Notebook 2008



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Thinking is self-teaching, a sophisticated and rather devious adaptation of the prototype form of teaching, ‘demonstrating to a pupil how to do something and getting him or her to imitate you’. To see the connection between the prototype showing-how procedure and thinking, to see the developmental steps via which the child gets from the former to the latter, you should read The Act of Thinking.

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For philosophers wanting to know what is the relationship between thinking and the brain, the first essential is to get rid of the idea – which is so incomprehensible, so witless, that it must be disingenuous – that thinking is a brain process, that it is an internal biological function of which we have no knowledge and over which we have no control. Then you have to lose the idea that the brain is like a computer, processing information (in the form of representations) which it gets from reality via the senses. Then you have to void the notion there is such a thing as ‘the mind’. You have to realise that thinking is a learned and voluntary action performed by the person, and that there is no internal organ or agent responsible for thinking. The notion that there is something inside our bodies, inside our heads, that is doing the thinking, is only a metaphor.

The next step, admittedly a big one, is to specify how the brain is involved in actions generally. You have to be able to specify – in a general and theoretical way, forgetting all about information-processing and internal representations – what are the neurophysiological processes ‘underpinning’ or ‘supporting’ or ‘involved in’ hop-scotch, say, or making toast. You must get clear what involvement the brain has in our performance of ordinary, simple actions.

The next step is to find out just what kind of activity thinking is. I have to say that, apart from Ryle, Vygotsky, Hebb and a few others (including yours truly), no-one, no professor, whether little- or much-bruited, has a clue what kind of activity thinking is. So, if you want to find out, you’ll just have to read The Act of Thinking. When you do have a rough idea what thinking is, and you appreciate that it is a special and quite sophisticated kind of action, you can then ask what kind of role the brain has vis-à-vis our performance of this special and quite sophisticated action.

I can tell you that it, along with a small family of other actions and activities (showing someone something, asking someone to do something, playing pretending games, looking at things, etc.) thinking has a uniquely intimate relation with the brain. These ‘educative’ actions – showing, requesting, pretending, etc – of which thinking is one, ‘work directly on’ the brain. Their job is to ready the brain for new behaviour, to coax the brain into shape, to prime it for playing its special ‘supporting’ or ‘underpinning’ role vis-à-vis that new behaviour in the future. Educative activities ready us for doing (appropriate, useful) things in unfamiliar situations, and they do this by selectively ‘arousing’ or ‘firing up’ bits of neural circuitry in the brain and elsewhere in the body. Most of the educative activities are social practices, involving more than one person. Someone else has to show or tell us the new behaviour. Thinking has the special virtue that, by doing it, a person can work out what to do, can manage the required rehearsings and brain-readyings, by himself.

The brain is our servant – albeit at times not a particularly submissive one (it can certainly talk back) – and not our master. It is a scandal that modern universities all teach that thinking is an internal biological function, akin to blood circulation, say, or urine production, or the production of neuro-transmitter chemicals by the brain. What kind of ulterior motive could the authorities have for encouraging the teaching, to suggestible young people, of nonsense like that? Could it be as simple as an intention to relieve the students of the responsibility of thinking? “You don’t have to think – especially not question, probe, criticise, interrogate, and so on – because your brain is already doing your thinking for you. Scientists know all about these things. Don’t you worry about it…” Surely it would be cheaper to drug the students, or make them watch hours and hours of mindless, violent television programs.

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The brain’s job is to remember the behaviours that culture (using demonstration-and-imitation and other, derivative educative techniques) writes on it, and to facilitate the reproduction of these behaviours later on, in the appropriate circumstances.

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Some indigenous societies conceive and experience an ‘us’ that includes not only those presently living but their ancestors and the as-yet unborn.

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The internet is perhaps not, as one might assume, a plus for communication and togetherness between people but a negative. There is so much information and at so many levels of sophistication that the overall effect is one of confusion and frustration.

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There might be something in the idea that we moderns need language, and have invented it but the prehistorics for the most part didn’t need it and didn’t have it. They were so intimate they were always already aware what the other was doing or imagining doing. The problem with this idea is that efficient use of speech requires a lot of built-in hardware, and this would have required at least hundreds of thousands of years for evolution to install. And we’ve only been modern for ten thousand years...

