Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Enacting part of a narrative

I know I won't say this well, but I am trying to understand a parallelism between some truisms and some non verbal behaviors. Note this is about behavior and cognition and not about communication.

After learning about narrative patterns that occur in sentences, it did not take long to start seeing signs to them in non verbal behavior and what I can observe of my own thinking. This, in turn, leads to wanting to understand some of the behavior and emotions that give rise to behaviors that "complete" a truism. If I hear a phone ring, I answer it. When I see a character in a play sitting next to a ringing phone, I expect them to answer it. I can describe this as living out of Truism 7 "contrast is resolved". But there is no language involved and no communication.
Obviously there is a difference between a narrative used in communication and one which appears as behavior. But we won't get it straight any time soon. It relates to the question "what is a narrative pattern really?" Although we can describe them with notation, and know them when we speak, I do not agree with Plato that such a thing could be a timeless universal living outside my mind. It is, rather, a universal living inside my mind.
A clumsy attempt to describe narrative truisms, freed from the concepts of language that give birth to them, is that they are a form of generic stimulus-response. More precisely, the 'stimulus' would need to be interpreted in some way. Thus the ringing phone is interpreted as a contrast with an answered phone. And the interpreted stimulus is what evokes a response. Similarly the elephant must think something when picking up the litter and, according to what I am trying to say, one of two interpretations is suggested. Either the elephant interprets the litter as something coming later in time from a scene that previously did not have litter OR the elephant interprets the litter as something out of place. These interpretations are not so different - it makes me think truism 4 and 7 differ more at the linguistic level than at the underlying cognitive level. There doesn't have to be any specific pattern for how the elephant experiences the out-of-place-ness of the litter; whether out of place relative to the day before or out of place with respect to a very general picture.
Note in passing that there might be an experiment you could do to show that the naive pure operant conditioning model in psychology is not viable. Maybe something along the lines of: I am at a 5-lane intersection and a neighboring lane gets a green light. I am not impatient for them to go, because the green light is not interpreted as applying to me. (Speaking of experiments, how about having an elephant watch someone answer a ringing phone several times. Then put the elephant in the room alone with the phone and watch what happens when it rings.)
I have to admit a weakness - I feel it is more important to figure out set theory than behavior. So what concerns me is not so much the incompleteness of the above thoughts as what the impact is on hearing a story versus believing a story. It worries me that we enact a narrative in the same way that we expect a sentence to continue. With us slipping gradually and casually between these, I don't know if we can find a crack into which to insert the fingernails of a Russell'ian type theory. Maybe, if we got lucky, such problems would lead in a good direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment