Ordinary Language Philosophy

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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Ordinary Language Philosophy, a school of thought which emerged in Oxford in the years following World War II. With its roots in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ordinary Language Philosophy is concerned with the meanings of words as used in everyday speech. Its adherents believed that many philosophical problems were created by the misuse of words, and that if such ‘ordinary language’ were correctly analysed, such problems would disappear. Philosophers associated with the school include some of the most distinguished British thinkers of the twentieth century, such as Gilbert Ryle and JL Austin.

signs of human activity near lake albert, SA

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i’m just a creature of my semiosis

one lane, no cars

Essentialism Vs Population Thinking

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Western thinking for more than two thousand years after Plato was dominated by essentialism.  It was not until the nineteenth century that a new and different way of thinking about nature began to spread, so-called population thinking.  What is population thinking and how does it differ from essentialism?  Population thinkers stress the uniqueness of everything in the organic world.  What is important to them is the individual, not the type.  They emphasise that every individual in a sexually reproducing species is uniquely different from all others, with much individuality even existing in uniparentally reproducing ones.  There is no ‘typical’ individual, and mean values are abstractions.  Much of what in the past has been designated in biology as ‘classes’ are populations consisting of unique individuals.

Ernst Mayr ‘The Growth Of Biological Thought

“it’s all semantics”

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i guess i’m remembering the discussions i had with fellow art school inmates way back in the 70’s, but at a certain point in these discussions, someone would always come up with the disclaimer that it was ‘all just semantics’. that is, that the point over which we were arguing was not ‘real’ in any sense, but a matter of how we interpreted the meanings of the words.
nowadays, i might hear some people exclaiming instead that “it’s all semiotics”.

so the other day we attended UNSW’s school of english, media and performing arts’ (EMPA) 2nd “hall conversation” (which however, was held in a small theatre in webster) to hear three colleagues speak to the notion of “affect” as they understood the term within their discipline and research.

we linguists were there in support of peter white of media and who classes himself as a linguist, while the other two speakers were from music and theatre and performance studies. they each gave an account of how they used and viewed the concept in their disciplines, and as i listened, i felt a growing sense of unease about the divide between the treatment of affect as a ‘real’ felt somatic phenomenon of the body/consciousness that could be discussed, and a linguist’s perspective that such feelings do exist but they were beyond the purview of our analysis – or that once someone talked or wrote of such feelings then we could discuss those items of language use…

eventually peter white in his short presentation mentioned this – that is, linguists’ orientation toward the phenomena we study (i.e. language use, the grammar of that use, the meanings in context of that use, etc) as contrasted to what was classed as phenomena for their study.
and then the floor was open to questions and comments.
we already knew that we were vastly out numbered here, and that theatre and performance people, and those who ‘used’ writers such as deleuze in their own work were in the majority in the room. we were aware that the definitions on which they based their work were not of sufficient clarity for us to work with…
so it was no surprise that most of the commentary was directed towards one of their own.
but what we all became particularly interested in (as we discussed later) was more centred on the heat which seemed to be generated over the use of the terms ’emotion’ versus ‘affect’ in descriptions of afferent processes in the brain stem.

it seemed that it was very important (to one attendee in particular) that the word ’emotion’ was not used to refer to those un-labelled feelings that arise before conscious labelling of them, and that ‘affect’ needed to be retained as the term for that, while ’emotion’ should be used for those states which were then classed or labelled with language items.
discussions of the states of ‘arousal’ that babies experience before being socialised into comprehending those states would fall into this sphere of being labelled as ‘affect’ perhaps, but one should refrain from calling these ’emotions’. [something, i remarked to myself, would perhaps ruffle the neuroscientist participants of the mid 90’s conference i followed, who were not chary about labelling these pre-self-conscious states as ’emotion’. this highlighted by the very name their conference had been called: “emotion and consciousness”, its main premiss being that without emotional arousal, consciousness and other social learning in the infant could not be expected to occur.]
examples pertaining to animal consciousness, and dogs in particular, their sense of deference, shame, etc, were also brought up in the course of the hallway conversation the other day…