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The theory is this. Thinking is an in-principle-observable activity. In thinking, a person rehearses or re-enacts, in a very subtle and abbreviated way (that children have to learn), a communicative exchange – generally of an educative type: a lesson, a describing or planning or instruction session, debate, interrogation, etc. Such verbal communication is itself an abbreviated, streamlined way of rehearsing something – namely, the prototype educative scenario, in which a teacher demonstrates an action and encourages the pupil to perform it in concert with him or her. Education is essentially social; one is readied for performing new actions by and with others. Although it is a solitary action – a means of self-teaching, of readying oneself – thinking derives from and remains incipiently a shared, concerted activity, something we do side by side with other people.

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I have mentioned before (entry 27, Notebook 2006) the similarity of my theory to the classic representational theory of mind. Basically, the theories are the same, except that in the classic theory a representation is an object or quasi-object and, in my theory, a representation is an action – an act of representing performed by someone. What is more, in my theory, a representation is of necessity a social action – two or more people have to be party to it. Otherwise, there’s no way of confirming what it is that is being represented (à la LW’s no-private-language argument). More yet: in my story only actions are candidates for representation. All representations are representations of actions. In the traditional story it is facts, concepts, propositions, states of affairs, things in the world that are represented. In my story, what would in the traditional story be called a fact, state of affairs or thing in the world is called a piece of perceptual behaviour, an act of perceiving (interpreting, inspecting, construing, etc.) Therefore, in my story the imagining of things and situations is the imagined doing of certain perceptual behaviour.

Another way of putting this is to say that where the classic theory talks about representation, I talk about rehearsal. And the two aren’t far apart: a rehearsal is a re-presenting, a re-presenting of an action. The effect of my approach is to bring intellection, mind, out (from inside the head) into the world, into the social world.

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An ‘idea’ is not something inside someone’s head – a mental or neural representation. It is two or more people rehearsing an activity together. Or it is one person rehearsing such a rehearsal, by him or herself, in that distinctive ‘minimal’ way we call thinking. The mental world thus dissolves into one kind of social activity, namely, ‘rehearsive’ activity.

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I also want to say that the social world is an ultimate, irreducible reality, an inexplicable given, which begins with neonatal imitation/provocation (google: ‘Nagy Molnar homo provocans’). Is the social world objectively there? No, the social is the precondition for objectivity, its cradle. There is some logical tail-chase here, with concerting, concerted perceiving, objectivity and representation/rehearsal.

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Having 'rehearsal' as the central concept in an explanation of language and mind (= verbal communication and thinking) gives rise to an outline like this:

Most of the things we do we have learned how to do. Even when an action has been mastered, we often still need to ready ourselves, however briefly, every time we come to perform it. Both the learning and the readying are accomplished by our rehearsing the action. There are many kinds of rehearsal, as exemplified in rehearsing a play or concert, sports practice, showing someone how to do something, miming an action to invite someone to do it woth you, drawing a diagram, quickly ‘going through the motions’ of something to reassure oneself one knows how to do it, making art, and so on. A rehearsal brings about, in the brain and elsewhere in the body, neurophysiological changes which facilitate performance of the action in question.

Of necessity, and for various reasons, rehearsal is primarily a social activity, involving two or more people working together. Solo rehearsal is a derivative skill and depends on the person’s prior (and future) experience rehearsing actions with others. Experience of rehearsal as a social activity begins early, with the infant’s first attempts at imitation. Later, the infant masters abbreviated forms of rehearsal such as mime and gesture and, later still, verbal communication. The fact that a very abbreviated rehearsal can remain effective at readying a person for action is explicable in terms of some basic properties of nerve cells (Hebb).

Verbal communication is a technique whereby vocal sounds are used as a way of ‘miming’ an action in order to rehearse it with others in an especially abbreviated and efficient way. Verbal communication is by far the most important means of rehearsing – for purposes of teaching, cueing, and otherwise orchestrating – our activity. After mastering verbal communication, the child can go on to master thinking.

Thinking is a solo, and even more abbreviated and rapid, way of rehearsing an activity. More precisely, thinking is the (private) rehearsing of the (public, usually verbal) rehearsing of some activity. Usually, in thinking, the rehearsing is so quickly and subtly done that only a facial expression, a distinctive posture, or perhaps no overt movement at all, is evident to an observer.

Together with the other forms of rehearsal, verbal communication and thinking constitute a kind of permanently on-going game — of activity–mooting and activity–preparation — in which we all participate. To be a player in this game is, approximately, to be a ‘person’. It is to be ‘conscious’, to 'have a mind'. Far from being metaphysical or biological ‘givens’ in human life, ‘language’ and ‘mind’ are joint activities or aspects of joint activities — they are species of rehearsal — that we have ourselves devised, or anyway arrived at, and ourselves perform. They are 'cultural practices' of ours.

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Excerpt from an email from Nigel Love 28.08.08

As for your piece on "rehearsal", I think what most people will find instantly problematic as far as language is concerned is the following: where you say Verbal communication is a technique whereby vocal sounds are used as a way of 'miming' an action in order to rehearse it with others in a specially abbreviated and efficient way. I think there are two main points here: (i) verbal communication is not restricted to vocal sounds (I'm communicating with you verbally right now); (ii) you need to say something about all the rather obvious instances of verbal communication that don't seem to be intrinsically connected with actions at all beyond the communicative act itself , e.g. telling someone something (that 5 x 9 = 45, that A minor is the relative minor of C major...). The way this reads, it seems as if you are concerned with a Malinowskian notion of the primitive or primary functions of lg to the exclusion of all else.

Reply by DM:
Well, I do tend to see actions everywhere behind the scenes. However, I cannot imagine what ‘5’ could be if not an action – a certain feat of counting, a counting feat a little less demanding than the ‘6’ one. And is not multiplication an action, a procedure, also? 9x5=45 just says, surely, that if you do the ‘9’ count five times you will see (observe, register, etc., which are actions too) the same result as if you do the ‘45’ count once. Mathematics is about what can and can’t be done – so far as operations like counting, multiplying, factorising, differentiating and integrating, etc. are concerned.

And ‘A minor’ is an action. It was when I learned guitar – a manual action associated with a particular aural perception (the ‘A minor’ aural perception which I had to learn how to do, like all the others). A musical score is a set of instructions to do things, and categories such as ‘relative minor’ are just general rules about what notes or chords can be played in association with what others – in order to achieve certain effects. Again, recognising these effects, harmonies and disharmonies, etc., is a learned skill… Musical theory is just musical practice cast in very general terms. And mutatis mutandis for maths. And the same for linguistics?

In all cases the total dependence of the theoretical on the practical is disguised (maybe for good pedagogic reasons) by various rhetorical devices: verb-nominalisation (reification), metaphor, synecdoche, etc.

Epistemologically speaking, an actional, cultural, practical reality always underlies the objective one and the latter is actually quite a thin veneer (in many places transparent) over the former.

And yes, I am mainly concerned with the primitive or primary functions of language – it is an area that few people have a clear view of.

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My theory of thinking (mind, consciousness) is that thinking is the individual's private (very rapid and physically subtle) rehearsing of one or other of a range of public, collective activities, namely, communicative activities (someone demonstrating something or pointing something out, some form of verbal communication, graphic depicting, etc.). And these public, communicative activities are themselves rehearsals – of other collective activities, this time 'ground-level' practical activities such as doing the dishes, playing marbles, hunting a mammoth, etc.

The apparent problem with my account is that thinking would seem to be already required for the conduct of the public activities, both the ground-level practical ones and the second-order communicative ones. And, if thinking is already involved in the activities which the individual is 'privately rehearsing' then my identifying thinking with this private rehearsing must be mistaken. At the very least, my account must be circular.

Apparently, to escape this criticism I have to be able to show that the public practical and communicative activities in question can come into being without any thinking having taken place. Apparently, I have to show that practical and communicative activity (which happens to constitute most of culture) are somehow 'unconscious', 'automatic' or at any rate 'pre-rational'. This is a big ask. The truth is, of course, that not only do all our everyday practical and communicative activities normally involve thinking, but contributing to collective activity is thinking's primary function. Without individuals bringing their thinking to bear on the implementing and improving of existing practical and communicative activities, and the inventing of new ones, we wouldn't have a culture at all. Clearly, there is a ratcheting effect. Improved public practice and communication enables improved thinking, which enables further-improved practice and communication, and so on.

