Date: Tue, 8 Nov 1994 12:13:06 -0800


Subject: pronoun systems, Putnam/Plato essences, haptic perception

Still chewing on Prof. Mufwene's comments, and how the pronominal

system in one of his native languages, Yansi, distinguishes

human/non-human. By which I would interpret that literally to

mean that *only* humans are allowed in, and everything else

whether animate or inanimate is lumped in the non-human class.

This is very similar to English, except we seem to have *person*

instead for this -- babies are transformed from IT into gendered

persons of he or she; even our pets are allowed in (you may call

your neighbor's new dog IT until you know which sex it is), but that

noticing of genitalia is inescapable for promotion to personhood in

English. Weird, huh? And then, to be fair, we also promote ships and

cars and guns to personhood (although ships go back to being 'it'

after they're decommissioned!), and -- think of it! -- most English

speakers actually used to use the pronoun SHE when referring to

Mother Earth, and used to always capitalize Earth! But now, alas,

She's slipping into being an IT along with the rest of the universe in

our materialist oriented scientific paradigms; no mystery, no

wonder left, no questioning as to whether She has spirit and mind.

As my friend Sakej said to the quantum physicists, referring to

magnificent trees swaying outside our conference room, "Turn

around and look out there. What's making those trees do that? You

can call it the wind, but you might as well call it spirit."

Perhaps I'm wandering, but I really do find the way pronoun systems

set you up for dealing with the world in different ways a really

fascinating topic. And thank you for the anecdote about your

daughter -- priceless! and to the point.

It's the Hilary Putnam distinction (between, on the one hand, the

essential features of gold or an elm, and on the other, the

stereotypes by which the average speaker operates) that I'm still

chewing on. Hm -- that sounds suspiciously like the Platonic views

that were thrown out when Aristotle defined knowledge for us. Not

that I'm against essences -- on the contrary, totally for 'em; I think

Aristotle nudged us down a garden path, in a way. But Plato! There's

a thinker from a time before all our Western European conceptual

scaffolding and structuring got in place -- MUCH closer than anyone

since to the indigenous mind. You see, it's this very notion of

'essences' that got lost: the notion that there is something actually

out there beyond your own construction of the world, your

conceptions (stereotypes), that is 'touched' directly. This is in line

with the Pribram/Bohm conceptions of a holographic mind

interpreting a holographic universe: what we 'receive' from 'out

there' comes in the form of synesthetic patterned vibrations which

our mind then, through Fourier Transforms, separates out into the

different sense modalities in different vibration ranges (visual,

auditory, kinesthetic, taste, smell), as well as emotions, etc. In

fact, says Sakej, Plato also recognized a certain knowing that

arises from the land itself -- but let's let Sakej speak for himself:


Plato, best understood as a pre-eurocentric author, listed three

great modes of being in the universe: reason, sensation and chora.

Reason concerned eternal ideas (changeless forms with no

location), and the sensory was viewed as transient copies of the

external forms or perceptual data, but chora was the receptacle of

sensory experience and the seat of phenomena. Chora is the oldest

Greek world for "place", found also in Homer and Hesiod. Later it

was changed to topos in Aristole's works, e.g., mere location or

objective features of a place, the "inert container of experience".

But to the ancients such as Plato it was an active container

connected with the matrix of enegeries of a place. It had the

qualities of mutual immanence.

Chora is known by haptic perceptions. Derived from ghrebh (dig or

lay hold to something), haptic perception is a wholistic perception

distinct from seeing, hearing or thinking, a unified structure of

feeling and doing. It is like "pathetecture" (emotional response to a

building) and "psychagogy" (power of a place to move the soul, the

expressive energies of a place), or simply the caring or grasping the

sense of the place. This isn't Greek to me.


(PS -- Prof. Mufwene: I'll send you separately the SUMmary on

claims by American Indians about their languages concerning

non-metaphoricity, non-arbitrariness, etc. Your pre-Euro-

influenced indigenous mind will probably enjoy it.)

-- Moonhawk (%- )

"The fool on the hill sees the sun going down and

the eyes in his head see the world spinning round"

-- John Lennon