Science, Social Thought and Point of View

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (Wikipedia)

Author: Raphael Gamaroff
Introduction

Language, thought and culture

Conceptual similarities and differences between cultures

Interpretation

Is social thought a science?

The genetic and social origin of beliefs (about reality)

Conclusion

Bibliography

Introduction

“Every man, where he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer’s day” (Bertrand Russell, 1938). The cloud of comforting convictions that encompassed Bertrand Russell – the pacifist sceptic and one of the great philosopher’s of the twentieth century – shifted across the same sky as the mystic’s cloud of unknowing that seeks penetration into the mind of God. Russell and the mystic – and God in the eyes of the mystic – have a mind, are both persons, and both exist, i.e. occupy a “world”. Yet all three – presumably – have radically different visions, interests – and perhaps different emotional states (Sowell. 1988). The trinity of mind-person-world, is a mysterious configuration of fragmentary abstractions, without which knowledge is impossible, and with which ignorance is probable. Science in humans is a product of vision – in the case of God, of provision. The vision is the view. What is a vision, a vision of mind-person-world? How does the mind-person, who is implicated in the order of the world, construct a view of the world?

Language, thought and culture

A point of view involves three constituents: language, thought and knowledge. It is not clear which shapes which, and how much the one shapes the other. In a sense, a point of view reveals a particular culture. By culture I understand that level at which social groups [or individuals] develop distinct patterns of life, and give expressive form to their social and material life-experience. Culture is the way, the forms, in which groups [or individuals] `handle’ the raw material of their social and material existence…Culture is the distinctive shapes in which this material and social organization expresses itself.

(Clark, Hall, Jefferson, & Roberts, 1975:10).

A segment of a social network

A segment of a social network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are thoughts language-relative (Humboldt, 1963; Whorf, 1956)? Or are they universal?; which would mean that they are only superficially modified by the differences between languages. Is “reality” an objective entity or is it a construction: a linguistic or a social construction? What is the relationship between the individual, society-culture and (the physical) environment with regard to language, thought and knowledge? Whorf’s well-known example comes to mind of the Hopi Indian‘s view of time and space being determined by the structure of the Hopi verb system. This example, even if it is claimed to be slender evidence for linguistic relativism, would be, according to Code (1980:251) strong evidence for linguistic relativism, because the way one views time and space has a determining effect on the rest of one’s experience . Pinker’s view (1995:63) is that Whorf’s “outlandish claims” is a product of bad analysis and “leanings towards mysticism”.

According to Jerison (1986:8), the early evolution of language had little to do with communication, because it is not communication that requires a large brain, but thinking about what to communicate. This is not only true of early man (both genders), but of modern man as well. This fact is not well understood in the language teaching profession where the main emphasis is on communication – the product. The product, however, is only the final stage of a long process of thinking about what one wants to communicate.

Conceptual similarities and differences between cultures

The higher one climbs up the conceptual ladder of abstraction, that is,  the more one moves way from bread-and-butter thoughts, the greater the difference between conceptual systems. These differences may exist not only between groups or individuals sharing very different languages (linguistic codes), but more importantly, also between groups or individuals sharing the same languages. Groups may be of a sociocultural nature or an interest-group such as a profession, e.g. science. But there must also exist conceptual commonalities between different languages as diverse as English and Japanese and Gujarati. If this were not so, there would be no explanation for the fact that the sciences are highly developed in America, Japan and India. The language of the sciences cross many cultural, environmental and linguistic boundaries.

Interpretation

Interpretation occupies a large part of mind activity. In any interpretation there are two key moments that comprise its equilibrium: Who/what is being interpreted (the object) and who is doing the interpretation (the subject). An important empirical problem is establishing valid and reliable criteria of interpretation. Interpreters (i.e. researchers and evaluators) are by definition subjective because they are time-space/relational beings concretised in a diversity of sociobiological configurations, which mean that they (can only) see from a particular point of view. One persuades another of one’s point of view, one negotiates one’s point of view, one creates one’s point of view, one reflects on one’s point of view, one resists another’s point of view. Everybody who listens, speaks, reads or writes, filters everything through a point of view, through a theoretical perspective. To this perspective the scientist adds a methodological orientation based on the chosen theoretical perspective

Is social thought a science?