All I in fact need to show is that there is, in the lives of infants and, presumably, hominins, some modicum of 'primitive' practical and then communicative activity that is without thought (that is 'instinctive', 'wired-in', 'automatic', 'biologically determined', or whatever) and which suffices to provide a developmental platform on which the thinking skill (defined as the solo rehearsing of participation in these primitive activities) can come into being. And this is what I attempt to show in The Act of Thinking. I point to, first, neonatal imitation, then prototype concerted activity (involving more sophisticated, 'second-level', imitating), then the use of mime to solicit concerted activity. And Nagy and Molnar have come to the party with their demonstration, which I learned of after The Act of Thinking was published, that there is a neonatal (hence 'instinctive', etc.) form of concerted-activity-soliciting (they call it 'provocation') as well. [Emese Nagy and Peter Molnar (2004): 'Homo imitans or homo provocans? Human imprinting model of neonatal imitation', in Infant Behavior & Development 27, pp.54–63.] Possibly, one should add, to this repertoire of primitive forms of concerted and communicative activity, other primitive social accomplishments such as pretending games and elementary verbal communication (i.e., the ability to use speech as mime).

At any rate, my claim is that the infant acquires an initial primitive repertoire of social skills (however, exactly, it is constituted) without being able to, or needing to, think. I say that thinking, consciousness, is a skill that develops later – and that it is a matter of the infant/child or hominin becoming able to privately rehearse his or her participation in sessions of these primitive concerted and communicative activities.

Subsequently, this kind of rehearsing, this 'thinking', is able to improve not only the individual's participation in such activity but the nature of the activities (others' participation, relevant communicative practice, etc.) as such. The individual's private 'thinking' is eventually able to, sometimes, benefit everyone. Thus, because we habitually think about both the activities we engage in with others and our solo actions, our behaviour is typically, characteristically, 'conscious'. We think what we do. We privately rehearse it before and while we do it. So it is true that, generally, for us as mature adult persons, our social and solo actions do involve thought and are the products of thought. But it is also true that there is a suite of concerted and communicative activities that we engage in, or the infant/child engages in, quite instinctively and, in a suitably conducive environment, 'automatically' – and it is in the infant/child's gradual mastering of the ability to rehearse these public activities by himself that the ability to 'think' first arises.

An unnecessary coda: It is true that one is unable to acquire the ability to think without there being congenial (even 'enabling') neural circuitry established in the brain. But to say this is to be guilty of platitude, since the acquisition of any ability is accompanied by establishment of correlative neural circuitry. The learning process is what causes the circuitry to etch itself on cortex. And this circuitry subsequently facilitates the exercise of the skill. Prior to learning, the behaviour has to be cobbled together by imitation and a whole lot of laborious syntheses of previously-acquired contributory skills. When the learning is finished, the person has a brand-new, purpose-built neural firing program to accelerate this behaviour. But the truth of the above does not tend in the slightest to give credit, or intellectual respectability of any kind, to the outrageous claim – at least, it would be outrageous if it were comprehensible – that the universities promulgate these days, namely, that thinking 'is a brain process'.

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As children, we learn new skills in demonstration-and-imitation sessions. Other people show us how to to do whatever it is. They demonstrate the activity and we try and copy. We are born with the desire (and some ability) to perform actions in concert with other people — Nagy and Molnar: download PDF file
Gradually, perhaps over repeated demonstration-and-imitation sessions, our imitation of the action improves to the point where we can perform it satisfactorily by ourselves. This is true of factual knowledge too. Being able to recognise, perceive the various features of, and explain some particular thing in the world – learning how to 'do' that object, substance, animal, event, or whatever – is also a skill we learn from others. We first perceive things in concert with other people, only later can we do it on our own.

