'it is always difficult for the psychologist to think of anything 'existing' in a
culture... We are, alas, wedded to the idea that human reality exists within the
limiting boundary of the human skin!'. (Bruner, 1966:
Thirty years ago, Geertz (1966: 3) succinctly stated what many would accept today as a central tenet of the social sciences: 'There is no such thing as human nature independent of culture'. In one sense, Geertz is clearly correct. Fossil remains of members of the genus Homo are always associated with identifiable tools, and the information needed to make these tools is not wired into us as in the case of a beaver, for example, but is conserved extrasomatically in our cultural practices. This point had already become central in the writings of some scholars prior to Geertz summation. La Barre (1954), for example, stated it thus:
The human hand is the adaptation to end all adaptations: the emancipated hand has emancipated man from any other organic evolution whatsoever. ... With human hands, the old-style evolution by body adaptation is obsolete. All previous animals had been subject to the autoplastic evolution of their self-substance, committing their bodies to experimental adaptations in a blind genetic gamble for survival. ... Man's evolution, on the other hand, is through alloplastic experiments with objects outside his own body and is concerned only with the products of his hands, brains, and eyes - and not with the body itself. ... Since man's machine's evolve now, not anatomical man, he has long since gone outside his own individual skin in his functional relatedness to the world. The real evolutionary unit now is not man's mere body; it is 'all-mankind's-brains-together-with-all-the-extrabodily-materials- that-come-under-the-manipulation-of-their-hands.' ... This [is] evolution-by-prosthesis' (1954: 89-91).Today, we might state it that humans co-evolved with their cultures.
However, this view turns out to hide as much as it reveals. For what the present archaeological data reveal is that there has been precious little 'alloplastic evolution' until relatively recently. Until the production of lithic biface and prepared core technologies by hominids other than us - common by around 300 000 years ago (Wynn, 1996), though evidenced perhaps as far back as 700 000 years ago (Clark, 1970) - there is little that hominids did that was outside the abilities of modern apes. This conservatism in the production of artifacts is more apparent when we consider the early material productions of members of our own species. At around 100 000 years ago the productions of our own species are - with few exceptions (e.g., Yellen et al, 1995) - barely more complicated than those of their predecessors. It is only relatively recently - from around 40 000 years ago - that there is evidence in the record of people living lives and acting in ways that are recognizably 'modern'.
It is not the case, then, that humans co-evolved their abilities within the context of cultural practices that are now universal amongst us, and which we might be tempted (wrongly) to regard as 'species characteristic behaviours'. Something happened during the existence of our species that transformed the purposes for which our intelligence was evolved. In this paper, I want to try to nail down what that 'something' was. This, then, is speculative stuff, and the divide between respectable speculation and 'Just So' stories is a difficult one to teeter along. My working philosophy here is the principle of consilience as outlined by Whewell (1840: 230), who makes his proposal thus:
Accordingly the cases in which induction comes from classes of facts altogether different have thus jumped together, belong only to the best established theories which the history of science contains. And ... I will take the liberty of describing it by a particular phrase; and will term it the Consilience of Inductions.I do not wish to imply that what follows is either the 'best' or even an 'established' theory, but I am trawling in diverse areas in the hope that they 'jump together'.
A starting point
There is really only one place where we can get data that: (a) bears on transformations of modern human intellectual abilities; and (b) is open to direct empirical investigation. That place is human psychological ontogeny. Unfortunately, while Gould (1978) has emphasised that there must be some relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny, what that relationship is is not easily stated (see Lock and Peters, 1996, for an extended discussion on this). One of the problems in the context of this paper is that contemporary infants are born into an already elaborated cultural milieu. We may come to a good understanding of how, from being immersed in a world that is structured by this milieu, contemporary infants develop the skills that allows them eventually to be inducted into adult society as competent, by the standards of those societies' practitioners, but how might this help us understand where those adult practices came from in the first place? My claim is that an understanding of human developmental transformations can provide us with a vocabulary for getting a handle on the bigger problem of how human intellectual abilities were transformed.
For example, one of the most useful framings of human development is provided by Vygotsky in his conceptualization of the zone of proximal development (zoped): the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (1978: 86). This conceptualization gets us around the paradox of how we might learn something transformatively new. In Vygotsky's framing of the problem, infants are developmentally stretched into areas that they could not previously comprehend by the way in which their grasp of the world is 'teased along' by others who are 'already there'. An individual infant or child does not have to make all the links anew between the events they have encountered: they can be socially 'set up' to find them, because the links between events are made very salient to them by the actions and words of others.
In this view, the actions of others transform the affordances of the objects and events
that the infant or child experiences: this is not just a manipulable object, it is a spoon, and you
use it like this (see Valsinaar, 198x). Others act so that novitiates come to 'see' how they can
act: projects are structured as objects are experienced as affording assistance to those projects.
Us adults scaffold a perceptual world ripe with metaphorical pregnance in the perceptual
worlds of our inductees, so that they can make links that, left to their own devices, they might
otherwise never make. The literature now outlines a number of contexts and ways in which this
saliencing can be accomplished (e.g., Begley, 1995; Lave, 1988; Lee, 1995; Linney, 1989; Rogoff,
1990; Scribner and Beach, 1993). Lock and Symes (1996: 227) summarise the characteristics of
'good zoped practice' thus:
the transmission of analytic skills from a possessor to an initiate requires:
Now, could there be ways in which zopeds can be instantiated without there being informed adults around, actively pointing out what exists beyond what is currently afforded? Early work on problem-solving in both apes and humans suggests one limited context in which this does happen. Kohler (1925), in his classic study of ape mentality, came to the conclusion that apes were capable of solving a variety of problems if all the components necessary for a solution were available to them in their perceptual field. Subsequent work by Birch (1945) and Menzel et al. (1970) indicates that prior familiarity with the several elements that require co-ordination to achieve a solution also influences the likelihood of a successful solution being reached. Similarly, work on human problem-solving by Maier (1930-45) and Dunker (1945) showed that events prior to attempting a problem can influence the success of solving a problem: for example, being able to tie together two ropes that cannot be simultaneously grasped is much more likely to be achieved if the problem-solver has seen a pendulum in action prior to being confronted with the task.
Yet in all these cases, the absence of interactive support by a more competent other is only partial. The situation has been set up to 'point to' an 'already known' end-point. This is problem-solving toward a known solution, scaffolded by the deliberate arrangement of objects. If we take Wertheimer's characterization of problem-solving as 'not just the sum of several steps, not just an aggregate of several operations, but the growth of one line of thinking out of the gaps in the situation' (1945: 50), then it is clear how in 'priming' the task conditions, the salience of 'the gaps in the situation' have been made very apparent in these particular situations. Points 1, 3 and 4 in Lock and Symes' (1996) list of criteria have been met, and it is only the lack of interactive structure to the situation that differentiates these problem-solving examples from the classical Vygotskyean paradigm. Can we go further, and gain an understanding of how, in the absence of any intended props, creative activities can be enabled? My argument here is that we can, provided (1) we adopt a vocabulary that encapsulates the temporal transformations we are seeking to understand, and (2) we keep in mind another of Vygotsky's claims as a 'prop' for our own thinking: that
Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological), and then inside the child (intrapsychological) This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relations between human individuals (Vygotsky, 1978: 57).
A vocabulary for describing temporal change
The organism ... is in a sense responsible for its environment' (Mead, 1934: 130).
I take the above quotes as the focus of this section. I want to pull out their import for
characterizing processes of change. This requires I do a bit of 'backgrounding', so please bear
with me here in the preamble.
1. The preamble
In evolutionary theorizing, the 'Modern Synthesis' which reconciled Darwinism with Mendelian genetics was characterised by a rigid separation of organisms from their environment (Patten, 1982). The selection pressures which lead to the differential survival of particular genes over time are the forces responsible for evolutionary change. These forces are located in the environment as 'autonomous events' See footnote 1. This clear-cut distinction is quite adequate in many cases. This is particularly so in the 'paradigm' case often cited as demonstrating the validity of evolutionary theory: the change in distribution of light and dark forms of the moth Biston betularia studied by Kettlewell (1956) in northern England. Here the environmental selection pressure - the change in general colour of tree bark from light to dark (so determining which colour of moth is camouflaged) as a result of atmospheric soot deposits increasing with the onset of the industrial revolution - is entirely independent of the organism's own activity.
But in other cases, the situation is less clear cut. Consider a hypothetical case in which a tree produces a seed that is perfectly adapted to growing in a savannah environment. Very soon, the savannah will no longer exist, since it will be covered by trees: and trees which produce seedlings that very poorly adapted to germinating in this environment. Here, the new selection pressure on the trees that favours a different form of seed comes from an environment that has been brought into being by those trees themselves.
This more interactive conception of the evolutionary process was a thrust of the work of Waddington in developmental biology (e.g., 1960, 1969) in which he introduced the notion of the 'epigenetic landscape'. More recently, Levins and Lewontin (1985; see also Lewontin, 1978, 1982, 1983), in developing a critique of the concept of adaptation as it is employed in evolutionary theory, have brought this interactive conception to a focus: 'the environment and the organism actively codetermine each other' (1985: 99).
These views are echoes of a framework outlined at an earlier date by Mead (e.g., 1934; 1938):
Take the case of food: If an animal that can digest grass, such as an ox, comes into the world, then grass becomes food. That object did not exist before, that is, grass as food (1934: 129);and similarly:
When there is [a] relation between form and environment, then objects can appear which would not have been there otherwise; but the animal does not create ... food in the sense that he makes an object out of nothing. Rather, when the form is put into the environment, then there arises such a thing as food. Wheat becomes food: just as water arises in the relation of hydrogen and oxygen (ibid: 333).
In these passages, Mead provides the basis for a temporal and interactive vocabulary to be developed, and one which can encompass mental as well as somatic phenomena. He makes the point that the environment, in this case 'grass-as-food', maps out the logical structure of the act of the 'ox-as-grass-eater':
the structure of the environment is a mapping out of organic responses to nature: any environment, whether social or individual, is a mapping out of the logical structure of the act to which it answers, an act seeking overt expression (ibid: 129).At the same time, the 'reverse' view can be formulated or extrapolated: that the existence of the ox and its digestive system - its 'bacteriological laboratory' (ibid: 131) - has been mapped out from the logical structure implied by the existence of grass. We now have the basis for a conceptualisation of change through time that has a logical structure to it provided by a set of implications that exist in the relation between a form and its environment. And the beautiful thing about implications has been captured economically by Smedslund (1969: 8):
A crucial difference between a cause-effect relationship (A causes B) and an implication (A implies B) is that the former involves logically independent phenomena, which must be shown empirically to succeed each other, whereas the latter involves logically dependent phenomena. Physical phenomena may be linked by a theory from which it follows that A leads to B. On the other hand, a mental phenomenon A in itself implies B, without any theory (emphasis added).
And the beautiful thing about Mead's argument is that it extends Smedslund's point beyond mental phenomena to encompass biological ones as well. Biological materials can engender implications because, in this conceptualisation, they provide the 'value perspective' See footnote 2 that transforms 'logically independent phenomena' into logically dependent ones.
For example, consider the question: 'which came (= could come) first, animals or plants'? The answer is obvious, not because we learned it in school biology, but because the logical requirements of 'perspective' have been articulated. Organisms which sustain their organisation over time on the basis of an extra-terrestrial energy source must come before organisms that sustain themselves on the basis of a terrestrial one. But once that energy source from outside of the terrestrial system has been captured and conserved in the form of 'plants', then at the same time, 'plants' have constituted themselves as a newly-emergent possible energy source which conserves, transduces, re-presents or mediates (take your pick) the original one. Plants imply animals: alternatively, plants establish the environmental niche that 'animals' could exploit - all other 'things' being equal. Next question: 'given 'plants', which came (= could come) first (= next), carnivores or herbivores (leaving out 'parasites' as an unwanted complicating sub-category of carnivores at this point)'? Again, the answer is obvious. But the next question does not have such an obvious answer: 'which came (= could come) first (= next), carnivores or lots of different variants of plants'? Clearly, once patterns of functioning organization are attained, both synchronic and diachronic sets of implications are brought up as possibilities for future explication.
A concrete example serves to show how this conceptualisation is useful in describing the evolutionary explication of behavioural implications. The evolutionary sequence of courtship behaviour in Empis flies follows from the fact that in the original activity the courting male runs a high risk of being eaten by the female. This risk is reduced in some species by the male catching a fly and presenting this to the female. In the next step, the fly is wrapped in a cocoon of silk strands, increasing the time that the female is thereby occupied with her 'gift'. Next, a cocoon containing an inedible object such as a leaf is presented. In the final stage of the sequence the cocoon is waved about by the male as a visual signal to attract females (Reuter, 1913; cited by Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1975, 145-6).
The ambleI have been very general in the previous section. I now want to pick up on some things more specific. We gained a glimpse in the above of what Dawkins (199x) has termed 'the blind watchmaker' in action. Something new appears to have been created without any guidance or teleological grand plan. But is it really 'something new'?
... an action in progress can, while having so far produced a certain degree of specification into its content, leave that content open to yet further specification - but only specification of an already specified kind (Shotter, 1981: 276).
[Indeterminism] admits that possibilities may be in excess of actualities, and that things not yet revealed to our knowledge may in themselves really be ambiguous. ... actualities seem to float in a sea of possibilities from out of which they are chosen: and, somewhere, indeterminism says, such possibilities exist, and form a part of truth (James, 1956: 150-1).Some 'possibilities' are much more likely than others, because possibilities are always constrained by actualities. Amongst these constraints we need to figure in the logical structure of the implications of a system at any one point in time. Herbivores, as noted, have to evolve before carnivores. Herbivores construct in front of themselves, in the temporal dimension, the logical character of a possible niche that determines the parameters within which an organic form could be realised such that it can eat herbivores. It makes sense, in this view then, to describe actual animals as explicitly representing in their bodily forms the implications of the niches that have been pre-constructed for them by the existence of earlier forms.
To describe these processes of change, I propose we distinguish two different types of implied niches, or, as a shorthand, two categories of implication. The first of these I am calling synplication. In the biological domain this equates to the notion of 'adaptive radiation'. Thus, for example, once evolution has explicated a niche-embodying form such as a snail, then all sorts of variants of snails become potentially available. The second category of implication is that of metaplication. By this I mean those niches that are made available beyond the level of any particular form of organization, by virtue of the establishment of that explicit form. Thus slugs metaplicate the niche for slug-eating forms, which thereby metaplicate the niche to be explicated as slugs-with-protection, aka snails, and so on. What I want to suggest is that we can also profitably apply these distinctions to mental as opposed to just physical changes over time.
I am not going to pursue this line of description here with respect to the evolutionary
elaboration of 'information processing power' over time. While to do that can be an interesting
exercise, it is an issue that can be side-stepped in this context. We can do this because :
Popper (1972) has pointed out very clearly how particular symbol systems contain their future elaboration. The sequence of symbols that denote natural numbers is a human construction. Now, it is possible to do some quite complex tasks without any abstract conception of number: by 'tallying', for example, a shepherd can keep track of his or her flock - mark them out in the morning and tick them home in the evening. Similarly, many 4 year olds can count, after a fashion, from 1 to 10. But, they do so in complete ignorance of the properties of the numbers they are using. If, by any chance, one abstracted numbers out of this practice and expressed them on base 10 with Arabic numerals, then one would get the sequence 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. One could use these numbers in quite a few ways without ever becoming aware of the distinctions between, and the properties of, odd and even, perfect and prime numbers. One might come to apprehend these distinctions, but then be oblivious to such properties as Goldbach's conjecture: that every even number is the sum of two primes (this conjecture fits every known case, but no proof of it has yet been formulated). Hence, there is built into the system a whole new order of distinctions which could be made explicit.
Three points should be noted with respect to this example. First, Popper (1972: 18) characterizes these properties of numerical systems as 'unintended and unavoidable properties of our creation ... [there] ... for us to discover'. Second, there is a logic to the order in which these unintended properties might be discovered: that is, Goldbach could only formulate his conjecture about the properties of even numbers once even numbers had been elucidated. Third, it follows that we could essay an evolutionary account of mathematics if we could establish the conditions under which such discoveries were made.
Making these things explicit, discovering the metaplications of the number system, is not necessarily easy. First, the way in which numbers come to be represented or symbolised can affect the likelihood of these implicit properties being 'discovered'. Basic mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, division and multiplication are made more or less easy depending on how the number system is 'notated': the Arabic system is better suited to this than the Roman one; and an abacus is better still.
Second, similar views have been put forward for alphabetic literacy. Writing functions to abstract the events it deals with from their ongoing context, and so helps foster abstract thinking is one such view (e.g., Goody, 1968). But the empirical evidence suggests that coming to exploit this possibility of writing, to use the written medium as a way of inspecting different accounts for their logical consistency, for example, is not a guaranteed outcome of being able to read and write. Rather, the social practices that writing is used for differentially predispose readers and writers to discover or not the possibilities made available by the system they have (e.g., Scribner and Cole, 1981). And the nature of the system of representing language - logographic, syllabic, alphabetic, for example - may similarly compound this 'discovery' as more or less easy or difficult, in the same way as different systems of mathematical notation do (although the empirical evidence to warrant this claim has been very difficult to establish).
Third, environments can be changed by the actions of organisms so as to bring into being entirely new objects that were never intended nor would have existed otherwise. Popper (op. cit) uses the creation of a path through vegetation as an example of this. Paths come into existence through animals initially moving along the lines of least resistance, which are determined jointly by the contours of the terrain with its vegetation and the predispositions of the animals that move across that terrain.
It is not planned - it is an unintended consequence of the need for easy or swift movement. This is how a path is originally made - perhaps even by men - and how language and any other institutions which are useful may arise .... In this way, a whole new universe of possibilities or potentialities may arise... (Popper, op. cit: 119).What I want to emphasise here is that, unlike the possibilities that are implicit in counting systems, what has been constructed in this instance is immediately available to the organism: the path is as 'real' in the organism's experience as the vegetation through which it runs.
The issue here thus becomes clearer. Can we find ways in which social practices can act
to create the analogues of 'paths' in human perception, such that those paths not only establish
new possibilities and potentialities for a physiological system (the brain) to use, but
simultaneously provide the 'notational' system that eases the 'discovery' of those things that are
implicit in them? If we can, then we have delineated a self-constituted 'zone of proximal
development' that can bootstrap the elaboration of those symbolic cognitive technologies that it
is our task to elucidate in accounting for the evolutionary amplification of human abilities.
A prospective summary at this point, then, is that the process of explicating the implicit
possibilities of 'cognitive endowments' is contributed to by the potentialities of the various
symbol systems that humans use, as well as the nature and structure of the human practices
within which these are sustained. It is becoming clearer that (1) the properties of particular
symbol systems and (2) the conditions under which they are employed affect the ease
with which humans can use them for particular purposes. Hence, the point to be made is
that changes in social relations have provided the major resources for the establishment of
modern abilities; that these are not solely founded on preadaptive changes in human biology.
The general line I am going to follow from here is that the structure of relations between
people and the properties of the discourses and practices they engage in constitute the
conditions that enable their discovery of the unintended properties (implications) of the
systems of symbols, social relations and discourse practices their modes of life
constitute. These 'discoveries' then constitute the phenomena that have been subsumed under
the term: the 'evolution' of human abilities.
Some concrete examples of 'discovery-making'
I know of no way in which intelligence or mind could arise or could have arisen, other than through the internalization by the individual of social processes of experience and behavior .... And if mind or thought has arisen in this way, then there neither can be nor could have been any mind or thought without language; and the early stages of the development of language must have been prior to the development of mind and thought (Mead, 1934: 191-2).
1. Colour-term differentiation and social structureEmber (1978) has suggested that one factor in the elaboration of domains of reference is 'societal complexity'. Armstrong and Katz (1981) pursued this claim for one domain. They found that the number of colour terms given for the language of a society by Berlin and Kay (1969) was found to be correlated with the index of societal differentiation calculated according to Marsh's (1967) criteria. This confirms the hypothesis of Berlin and Kay (1969: 104) that color lexicons with few terms tend to occur in association with relatively simple cultures and simple technologies, while color lexicons with many terms tend to occur in association with complex cultures and complex technologies. For this particular referential domain, then, 'this is also a confirmation of the hypothesis that referential systems become more elaborate as societies become more complex (Armstrong and Katz, op. cit.: 337).
However, Esther Goody reports (personal communication) that this is not the case for
most West African languages. In these, the number of colour terms relates not to societal
complexity, but to the length of a society's trade network. This suggests that it is not societal
complexity per se which relates to the elaboration of linguistic structures, but the level of
shared presuppositional knowledge between speakers: for one needs be more specific
with a supplier several hundred miles away. It is quite obvious, though, that levels of shared
knowledge between individuals relate to societal complexity in a quite direct way. Shared,
presuppositional knowledge is, by definition, unarticulated and hence not explicit.
2. Bernstein's conception of language codes
This notion of shared presuppositionality is central to the theorisation of language, communication and social structure by Basil Bernstein. In his later publications (i.e., after 1962), Bernstein introduces the concept of communication code, identifying two types which he labels restricted and elaborated. These codes are not in themselves varieties of language, but principles of structuration which underpin linguistic and social forms, their variation and their reproduction (Atkinson, 1985: 66). These codes also control the form of semiotic systems other than language, for example: rule systems of clothing; food; ritual; and body adornment. Codes provide the principles of cultural transmission in all channels, and thereby regulate the transmission and reproduction of cosmologies and the very social structure itself (ibid: 68).
The segregation of codes between different social strata is not random, but related to the requirements of each class. The division of labour and the differentiation of large scale societies has resulted in specialization of small groups of people into numerous disparate disciplines, each of which has evolved its own specialized vocabulary. Amongst the middle-class controllers of material or symbolic goods, who had to co-ordinate networks of communication between discrete professions, there arose a "metalanguage" of universalistic terms and abstract notions characteristic of elaborated code.
One thrust of Bernstein's argument, then, is that social structure is the ground against which meaningful communication is established. In simple societies, that structure does not itself become a topic of the discourse practices it affords. In a manner of speaking, cognition remains embedded in discourse. But in more complex societies, cognition is lifted out of discourse, allowing the perception of the social structure within which it was constituted. Cognition is disembedded from discourse and reconstituted symbolically, then becoming re-embedded within the constraints of the symbol system by which it functions. Thus, elaborated code is seen as emerging out of restricted code as social structure becomes more complex and lowers the shared level of presuppositionality amongst speakers. Lock (1983: 255) puts this 'boot-strapping' concept thus:
there is an historical incorporation of the contexts of time A into the discourse of time B. Discourse at time B is thus conducted in a context that will later be transcended to be incorporated in the later discourse of time C, and so on ... That is, contextually-mediated meanings become linguistically-mediated ones.This transformation occurs in tandem with societal complexification.
Put alternatively in a Vygotskian perspective, the argument would be that knowledge is reproduced in interactive situations. Those situations may not only supply explicit symbols, but are also structured in ways that provide already delineated 'things to be articulated'. If this is the case, then 'knowledge' will more readily make the transition from the implicit, tacit, intermental realm to explicit intramental ones. Conversely, where interactions do not exhibit such a structure, knowledge will remain implicitly coded, and its explicit intramental coding is less likely to be facilitated for those to whom the world is so presented.
