[percy-l] Play As A Precursor To Language?

James Piat piat1 at bellsouth.net
Fri Dec 13 17:18:47 EST 2002

Dear Steve and fellow discussants

Steve, you express yourself very well far as I can tell.  I must confess that despite the inherent complexity of our subject I couldn't resist teasing you a bit.  I understood full well that you were not intending to suggest that human thinking is mechanistic.  But I was being a smart alec and trying to suggest that whether you it intended it or not  -- "thinking" that is mechanistic is the logical implication of non symbolic "thinking".  IOWs that is (at least by my lights) what non symbolic activity is -- mechanistic.   I do not agree with your view below that thought precedes representation.  That representation is perhaps just a vehicle for conveying our thought to others.  On the contrary I think representation is the very essence of thought.  It's what divides (triadic) thought from mere (dyadic)mechanistic re-action.  

OTOH  I find your notion that the desire for relationship drives our behavior (thinking, feeling and doing) an interesting and compelling one.  I think our natural state is one of communion and relatedness.  Community in dynamic equilibrium is I believe the most stable natural state;  and, moreover,  representation or thought is I believe a manifestation of both the means and the end of this natural or God given state. 

Why must thought precede representation or vice versa  -- why can't they be the same thing?  I'm not convinced poetic words are just the vehicles of thought  -- I think they are the thought itself  -- though with you I am content to attribute the impulse to thought/representation to something outside the thought itself  --such as a desire to relate.

Now -- as to the question of how we recognize the meaning of poetry if in fact it we did not know what the poetry symbolized before it was put in words.  I do not deny that some acquaintance with non symbolic objects is necessary in order to represent them.  What I am arguing is that it is the act of representing that gives us the kind of acquaintance we call "awareness of" the existence of the object.  As opposed to pre-symbolic acquaintance which I would describe as mere reactive acquaintance.  Moreover in my view we do not choose to symbolize objects (how could we -- we don't know they exist until we symbolize them)  instead we exist in a world where everything is already symbolized.  We awaken to this world  -- we don't create it.  It's existence precedes us as individuals.  It is part and parcel of the community of which we are a part and in which we exist. 

I don't know how we as humans discovered existence,  became aware of it or awakened to it. I think the Biblical account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is an attempt to explain the matter but I'm not sure. 

In the largest sense I think all of creation including the so called lower animals may swim in the same symbolical purposeful continuum. 

So  -- I guess I've come full circle Steve and in some important sense agree with you   --even if I clothed the thought in slightly different words.  

Hey -- why conclude on a note of disagreement  ---especially when I'm not sure what I'm talking about to begin with!

It's OK to keep switching sides I suppose.  Else why even have the discussion, eh. 



Dear Jim,

  I must not have made my point clear enough. I certainly wasn't suggesting mechanical thinking. Eeegads. Nor was I suggesting that we don't use symbols for thinking. 

  I was, however, proposing that our thinking, we humans, is not limited to what we can represent, e.g. words, pictures, symbols, etc. Knowing and consciousness are not contingent upon whether our thoughts can be represented. We frequently find ourselves in situations that defy language or representation. But, its our relational need that compels us to find and create symbolic form for our thoughts. We want to share our thoughts. 


  In fact, new paintings, new dances, news sculptures, new music, new words would not be possible at all if thought did not precede the representation of it. Poetry in particular is the finest example. In poetry we use words to get at something we know, but had no way of communicating until we caged it with a phrase. It happens all the time. And, it happens to us when we see a new phrase that someone else effectively coined. The phrase didn't tell us something new; instead we recognize in it what we knew but had not yet named ourselves. You can't name something unless it exists. Thought exists before we name it. 


  It's a little like the Trinity (a consistency I like very much since we were created in "his image"). God's existence is not contingent upon the incarnation; the word was with God BEFORE he became incarnate. After the incarnation he was not only God, but a "representative" of God, the word made flesh, the Son. I think our language works like this. Our knowledge of a thing precedes our naming it; it is formless and therefore uncommunicabe and unrelational. However, it's in the naming that we give form to the formlessness of it, as God did when he spoke and creation was. Then, in a more particular way, God becomes flesh. But, God does not depend on the flesh. Becoming flesh, becoming sacrament, was a relational need, not an existential need. In the same way, in our own Genesis, we create symbols not because our consciousness is dependent upon it, but because we have a relational need (perhaps even a relational need with our own self). 


  Maybe I've really mucked it up, but I just can't seem to find the words for something I know I want to say. 






  -----Original Message-----
  From: James Piat [mailto:piat1 at bellsouth.net]
  Sent: Friday, December 13, 2002 3:27 PM
  To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
  Subject: Re: [percy-l] Play As A Precursor To Language?


  >>Cats play too, as do 



  Hey, when did I ever let anyone complete a thought..  


  I was going to begin with a similar observation.  I have cats.  But I can't be sure the cats are playing (as in let's pretend we are fighting   -- with all that implies as Joe Cimino I think rightly suggests) or whether they are just having a non lethal tussle among litter mates. Do they intend their activity as play or is it merely that I interpret it as play.   


  But there are a couple of other important symbolic or representational activities (aside from so called verbal language) that are less ambiguous which I think are also worth considering.  The first is tool using.  Tools like symbols are "used" for something.  Chimps, birds and I think some other animals as well are known to use tools. I think this is strong but not conclusive evidence that they have the ability to represent, symbolize or "use"  objects for some purpose other than that which the object can achieve under it's own steam.  Another non verbal symbolic behavior worth looking for (I think) is graphic art.  I don't think non human animals stack up too well on this one. True we can interpret some of their activities as artisticly expressive, dancelike or musically expressive but I can't think of any animals that deliberately make pictures of objects.  Nor for that matter do they seem all that intrigued by mirrors  -- an interest which seems to me might be suggestive of symoblic activity.    Finally of course there is the all that controversial data about chimp language from my old alma mater GSU  -- which I for one find strongly suggestive of significant symbolic capacity among chimps. 


  And Steve  -- now having read you full message--  what on earth gave you the notion we think without symbols, abstract representations or words (they are all functionally equivalent are they not?).  Or do you mean to suggest that neither animals nor humans think in any but a mechanistic way?  Seems to me that when we think with pictures we are still thinking symbolically.  After all we do not try to eat the image of what we are imagining  -- we eat the actual object iself after our thinking (model, planning and testing with symbols) has helped us to actually achieve the food object itself. 


  And,  Steve and others, please forgive me if I'm coming acrosss as a self imagined know it all or smug.  I'm not at all sure of what I'm saying.  I'm just afraid if I expressed all my doubts and qualifications I'd never get to the end of any sentence. But be assured I have great respect for all that others have to say (including those geneticists I made such an ass of myself lambasting)--  I'm just thrilled we are having this discussion again and hoping this time I'll understand it all better. 



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