Very often, for quite a while after learning how to do something, whenever we come to do it by ourselves, we still need to rehearse the activity beforehand. The rehearsal is to 'remind' one what is involved and what to look out for and to ready us, 'warm us up' physically, for performing that action. Instead of bringing the teacher back for a repeat demonstration-and-imitation session, we make do with an abbreviated, do-it-yourself version – we go through the moves by ourselves, ourselves doing the instructing, out loud or in just sketchy mutterings. Later still, when we are reasonably adept at X-ing, our rehearsing prior to performance becomes even more rapid and efficient. We get to be able to rehearse X-ing in a minimal, merely incipient way, 'to ourselves' as it were. We 'go through the motions' of the action almost instantaneously, hardly moving a muscle – yet still thereby ready ourselves for doing it.

Appreciating just these two basic practices – the demonstration-and-imitation procedure, and our abbreviatings of it for purposes of rehearsal – makes it relatively easy to see what broad kinds of activity verbal communication, consciousness and thinking are.

The demonstration-and-imitation procedure can be abbreviated in various ways. Equally important in our lives are abbreviated versions in which the teacher stays on the scene. If the participants (teachers and pupils) are experienced, some of the techniques employed can be abbreviated. For example, if one of the actions involved in an activity being taught is already familiar, then this action can often be merely mimed, performed in a token way, rather than fully demonstrated. The pupil may respond with a similarly abbreviated version of the action – an answering mime, gesture, or facial expression, or just a private minimal rehearsal (publicised by a nod, mm, or whatever). This token imitation still has the required educative or readying effect.

At a more sophisticated level, mime or gesture done to 'demonstrate' an action may itself be replaced – by a vocal sound specific to that action. This is the basis of speech and other forms of verbal communication. The distinctive vocal sound is introduced as part of the action or activity – it is grafted on to the activity – when the latter is first being learned, in full demonstration-and-imitation sessions. Subsequently, this vocal can, like any distinctive fragment of an action, be used as 'an abbreviated version' for miming the action. Speech can replace the more laborious non-vocal kinds of mime. Eventually, a teaching method consisting of just verbal instruction on the teacher's part and minimal rehearsing and nodding on the pupil's part comes to be an effective substitute for full demonstration-and-imitation. Teacher and pupil are still performing an action in concert, but in a more efficient, token way.

The two interesting forms of consciousness are 'self-aware action', and 'perception of things in the world'. Self-aware action is simply action that the agent accompanies with concurrent minimal rehearsal of the action. As well as minimally rehearsing the action prior to performance, the agent continues minimally rehearsing it during the performance. The concurrent rehearsal, which usually involves minimal rehearsing of verbal instructions, serves to concentrate the agent's attention on the performance, keep him alert to what's happening next, and generally reduces the possibility of faux pas. Any action that is not so familiar as to be completely automatic – or is so unfamiliar as to require demonstration-and-imitation or full instruction – is generally 'self-aware' in this way. The person is 'thinking', 'aware' or 'conscious' what he is doing. Consciousness of things is the same, except that the activity the person is engaged in – in the self-aware way – is perceptual and investigative activity. The person is engaged in examining, surveying, viewing, or otherwise perceptually interrogating some phenomenon and he is accompanying this investigative behaviour with a minimally-rehearsed verbal commentary. He is minimally rehearsing or re-enacting the kind of perceptual and verbal lessons he underwent when he was introduced to this phenomenon. He is explaining 'to himself' what he is seeing, saying the thing's name 'to himself', and so on. Solo consciousness is an incipiently concerted rehearsal.

People have recourse to thinking – in the sense of 'just thinking' rather than 'thinking what one is doing' – when they are insufficiently familiar with a proposed action or activity and there happens to be no-one available to demonstrate or explain how to proceed. Thinking is an attempt at self-teaching. It is the minimal rehearsing, by an individual alone, of an educative session – consisting of demonstration-and-imitation and/or other more sophisticated educative strategies such as verbal questioning, reminding, admonishing, explaining and discussing – in relation to the problematic action. Again, a concerted run-through of the action is beng invoked. Thinking is a pretending-game for one, requiring quite complex dramatic re-enactment, but carried out entirely at a minimal, incipient level of performance. A thinker may be pacing up and down a room, gripping his chin, posing dramatically on a rock, gazing ostentatiously off into the middle distance or smirking behind a beer glass, but he may also be lying quite still in the dark.

The original educative procedure, demonstration-and-imitation, involves teacher and pupil's performing an action in concert. Verbal communication, consciousness and thinking are all derivatives by abbreviation of this prototype procedure. They are abbreviated or 'token' doings-in-concert. They are ways of rehearsing actions and activities before, whilst or instead of performing them. And the three kinds of rehearsal are all learned skills. The child acquires these rehearsal skills in much the same way he acquires other skills – by watching and listening to other people demonstrating them, by attempting to join in, and by practising them on his own. In The Act of Thinking I retrace some of the main steps in the child's (and perhaps early man's) mastery of verbal communication, consciousness and thinking.

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The motivation for learning is the togetherness generated in the prototype form of demonstration-and-imitation. Think of a class full of new entrants reciting a rhyme with the teacher, and the expressions on their faces. The various abbreviated and technically assisted forms of demonstration-and-imitation, going all the way to personal computers for everyone, are going to fail if the pupil does not get the togetherness reward – either via the educational technique or in association with it. If the pupil has already got a surplus from his or her home life, he or she might be all right. Modern technology can only sit on the shoulders of this ancient technology (motivation and intelligence via togetherness): you can't replace that. That is what mind is founded on. Like the church, the school is a relic of the nomadic group.

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Perceptual behaviour is an essential component in nearly all of our activities, but the concept of 'things' abiding independently of our perceivings is a fiction. Really, the world of things is just a teaching aid, invented to make it easier for us to put perceptual behaviours in convenient groups, to demonstrate and teach them, and to subsequently call them up and otherwise rehearse them. 'Things' give us a handle on perceptual behaviour. Specific perceptual behaviours, or rehearsals of them, are solicited from others, they are 'called' or specified, via what we call 'the names of things' or 'references to things'.

It is usually necessary, in order to specify an activity, to specify the perceptual behaviour involved in that activity. Thus, we usually specify actions and activities by reference to the things in the world that that action or activity involves — the environment, equipment, patient, product, agent, etc. We say “feed the hens the barley”. And, often, the calling of perceptual behaviours (via 'references to things') is also essential in the coordinating of activities once they are under way.

So the part that 'things in the world' play (or the fiction of 'things in the world' plays) in our activities is important but education-related and thus temporary. The notion of 'thing' helps us learn and manage the perceptual behaviour side.

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The view of perception that I like is: not seeing but seeing-as and not just seeing-as but seeing-as-for (for some purpose). We learn to perceive only those things the perceiving of which is going to be a component in some activity we are going to perform. Not only man-made phenomena but also natural phenomena are merely stage-setting, prompts and props, accessories to our activities. The props don't have any fundamental role in the play, they are just accessories. I say in The Act of Thinking that we invent the world (in the innumerable showing-that sessions we do with/as children) simply for the purpose of providing reference points, to make it easier to coordinate our actions.

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I still have big reservations about an evolutionary/biological approach to language and consciousness (or 'mind'). To me, both language and consciousness are forms of actional technology — language (i.e, verbal communication) is an aid to cooperation, and consciousness/thinking is a rapid and energy-efficient means of rehearsing previously-learned skills (and fine-tuning action-readinesses). This is in The Act of Thinking. Adopting an evolutionary approach to these skills would be like adopting an evolutionary approach to rope-making and knot-tying skills, elementary missile technology (stones, spears, etc.), and the wheel... Or, perhaps, the technological development from the abacus to the computer. Is this really the sort of thing Darwin had in mind?

For me, the thing about the brain is how brilliantly easy it is to program it so that the person can do new things. I mean, a child might learn a new knot in a matter of seconds. How useful is it to classify, say, new-knot-learning as 'adaptation'? What about if the child never gets to use that particular knot 'in earnest'? Is the child's learning a new knot a 'brain adaptation' to be passed on in the genes to the next generation? I would not have thought so.

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What is an 'activity'? We can use Wittgenstein's definition of an action: an action is that which can be demonstrated. So we can say, an activity is that which can be demonstrated; an activity is that which is subject to the demonstration-and-imitation procedure; an activity is that which two or more people can perform in concert; an activity is that which can be taught, or communicated; an activity is that which can be empathised. These are the definitions we use in practice — and have done for a million years. Our inborn concerting ability is what defines what an 'activity' is. We have an inborn 'instinct', an 'intuition' — and this just means 'an inborn natural ability' — for actions and activities.

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Anna Kemble–Welch tells me that, from a vantage point in the Starbucks coffee house overlooking that intersection in Shinjuku where, every four minutes, two groups of thousands of pedestrians cross effortlessly through one another, any Europeans are instantly apparent. Unlike the native Japanese, who swarm instinctively and effortlessly, the European stutters along, encased in a bubble of thought, 'negotiating' the crossing.

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The problem, once you start refraining from empathising with people, and viewing. or attempting to view, them objectively, is where to stop. It's dangerous. If your objectivising runs away with you, you'll end up in a terrible predicament. Ask Roquentin. But any decision where to stop is arbitrary — and our brains don't much like 'arbitrary'.

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The cause of the mind–body problem is that effortless alternation of ours between empathy and objectivity that I mention near the end of the verbal communication essay. Witnessing someone feeling or imagining something we empathise (we feel or imagine whatever it is, too) and yet, because we are in the role of observer, we need to view what we are seeing as an external phenomenon, something in the world out there. We need to objectivise what we are seeing. So, in objective, or quasi–objective, mode we project our empathic imagining into the other person — we imagine it as an imagining going on 'inside' the other person. In fact, all that is happening is that we are empathising with the other person, doing (or attempting) the same imagining they are doing. Though we appear to be face–to–face, with one scrutinising the other, in reality we are side–by–side. We give priority to the 'one observing the other' aspect of the relationship — which, I am saying, is a relatively superficial aspect — and thus we insist that there really is a mind in there, inside the other (since we can't actually see it). But if we acknowledge the primacy of the empathy (and there are various interesting reasons for our not wanting to do this), then we don't need 'mind' at all. We only need 'activity' (of a certain kind) or 'this that we are doing together'.

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Motivation in human individuals is fundamentally different from motivation (need-satisfying) in other animals. In the human case there is just one need/motivation, the need to get on board culture. This need (and, fortunately, ability) is evidenced in the Nagy/Molnar neonatal phenomenon and in the subequent long education of the infant and child into culture — his learning multitudes of different kinds of participation, learning verbal communication, thinking, etc. Human needs are satisfied via culture, via cultural activity: culture is our need-satisfier. The infant's job is to get on board the need-satisfier.

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Regarding 'internalisation' : I see no problem with the idea of a child's progressing from: (1) engaging in learning sessions with a teacher or helper, and performing a new action with their help, to (2) the child's abbreviated re–enacting or rehearsing of such a learning session when he has to perform some relatively unfamiliar action when alone — this rehearsal serving to ready him for performing the action — to (3) the child's becoming able, when he has to perform unfamiliar actions on his own, to rehearse appropriate learning sessions in such a rapid and subtle, minimal way that little or no overt movement is observable (at least to the naked eye), yet this minimal rehearsal still suffices to ready the child for performing the action.

The concept of internalisation presupposes the notion of an agent or place (called 'the mind' or whatever) inside the person's head — what could 'internal' refer to otherwise? In my view, we do not need this concept in order to explain the kind of minimal rehearsal that occurs at stage 3 above. Even though such minimal rehearsing will generally be accompanied by numerous subtle muscle–tensings and other micro–behavioural phenomena throughout the body, and by distinctive patterns of neural firing in the brain, the minimal rehearsing is still something that the child is voluntarily and skilfully doing. The rehearsing is not an internal bodily function. Still less is it performed by or in a non-physical agent or place inside the child's head.

In my book, after discussing Vygotsky's account — in which the internalisation metaphor is, unfortunately, integral — I move on to Hampshire's theory about the verbalisation and 'interiorisation' of emotional behaviour. Hampshire's 'interiorisation' derives partly from Freud's concepts of inhibition and repression, but is still, in my view, too 'mentalist' to be useful. The only writer I found, then or since, who deliberately refrained from involving any internal agent or place in his/her account of how we learn to think, was Theodore Sarbin (in the 1972 Sheehan–edited The Function and Nature of Imagery). Sarbin (1911 – 2005), one of the founders of narrative psychology, contributed a to–my–mind brilliant essay on how child learn, partly through progressively more attenuated play–acting, to just 'imagine' doing things. However, Sarbin's account of imagining as 'muted role–taking' is rather brief and, although it leaves mind out (bless him), rather too dependent on other metaphors.

