‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part eleven)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on August 29, 2018 @ 6:58 pm

Vygotsky points out that “no matter how we approach the controversial problem of the relation between thought and speech, we shall have to deal extensively with inner speech” (Vygotsky, p.84). Vygotsky tackles Piaget’s concept of egocentric speech, a form of speech that speech that the young child first learns. Piaget argues that children’s conversation falls into two camps: egocentric speech; and socialised speech. With egocentric speech the child mainly talks about herself, no attempting to place herself at the point of view of the hearer. “The child does not try to communicate, expects no answers and does not even care whether anyone listens to him. It is similar to a monologue in a play.” (Vygotsky, p.26). Socialised speech is different; “here a child begs, commands, threatens, conveys information, asks questions” (p.26). Piaget argues that even by age six the child’s speech is still predominantly egocentric. “Piaget emphasises that egocentric speech does not provide communication. It is rather chanting, rhyming, and accompanying the major melody of the child’s activity.” (p.28). As a lot of this talk is the child talking about their own activities, the fact that this occurs less in later stages of maturity means that it develops and moves to different stages of speech. According to Vygotsky, Piaget argues that this form of egocentric speech dies off, Vygotsky suggests that Piaget does not give sufficient attention to the development of inner speech, that Vygotsky thinks egocentric speech turns in to. “From the point of view of functional psychology, all silent thinking is nothing but ‘egocentric speech’” (p.32).
Vygotsky suggests that the total development runs as follows: “the primary function of speech, in both children and adults, is communication, social contact. The earliest speech of the child is essentially social. At first it is global and multifunctional; later its functions become undifferentiated. At a certain age the social speech of the child is quite sharply divided into egocentric speech and communicative speech… Egocentric speech emerges when the child transfers social, collaborative forms of behaviour to the sphere of inner-personal psychic functions. The child’s tendency to transfer to his inner processes the behaviour patterns that were formerly were social is well known to Piaget. He describes in another context how arguments between children give rise to the beginnings of logical reflection. Something similar happens, we believe, when the child starts conversing with himself as he has with others. When circumstances force him to stop and think, he is likely to think aloud. Egocentric speech, splintered off from general speech, in time leads to inner speech, which serves both autistic and logical thinking.” (p.34-35). Vygotsky goes on to say that “egocentric speech as a separate linguistic form is the highly important genetic link in the transition from vocal to inner speech, an intermediate stage between the differentiation of the functions of vocal speech and the final transformation of one part of vocal speech into inner speech.” (p.35). He states that the conception of speech development hinges on the interpretation given to egocentric speech so Vygotsky’s schemata of social, egocentric then inner speech differs from the schemata of the behaviourist pattern of vocal speech, whisper, inner speech which again differs from Piaget’s nonverbal autistic thought through egocentric thought and speech to socialised speech and logical thinking.
Vygotsky talks of the behaviourism of Watson, he suggests Watson questions whether we can know when this stage occurs, but Vygotsky suggests that problem is posed incorrectly, “there are no valid reasons to assume that inner speech develops in some mechanical way through the gradual decrease in the audibility of speech (whispering)”. (p.84). Vygotsky continues “there are no grounds for assuming that the two processes, so different functionally (social as opposed to personal adaptation) and structurally (the extreme elliptical economy of inner speech, changing the speech pattern almost beyond recognition) may be genetically parallel and concurrent.” (p.85). Vygotsky argues that whispering is only phenotypically different not genotypically, and that his own research suggests “structurally there is almost no difference between whispering and speaking aloud; functionally, whispering differs profoundly from inner speech and does not even manifest a tendency toward the characteristics typical of the latter.” (p.85). However whilst disagreeing with Watson’s thesis, Vygotsky notes that he hit on the right methodological approach: “to solve the problem, we must look for the intermediate link between overt and inner speech”. In conclusion Vygotsky states “in considering the function of inner speech in adults after the development is completed, we must ask whether in their case thought and linguistic processes are necessarily connected, whether the two can be equated. Again, as in the case of animals and of children, we must answer ‘no’.” (p.88). He continues “Schematically, we may imagine thought and speech as two intersecting circles. In their overlapping parts thought and speech coincide to produce what is called verbal thought. Verbal thought, however, does not by any means include all forms of speech. The thinking manifested in the use of tools belongs in this area, as does practical intellect in general.” (p.88).
