29 October 2012

World Views, Paradigms, Metaphors, and the Pre Verbal Core

Each of us views the world in a somewhat unique way. This "world view" is informed by a number of conscious and subconscious paradigms. What is a paradigm? It is a model of some aspect of reality. When large numbers of people share the same paradigms -- or models of reality -- we refer to "shared paradigms." Here are three examples of shared scientific paradigms:
  • Quantum Mechanics: the extent and precision of confirmed predictions proves the basic theory (though "cutting edge" hypotheses are still up in the air, and the loonier interpretations are demonstrably false). Ultimately it will be derivable, as exact or approximate, from a deeper theory.
  • Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe: the best explanation of available facts, but not enough facts to prove it. May be confirmed and refined, or may suffer a complete paradigm shift.
  • Evolution of living things: the fact of evolution and the important mechanisms of mutation and natural selection are true, but further as yet unknown mechanisms cannot be ruled out.
_Doubt and Certainty

Paradigms may explain many aspects of reality -- but they can just as easily obscure and distort aspects of reality. The reliability of a paradigm has nothing to do with the number of people who share that paradigm. Frequently, the number of people who share a paradigm is inversely related to the reliability of that paradigm. Each one must be continuously tested -- without mercy or restraint.

A paradigm is a framework of perceiving, thinking and acting. It is a cognitive structure composed of aggregated concepts, values, beliefs and assumptions that organizes how we perceive, how we think and how we act — by, consciously or unconsciously, supporting rule-governed behavior. _ProcessParadigm
Where do paradigms come from? They come from more basic mental constructs, known as conceptual metaphors. It is possible for a paradigm to be assembled from thousands of distinct metaphors, in the same way that a complex computer model may be constructed using thousands of different equations.

Then what are conceptual metaphors? On the most basic level, metaphors are the language of unconscious thought -- low level mental constructs that influence every single thought that we have ever had, or that we will have in the future.

Linguist George Lakoff is one of the modern pioneers of conceptual metaphor theory. (PDF) Lakoff and frequent collaborator Mark Johnson have described a basic model of conceptual metaphor, which operates on the subconscious level to influence our every thought and argument. Conceptual metaphors also explain much of the power of modern conversational hypnotic techniques.

But even deeper than the idea of the "conceptual metaphor" as described by Johnson and Lakoff, is the idea of the pre-verbal metaphor. Conceptual metaphors can be described and labeled with words. Pre-verbal metaphors do not enjoy such advantages or luxuries.

Psychoanalysts such as Allan Schore have attempted to describe the process of early childhood development of pre-verbal metaphors -- although the phenomenon is not described in those terms.

But psychoanalysis is not always held in the highest regard these days, at least not by mainstream cognitive science. Science needs better ways of measuring and describing unconscious cognition. Not just in adolescents and adults, but in children -- particularly very young children whose unconscious cognitive processes are still in the formative stages.

What we describe as consciousness is only the barest tip of the cognitive iceberg. Beneath the waves exists a primal and dynamic menagerie of sea creatures, beyond the powers of modern science to capture, describe, or catalog. We can only detect faint and phosphorescent hints of their wakes as they swim by.

Is this really all that important? Not unless you want to better understand the basic flux of reality -- both individual, societal, and scientific.

Mass movements, for example, are based upon shared paradigms. These shared paradigms may or may not be able to survive a harsh test of reason and reality. But the movement itself may acquire sufficient momentum so that its underlying rationality loses importance -- in terms of the short and intermediate term success and victory of the mass movement. In the long run, of course, all mass movements are dead.

The best place to start for a basic understanding of the nature of scientific paradigms and scientific revolutions, is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn. (PDF)

Learning more about pre-verbal metaphors is somewhat more difficult, although I would not be betraying a trust by revealing that such a concept is among one of the most important proprietary ingredients of The Dangerous Child Method of childhood education -- specifically in the infant years.

Not everyone really wants to understand "what makes them tick." Not everyone wants to understand how easily a broad scientific consensus can turn out to be wrong -- even absurdly wrong. Not everyone wants to understand why mass movements and governments go so badly awry, so frequently.

But I am assuming that you -- by virtue of reading this blog -- are not just anyone. At the least, you will possess curiosity and some level of reading comprehension.

Applications of these ideas to The Dangerous Child Method of childhood education will be pursued mainly at Al Fin, the Next Level.


Non-verbal and Multi-modal Metaphors in a Cognitivist Framework (PDF)

Also recommended: Marvin Minsky's Society of Mind . . .

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Blogger Matt M said...

"the fact of evolution and the important mechanisms of mutation and natural selection are true, but further as yet unknown mechanisms cannot be ruled out."

It became clear early on that Darwin's Natural Selection was not powerful enough to explain the fossile record. While we can selectively breed horses that are short or tall or black or white - we cannot selectively breed a horse with 6 legs or one with wings.
Consequently, the idea of spontaneous mutation was put forth to explain the origination of complex systems. Of course, after watching billions of generations of bacteria and trillions of generations of virus's - no significant complex mutation has ever been observed.

Clearly, something else is happening. No one is sure just what. Although some of the cutting edge evolutionary scientists have postulated that the Universe evolves according to a giant unseen operating system - and these complex changes are the result of calls to undiscovered subroutines. (I am not making this up.)

Who knows?

Tuesday, 30 October, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

The basic schema giving mammals four limbs was already developed in reptiles, amphibians, and birds (two wings, two legs), before mammals came about. Think of it like building a house: the further you go in the building, the tougher it is to make large changes, affordably.

Biological evolution operates on many levels, from the molecular to the species level. It is to be expected that many different mechanism would be at work -- some of them yet to be discovered.

With synthetic biology and systems biology, evolution is coming more under the control of humans. A six legged horse is not out of the question, for the future. Imagine what the "shoulder" structure for the middle set of legs would look like. (a sample problem from the intro to biology course in The Dangerous Child Method of education, meant for children age 6)

Tuesday, 30 October, 2012  

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