Among scientists there are many different and theoretical perspectives and methodological orientations, which produce – as in the arts and religion – a multiplicity of expressive systems (“discourses”). By discourses I mean “ideologically determined ways of talking or writing about persons, places, events or phenomena.” (Wallace, 1992:68). Each person’s discourse is the product of a variety of different beliefs and experiences, and owing to our human nature “we should not be surprised to find that each side necessarily misreads and misrepresents the other side in order to reconstitute its own position” (Blundell, Shepherd & Taylor, 1993:26). Blundell et al. are speaking in the context of cultural studies, but the implied reference is to researchers in general, who all work within a cultural framework.

An important question in the social/human sciences is whether social science is a science. Choosing a scientific point of view – whether in, say, physics (a “hard ” science) or in, say, sociology ( a “human” science) may have less to do with science than with philosophy: the philosophy of beliefs, values and social practices (i.e. a world view) rather than with philosophical theories of knowledge and existence. Whether the domain of study be art, religion, physical science, psychology, social work or linguistics, it is the “paradigm [that] determines the identification and interpretation of “empirical evidence” [or of any other kind of evidence or experience] in a given discipline (Bizzell, 1979:764; my square brackets).

In the “Standard Social Science Model” (Pinker, 1995:23) the “human psyche [of which language is a part – brackets added] is molded by the surrounding culture.” This “soviet” approach became popular in America and Britain through the translations of writers such as Vygotsy and Luria, whose social practice is referred to in the “West” as a “social constructivist perspective” that envisages individual’s abilities not as a product of individual cognitive processes, but as a construction resulting from an individual’s interaction and immersion in society.

One’s penchant towards biological forces (Piaget and Chomsky) or social forces (Vygotsky) as the primary influence in social practice has far-reaching effects on the rest of one’s Weltensicht. The “social construction of reality” view is not at all solely of soviet inspiration . The West has always had its own clutch of Deweys and Durkheims.

The genetic and social origin of beliefs (about reality)

We are born with many of our beliefs, because they are one of the varieties of “cognitive adaptations” (Jerison, 1986:7). And,

(h)uman beings have all sorts of beliefs [whether they be physicists, philosophers. applied linguistics; to mention only the academic domain]. The way in which they arrive at them varies from reasoned argument to blind faith. Some beliefs are based on personal experience, others on education, and others on indoctrinations. Many beliefs are no doubt innate: we are born with them as a result of evolutionary factors. Some beliefs we feel we can justify, others we hold because of “gut feelings”.

Davies (1993:19; my brackets)

Pinker (1995:128) puts even more emphasis on the genetic origin of beliefs:

Not only are very general traits like IQ, extroversion, and neuroticism partly heritable, but so are specific ones like degree of religious feeling, vocational interests, and opinions about death penalty, disarmament, and computer music.

The aim of cultural studies, applied psychology and education is to change people – for the better; thus the kind of theoretical perspective and methodological orientation is often chosen in terms of the changes one would like to see. It remains a valid principle in science that one should always be aware of the limitations of one’s own paradigm. Bizzell (1979:766) points out that Kuhn is “acutely alive to the limitations imposed by a paradigm, limitations that may not only restrict free inquiry, but vitiate the social usefulness of the discipline.” In Kuhn’s words,

one of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions. To a great extent these are the only problems that the community will admit as scientific or encourage its members to undertake. Other problems, including many that had previously been standard are rejected as metaphysical, as the concern of another discipline, or sometimes as just too problematic to be worth the time…One of the reasons why normal science seems to progress so rapidly is that its practitioners concentrate on problems that only their own lack of ingenuity should keep them from solving.

(Kuhn, 1970:37, quoted in Bizzell, 1979:766)

The theory and data of the social sciences are basically concerned with the person-in-the-world. Trying to understand the nature of the relationship between the world and the person is “one of the more exasperating and contentious of all humanistic concerns, [namely] the proper nature of the relationship between the individual and society (or the state, culture, or community)” (Cuzzort and King, 1995:129). It is the person’s mind, specifically mental- processes- in-the-world, that I want to focus on now.

