenomena are biologically evolved. But, of course, as Ralph Holloway says, the success of cultural phenomena 'finishes' the evolution of the hominid ape; it predisposes that ape to susceptibility to cultural influences. That is, I say, it programs into the human system a huge bent towards, and ability in, imitation. With the imitative ability, however, biological influences on human behaviour, on culture, cease. Consciousness and the rest of culture begins in and is built on an essentially fortuitous behavioural variation, concerting. Culture takes over the job of determining how the human being behaves, of 'telling it what to do'.

Being clear about where biological evolution finishes and culture begins - albeit there is a messy no-man's-land between them where the pre-hominid ape grunts and the modern infant rolls on his back burbling - makes it easier to see that the underlying concepts of evolution (the struggle for survival and for dominance to ensure survival) have no natural place in culture. Culture is essentially 'survival neutral'; it is biologically disinterested. The goal of culture is a high quality of behaviour, whatever that means...

154. ________________________________________________________________

Having an explanation - a good, satisfying explanation - is a great boon. It means you can relax, and concentrate on the practicalities or the pleasures

156. ________________________________________________________________

The Act of Thinking makes four claims about thinking (among its other claims about action, perception, etc.):

1.Thinking does not take place inside people's heads.
2.The notion that people have 'minds' in their heads and that thinking is a 'mental process' occurring in or performed by the mind, is a fantasy fostered by certain metaphors in the colloquial vocabulary we have for talking about thinking.
3.Thinking is not an impersonal 'process' at all, mental or neurophysiological, intracranial or otherwise, but is a learned and voluntary action of the person.
4.Thinking is a special kind of token performance, by the individual, of certain forms of social, concerted, activity.

159. ________________________________________________________________

In order to establish and sustain his mental life, a person needs a number of other individuals he can be 'with' on a more or less permanent basis. He needs familiars, with whom he has conversations that draw on a fund of shared experience and are unhesitant, free-flowing, honest and interesting - thus enabling the solo, covert, incipient rehearsals and reprises of such conversations which are his thinking to be similarly confident and robust. He needs to know others who would understand his thoughts and whose availability as an audience makes his imagined commentings or reportings back to them realistic.

160. ________________________________________________________________

For the nth time: A person is merely a radical of a group or conclave, a radical in the chemical sense - and a free radical, in that the person is unstable and cannot exist for long, does not remain viable for long, unless as part of a group. Well, what about Robinson Crusoe - for all that time? He had to imagine himself in a group, with interlocutors. That's what we all do when we are on our own. That's what thinking is. That's what consciousness is.

161. ________________________________________________________________

Typically, if you want to think out something complex and difficult, you have to stay very still. So only the relevant part of you is in motion, with nothing to distract it. George Hughes used to say that the difficult thing about thinking, philosophical thinking anyway, was seeing all the aspects of a problem simultaneously, seeing from several points of view simultaneously. A concept is a multidimensional thing and to get the hang of it you must see it in the round. And this means it has to hold itself up, as it were, in the air, while you move around it. The slightest false move and you've lost it. Very slowly does it. Well this is fine for little problems. But for ones that take years, decades to nut out, the immobility requirement can affect one's social life, and eventually one's personal maturation. Look at Kant's life.

165. ________________________________________________________________

In a review in The New Republic of Pinker's The Blank Slate, Simon Blackburn notes that the 'noble savage' notion is incompatible with the blank slate assumption. I buy into the noble savage notion (and into evolutionary psychology) only to the extent I contemplate a biologically instilled drive to imitation in human beings. Ignoring the biological body-maintenance functions, this is the basis of all (learned, cultural) human behaviour. Imitation (and the gratification that comes with successful imitation) is intensified in the practice of concerting. So, the source of the human repertoire, the source of culture, is a biological urge (mechanism, etc.) which is intensified by a cultural or proto-cultural practice. In fact, given strong imitative instincts plus ordinary herding instincts guaranteeing propinquity, concerting is bound to occur naturally - as imitation cleaves to and works on the behavioural models it has surrounding it. Inevitably, sooner or later, imitation is itself going to be imitated. So, it is not any additional cultural action that is required to develop imitation into concerting: this is going to happen naturally. The close solicitude that parenting involves is also probably very relevant as far as building up the infant's imitative abilities is concerned.

168. ________________________________________________________________

Here is a good simple definition of concerting: two or more people performing the same action together, simultaneously, and being aware of doing so. I had not seen anybody else confirming the existence of a concerting instinct (or similar) in people, until I came across this passage on about the sixth page of a Susan Hurley paper 'Active Perception and Perceiving Action' (on her home site): "While normal adults are usually able to inhibit overt imitation selectively (and it is adaptive to do so), overt imitation can be regarded as just the disinhibited tip of the iceberg of continual covert, inhibited imitation. Such covert imitation may reflect a basic motivation of human beings, adults as well as children, to interact synchronously or entrain with one another, which is a mechanism of affiliation as well as of social perception and learning."

173. ________________________________________________________________

The notion of mind is a significant obstacle to a clear view of what people are. Whilst alone, an individual will nevertheless perceive things in the world and also think. When in the company of others but not imitating or otherwise participating with them the individual will still empathise what they are doing. Solo perception, thought and empathy are one's stock-in-trade whilst alone. These abilities are the bulk of the abilities we colloquially subsume under 'mind', but they are all simply actions the person performs. Calling these actions 'processes' and attributing them to an internal organ precludes our seeing an interesting feature acts of perceiving, thinking and empathising have in common: a certain poignance. What the person is doing - what the image of impersonal inner operations obscures - is, in each case, the person imagining being engaged in concerted activity with another. The 'mental process' is in fact an imaginative invocation by the person of, a hopeful rehearsal or plea for, sprung out of interminable longing for, the state of concert. The notion of mind hides our incompleteness, dependence and hence vulnerability whilst alone. Conversely, reifying mind and putting it in us aggrandises and defends the solitary state. It allows 'the person' as some self-contained complete, autonomous thing and not, as it really is, radical and inchoate. Mind lays this clutch: 'the individual', 'the self', 'the person'. These are useful for practical purposes. But in truth, fundamentally, what people really are is not a number of individuals or persons but 'us'.

174. ________________________________________________________________

And so I am saying that our having the idea that people have minds inside their heads means that our moral thinking, our 'generalised solicitude', is oriented towards individuals' rectitude and wellbeing. The wellbeing of the community at large, the morale factor, say, tends to get ignored. Without 'mind' parcelling us all up separately, the 'us' would be centre stage.

177. ________________________________________________________________

We can start by saying that thinking is 'talking to someone inside your head'. It is not just talking. Often, in thinking, you are also imagining showing someone something, or sharing some experience, say, looking at something together, as well as talking. It might be a particular someone you are talking to. Or it might not be. Anyway, in thinking, you are doing this in your head, in your mind.

Now think about the various occasions in life when you start out to do something, and then (for whatever reason) you stop yourself. You commence and then abort a certain action. Sometimes it's because you realize you've made a mistake. Other times, you're trying something out, practicing, readying yourself to perform the action, or reassuring yourself that you know how to do it. The commencing and aborting is a sort of dummy run. Or you might be pretending to do the action for someone else's benefit - to tease, or to indicate something, or to suggest a course of action, or just for fun. You 'make as if to do' the action, but don't go through with it. You do a token performance of the action; you merely 'token' doing it.

In many cases, when you token an action you actually make movements, movements which are abbreviated bits of what you would do if you really were performing the action. Your tokening in this case is 'overt'. In other cases though, when you token an action just to yourself - in order to familiarize yourself with the action, reassure yourself you know how to do it, or ready yourself to do it - you might not make any overt movements at all. The commencings and abortings are so subtle and rapid, and so close together, that no overt movement is involved - apart from, perhaps, your adopting a certain facial expression or briefly contracting relevant muscles. This is 'covert' tokening. Covert tokening is something we are very good at. We have been doing it practically all day every day since infancy. It still involves 'commencing and aborting' some action or 'making as if to do something' - just as much as an actor's pretending to have been shot does, or practicing one's golf swing. Only, in the case of covert tokening, another person would often not be able, without special instruments, to see you doing it.

When we say that, in thinking, you are talking to someone in your head, this is just a metaphor. What is really, literally, going on is that you are covertly tokening talking to someone. Thinking is the person covertly tokening talking, showing, sharing experiences, etc. Usually (not always) we do this to ready ourselves to do things. The 'hidden inside the head' metaphor is just a way of making the covertness of the tokening more vivid.

When you think about it, there is no way people could ever really do anything inside their own heads. How would they get in there, to start with?

Once we realize that thinking is an action, something the person does, and that it does not really go on inside people's heads, we realize that thinking cannot be a brain process. We also realize that there is no such thing as 'the mind'. There is no special organ inside the head where thinking takes place, or which does the thinking. Thinking is a matter of the (very rapid and subtle) commencing and aborting of actions. Just as there is no special part of the person or part of the body which pretends to be shot, so there is no special part which thinks "God, I'd love a cup of tea".

Doing without the fancy of a 'mind' inside people's heads changes the way we think about people. The idea of the individual gets somewhat dissolved, and we tend more to the idea that the font or matrix of culture, 'where the action is' as far as human beings are concerned, is not inside individuals but outside, in the things we do together, in our joint, concerted activity.

178. ________________________________________________________________

My book attempts a synthesis of recent developmental and neuroscientific work on imitation (and its derivatives, especially what I call 'concerting'), recent social-actional approaches to perception and 'reality construction', and a Wittgensteinian approach to epistemology (with 'this game is played' as the epistemological terminus).

My book suggests that the practice of concerting can be seen to underlie many of the human abilities and practices that the philosopher is interested in - including cooperation, solo action, speech and other forms of communication, empathy, perception and knowledge of the world, consciousness and thinking. In progressing from where the book leaves off, I would first like to see the concerting concept's relevance to these distinctively human abilities and practices clarified and consolidated, thus establishing a more mature and robust core concept - possibly with a different name. Later on, I would be very interested in testing the explanatory power of this new robust (concerting-equivalent?) concept in other philosophically interesting areas, such as ethics, politics, and the biology-culture nexus (if there is one). I don't know whether you would be equally intrigued by this sort of enquiry. The concept may even have a useful role to play in the explanation of religious belief.

I dismiss the neuroscientific approach to the study of cognition (i.e. consciousness and thinking). I claim that, ultimately, the subject matter is not subpersonal intracranial processes of any kind but learned overt and covert actions of the person - and that all the current philosophically important areas of ignorance regarding thinking, communicating, etc., relate to questions as to what actions and constituent sub-actions are involved, how these actions and sub-actions should best be described, and so on. These questions all have personal-level, actional answers.

At best, I claim, the attempted descriptions in neuroscientific terms are a very roundabout and garbled way of talking about the actions in question. This is one possibility I consider in the book. (And this possibility does not preclude neurological findings constituting useful evidence of the performance of relevant actions.) At worst (another possibility I consider), the neurological approach is a benighted attempt to scientifically justify what are essentially fanciful mechanistic metaphors about the relevant underlying actions.

I believe that, with the physiological findings demoted to their proper place, progress towards complete and satisfying descriptions of thinking, communicating, etc., qua things we do, is conceptually uncomplicated. It is an empirical (though not scientific) investigation of people's actions we are engaged in, and progress can be rapid. In the book I make out the best case I can for the above 'actional' approach to thinking.

186. ________________________________________________________________

The Act of Thinking contains theories of: the origin of culture; the basic human motivation; the origin of language; education (learning); the origin (in metaphor) of the notion of mind; the function of language (communication); what consciousness is; what thinking is; how thinking is learned; perception and objectivity; personal action.

191. ________________________________________________________________

Every individual depends on an alliance with some other or others - for the infant it is with the mother or other caregiver - in order to develop and sustain the skills of consciousness of the world and thinking which constitute mind. The older child and adult may be somewhat promiscuous with respect to alliances formed and traded on, but nevertheless remains dependent for his or her mind on an actual or potential affiliation with some other. Any individual acts as - any person is by definition - a representative or agent of a tribe.

193. ________________________________________________________________

One may talk about a concerting instinct but, strictly, concerting is a 'culturalised' intensification of the (already powerful) urge to imitate - which is itself a genuinely biological, evolved, innate instinct. Concerting is in fact a cultural phenomenon. With concerting, the biological is already transcended. And since all our behaviour subsequent to concerting is tarred with concerting, all our other behaviour is cultural too.

194. ________________________________________________________________

The notion of mind does a great job. It helps us rationalise the situation - almost the norm now, in the post-nomadic, when most of our dealings are with relative strangers - wherein we are unable to uncritically empathise with many of the people we meet. We now often need to view a person in a wary, quasi-objective way, and we need a rationalisation for this. The notion of a mysterious place or agent inside the person, causing the puzzling behaviour we are witnessing, makes our objectivity seem reasonable, and morally unexceptionable.