of course, as appraisal analysts, we use the term ‘affect’ to refer to one class of attitudinal terms that one can find in texts in general (see the appraisal website for details). but the need to carefully distinguish between the terms ‘affect’ and ’emotion’ for this group of researchers who were not linguists, was of paramount importance to (some of) them, and pointed to their need for precision in this area.
it seemed to me that for them, the term ’emotion’ carried with it too much semantic ‘baggage’, and connoted states that were recognised and labelled, as well as given some evaluative status, whereas the term ‘affect’ remained somewhat neutral in this regard. that is, it seemed that the term ‘affect’ did not carry any reference to socially dis/approved responses, but merely denoted a general class of phenomena related to bodily states.
it was this need to distinguish between two terms we had all hitherto not considered of much difference, or at least not seen how it was of significance to those directed towards the discussion of these matters, that excited our interest.

validity depends on belief

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The relation between information and value becomes still more evident when we consider the asking of questions and other forms of seeking information. We may compare the seeking of information with the seeking of values. In the seeking of values it is clear that what happens is that a man sets out to “trick” the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He endeavours to interfere with the “natural” or random course of events, so that some otherwise improbable outcome will be achieved. For his breakfast, he achieves and arrangement of bacon and eggs, side by side, upon a plate; and in achieving this improbability he is aided by other men who will sort out the appropriate pigs is some distant market and interfere with the natural juxtaposition of hens and eggs…[..]..Briefly, in value seeking he is achieving a coincidence or congruence between something in his head – an idea of what breakfast should be – and something external, an actual arrangement of eggs and bacon..[..]..In contrast, when he is seeking information, he is again trying to achieve a congruence between “something in his head” and the external world; but now he attempts to do this by altering what is in his head.

The material mediation of our semiotic practices

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excerpt from: Lemke, Jay: Material sign processes and Emergent Ecosocial Organization: Downward causation and the levels paradigm
[accessed November 2000]

The reductionist trick was predicated on the assumption that the
different ‘pieces’ or views from different perspectives could always somehow
be neatly fit together. But we now know that material processes cannot be
comprehended, cannot be exhaustively described within any one single
self-consistent formal discourse. They always overflow the limited
possibilities of our semiotic models of them. It is only by building more
and more semiotic-discursive models, each internally self-consistent, but
not limited by requirements of mutual consistency with each other, that we
can, by adding together such ‘complementary’ views, attain to the most
complete possible account of material phenomena, including semiosis itself.
Thus we still come back to a version of ‘assemblage’ but hopefully a more
sophisticated one, one that takes into account our own role and perspective
as observers, as well as the material means by which we observe, compare,
and assemble — the material mediation of our semiotic practices.

every process of semiosis is not just a social and
cultural practice, but also a material activity in which not just humans but
also non-human elements of the ecosytem participate.

roles and relationships circa 1951

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[Ruesch & Bateson, Communication: Social matrix of society]

the pattern which connects

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I remember the boredom of analyzing sentences and the boredom later, at Cambridge, of learning comparative anatomy. Bothe subjects, as taught, were torturously unreal. We could have been told something about the pattern which connects: that all communication necessitates context, that without context, there is no meaning, and that contexts confer meaning because there is a classification of contexts. The teacher could have argued that growth and differentiation must be controlled by communication. The shapes of plants and animals are the transforms of messages. Language itself is a form of communication. The structure of the input must somehow be reflected as structure in the output. Anatomy must contain an analogue of grammar because all anatomy is a transform of message material, which must be contextually shaped. And finally, contextual shaping is only another term for grammar.
So we come back to the patterns of connection and the more abstract, and more general (and most empty) proposition that, indeed, there is a pattern of patterns of connection.

Gregory Bateson (1979) from the Introduction to “Mind and Nature”.

“random” quotation#2


determining who is the writer of the following should be a little more difficult than for the previous excerpt… obviously the ‘random’ is in the finding, not the posting. i’d kept this quotation on file since i read the book at the end of last century.
for those who enjoy playing, the book from which it is taken was published in 1997. recognise the writer?