3. Social structures, language and cognition
The above point is extended and reframed in Fischer's work (1965; 1966; 1973) on the relation between Truk and Ponape language and social structure. Both the languages and cultures of Truk (Melanesia), a complex of small islands within a large lagoon, and Ponape, a more remote, larger single land mass some 400 miles away, are historically related. They have shown a separate development for perhaps 2000 years (Fischer, 1966:168). Fischer's claim is that 'the differences which have arisen in the two related languages are produced by certain long-standing differences in general features of the social structure of the two speech communities' (ibid:168). Ponapean social structure is more differentiated than Trukese social structure, possessing a greater variety of significantly different roles.
Fischer's (1966, see also 1973) theoretical perspective illustrates other facets of the
concept of shared presuppositionality: how this varies among speakers in different social
systems; the effects this has upon language; and the consequence this has for the elaboration of
conceptual processes within the social or cultural group. Fischer's reasoning is as follows.
Small, simple, homogeneous societies do not put a pressure on meaning to be coded in
context-independent terms. Further, their characteristics tend to lower the need for the
exercise of abstract problem-solving skills. That is, lacking skilled specialists,
Essentially, then, members of such a culture may rely more on traditional knowledge, rule-of-thumb common sense solutions from which general algorithms need not have been formally abstracted. Further, it is argued that many everyday practices have not been subjected to analysis for why they work, nor does everyday life throw up many situations which require analysis for their solution. An important implication here is that such everyday practices may be acquired by imitation.
Fischer presents data on the relation between the phonological systems (1965) and the grammatical systems (1966) of Trukese and Ponapean in relation to the social structures of the two cultures that are quite technical, and so details must be sought in the original papers. The main claim is that in Ponapean, both systems show structural characteristics that reflect a greater emphasis on precision both in speech, and in the conveyance of the meanings being spoken. By contrast, Trukese phonology is commensurate with greater fluency, and its grammatical system is less adapted in use to context-independent precision in meaning. In addition, for technical reasons of phrase construction, a Trukese speaker is more liable to be interrupted, but since within its simple social structure there is a high degree of shared presuppositionality, this creates no great barrier to the communication task. Trukese speech is claimed to be relatively stimulus-directed, being treated more as a response to an earlier utterance or to something in the non-linguistic situation than as a purposeful attempt to influence the listener in accordance with a preconceived goal of the speaker (ibid, 179). By contrast, the tighter Ponapean construction offers less encouragement to interruption. It suggests that the speaker has a definite idea in mind which must be communicated in full as a unit to the listener. It suggests further that the speaker assumes the listener to be perhaps quite different from himself and liable to misinterpret fragments of the full proposition (ibid, 179).
This sort of speech Fischer sees as relatively more serviceable in the formulation and pursuit of
goals. Relating language and thought is beset with difficulties: all I want to point to here is the
link between coding meanings explicitly and the lack of presuppositionality that follows as a
society becomes more structurally differentiated and thus loses common knowledge.
4. The sociogenesis of 'civilized' occidental human conduct
Elias's study (1978, 1982) of the elaboration of western etiquette adds more information to the honing of the analysis being developed in this paper. Over all the activities he considers - how to eat and drink in company, control bodily functions, etc. - there emerges from Elias's study the strong implication that a self-reflective ability was unavailable for any activity among western people around 700 years ago. People generally did not reflect on what they were doing. Hence, they did not, for example, provide the necessary conditions that would enable them to feel embarrassed. In Elias's view, the kind of change in interpersonal behaviour that that was required for people to achieve such reflection
does not involve solely changes of 'knowledge' transformations of 'ideologies', in short, alterations of the content of consciousness, but changes in the whole human make-up, within which ideas and habits of thought are only a single sector(Elias, 1982: 284)These changes reflect a reorganization and transformation of
the whole personality throughout all its zones, from the steering of the individual by himself at the more flexible level of consciousness and reflection to that at the more automatic and rigid level of drives and affects. (Elias, 1982: 284)
Elias predicates these changes in personality structure on structural changes in society
brought about by the expansion of trade, the diffusion of money, the monopolization of power
and physical force by a central 'state', and the growing stabilization of the central organs of
society. In sum, 'as the social fabric grows more intricate, the sociogenic apparatus of
individual self-control also becomes more differentiated, more allround and more stable' (Elias,
1982: 234). He offers the following explanation as to why there is this relationship:
From the earliest period of the history of the Occident to the present, social functions have become more and more differentiated under the pressure of competition. The more differentiated they become, the larger grows the number of functions and thus of people on whom the individual constantly depends in all his actions, from the simplest and most commonplace to the more complex and uncommon. As more and more people must attune their conduct to that of others, the web of actions must be organized more and more strictly and accurately, if each individual action is to fulfil its social function. The individual is compelled to regulate his conduct in an increasingly differentiated, more even and more stable manner. (Elias, 1982: 232)
Elias considers that it is the relationship between the psychological functions controlling an individual's actions that changes during historical time; that it is
these relationships within man between the drives and affects controlled and the built-in controlling agencies, whose structure changes in the course of a civilizing process, in accordance with the changing structure of the relationships between individual human beings, in society at large (Elias, 1982: 286).And again, we are back to that Vygotskian point, that higher psychological abilities originate in the relationships that come to hold between people, and these become internalized.
We have from these four examples a clear picture of: (1) how social relations can engender implications and make them salient; (2) how symbol systems can contain implications of their own; and (3) how social practices can make certain implications of the present state of affairs more or less ripe for explication at any particular point in time. We have the essentials that allow us to see how, sui generis, a 'zone of proximal development' can arise spontaneously within social life itself. We also have the point that (4) the properties of particular symbol systems contribute to the ease with which certain implications can be constructively discovered. Finally, implicit in these examples is the claim that (5) the structuring of cognitive abilities and their temporal elaboration are inherently social practices. In a sense, then, there is a structure available in the interactive environment that is more or less accessible to the perceiver depending on the extent to which that structure is demonstrated or 'perspicuously-articulated' in the structure itself (cf. Wittgenstein, 1953). A similar point has been stated by Foucault (1991: 58) that discourse is 'a space of differentiated subject positions and subject functions'. The spaces are 'there', pregnantly metaplied within the bustle of everyday life. Giving a symbolic form to them is not easy, but that form is already largely specified, and is amplified as it latches into the abstractive abilities of the human cognitive substrate that is fed by the symbolic resources already explicated.
The wider view: Interpreting human 'evolution'
Around half a million years ago, human social life may have begun to move away from its earlier character towards more modern forms. There is some evidence for the use of fire, and perhaps cooking, as early as 700,000 BP at Zhoukoudian (Stringer, 1985), but there is no substantive evidence for hearths, storage pits or architecture. There is some evidence for true hunting, if only of smaller mammals (Binford, 1985; Shipman and Rose, 1983), even if scavenging were still a major source of animal remains. Particular sites appear to have been used for particular activities (e.g., de Lumley, 1975; Freeman, 1975; Keller, 1973). The picture here is complex to interpret, and the evidence is scanty. Gamble concludes his review of this period that:
It leaves an overwhelming impression of spontaneous, highly episodic behavior where stone tools were made to do the job in hand before being dropped and their makers moving on. ... What is lacking ... is any indication for such modern practices as detailed planning, widespread contracts, or elaborate social display. There is no physical evidence of storage, raw materials all come from within a radius of 50 km, and usually less than 5 km of the sites where they were used and any form of art, ornament, jewelry, or decoration is entirely absent. ... [But] the fifteen minute culture as revealed in the manufacture and use of stone tools is a poor guide to the length of time over which social information could be retained. The occupation of seasonal environments provides a clear indication that such memory was now substantial (Gamble, 1993: 138-9, 143).
At this point we are close to the time at which anatomically-modern Homo sapiens sapiens has its origins. We are faced with an organism that would appear to have possessed a human-like brain for at least 1.5 million years; an upper-respiratory tract modification that is most parsimoniously explained as an adaptation for human-like vocalisation capabilities See footnote 3; and technological skills that exhibited modern intellectual capacities. But, remarkably, this Middle Palaeolithic period shows little substantive change in the archaeological record. Increasingly- modern humans continue to show remarkably un-modern activities. The complexity of technology stays fairly constant with respect to technique, raw materials, number of components combined together, and the number of stages involved in the construction of tools (Wynn, 1996): and perhaps most tellingly, there is no evidence of any symbolic practices (e.g., Chase and Dibble, 1987; Lindly and Clark, 1989). As Lindly and Clark (1990: 233) conclude from their review:
neither archaic H. sapiens nor morphologically modern humans demonstrate symbolic behavior prior to the Upper Paleolithic.
What might we make of this? We know something of the power of modern social practices in reconfiguring the cognitive abilities of modern apes (e.g., any 'ape language' research programme). We see in the current world the analogous reconfiguration, through their transformation and amplification of the cognitive technologies constituted by symbols, of the cognitive abilities of morphologically modern humans. Social interaction constructs contexts that language can come to symbolise, thereby providing a cognitive technology that bootstraps the increasing discovery of those 'things' that are implied by what has already been symbolised (e.g., Bloom, 1999; Donald, 1990, 1993; Lock and Peters, 1996; Olson, 1996).
