1.14.2002

[4,5] Let me continue that thread raised by Deacon's insight into the evolution of language. In particular, I want to think about language changing, adapting, being used by humans to enhance their survivability, not with the goal of enhancing communication per se, but to be reproduced. This emphasizes how humans use and impose forces of selection on language. But if language is to be understood as a complex coadaptive system, then we should expect alterations in humans imposed by language. Indeed, this is an implication of Deacon's thesis. "I do not suggest that a disembodied thought acted to change the physical structure of our brains, as might a god in a mythical story, " writes Deacon, "but I do suggest that the first use of symbolic reference by some distant ancestors changed how natural selection processes have affected the hominid brain ever since. So in a very real sense, I mean that the physical changes that make us human are the incarnations, so to speak, of the process of using words."
Wittgenstein offers us a sustained argument against the dualisms that structure our culture and self-image. We think in terms of mind/body, nature/nurture, human world/natural world, self/other, in language/beyond language. What Deacon offers is a resolution of these binary structures that is also an insight into Wittgenstein: We are the result of the coadaptive character of memes and genes.
Dualism devolves into reductive accounts of reality. Either we are determined by our biology or we are social constructs. This sort of thing. To rid ourselves of inner/outer conceptions and posit an integrated complex order is described by Wittgenstein as the correct way of seeing ourselves in relation to language. The result, he says in remark 5, is clear vision. Reductionism and dualism are associated with "haze" and "fog." How do children really learn language? The "training" involved in Augustine's account is one component of learning. Should we focus upon this, reduce language to word/object relations, then we lose our ability to see clearly.
I keep going back to a description of Wittgenstein in the classroom offered by Stephen Toulmin in an interview. As Toulmin recalled, Wittgenstein would start class trying to formulate a question. This was accompanied by a real struggle to phrase the question. Sometimes most of the class time was spent on this opening. Once the question was asked, once Wittgenstein had put the words together in a satisfactory or near satisfactory way, the point was not to answer the question. Rather, the class would turn to the ancillary questions of why we ask the question this way, and why it is so difficult to formulate the question in the first place. The enterprise became historical and the hope was to find the origin of the bad habits that inform our concepts and questions in order to see them as conventional and therefore alterable.

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