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Re: [xmca] moral life of babies
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
- Subject: Re: [xmca] moral life of babies
- From: Jay Lemke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Thu, 6 May 2010 16:24:20 -0700
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I think there are some very basic issues involved in the question of what could be meant by pre-linguistic "concepts".
It seems pretty clear that semiotics does not require language, so in some sense there is meaning apart from language -- though perhaps it is not a kind of meaning that is easily recoverable or imaginable for someone who has already been "infected" by language. Once language is running, it tends to color or bleed over into (i.e. semiotically combine with) any other sort of meaning. Maybe less so in dreams or some drug-influenced states, or some meditative states.
Hence the mystery of what the meaning-world of babies might be like. I have been trying in the last few months to do some thinking about sensorimotor semiosis as a sort of precursor to and eventually foundation for linguistic-sensori-motor semiosis. I've been trying to build on the work in the field of biosemiosis, which ranges from thinking about meaning-making by nonhuman primates to the possibility of some sort of Peircean semiosis being accomplished by or within single cells. At the same time, it seems important to get a more whole-body notion of "thinking" or meaning-making (the latter synonymous for me with semiosis, at least in complex functional situations -- not sure yet about at the cellular level). For this I am trying to fold in Sheets-Johnstone's notions of animacy and the arguments by Tim Ingold that put the brain back in its place: not as the seat of thinking, but as one part of a larger system in which and by which meanings are made (cf. Bateson's man-axe-tree circuit).
I do think it's reasonable to start with the assumption that whatever complex social-evaluative behavior babies appear to show, as interpreted by culture-bound adults, it is (a) not the same as what we do, however similar it looks, and (b) potentially some sort of helpful precursor or base on which to build, and from which to transform/develop towards something more like what adults do. Always keeping in mind that it might also be a neonate and infant stage-specific functional substitute for what adults do that is then entirely replaced by the later adult mechanism. And in some cases probably a mix of these options occurs (i.e. some bits retained and transformed, others overlaid and suppressed, still others becoming vestigial and disappearing).
While Bloom is pretty careful to distinguish full-blown adult cultural morality from what one infers about infant behavior in quasi-moral situations, what he has to say about what full-blown morality IS seems very culturally bound while trying hard to assert a universality that seems to me unlikely. In semantic analysis of evaluations, which may be a way of hearing the cumulative experience of language use over millennia, EXPECTATION/SURPRISE and DESIRABLE/UNDESIRABLE are quite distinct dimensions of evaluation (in a set of about six such, including also IMPORTANCE and APPROPRIATENESS) that appear to be in principle independent of one another. Now developmentally these may be differentiated off-shoots of earlier, broader, vaguer evaluations. Being on different branches of the putative developmental tree in this regard, they are not really good candidates to stand in as indexes for one another, and none of them can really correspond in meaning to their common "vague" ancestor (note that "vague" here is a semi-technical usage in some developmental and evolutionary theories in biology as well as in Peircean semiotics). So when babies look longer at choice A vs choice B, I would still be a bit cautious in inferring that this tells me how they feel even about "surprise" or "expectedness". And likewise for inferences about Appropriateness or Desirability.
There's some sort of proto-amygdala-neocortex fizz that's getting integrated, at least pro tem, into a wider body-environment animacy circuit (looking longer), and maybe it's some sort of precursor along the developmental path for more complex and differentiated evaluative behaviors. I think I'd stop there, and well short of speculations about innate "morality" defined the way my own culture defines "morality". But that wouldn't make the New York Times.
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
On May 6, 2010, at 8:40 AM, mike cole wrote:
> Larry and Andy (and Martin and David I guess).
> I would rather withhold judgment on some to the categorization going on in
> this discussion. Andy wrote:
> "To me, it does raise the question, as Jay commented in his belated
> commentary on the infant communication discussion, how much is retained or
> built on, how much is sublated into more complex neoformations and how much
> actually just fades away to be replaced by other neoformations?"
> Is sublation not a transformation?
> Are you sure that what the baby arrives with are not proto-concepts?
> Everyone understand (e.g., can specify new examples in an unambiguous way)
> what counts as a neoformation?
> I feel quite uncertain about these issues.
> On Wed, May 5, 2010 at 9:51 PM, Larry Purss <email@example.com> wrote:
>> I just want to add that "something" that is a "gut feeling" is
>> PRE-linguistic and PRE-conceptual. My bias is to say that language and
>> concepts [neoformations] do NOT negate but rather transFORMS that
>> "something" or "gut feeling" that comes before.
>> When I read Daniel Stern's book "The Present Moment" his exploration of
>> "felt intersubjectivity" which he believes is present in the infant
>> continues to be an active component of linguistic and conceptual
>> Martin recommended Astington's work on ToM. Stern's notion of felt
>> intersubjectivity is NOT Theory of Mind [which posits the CONCEPT of MIND
>> and may be a cultural and linguistic construct] Rather felt
>> intersubjectivity posits a DIALOGICAL primacy of communication [as
>> Andy, I think this article does raise interesting "what-ifs" for philosophy
>> and psychology and our notions of being human. My question is What-if
>> Stern's and Reddy's notions of "attunement" and "engagement" that they
>> observe from the beginning of the infant's life continues to be a central
>> aspect of being human in all the later developmental neoformations?
>> Martin, I'm still waiting for your response to David and how you propose to
>> link up thought [ imagination & SENSE] signification [meaning] and symbols
>> I SENSE in my imagination that the "something" that is a "gut feeling" is
>> implicated in the SENSE phase BEFORE signification and conceptualization.
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>> Date: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 8:55 pm
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] moral life of babies
>> To: email@example.com, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <
>>> It's a very good article. The author doesn't leap to rash
>>> conclusions, but just that moral sense has to build on
>>> *something* and that is a "gut feeling" for good and bad, or
>>> us and them.
>>> To me, it does raise the question, as Jay commented in his
>>> belated commentary on the infant communication discussion,
>>> how much is retained or built on, how much is sublated into
>>> more complex neoformations and how much actually just fades
>>> away to be replaced by other neoformations?
>>> This is more complex question, I guess. But it does
>>> emphasise that every stage of development is itself an
>>> autonomous form of life and missing nothing. Is "baby
>>> morality" necessary for baby life, or is it just life sex
>>> organs, waiting to be developed for adult life?
>>> mike cole wrote:
>>>> A colleague sent me this link. Seems relevant to ongoing
>>> discussion of early
>>>> infancy and ITS
>>>> social situation of development! (short easy reading)
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy/>+61 3 9380 9435
>>> Skype andy.blunden
>>> An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity:
>>> xmca mailing list
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