195. ________________________________________________________________

There are objective vs empathic attitudes to things in the world and objective vs empathic attitudes to people. Objective knowledge of things in the world is mere perceptual and verbal education, equipping oneself with the perceptual and verbal skills necessary for doing new things with others and getting others to do new things with one. Similarly, acquiring objective knowledge of people - learning to recognise them, know their capabilities, etc. - is preparatory to engaging in activity side-by-side with those people. Objective knowledge serves, but empathic understanding governs, side-by-side activity.

Some might say, also, that the empathic knowledge of things in the world, of nature, is more sophisticated than objective knowledge. They might say that the empathising is what the objective knowledge enables.

196. ________________________________________________________________

The historian Edmund Burke says: "I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business." We ignore works of art here, I suppose. But I think of this Burke line when I am, yet again, struck by the power and simplicity of the Act of Thinking idea - and subsequently reflect how much of it there is in Ryle, Vygotsky and Hampshire. And probably Ludwig.

197. ________________________________________________________________

At the end of his 1931 paper 'Systematically Misleading Expressions', Ryle says that:

There is, after all a sense in which we can properly enquire and even say "what it really means to say so and so". For we can ask what is the real form of the fact recorded when this is concealed or disguised and not duly exhibited by the expression in question. And we can often succeed in stating this fact in a new form of words which does exhibit what the other failed to exhibit. And I am for the present inclined to believe that this is what philosophical analysis is, and that this is the sole and whole function of philosophy.

In an interview (transcribed in Modern British Philosophy, OUP 1986) with one Brian Magee forty years later, Ryle says, in connection with The Concept of Mind and 'category mistakes', that:

Part of what I was trying to do in the book, and I think it's part of what all philosophers are always trying to do, is to show that certain radical mistakes about, e.g., people's intellects or their imaginations or whatnot are not mistakes about putting things into the wrong pigeon-hole in the right desk, but of trying to put a thing into a pigeon-hole in a certain desk when it doesn't want to go into that desk at all. It's not that sort of thing.

These are both consistent with my view that philosophy is the careful paraphrasing of certain colloquial metaphors (and some other figures of speech), which we have, for whatever reasons, taken too literally and allowed to prejudice our understanding of some difficult topic. I say also that the philosopher is something like the person who uncovers the magician's trick. Well, this is the good, progressive, kind of philosophising. I suggest in 181 above that there is another, deeply conservative, kind of philosophising that is dedicated to exploiting the cultural momentum of those same metaphors, for the purpose of pulling the wool over our eyes about our dependence on concerting.

198. ________________________________________________________________

A 'person' is a unique style of action, a way of doing things, an attitude, a certain complex disposition. And a person is not an autonomous entity but a satellite (of a mini-culture which is the satellite) of a culture: a person is a holographic shard of innumerable social undertakings.

201. ________________________________________________________________

The conventional philosophy of action is based on the idea of bodily movement (thought to be explicable in causal, physiological terms) that is somehow informed by mentation, typically intention. Thus, to understand action one needs to understand what this essential component 'intention' is. Several writers (Tuomela, Gilbert, Searle, Bratman, Tollefsen) seek, laudably enough, to explain 'the basis of society' or whatever in terms of joint or shared actions. In line with the above conventional view of action and intention, it is assumed that in order to understand joint action one first needs to understand joint intention.

An article I requested from one of the above reversed the order in which I explain things in my book. I take imitation as logically and developmentally basic and explain joint (concerted) action in terms of mutual imitation, then explain solo action as a development out of concerted action, then explain intention (to do X) as a sophistication of the ability to actually do X. Intention to do X is explained as a kind of 'covert token performance' of X and, as such, something which often precedes (and guides, etc.) our actual performances of X.

Hurley and Chater's forthcoming Perspectives on Imitation has several articles in it which seem to trend in the same direction I go - postulating a tendency to concerted (joint, shared) action as basic in people (albeit it is based on imitation) and then explaining cooperation, empathy ('mind-reading' or whatever) and other fundamental social phenomena in terms of it.

217. ________________________________________________________________

Derrida has just died. Maybe one can, by a kind of literary archaeology, by delving down through layers of allusion and metaphor, find cultural relics in texts. What interests me more is the form of the communicative transaction of which the text is the product. How has this way of communicating evolved? From what prototype communicative technique is it derived? What kind of social context did the prototype operate in? Is the social context of the derivative form we are examining similar?

 

— Derek Melser —

 

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