Luria (1976:3) emphasises the social and historical origin of mental processes: “It seems surprising that the science of psychology has avoided the idea that mental processes are social and historical in origin. And Vygotsky (1978:57) in a similar vein: “The internalisation of socially rooted and historically developed activities is the distinguishing feature of human psychology, the basis of the qualitative leap from animal to human psychology.”

Bhaskar (1979:45-46) attributes an even more peremptory role to society:

The model of the society/person connection I am proposing could be summarised as follows: People do not create society. For it always preexists them and is a necessary condition for their activity. Rather, society must be regarded as an ensemble of structures, practices and conventions which individuals reproduce and transform, but which would not exist unless they did so.

Bhaskar’s individual is having his society and eating it: on the one hand, society always preexists the individual, but society would not exist if humans did not reproduce and transform it. This seems to mean that a thing (society) only exists if it is reproduced and transformed, but the thing (the individual) that transforms and produces it always post-exists it. This is at best a conundrum.

In contrast to Luria, Vygotsky and Bhaskar, Popper’s (1965) “natural science” view is that there “is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life” i.e. a fertile plurality of self-constituted principles. Popper’s natural science point of view is also a theoretical construction existing within the fertile plurality of other theoretical constructions such as those of historical meanings. This means that there can be no self-constituted principle, because all principles (or hypotheses) are rooted in the contingency of history. But this does not imply that society preexists the individual, but only that society is produced, reproduced and transformed by individuals and that individuals are, in turn, transformed by society into “social actors” (Miller, 1984:12-14).

In contemporary sociology, linguistics and education in the English-speaking world, there is an inordinate emphasis on social development, which consequently results in the neglect of the natural (i.e. biomental) realities of human development (Bickerton, 1981, 1990; Brown, 1991) Biomental mechanisms – I am thinking specifically of language and thought – are not only the roots of discourse; these biomental mechanisms ramify into the very branches of discourse. Thus it would be incorrect to maintain that “the use of signs leads humans to a specific structure of behaviour that breaks away from biological development and creates new forms of a culturally-based psychological process” (Vygotsky, 1978). The reality of higher cognitive processes is much more than social in origin. To adumbrate:

Reality cannot be reduced to (academic) disciplines. A panoramic picture of realities is provided by William James’ “sub-universes” (Bolton 1977:43):

1. The world of sense, of physical things, as we apprehend them.

2. The world of science, of physical things, as the learned conceive them.

3. The world of ideal relations and abstract truths believable by all – logical mathematical, ethical, metaphysical propositions.

4. The world of “idols of the tribe”, illusions or prejudices common to all.

5. The various supernatural worlds.

6. The various worlds of individual opinion.

7. The various (and numerous) worlds of “sheer madness”.

Each person creates his/her own picture of “reality”, which is the closest one can get to reality. In any one of the seven sub-universes above (and obviously in the seventh one) can be found “sheer madness”, depending on the “perspective” of the viewer who usually claims to be sane. (Lee, 1992:198) uses Discourse with a capital D and “perspective” interchangeably.

These multitudinous realities, because they are sown into the fibre of our being are “concrete”. Thus there exist a “multitude of concrete worlds” within an “abstractly unitary national language.” Bakhtin (1981:288). What we should know about these “concrete worlds” is more than the social, cultural and linguistic forces that play a role in fashioning them. It is also the relation between the “biological bases of behaviour and the social conditions in and through which human activity takes place” (Cole et al. in Vygotsky 1978:124) that should interest us as well. We should know about “mind in society” (Vygotsky 1978), but also about society in mind; or more correctly – owing to our ignorance of what is brain, what is mind – the brainmind in society and society in the brainmind.

Scientists search for (ever deeper) causes. All causes involve a transfer of energy. Thus science is regressionist and reductionist by nature, for there is no other way to know anything unless to analyse it, i.e. break it up (or down) into simpler bits. On the other hand, it is impossible to know how human beings function unless we also take into account sociohistorical influences. However, as Boyden (1987:v) points out, “a serious flaw in the historical approach [of human society, e.g. Toynbee, Marx]…lies in the fact that it takes far too little account of the biological components of the societal system with which it is concerned.” (My square brackets).

The relationship between genes and culture/history is not only extremely interesting, it is of central importance in the human sciences. The conclusions we reach on this matter and act upon, will have profound implications. Those who are opposed to the emphasis on biology in education and development can take comfort in the fact that human reasoning is limited. And thus it is safe to maintain that biology’s preeminent role in human culture is a matter of conjecture. Nevertheless, even though

it has not been possible to solve the more interesting empirical questions definitively: Is an explicit theory of the mechanisms of cultural evolution necessary? And, if so, what exactly should it be like? However, a deductive theory which clearly sets out the logical relationships between and cultural evolution does advance out understanding of such problems by more clearly showing what is at issue in controversies, such as those between human sociobiologists and their critics, which otherwise appear to be the result of irreconcilable “philosophical” differences.

(Boyd & Richerson, 1985:18)

Conclusion

Ultimately, choosing a specific conception of language development or of “reality”, specifically of the individual in society, is to a large extent a philosophical exercise which is based on value judgments. “Models of psychological reality cannot be proven right or wrong, correct or incorrect, by any objective criterion.” (Hillner, 1985). Some rational decisions have to be made, but these decisions are enmeshed in “all sorts of subjective and idiosyncratic considerations” (Hillner, 1985). Thus it is questionable whether “[t]here is only one way of seeing one’s own spectacles clearly: that is to take them off. It is impossible to focus both on them and through them at the same time” ( Campbell, 1985:19-20). It would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate the spectacles from the eye, which is why “I” see through a glass darkly, i.e. there is much subjectivity in science, of the “human” as well as of the “hard” kind. Theories are subjective expressions., and often it is the data that are driven by the theory rather than the other way round. To establish anything empirically without a theory to “drive” the data seems impossible. Theory , although tempered by the data, remains underdetermined by the data.

Cognitive psychologists theorise about “the events that causally mediate the production of intelligent behaviour” (Fodor 1975:9). These theories may be wrong, or it is possible that mental processes that mediate the production of behaviour are too complicated to understand. If we do carry on theorising in the hope of finding answers then mental events should not be reduced to behaviourial events. This is not to deny that mental events may turn out to be physiological events. The problem is finding a sophisticated enough vocabulary of physiology to explain these physiological events. Thus the ontological status of mental states could be physiological, but the epistemological status would have to be more, because another vocabulary is required to explain these events. Would the vocabulary of psychology be sufficient to represent our concepts? Concept formation feeds upon different kinds of realities (fear, love, enjoyment, knowledge, the struggle for survival). The problem is how to view and accordingly live these realities as a coherent happy whole.

Bibliography

Bakhtin, M.M. 1981. The dialogic imagination. Austin. University of Texas Press.

Bhaskar, R. 1979. The possibility of naturalism. Brighton: Harvester.

Bizzell, P. 1979. College English, 40(7):764-771.

Bickerton, D. 1981. Roots of language. Ann Arbor: Karoma Publishers, Inc.

Bickerton, D. 1990. Language & species. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Boyd, R. and Richerson, P.J. 1985. Culture and the evolutionary process. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Boyden, S. 1987. Western civilization in a biological perspective. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Blundell, V., Shepherd, J., Taylor, I. 1993. Relocating cultural studies: Developments in theory and rsearch. PLACE: PUBLISHER

Bolton, N. 1977. Concept formation. Oxford. Pergamon Press.

Brown, D.E. 1991.Human universals. Philadelphia. Temple University Press.

Campbell, C.M. 1985.Learning and development. An investigation of a neo-Piagetian theory of cognitive growth. Unpublished Master of Arts thesis, University of Natal, Durban.

Clark, J., Hall, S., Jefferson, T. and Roberts, B. 1975. Subcultures, culture and class: a theoretical overview . Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 7/8:9-74.]

Code, L. 1980. Language and knowledge. Word, 31(3):245-58.

Cuzzort, R.P. and King. 1995. Life as a con game: The dramatic vision of Erving Goffman. In Cuzzort, R.P. and King, E.W. 1995. Twentieth-Century social thought (5th Edition): Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Davies, P. 1993. The mind of God: Science and the search for ultimate meaning. London. Penguin Books.

Fodor, J.A. 1975. The language of thought. Hassocks, Sussex. The Harvester press.

