Concerning the recent postings here: Reply to an objection: ‘When you say, “the cat is on the mat,” don’t I need a shared concept of CAT and MAT in order to understand what you’re saying?’
No, we need a shared understanding of appropriate response within a given context.
I suspect that when my mother first told me she loved me, I responded appropriately – without having any sense of what the concept ‘love’ might mean. Indeed, such experience undoubtedly helped me develop such an understanding – how else could I have learned it? *
(Assume a culture unfamiliar with cats; having no encounter with woven wool.)
“Thanks for having me over.”
“Not at all; I was impressed with your presentation, and am happy to converse with those of other cultures. By the way, could you pet Sheba? just to get her used to you.”
“What, that furry animal thing on the floor?
“She’s not on the floor directly; we call that a mat.”
“Quite nice; can I get one of those?”
“I have a friend who weaves them; I’m sure she’ll be happy to do weave one for you.”
“And this is a ‘sheba’?”
“No, that’s her name; she’s a cat.”
“What’s a cat?”
“Well. she’s a pretty little thing – She won’t bite?”
“No, she’s friendly, go ahead and touch her – She loves getting petted.”
“You keep her for company?”
“Rather she keeps me, I would say!”
“Hey, she’s humming -”
“We call it purring.”
“Whatever; sounds pleasant enough.”
“You know, I’ve always wondered whether lions purr….”
“Big cats; big big cats, with fangs and claws, and….”
“That doesn’t sound fun; and it doesn’t sound anything like Sheba here.”
“It’s a family relationship. The people who studied such things say they’re of the same biological classification, ‘feline.'”
“Oh, yes, I read about such classifications in books.”
“Now you understand?”
“No, there was nothing about petting and purring in the books I read.”
“Well, have a seat; she’s especially appreciative when you have her on your lap.”
“I only see a rock here -”
“That’s my chair.”
“So you people make chairs out of rock?”
“Well, it’s patented; we’re calling them ‘Stone Cold Seats,’ they’re going on sale next week.”
“You Americans are so inventive. Back home, we sit on blocks of wood; unless we’re praying. Then we seat in lotus position on – what did you call this?”
“Yes, that; except ours are made from twining of hemp…. Sheba seems comfortable now -”
“You are petting behind her ears, that’s her number one pleasure zone for such attention.”
“Hmm… tell me, is she edible?”
“Huh… elsewhere, well, maybe, um – no.”
“Really? Where I come from, all domesticated animals are understood to be eventually eaten.”
“Well, then Sheba is lucky she’s not living there.”
“I meant no offense.”
“Of course; just please don’t eat my cat.”
“She would have to be skinned first -”
“I don’t think she would like that -”
“Ha! – you Americans are strange, thinking some animal would like or not like something. But I respect your customs here; I’ll not eat your cat.”
“Thank you very much; by the way, would you like to view my collection of M.C. Escher drawings?”
“I am so pleased you would share them with me! Escher is one of the permitted Western artists in our State Museum!”
“And then I have some rather racy water colors by Matisse….”
“Oh, he’s definitely not permitted; but I’m here to learn how your decadent Western mind works – show me the paintings -”
Concluding remark on my Cat/Mat dialogue: While a model that is classical or ‘neo-empiricist’ (ie, classical empiricism glossied up with ‘cognitive science’ terminology) can be imposed upon it, I should point out that a simple reading of the social significance of the situation * is both easier and closer to the point – What is going on is that two people from different cultures, finding each other attractive, are testing the boundaries of the significance they can engage in, so as to affect transition from acquaintance to possible friendship. The cat/mat discussion is merely verbal dancing to reach a point where the two can discover interests they share especially among themselves – interests in literature and works of art considered ‘racy’ or risque in both cultures.
“If we aren’t talking about what people are talking about, what could we possibly be talking about?” – Source unknown.
When you first suckled, can anyone rightly imagine you had a concept in your infant brain? – like, what? – ‘nice nipple’ – or, ‘tasty food stuff’? Come on, let’s get real.
Representationlism is for intellectuals with overly disciplined training, having no imagination.
* Yes, semiotics.