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The normal infant is born with the ability and the desire — both of which must somehow be pre-programmed in his/her brain — to participate with others in joint activity. However, just what kind of joint activity it is (that the infant is drawn into, early on and later) is culturally determined.

Because of the prior advent of evolutionary theory, the question to what extent human behaviour is biologically determined was the central question of 20th century philosophy. It has significant political implications too. The philosophy and the politics are still being negotiated. Although evolutionary theory is a delight, and maybe the most interesting scientific discovery ever, I am strongly biased in favour of the idea that people's behaviour is almost entirely (if not entirely) determined by non-biological cultural and personal factors. How is this possible?

It is possible just because of our innate urge to joint activity. This is the door through which we (the infant included) escape from biological determination into culture. We are post-biological creatures. From birth on (almost), all our survival problems are handled by culture. In the case of the human species it is whole cultures that are the biological players, the survival units, not individuals. Our job as individuals is just to get on board culture as early as we can. If our infants were not pre–programmed for culture–acquisition (thanks to the success of culture as a survival strategy and consequent evolutionary influences on our genome) their survival chances, and ours, would be nil.

If you are interested in my various thoughts on this particular issue of the biological determination of our culture–acquisition ability, you could look in these notebooks as follows. Notebook 2007: entries 20, 23. Notebook 2006: entries 14, 35, 37. Notebook 2005: entries 1, 2, 7, 35, 40, 47, 80, 95, 107, 115, 117, 118, 120, 125, 126, 133. Notebook 2002-2004: entries 109, 110, 113, 125, 133, 136, 138, 153, 165.

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I harp on about the Nagy and Molnar paper [ download PDF file ] because it shows that it is not just imitative ability that the infant is born with, but a genuinely social, 'participant' and 'contributor' instinct as well. Participating in concerted (or synchronised, collaborative, joint, etc.) activity requires not just the ability to imitate: it also requires the ability to be demonstrative, to 'put out', to solicit and direct others' attention. The other participants have to be able to tune in to your behaviour too. I had assumed that this (what Nagy and Molnar call) 'provocative', 'soliciting' ability — which is, incidentally, the basis of communication both non–verbal and verbal — was something the infant acquired from interactions with others over the first few weeks or months. The Nagy tells me that evolution has pre–wired us up for that too. And this is good news, surely. Anything that says we are naturally geared to concerted and collaborative (communicative) activity is reassuring, no?

In addition: imitation by itself is perhaps susceptible to a traditional 'biological' explanation in terms of the self–interest of an individual organism — imitation being a way for the individual to acquire behaviours useful to its own survival, say. However, the provocation finding is not susceptible to such an explanation. Provocation is incomprehensible as self–interested behaviour. It is a matter of the individual's 'altruistically' giving the benefit of his/her own experience to the group; it reflects an urge to contribute.

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Metaphor is by definition a non–canonical word use — albeit metaphors can eventually become hackneyed, then dead and even (etymologically) fossilised. Metaphor is parasitic on standard usage. The essence of it, of new metaphor at least, is the commandeering of some established term for a quite new (and generally mildly surprising) purpose. So there has to be a stock of basic referring expressions in use, before metaphor can come along and do its special thing.

I should add, for the benefit of any integrationists listening, that in my story metaphor is not a ‘semantic’ phenomenon (whatever that could be) but a (relatively sophisticated) communicative interaction between two or more people. There's a lovely example in John Wisdom: It goes something like: “Someone is trying on a hat. 'My dear, the Taj Mahal', her friend says. Instantly, the look of indecision leaves the face in the mirror.”

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Some people think of the mind/body problem as an entertainment, some see it as a career, some see it as a problem. Wittgenstein saw it as a mistake, a linguistic muddle. I tend now to see it as a particularly clever piece of red–herringry, or have–you–stopped–beating–your–wifery. The truth is that thinking is neither the operations of a supernatural intracranial entity nor a physiological phenomenon in the brain. Thinking is an action of the person. And it is an action patently dependent on a vast amount of goodwill and cooperation on the part of others. Maybe that's why it doesn't bear thinking about — and why we need the mind/body problem.

— Derek Melser —