Hillner. K. 1985. Psychological reality. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Humboldt, W. von. 1963. Man’s intrinsic humanity: His language. In Humboldt, W. von. Humanist without portfolio: An Anthology of the writings of Wlihelm von Humboldt. Tr. Marianne Cowan. Detrot: Wayne State University Press.

Jensen, A.R.1972.Genetics and education. London: Methuen & Co Ltd.

Jensen, A.R. 1973. Educational differences. London: Methuen.

Jerison, H.J. (ed.). 1986. Evolutionary biology of intelligence:The nature of the problem’ in Jerison, H.J., and Jerison, I. (ed.). Intelligence and evolutionary biology. New York. Springer- Verlag.

Kuhn, T.S. 1970. The structure of scientific revolutions. 2nd Edition. Chicago. Unviersity of Chicago Press.

Lee, D. 1992. Competing discourses: Perspective and ideology in language. London. Longman.

Luria, A.R. 1976. Cognitive development: Its cultural and social foundations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Miller, R. 1984. Reflections of mind and culture. Pietermaritzburg, University of Natal Press.

Pinker, S. 1995. The language instinct. London/New York. Penguin Books.

Popper. K. 1965. The open society and its enemies. Volume 2. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Russell, B. 1938. Sceptical essays. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Sowell, T. 1988. A conflict of visions. New Delhi: Affiliated East-West Press Pvt Ltd.

Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. (Edited by Michael Cole, Vera John-Steiner, Sylvia Scribner and Ellen Souberman). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Wallace, C. 1992. Critical literacy awareness in the EFL classroom. In: Fairclough, N. (ed.). Critical language awareness. London: Longman.

Whorf, B.L. 1956. Language, thought and reality (edited by Carroll, J.B.). New York: Wiley.

Science, Social Thought and Point of ViewUnpublished articleIntroduction

Language, thought and culture

Conceptual similarities and differences between cultures

Interpretation

Is social thought a science?

The genetic and social origin of beliefs (about reality)

Conclusion

Bibliography

Introduction

“Every man, where he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer’s day” (Bertrand Russell, 1938). The cloud of comforting convictions that encompassed Bertrand Russell – the pacifist sceptic and one of the great philosopher’s of the twentieth century – shifted across the same sky as the mystic’s cloud of unknowing that seeks penetration into the mind of God. Russell and the mystic – and God in the eyes of the mystic – have a mind, are both persons, and both exist, i.e. occupy a “world”. Yet all three – presumably – have radically different visions, interests – and perhaps different emotional states (Sowell. 1988). The trinity of mind-person-world, is a mysterious configuration of fragmentary abstractions, without which knowledge is impossible, and with which ignorance is probable. Science in humans is a product of vision – in the case of God, of provision. The vision is the view. What is a vision, a vision of mind-person-world? How does the mind-person, who is implicated in the order of the world, construct a view of the world?

Language, thought and culture

A point of view involves three constituents: language, thought and knowledge. It is not clear which shapes which, and how much the one shapes the other. In a sense, a point of view reveals a particular culture. By culture I understand

that level at which social groups [or individuals] develop distinct patterns of life, and give expressive form to their social and material life-experience. Culture is the way, the forms, in which groups [or individuals] `handle’ the raw material of their social and material existence…Culture is the distinctive shapes in which this material and social organization expresses itself.

(Clark, Hall, Jefferson, & Roberts, 1975:10).

Are thoughts language-relative (Humboldt, 1963; Whorf, 1956)? Or are they universal?; which would mean that they are only superficially modified by the differences between languages. Is “reality” an objective entity or is it a construction: a linguistic or a social construction? What is the relationship between the individual, society-culture and (the physical) environment with regard to language, thought and knowledge? Whorf’s well-known example comes to mind of the Hopi Indian’s view of time and space being determined by the structure of the Hopi verb system. This example, even if it is claimed to be slender evidence for linguistic relativism, would be, according to Code (1980:251) strong evidence for linguistic relativism, because the way one views time and space has a determining effect on the rest of one’s experience . Pinker’s view (1995:63) is that Whorf’s “outlandish claims” is a product of bad analysis and “leanings towards mysticism”.