The argument made here is that the crucial 'missing link' in the pre-Upper Paleolithic was the lack of the cultural support system of socially constituted 'pregnant implications' in the perceptual Umwelts of these ancestral humans, such that there was an insufficient basis to exaptively co-opt those functions that have come to be regarded as the 'Language Acquisition Device'. There was no naturally constituted 'zone of proximal development' to bootstrap the explicit construction of a symbolic lexicon that benefited from a neurology that predisposed, on the basis of its functional architecture, the duality of patterning found in modern language systems, from the phonetic through to the syntactic. The evidence for the increasing elaboration and complexity of social life in the Upper Paleolithic is compelling (see, for example, Gamble, 1993: 179-202, for a review). Evidence as to the effects of such an elaboration has been marshalled above. But note that the argument is not one of purely lineal cause-and effect. Rather, the process of elaborating the symbolic support for, and amplification of, cognitive abilities, is embedded in a nexus of influences that feed forward and back to each other. The scenario suggested here is thus close to that argued for by Bickerton (1990) and Whallon (1989, drawing on Bickerton, 1981). It would credit hominds from 20-40,000 BP back to at least mid-H. erectus specimens represented by KNM-ER 3733 at around 700,000 BP with a vocal communication system that Bickerton characterises as protolanguage, a 'mode of linguistic expression that is quite separate from normal human language and is shared by four classes of speakers: trained apes, children under two; adults who have been deprived of language in their early years, and speakers of pidgin' (Bickerton, 1990: 122). In Whallon's opinion, such protolanguages would facilitate communication, but could well lack the means for explicitly expressing and reflecting on the temporally and spatially absent world, the imaginary world enabled at the truly explicit symbolic level, that is required for elaborating and sustaining extended kinship networks, communication beyond face-to-face encounters and exchange of information beyond the here-and-now, the organization of logistical economic strategies, and the extension of the time depth of adaptation to environmental fluctuations (Whallon, 1989: 451).
Thus, communication existed, as did the biological base for its elaboration, and 'the social
context provides the exaptive process to upgrade this to language. The link between, on the one
hand, exploration and the use and knowledge of space, and on the other the scale, depth and
complexity of social life is irrefutable.' (Gamble, 1993: 174).
But is not a one-way street, as Whallon implies, between language and logistical
economics. It is rather a two-way process, in which the changing structure and purposes of
social life variously bootstraps a feedback relation that explicates the implicit properties of
symbol systems, affording new skills. Stasis will often occur, as these external symbol systems
are elaborated along their synplicational lines. On occasion, however, a 'leap' to a
metaplicational level will be enabled, as the opportunities of the wide social context conspire to
create, sui generis and de novo, pathways to already specified possible futures.
Footnote: 1 One result of this distinction is that Universities now have two separate disciplines in their repertoires: ecology, which deals with environmental changes; and evolutionary biology, which deals with organismic change.
Footnote: 2 The fundamental point that Mead is beginning to articulate here is one that he brings out in his Philosophy of the Act (1938) where he seeks to outline a 'Perspective theory of perception' (pp. 103-24): that as biological beings, organisms have a given perspective on the world, one that contributes a value perspective for them from which implications necessarily follow. This 'value perspective' is based in the foundational constitution of the biological realm: that an energy source is required so as to sustain organisation in the face of entropy:
The objects that are there in independence of the organism imply the organism. That is, the organism is not independent of them.... The process by which the organism has arisen is, however, one in which the organism has determined its field by its susceptibilities and responses. There is a mutual interdependence of the two. This is expressed in the term "perspective" (Mead, 1938:163-4).The first question that suggests itself with reference to the perspective is how does it appear as such in experience? The perspective is the world in its relationship to the individual and the individual in his relationship to the world. The most unambiguous instance of the perspective is the biological form and its environment or habitat (ibid: 115).
Footnote: 3 The change in the hominid basicranial configuration with its concommitent repositioning of the larynx could represent either an adaptation for vocal communication or a change brought about by other means that was subsequently co-opted for vocal communication. These other means could either be adaptive in themselves - that is, to meet some particular 'pressure' other than a communicative one - or 'accidental' - for example, a structural response to the torsional stresses of reconfiguring the upper spinal and thoracic anatomy to deal with a bipedal posture. These later two alternatives appear unlikely. The former is unlikely on the weak grounds that no viable alternative 'pressure' has been proposed. The latter is unlikely on two stronger grounds: that hominid bi-pedalism was well-established before the reconfiguration of the basicranium becomes apparent; and the reconfiguration is not marked in Neanderthal specimens which clearly were clearly bi-pedal. Similarly, were these changes occuring as mechanical responses to stresses generated by the enlargement of the brain, then one would expect to see the modern configuration exhibited by Neanderthal specimens.