Date: Tue, 8 Nov 1994 12:13:06 -0800
From: Dan Alford dalford[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]S1.CSUHAYWARD.EDU
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