January 2015


Several authors have objected to the notion that thoughts or ideas go on, separate from the words and movements that we see and hear. Here is Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations, p. 107):

“When I think in language, there aren’t ‘meanings’ going through my mind in addition to the verbal expression”

Or Merleau-Ponty:

“The word and speech must somehow cease to be a way of designating things or thoughts, and become the presence of that thought in the phenomenal world, and, moreover, not its clothing but its token or body” (Phenomenology of Perception, p. 182)

Or, once more, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone:

“Movement is not a medium by which thoughts emerge but rather, the thoughts themselves, significations in the flesh, so to speak” (Thinking in Movement, p. 400)

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In stuffing knowledge into heads, we mischaracterise everything. Here is a nice illustration. This is one of the first moving pictures every shown, having among the suite of 10 films commercially screened by the Lumiere brothers in Paris in 1895.

Given the novelty of the technology, and the age of the child, we would confidently assert that the child does not know or understand that it is being filmed, and so we might attribute its motions or behaviour to itself alone.

But the child is embedded in a social situation that includes two caregivers, and it is responding sensitively to each and every thing they do. They know about the filming, and they are greatly affected by it. So the child’s behaviour is equally affected. Knowledge lies between us, not in heads.

It takes little effort to extrapolate from this to the laboratory of the behavioural psychologist.