The odd balancing act of belief and knowledge that is diagnostic of fetishism, along with the related cascade of mimetic copying practices that accompany fascination with images, is evident in many of the biotechnological artifacts that pepper [this book] — including textbooks, advertisements, editorials, research reports, conference titles, and more. Belief in the self-sufficiency of genes as ‘master molecules’, or as the material basis of life itself, or as the code of codes, not only persists but dominates in libidinal, instrumental-experimental, explanatory, literary, economic, and political behaviour in the face of the knowledge that genes are never alone, are always part of an interactional system. That system at a minimum includes the proteinaceous architecture and enzymes of the cell as the unit of structure and function, and in fact also includes the whole apparatus of knowledge production that concretizes (objectifies) interactions in the historically specific forms of ‘genes’ and ‘genomes’. There is no such thing as disarticulated information – in organisms, computers, phone lines, equations or anywhere else. As the biologist Richard Lewontin put it, ‘First, DNA is not self-reproducing, second, it makes nothing, and third, organisms are not determined by it” (1992:33). This knowledge is entirely orthodox in biology, a fact that makes ‘selfish gene’ or ‘master molecule’ discourse symptomatic of something amiss at a level that might as well be called ‘unconscious.’

Self Introduction

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On once more being asked to join another web-log, another drift of voices irregularly heard through the auspices of this one and the other web-logs entertained by these administrators, I was warned – ah, but the term I am wont to use would be threatened for its entailment of a notional accuracy (‘valeur’ as I believe some might say) in relation to the alternative; however, it became obvious as I toyed with its insertion that the grammar of the two words is completely different and thus I was diverted down a path of contemplation regarding the very meaning of the term threaten as appropriate for what I was hoping to explain. It is a matter of projection it seems, which alerts us to the nuances of meanings here, rather than a mere casual glance at the lexicon, and the convention which allows us to threaten something (or someone, I admit), but not to warn something directly… which takes us into much too abstract a territory.

At this point, much more appropriate should I return to the example provided by the invitation I received to offer observations through the medium of this web-log – in addition to my other internet presences I hasten to add. To wit, in tandem with my invitation to contribute, I was warned that I should announce my connections at the outset. As you can no doubt see, although I felt that my interlocutor’s intent was more to threaten me not to fail to reveal my connections with her on pain of later upheaval and accusatory rumblings, I could not express this apperception on my part as “I was threatened that I should divulge my interests at the outset”. No – although I felt that her manner of description and explanation were in the way of a threat, the rider here can only be rendered as I was warned that I should divulge my relationship to one of the administrators at the outset lest dire consequences should ensue. As a matter of fact (to be precise it would be better to say, as a matter of conjecture) I am not sure as to the exact nature of these consequences and to whom they might apply. Nonetheless, I am bound by the code of guest-ship, and hence I needs must reveal at this juncture and before indulging in any further contributions in the forum that I have known eldon for some several years past.

It is a matter of record that she earlier invited me to subscribe to other online forums, to which I acquiesced in my usual fashion. Indeed it seems (I cannot remember) that I made an earlier appearance on the virtual stage of some previous incarnations of other discussion spaces she used to inhabit when they were purveyed in electronic discussion list form, at the time we both lived in Japan (I was about to say “inhabited” Japan, but even I was never so large). My peripatetic lifestyle means that I can occasionally still cross paths with eldon, if we manage to time it correctly, and in this instance it is to my own good fortune that eldon now inhabits (along with two cats and a large P) a terrace with 4 bedrooms in Sydney, to which location I regularly return to recharge my batteries as the quaint expression goes, and to make sure the country hasn’t gone to the dogs in my absence. And also to make sure they will continue to let me in for the foreseeable future – successive Australian governments evincing populist paranoia making it sometimes extremely difficult for refugees to enter its hallowed grounds having once being invaded by Europeans, and after being inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years by the now disinherited original owners. I just wrote owners but in fact that is not the best term to use – unfortunately a more apt term like belongers is not part of the English language lexicon.
In any case, the issue attending my regular visits rests on my having been raised in Australian climes, but not having been born here. I have triple citizenship in fact, with the sub-continent being my favourite, perhaps due to its also having been the place of my bursting forth into the light so to speak. During this particular visit to Australian soil I intend to perform some research-induced agenda, and it may even eventuate, attendant on its success or no, that my own permanent removal from the land of infinite pleasure relating to anthropological curiosities may occur as a result.

