How to make our ideas – or, not

Representationalist/computationalist models seem super-imposed on natural processes to explain what may simply not need explaining. Yes, we can re-categorize the behavior found in the rock-chair situation discussed in my previous post (1) using cognitive science explanations like ‘proxytype,’ and ‘exemplar’ modeling (with one concept representing another concept representing another, and so on), but to what end? Let me check that in my conceptual refutation gear-box (the magical box of associations our brains must supposedly carry around to respond to experience computationally), and see if there’s a proper negative response to that.

Oops! My mind isn’t a machine; can’t do that. (2)

What I can do is point out that such an explanation is strictly irrelevant to what I and my friends are doing – we’re negotiating what can be signified within the context. For instance one can imagine serious disagreements – ‘rocks ain’t chairs!’ – ‘they are in my house!’ – ‘that’s it, I’m leaving!’ – etc. So the issue has somewhat more to do with social-territorial response than it does with concepts like ‘rock’ and ‘chair.’ But over time, the social response can change the concept. One reason that Pragmatism developed a theory of conceptualization that is use-based and instrumental is because the knowledge-base of the day was undergoing profound changes in terminology, conceptualization, and use, and mildly-dynamic schematics like classical empiricism could not adequately account for this.

We need to generate and develop concepts in particular situations for particular purposes. Concepts are not calcified objects hanging out in mental space, awaiting clarification and then transmittal into other mental spaces. (The representationalist/computationalist model of mind and learning implicates a teacher-centered education whereby young minds absorb knowledge vicariously; I suggest a learner-based model, whereby learning is accomplished by tackling goal-implicit challenges.) Language is not primarily a deployment of concepts; conceptualization occurs in practice, achieves contingent clarity, and then gains concretion into words found in dictionaries, text-books, etc.

When a police officer orders ‘get out of that car,’ he doesn’t care how the object you’re sitting in is conceived, and you won’t stop to check your ‘conceptual recollection mechanisms’ in deciding to comply. Nor does an intimate exchange of love vows in the bedroom necessitate any clarification of ‘love’ concepts, however contextually sensitized. Wittgenstein’s hammer, shared between two carpenters, is understood in use, not by concept reliability. (3) (BTW, the same is true of Heidegger’s ‘ready-to-hand’ hammer, also posited as refutation of the need for conceptual schemas in practical usage.(4))

Language is a chain of signification generating internal and external responses, our own and those of others. Categorization of links in this chain into concepts is part of the game (5); but not a necessary part of it. (6) Attempts to hypostatize such categorization as necessary may actually blinker us from what is really going on.

—–

(1) Wherein I and my friends grow so comfortable sitting on rocks, we come to call them chairs.

(2) I’m not even sure I have a mind these days; although I do have a consciousness; or rather, from a Buddhist perspective, it might be better to say that there is consciousness that has a ‘me’ for practical purposes of survival.

(3) Philosophical Investigations; a key example of how people communicate without conceptual clarification.

(4) Being and Time; an example of how we respond to the world without conceptual clarification.

(5) Suggested reading: http://www.peirce.org/writings/p119.html – “How to Make Our Ideas Clear.”

(6) Conceptualization cannot be a necessary ingredient to the initial generation of language in our species, because evolution suggests that animals signify without it, and that therefore humans more likely began signifying with coded verbal signals – what became words – prior to having a conceptual schema for the coding. So the coded signals would need to be recognized/responded to (through communally agreeable repetition) as indicators, prior to their being understood as compact formulas such as ‘names’ or ‘ideas’ – verbal sign X (indicating an object) is repeatedly followed by verbal sign Y (indicated behavior), long before X = ‘chair” and Y = ‘sit.’ I honestly don’t see how earlier hominids could have developed language otherwise, unless we really want to suppose some magical moment when one of our per-historic fore-parents had a light-bulb moment, crying ‘oh, that thing is a chair, I should sit on it!’ Difficult to have accomplished when chairs hadn’t been invented yet.

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One thought on “How to make our ideas – or, not

  1. Conceptualization cannot be a necessary ingredient to the initial generation of language in our species, because evolution suggests that animals signify without it, and that therefore humans more likely began signifying with coded verbal signals – what became words – prior to having a conceptual schema for the coding.

    I have a different view of concepts.

    In my view, concepts are basic (but not innate) in how we interact with the world. So animals also have concepts, though perhaps they are mostly private. The effect of having language, is that some of our concepts become shared with the community and become an important part of language. It’s those shared concepts that philosophers talk about. But the private ones are also important.

    I suppose that this is related to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

    Like

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