According to Jerison (1986:8), the early evolution of language had little to do with communication, because it is not communication that requires a large brain, but thinking about what to communicate. This is not only true of early man (both genders), but of modern man as well. This fact is not well understood in the language teaching profession where the main emphasis is on communication – the product. The product, however, is only the final stage of a long process of thinking about what one wants to communicate.

Conceptual similarities and differences between cultures

The higher one climbs up the conceptual ladder of abstraction, that is,  the more one moves way from bread-and-butter thoughts, the greater the difference between conceptual systems. These differences may exist not only between groups or individuals sharing very different languages (linguistic codes), but more importantly, also between groups or individuals sharing the same languages. Groups may be of a sociocultural nature or an interest-group such as a profession, e.g. science. But there must also exist conceptual commonalities between different languages as diverse as English and Japanese and Gujarati. If this were not so, there would be no explanation for the fact that the sciences are highly developed in America, Japan and India. The language of the sciences cross many cultural, environmental and linguistic boundaries.

Interpretation

Interpretation occupies a large part of mind activity. In any interpretation there are two key moments that comprise its equilibrium: Who/what is being interpreted (the object) and who is doing the interpretation (the subject). An important empirical problem is establishing valid and reliable criteria of interpretation. Interpreters (i.e. researchers and evaluators) are by definition subjective because they are time-space/relational beings concretised in a diversity of sociobiological configurations, which mean that they (can only) see from a particular point of view. One persuades another of one’s point of view, one negotiates one’s point of view, one creates one’s point of view, one reflects on one’s point of view, one resists another’s point of view. Everybody who listens, speaks, reads or writes, filters everything through a point of view, through a theoretical perspective. To this perspective the scientist adds a methodological orientation based on the chosen theoretical perspective

Is social thought a science?

Among scientists there are many different and theoretical perspectives and methodological orientations, which produce – as in the arts and religion – a multiplicity of expressive systems (“discourses”). By discourses I mean “ideologically determined ways of talking or writing about persons, places, events or phenomena.” (Wallace, 1992:68). Each person’s discourse is the product of a variety of different beliefs and experiences, and owing to our human nature “we should not be surprised to find that each side necessarily misreads and misrepresents the other side in order to reconstitute its own position” (Blundell, Shepherd & Taylor, 1993:26). Blundell et al. are speaking in the context of cultural studies, but the implied reference is to researchers in general, who all work within a cultural framework.

An important question in the social/human sciences is whether social science is a science. Choosing a scientific point of view – whether in, say, physics (a “hard ” science) or in, say, sociology ( a “human” science) may have less to do with science than with philosophy: the philosophy of beliefs, values and social practices (i.e. a world view) rather than with philosophical theories of knowledge and existence. Whether the domain of study be art, religion, physical science, psychology, social work or linguistics, it is the “paradigm [that] determines the identification and interpretation of “empirical evidence” [or of any other kind of evidence or experience] in a given discipline (Bizzell, 1979:764; my square brackets).

In the “Standard Social Science Model” (Pinker, 1995:23) the “human psyche [of which language is a part – brackets added] is molded by the surrounding culture.” This “soviet” approach became popular in America and Britain through the translations of writers such as Vygotsy and Luria, whose social practice is referred to in the “West” as a “social constructivist perspective” that envisages individual’s abilities not as a product of individual cognitive processes, but as a construction resulting from an individual’s interaction and immersion in society.

One’s penchant towards biological forces (Piaget and Chomsky) or social forces (Vygotsky) as the primary influence in social practice has far-reaching effects on the rest of one’s Weltensicht. The “social construction of reality” view is not at all solely of soviet inspiration . The West has always had its own clutch of Deweys and Durkheims.

The genetic and social origin of beliefs (about reality)

We are born with many of our beliefs, because they are one of the varieties of “cognitive adaptations” (Jerison, 1986:7). And,

(h)uman beings have all sorts of beliefs [whether they be physicists, philosophers. applied linguistics; to mention only the academic domain]. The way in which they arrive at them varies from reasoned argument to blind faith. Some beliefs are based on personal experience, others on education, and others on indoctrinations. Many beliefs are no doubt innate: we are born with them as a result of evolutionary factors. Some beliefs we feel we can justify, others we hold because of “gut feelings”.

Davies (1993:19; my brackets)

Pinker (1995:128) puts even more emphasis on the genetic origin of beliefs:

Not only are very general traits like IQ, extroversion, and neuroticism partly heritable, but so are specific ones like degree of religious feeling, vocational interests, and opinions about death penalty, disarmament, and computer music.

The aim of cultural studies, applied psychology and education is to change people – for the better; thus the kind of theoretical perspective and methodological orientation is often chosen in terms of the changes one would like to see. It remains a valid principle in science that one should always be aware of the limitations of one’s own paradigm. Bizzell (1979:766) points out that Kuhn is “acutely alive to the limitations imposed by a paradigm, limitations that may not only restrict free inquiry, but vitiate the social usefulness of the discipline.” In Kuhn’s words,

one of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions. To a great extent these are the only problems that the community will admit as scientific or encourage its members to undertake. Other problems, including many that had previously been standard are rejected as metaphysical, as the concern of another discipline, or sometimes as just too problematic to be worth the time…One of the reasons why normal science seems to progress so rapidly is that its practitioners concentrate on problems that only their own lack of ingenuity should keep them from solving.

(Kuhn, 1970:37, quoted in Bizzell, 1979:766)

The theory and data of the social sciences are basically concerned with the person-in-the-world. Trying to understand the nature of the relationship between the world and the person is “one of the more exasperating and contentious of all humanistic concerns, [namely] the proper nature of the relationship between the individual and society (or the state, culture, or community)” (Cuzzort and King, 1995:129). It is the person’s mind, specifically mental- processes- in-the-world, that I want to focus on now.

Luria (1976:3) emphasises the social and historical origin of mental processes: “It seems surprising that the science of psychology has avoided the idea that mental processes are social and historical in origin. And Vygotsky (1978:57) in a similar vein: “The internalisation of socially rooted and historically developed activities is the distinguishing feature of human psychology, the basis of the qualitative leap from animal to human psychology.”

Bhaskar (1979:45-46) attributes an even more peremptory role to society:

The model of the society/person connection I am proposing could be summarised as follows: People do not create society. For it always preexists them and is a necessary condition for their activity. Rather, society must be regarded as an ensemble of structures, practices and conventions which individuals reproduce and transform, but which would not exist unless they did so.

Bhaskar’s individual is having his society and eating it: on the one hand, society always preexists the individual, but society would not exist if humans did not reproduce and transform it. This seems to mean that a thing (society) only exists if it is reproduced and transformed, but the thing (the individual) that transforms and produces it always post-exists it. This is at best a conundrum.

In contrast to Luria, Vygotsky and Bhaskar, Popper’s (1965) “natural science” view is that there “is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life” i.e. a fertile plurality of self-constituted principles. Popper’s natural science point of view is also a theoretical construction existing within the fertile plurality of other theoretical constructions such as those of historical meanings. This means that there can be no self-constituted principle, because all principles (or hypotheses) are rooted in the contingency of history. But this does not imply that society preexists the individual, but only that society is produced, reproduced and transformed by individuals and that individuals are, in turn, transformed by society into “social actors” (Miller, 1984:12-14).

In contemporary sociology, linguistics and education in the English-speaking world, there is an inordinate emphasis on social development, which consequently results in the neglect of the natural (i.e. biomental) realities of human development (Bickerton, 1981, 1990; Brown, 1991) Biomental mechanisms – I am thinking specifically of language and thought – are not only the roots of discourse; these biomental mechanisms ramify into the very branches of discourse. Thus it would be incorrect to maintain that “the use of signs leads humans to a specific structure of behaviour that breaks away from biological development and creates new forms of a culturally-based psychological process” (Vygotsky, 1978). The reality of higher cognitive processes is much more than social in origin. To adumbrate:

Reality cannot be reduced to (academic) disciplines. A panoramic picture of realities is provided by William James’ “sub-universes” (Bolton 1977:43):

1. The world of sense, of physical things, as we apprehend them.

2. The world of science, of physical things, as the learned conceive them.

3. The world of ideal relations and abstract truths believable by all – logical mathematical, ethical, metaphysical propositions.

4. The world of “idols of the tribe”, illusions or prejudices common to all.

5. The various supernatural worlds.

6. The various worlds of individual opinion.

7. The various (and numerous) worlds of “sheer madness”.

Each person creates his/her own picture of “reality”, which is the closest one can get to reality. In any one of the seven sub-universes above (and obviously in the seventh one) can be found “sheer madness”, depending on the “perspective” of the viewer who usually claims to be sane. (Lee, 1992:198) uses Discourse with a capital D and “perspective” interchangeably.

These multitudinous realities, because they are sown into the fibre of our being are “concrete”. Thus there exist a “multitude of concrete worlds” within an “abstractly unitary national language.” Bakhtin (1981:288). What we should know about these “concrete worlds” is more than the social, cultural and linguistic forces that play a role in fashioning them. It is also the relation between the “biological bases of behaviour and the social conditions in and through which human activity takes place” (Cole et al. in Vygotsky 1978:124) that should interest us as well. We should know about “mind in society” (Vygotsky 1978), but also about society in mind; or more correctly – owing to our ignorance of what is brain, what is mind – the brainmind in society and society in the brainmind.

Scientists search for (ever deeper) causes. All causes involve a transfer of energy. Thus science is regressionist and reductionist by nature, for there is no other way to know anything unless to analyse it, i.e. break it up (or down) into simpler bits. On the other hand, it is impossible to know how human beings function unless we also take into account sociohistorical influences. However, as Boyden (1987:v) points out, “a serious flaw in the historical approach [of human society, e.g. Toynbee, Marx]…lies in the fact that it takes far too little account of the biological components of the societal system with which it is concerned.” (My square brackets).

The relationship between genes and culture/history is not only extremely interesting, it is of central importance in the human sciences. The conclusions we reach on this matter and act upon, will have profound implications. Those who are opposed to the emphasis on biology in education and development can take comfort in the fact that human reasoning is limited. And thus it is safe to maintain that biology’s preeminent role in human culture is a matter of conjecture. Nevertheless, even though

it has not been possible to solve the more interesting empirical questions definitively: Is an explicit theory of the mechanisms of cultural evolution necessary? And, if so, what exactly should it be like? However, a deductive theory which clearly sets out the logical relationships between and cultural evolution does advance out understanding of such problems by more clearly showing what is at issue in controversies, such as those between human sociobiologists and their critics, which otherwise appear to be the result of irreconcilable “philosophical” differences.

(Boyd & Richerson, 1985:18)

Conclusion

Ultimately, choosing a specific conception of language development or of “reality”, specifically of the individual in society, is to a large extent a philosophical exercise which is based on value judgments. “Models of psychological reality cannot be proven right or wrong, correct or incorrect, by any objective criterion.” (Hillner, 1985). Some rational decisions have to be made, but these decisions are enmeshed in “all sorts of subjective and idiosyncratic considerations” (Hillner, 1985). Thus it is questionable whether “[t]here is only one way of seeing one’s own spectacles clearly: that is to take them off. It is impossible to focus both on them and through them at the same time” ( Campbell, 1985:19-20). It would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate the spectacles from the eye, which is why “I” see through a glass darkly, i.e. there is much subjectivity in science, of the “human” as well as of the “hard” kind. Theories are subjective expressions., and often it is the data that are driven by the theory rather than the other way round. To establish anything empirically without a theory to “drive” the data seems impossible. Theory , although tempered by the data, remains underdetermined by the data.

Cognitive psychologists theorise about “the events that causally mediate the production of intelligent behaviour” (Fodor 1975:9). These theories may be wrong, or it is possible that mental processes that mediate the production of behaviour are too complicated to understand. If we do carry on theorising in the hope of finding answers then mental events should not be reduced to behaviourial events. This is not to deny that mental events may turn out to be physiological events. The problem is finding a sophisticated enough vocabulary of physiology to explain these physiological events. Thus the ontological status of mental states could be physiological, but the epistemological status would have to be more, because another vocabulary is required to explain these events. Would the vocabulary of psychology be sufficient to represent our concepts? Concept formation feeds upon different kinds of realities (fear, love, enjoyment, knowledge, the struggle for survival). The problem is how to view and accordingly live these realities as a coherent happy whole.

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