I am reliably informed by eldon, then, that this web-log needs the services – or at least the contributions – of an anthropologist. In point of actual fact, I like to see myself as an anthro-apologist, but this is a minor aberration which I hope readers will either ignore or celebrate depending on their point of view. I personally am not sure that I can stand any more tension, and can reliably admit that tension of an inter-stratal nature is definitely not inviting, each stratum being as it is occupied with tribes of conflicting ideological viewpoints, I cannot see that we need to focus on the tension so much as assuage any that comes to light.

As far as the necessity for my services goes, she vouchsafes that the administrators occupy pretty similar disciplinary niches and that should not really auger well for balance of opinion, or in fact any discussion at all, since everyone is keen to behave like the polite gophers in a bugs bunny cartoon at one…er…level, but she has observed to me that often-times instead, perspectival boundaries tend to arise between members and their negotiations over the nature of reality. While I am not in the business of defining reality for anyone else, I am drawn to inspecting and relating in new lights the various representations that different groups attempt to define for themselves in delineating what sections of the cosmos and its knowledge-making facilities they themselves call into being. My own concerns then are outside myself so to speak, and located in groups rather than individuals. Indubitably this definition of my trajectory is simplistic, and yet it will do for the moment as a line along which to align my big toe as I relate (in other words) what eldon wants me to observe, and which in fact I have been desultorily observing since my subscriberhood here began.

She (the L-person) has always taken a participant-observer status with respect to the groups she studies, and I respect this stance on her part, and even applaud the work she has done with it, but I am more inclined to stand apart from the cultural practices on which I am interested to comment – not completely, but in the manner of having one foot fully outside the practices of that group whilst I am in any way ‘studying’ it, and at the same time, I endeavour to maintain another foot (or even feet) within that group, under its superstructure, in the bedrock of the community perhaps. In Japan, this has only been achieved by not studying the Japanese themselves, but rather the antics of expats living there. But this is another story.

To return to the matter at hand via this rather circumlocutionary route, eldon claims that her mien is in the way of a sociologist when approaching phenomenon of human behaviour, while the clown takes the role of grammarian. In the case of pedro, he is the tech-engineer of the outfit, and comes up with gee-gaws, modifications, etc, at regular intervals.
As an antho-apologist, I am more interested in art-making practices that point to elements of the dynamics of any tribe – I believe “community” may now be the word of choice in some spheres? – In any case, the aesthetic, as it will be remembered and no doubt agreed, is not altogether the province of the visual or even the plastic arts, but includes notions regarding beauty and truth (however conceived) relating to sound and music, words and their sequencing, and the sequencing of other elements of experience apart from the usual words, sounds, smells, tastes and graphics – sensations. Although simplification is not my forte, I am willing to extend my head or expose further my neck by saying that aesthetics can be boiled down to (hoping here that no anti-essentialists are reading along to curse me and follow me spitefully on twitter) relationships. Beauty, via this definition, is a not a part of the single act or object, or even a static composition of objects or elements but is imminent in the intricacies of the relationships that obtain between acts and objects, or elements thereof, extending as well to sequences in human interaction and the parts out of which they are composed. Readers jumping ahead will connect this with my anthropological leanings and intuit that they rest on a basis of examining what specific sequences and juxtapositionings constitute a group’s favoured practices, mores and so on, repeated instances, and legitimised, allowed, ratified and lauded sequences of acts or apperceptions of them which in turn realise that group’s “culture”…with, she apologises and accentuates at the same time, scare quotes.

Herein has lain my self introduction. May it please your honours to accept my humble postings from this day forward – although I cannot promise their regularity or appropriate content.

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