Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (1994) Cognitive Implications of Tactile-kinesthetic. Psycoloquy: 5(54) Evolution Thinking (7)

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Psycoloquy 5(54): Cognitive Implications of Tactile-kinesthetic

Reply to Lemmen on Evolution-Thinking

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone
Department of Philosophy
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403



Three major questions raised in Lemmen's (1994) review are addressed: the question of experience -- what is necessary for it and which creatures have it; the question of analogical apperception and transfer of sense -- how it is achieved, as in our understanding of others, for example; and the relationship between corporeal representation and natural meanings.


analogical thinking, animate form, concepts, evolution, tactile-kinesthetic body.
1. Lemmon's (1994) review of THE ROOTS OF THINKING (henceforth, ROOTS; Sheets-Johnstone 1990, 1994) raises three fundamental and provocative questions. They arise as a consequence both of his placing the book in the broad context of present-day cognitive studies and his recognition of how critical experience is for adequate accounts of cognition. In finer terms, the questions arise as a result of Lemmen's examining the cognitive implications of corporeal representation and the tactile-kinesthetic invariants on which such representation rests.

2. Lemmen's first question concerns how one is to model "the mental processes of communicating animals" (par. 7). The question has two components. The first is subsumed in Lemmen's statement, "we still have no idea what it takes for a system to have experiences" (par. 7) and "it is not clear at all that biology (or Artificial Life) will be able to tell us which creatures have experiences and which have not" (par. 7). He notes that "The only useful suggestion Sheets- Johnstone makes is that it seems 'biologically axiomatic that, to the degree an animal has to learn to move itself, it is self-aware'." The second component of this question concerns "the ability to transfer sense analogically from one bodily part to another" (par. 7) (for example, a ram's in-and-out-of-the-mouth movement of his tongue as a sexual display signal and in-and out-of-a-vagina movement of his penis in copulation.) Lemmen suggests that "apart from there having to be a sameness in the ways two behaviours are experienced," it is unclear "how such analogical transfer of sense is achieved... [although] "Sheets-Johnstone does make clear that such transference is at the root of concepts" (par. 7). I will treat the second strand of Lemmen's question in conjunction with the second of his three questions, since the latter question also turns on analogical transfer of sense and the puzzlement about how it is achieved.

3. In Rosenbaum (1991, p. 24) describes an experiment in which a fly's visual field is distorted. In his description of the fly's response to its new visual world, the author leaves no doubt but that the creature has experiences, for he observes that "When the fly attempted to move on its own, it took a step one way or the other and then stood stock still, frozen!" In light of such experimental findings on flies (not to mention the common, everyday antithetical experience of flies with respect to their frozenness and movement, i.e., they stand stock still until you approach them in order to swat them), it is nonsensical to deny experience to living creatures. We know what it takes to have experiences, namely, a living body. We do not need biology (or Artificial Life) to tell us this. We need merely to observe living bodies, as Rosenbaum's observation demonstrates. What we do not know is the degree to which any particular living body (even a human living body) is "self-aware"; nor do we know the kind of experiences of which any particular kind of living body is capable. With respect to nonhuman creatures, the problem in each case is that the yardstick is always a human one. We might justify this yardstick by saying that we are simply taking evolution seriously: we are in a historical line of creatures, so whatever our own capacities, there are continuities and discontinuities with other creatures. Unfortunately, this justification all too quickly loses its historical anchorage and becomes self-serving, for it is not so much a matter of the capacities investigated as of the strict rule followed in investigating them and in apportioning credits and debits (Sheets-Johnstone, 1992). To say that humans would do better to err on the side of generosity rather than miserliness is not to dismiss parsimony, but rather to voice concern about God-like stances and judgement-day decisions concerning the experiential capacities of other-than-human creatures. If I take experiences for granted -- "as biological givens," as Lemmen points out -- it is because living bodies are necessarily experiencing bodies and experiencing bodies cannot justifiably be denied their capacities for experience on the basis of our deciding by our own rules that they do not properly measure up. Such a denial constitutes a paradigm case of reverse anthropocentrism (Sheets-Johnstone, 1992).

4. With respect to my suggestion that learning to move oneself necessarily entails "self-awareness" (1990, p. 371), I was concerned not with experience per se but with an awareness of oneself as a subject (amidst other subjects as well as with respect to the world) and with the tendency to conceive self-awareness in exclusively visual terms (e.g., Gallup, 1975). I think it true that experience grounds the possibility of self-awareness; that is, tactile-kinesthetic experience -- hence movement -- is the spawning ground of self-awareness, whatever the creature and its capacity for self-awareness. I would further suggest that self-awareness exists along a gradient, just as awareness more generally does. Along these same lines, I would suggest that to the degree an animal is a social animal, there are considerably greater possibilities for, and a greater complexity of, self-awareness, and this on the basis of tactile-kinesthetic experiences in conformity with a particular social world. Consider, for example, the ready distinction in self-awareness (possibilities for, complexity of) between individuals in schools of fish and individuals in societies of ants.

5. There are two observations I would add, one to each of the above two concerns with experience (pars. 3 and 4, respectively). Speaking of mental faculties and their evolutionary development, Darwin wrote, "It is certain that there may be extraordinary mental activity with an extremely small absolute mass of nervous matter: thus the wonderfully diversified instincts, mental powers, and affections of ants are generally known, yet their cerebral ganglia are not so large as the quarter of a small pin's head" ([1871] 1981, p. 145). The observation serves as a caveat against miserliness. In his Notebook (1987), Darwin wrote that "experience [!] shows the problem of the mind cannot be solved by attacking the citadel itself -- the mind is function of body." The cognitivist implications of this observation have yet to be recognized and fathomed, with respect both to human and to nonhuman animals.

6. Lemmen raises the difficult question of how analogical apperception is achieved in the context of discussing animal communication, or in finer terms, how one uses one's own body as a semantic template (Sheets-Johnstone, 1990, p. 308) in understanding the behavior of other creatures. It is of interest to point out to begin with that not only is there a "biological disposition to use one's own body as a semantic template" to understand the behavior of other creatures in the course of everyday creaturely life, but that in designing human behavioral experiments (even some nonhuman behavioral experiments), scientists consistently use their own bodies as semantic templates for the same purpose: to understand the behavior of other creatures. Short of transferring sense in this way, that is, thinking analogically, they could not structure their experiments in potentially meaningful ways. For example, they must think through possible behavioral responses; they must reflect upon the range of possible interpretations of possible experimental results; in some cases they must think through how best to deceive subjects of the experiment with respect to the intent of the experiment; and so on. Analogical thinking along corporeal lines is clearly a necessity. It might be noted that using one's body as a semantic template in such instances specifically entails introspection, that is, explicitly consulting one's own bodily experiences to anticipate the possible behavioral responses of others.

7. That we do -- regularly -- analogically apperceive others can hardly be doubted. We consistently fill in our experiences of them: we semantically fill in our perception of their postures, their gestures, and so on, on the basis of meanings we find in our own bodily experiences. The question is "how analogical apperception might be achieved" (par. 8). As Lemmen points out, "Sheets-Johnstone does not indicate how analogical apperception might be achieved... she [only makes] clear that it is an essential element of cognition" (par. 8). I think Lemmen would agree that I make clear how it is an essential element of cognition by way of numerous examples in the eight paleoanthropological case studies I present. To these examples, I would append the following suggestions. First, precisely because it is a question of apperception, I do not believe it can be satisfactorily answered by peering into brain tissue. Second, I would suggest two follow-up sources: Hermann von Helmholtz (19th century physiologist and man of science) and Edmund Husserl (20th century phenomenological philosopher).

8. Von Helmholtz uses the term unconscious inferences to describe the connection of ideas by which a present impression is spontaneously linked to earlier experiences. He elsewhere states with respect to these inferences that "obviously we are concerned here with the elementary processes which are the real basis of all thought, even though they lack the critical certainty and refinement to be found in the scientific formation of concepts and in the individual steps of scientific inferences" ([1878] 1971, p. 381). Elsewhere too he speaks of unconscious inferences being based upon "acquaintance with the uniform, or lawful, behavior of the objects around us" ([1894] 1971, p. 508). Elsewhere still, he states that there is only "a superficial difference between the 'conclusions' of logicians and those inductive conclusions of which we recognise the result in the conceptions we gain of the outer world through our sensations. The difference chiefly depends upon the former conclusions being capable of expression in words, while the latter are not; because, instead of words, they only deal with sensations and the memory of sensations. Indeed, it is just the impossibility of describing sensations, whether actual or remembered, in words, which makes it so difficult to discuss this department of psychology at all" ([1868] 1912, p. 269). Finally, and again elsewhere, he states that "the psychic activities that lead us to infer that there in front of us at a certain place there is a certain object of a certain character, are generally not conscious activities, but unconscious ones. In their result they are equivalent to a conclusion ... it may be permissible to speak of the psychic acts of ordinary perception as unconscious conclusions" (in Watson, [1860] 1979, p. 126). In view of his many descriptive accounts of what is there -- or what is not there -- in ordinary perception, we could say that analogical apperception is a form of unconscious inference or conclusion, and that the question of how it is achieved is not one we can answer in any objective way since the mental process in question is not something that is amenable to scientific methodology, thus to scientific elaboration. The process comes with our being the living, sense-making bodies we are, which is to say with experience: analogical apperception is a biological built-in. It is what human and other creatures do. In this sense, it is like exploratory behavior (curiosity), eating, or sleeping.

9. "Passive synthesis" is Edmund Husserl's descriptive phrase for the epistemological mortar that comprehensively binds experience such that it is conceptually coherent: "As long as we constantly have sheer experience as our basis... we are constantly guided by that passive synthesis in which precisely the multiplicity of experience yields a unity of an experiential object as something consistently existing." Passive synthesis "belongs" to experience and is its fundamental unity: "[it] is everywhere our support" for conceptualizing ([1925] 1977, pp. 74-75); see also, for example, Husserl [1929] 1973, pp. 77-81). It is not surprising then that passive synthesis enters into descriptive accounts of our analogical apperception of others (Husserl [1929] 1973, Fifth Meditation). We consistently go beyond what is immediately and sensuously present. We fill in "the given." We apperceive. I suggest that Husserl's "passive synthesis" is in fundamental ways a descriptive (i.e., phenomenological or experiential) elaboration of von Helmholtz's "unconscious conclusions," and that from either and both perspectives, our capacity for analogical apperception, rather than being an achievement as such, is the result of a semantic disposition of experiencing bodies.

10. It is pertinent to advert to Lemmen's observation regarding "other minds" in the context of both Husserl's and von Helmholtz's acknowledgement of an elementary cognitive process in "ordinary perception" or first-person experience. Lemmen points out that "some [cognitive scientists] will claim that since the 'other minds problem' is insoluble in principle, the use of notions like 'what is available in experience' should be banned from cognitive science" (par. 2). I would suggest first that the in-principle insolubility of the problem of other minds might be a consequence of starting with the mind/body dichotomy and thus failing to realize that "mind is function of body." Second, I would suggest that the problem is in principle insoluble for those scientists who, unlike von Helmholtz, refuse to recognize anything not thought amenable to scientific explanation and validation. I would point out with respect to this suggestion that whether a matter of 19th or 20th century science, perception is perception; what von Helmholtz describes is not a sociohistorical relic from a scientifically unenlightened age but a facet of ordinary human perceptual experience. The idea of an in-principle insolubility apart, I would suggest that the "other minds problem" is related to a severe and perseverating problem of mistaken identifications. I have examined and analyzed these mistaken identifications in Sheets-Johnstone (1995). They recall Johnstone's observation (1992; see also Johnstone, 1991, chaps. 5 [concluding section] and 10) that there are two separate metaphysical-epistemological mind/body problems to attend to: the mind/brain problem that arises from puzzles related to the Representational Theory of Perception, and the mind-body problem that arises from puzzles related to first-hand everyday experience.

11. The third question Lemmen raises concerns corporeal representation vis-a-vis natural meanings. Lemmen states that "it is not clear whether (and if so, how) [the] use of [one's] own body as a semantic template mixes with the grasping of natural meanings" (par. 9). I suggest that there are at least two ways in which corporeal representation anchors natural meaning. First, understandings of causal relations are rooted in "if/then" relationships discovered in our own experiences from infancy onward. Stern's notion of self-agency (see Sheets-Johnstone, 1994b, par. 3) in part describes a subject expecting certain consequences: not only is it true that "if I shut my eyes it gets dark," but if I turn my head this way, then I see such and such; if I close my mouth, then someone cannot put a spoon into it; if I shake this, then this noise results; and so on. "If there's smoke, there's fire" is on a cognitive continuum with these if/then relationships. Second, I suggest that corporeal archetypes are "natural meanings." When we begin fathoming the bodies we are, we begin properly to perceive ourselves part of the natural world. In so doing, we begin to comprehend our phylogenetic heritage in such primate archetypal acts as staring and averting the eyes, higher-than/lower-than intercorporeal positionings, making a spectacle of oneself, and so on. I have recently spelled out these corporeal archetypes at length with respect to power and power relations (Sheets-Johnstone, 1994c). I thank Lemmen for calling my attention to the possibility of construing them within the domain of "natural meanings."


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