Julian Jaynes discusses the issue of being conscious of being conscious, “in being conscious of consciousness, we feel it is the defining attribute of all our waking states, our moods and affections, our memories, our thoughts, attentions and volitions. We feel comfortably certain that consciousness is the basis of concepts, of learning and reasoning, of thought and judgment, and that it is so because it records and stores our experiences as they happen, allowing us to introspect on them and learn from them at will. We are also quite conscious that all this wonderful set of operations and contents that we call consciousness is located somewhere in the head… On critical examination, all these statements are false. They are the costume that consciousness has been masquerading in for centuries.” (Jaynes, p.21). Jaynes argues that using the method of introspection to illuminate consciousness is akin to shining a torch in a dark room, and upon finding that the parts of the dark room that the torch is shining on are bright with light, assuming that the whole room is lit up. Jaynes looks at different perspective on our understanding of consciousness, and then discounts certain cognitive relations, cognitive relations that we have been discussing in reference to the Reisberg text, Jaynes refutes the idea that “consciousness is an actual space inhabited by elements called sensations and ideas” (p.8); he also refutes that consciousness is necessary for concepts, arguing there is no necessary connection between them as root concepts are prior to experience, language lets words stand in for a concept; nor is consciousness necessary for learning, associative learning can be show to go ahead without any consciousness that it has occurred, for example the well-known Pavlovian response can be replicated by playing a certain type of music while eating a delicious meal can provoke a saliva response next time the music is played. Even though if you know about the phenomenon beforehand and are conscious of the contingency between the music and food then the learning does not occur. So consciousness is both unnecessary for the learning and can actually reduce this type of learning ability. In the learning of skills, as was discussed with regards Bateson, learning skills like tossing a coin, archery, football, or the piano consciousness does not take part in the acquiring of the skill, and even after the skill is learnt self-consciousness can undermine the application of those skills. Solution learning or instrumental learning is a more complex case. Jaynes points out that consciousness does indeed play a part in working out the solution to some goal, he argues, though, not always a necessary one. For example a group of psychology students were asked to compliment every female student wearing red, within a week a lot more people were wearing red, but on interview no-one was aware of having been influenced; Jaynes also argues that consciousness is not necessary for thinking, one of the examples Jaynes uses is very interesting with regards the type of Mindfulness course that is offered on many ‘recovery’ courses. There is a mindfulness technique that involves being given raisin, and really being ‘mindful’ of the raisin, its texture, what it looks like, its size, taste, what it feels like to chew it. This is a form of deliberate and focused introspection that allows one to be mindful of the moment, to be ‘present’ as the courses suggest is good for one’s mental health. In the experiment Jaynes describes one is asked to take two glasses with slightly different amounts of liquid in them and assess their weight. One is asked to introspect, just as the mindfulness course asks us to with the raisin, and then decide the different weights of the glasses. When one considers where this decision comes from it is discovered this introspection takes no part in the decision which is supplied by one’s nervous system. Another constraint takes place with regards partially-constrained association (as opposed to free association), it was found that once the stimulus word was given thinking was automatic. This is related to the use of priming in the discussion of cognitive thinking earlier. “Thinking, then, is not conscious. Rather it is an automatic process following a struction and the materials on which the struction is to operate.” (p.39). Jaynes goes on to say “Nor is this different from the case of speech which I mentioned earlier. When we speak, we are not really conscious either of the search for words, or of putting the words together into phrases or of putting the phrases into sentences. We are only conscious of the ongoing series of structions that we give ourselves, which then, automatically, without any consciousness whatever, result in speech. The speech itself we can be conscious of as it is produced if we wish, thus giving some feedback to result in further structions. So we arrive at the position that the actual process of thinking so usually thought to be the very life of consciousness, is not conscious at all and that only it preparation, its materials, and its result are consciously perceived.” (p.40-41); Jaynes then goes on to argue that consciousness is not necessary for reason, he says “reasoning refers to a gamut of natural thought processes in the everyday world. Logic is how we ought to think if objective truth is our goal – and the everyday world is very little concerned with objective truth. Logic is the science of the justification of conclusions we have reached by natural reasoning. My point here is that, for such natural reasoning to occur, consciousness is not necessary. The very reason we need logic at all is that most reasoning is not conscious at all.” (p.41). He describes reasoning from particulars, that is if I note that a particular piece of wood floats on one pond I might conclude that this piece of wood will float on a different pond. David Hume notes that much reasoning works along these lines, and Saul Kripke uses this Humean logic to discuss Ludwig Wittgenstein on language. And we will be returning to this later when analysing CBT’s relation to language. But for now we return to Jaynes who argues that this type of reasoning is simply expectation based on generalisation, there is nothing particularly extraordinary about it and it is an ability common to all higher vertebrates. “Such reasoning is the structure of the nervous system, not the structure of consciousness” (p.42). “But more complex reasoning without consciousness is continually going on. Our minds work much faster than consciousness can keep up with. We commonly make general assertions based on our past experiences in an automatic way, and only as an afterthought are we sometimes able to retrieve any of the past experiences on which an assertion is based. How often we reach sound conclusions and are unable to justify them! Because reasoning is not conscious. And consider the kind of reasoning that we do about others’ feelings and character, or in reasoning out the motives from of others from their actions. These are clearly the result of automatic inferences by our nervous systems in which consciousness is not only unnecessary, but, as we have seen in the performance of motor skills, would probably hinder the process.” (p.42). Jaynes is referring to the unconscious processes that Freud thought could be teased out with free association. Partially due to the automatic responses mentioned in the experiments on partially-constrained associative processes. Joyce refers to the thinking processes that scientists claim bring about solutions to their scientific and mathematical problems. Often when not working on the problem itself. “The essential point here is that there are several stages of creative thought: first, a stage of preparation in which the problem is consciously worked over; then a period of incubation without any conscious concentration upon the problem; and then the illumination which is later justified by logic… The period of preparation is essentially the setting up of a complex struction together with conscious attention to the materials on which the struction is to work. But then the actual process of reasoning, the dark leap into huge discovery, just as in the simple trivial judgment of weights, has no representation in consciousness. Indeed, it is sometimes almost as if the problem had to be forgotten to be solved.” (p.44).
Which brings us back to Vygotsky.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace