Monday, November 29, 2010

Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner (1969) Teaching as a Subversive Activity - Chapter 7


"It is not too uncommon in the history of the human group for a simple idea to change the entire direction (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

@anderscj that was exactly what I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear it. Thank you!less than a minute ago via web

"the medium (in this case, one's language) not only structures what one will see and believe, but is, in (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

"the study of language is the study of our ways of living, which is to say our ways of perceiving reality." Postman & Weingartnerless than a minute ago via Twittelator

"The history of science is a chronicle of the unhappy responses that have occurred when someone, somewhere, (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

I think this is a rather funny way to view the history of science. True but still funny.

"Language is our most profound and possibly least visible environment." Postman & Weingartnerless than a minute ago via Twittelator

I think it is least visible when it is your native tongue, but when you are immersed in an environment where the language being spoken is not your own it is perhaps the most visible environment.

"What we abstract, i.e., "see," and how we abstract it, or see it or think about it, is for all (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

What about the expression, "There just are no words to describe it?" Wouldn't the existence of this common phrase indicate that this statement is not entirely true? Sure our language has an enormous influence on how we perceive the world but this statement (along with the main thesis of this chapter) is meant to mean we have no perception or thought without language. I think this is not something we can make definitive statements like this about.

"there is no such thing as 'history,' only histories; that there is no such thing as 'objectivity,' only (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

I just love this quote. Reminds me of Howard Zinn.

"when we are trying to be open-minded, we are likely to say, 'Let's look at both sides of the question,' or (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

This is a powerful argument about the power language has to influence our thoughts and perceptions. It is perhaps the reason why we have a two-party system of politics in the U.S. I think Bill Maher sums up the result of this quite nicely:

"Of course, if we do this with most questions, what we do in effect is to make closed systems of largely (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

Regarding language, I believe Postman and Weingartner are in this chapter making the relationship between thought and language a closed system when it should be an open one.

"Our students will need the most frequent opportunities to think about problems in an open way; that is, to (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

"The ability to learn turns out to be a function of the extent to which one is capable of perception change." Postman & Weingartnerless than a minute ago via Twittelator

"Meaning is in people. Without people there are no meanings." Postman & Weingartnerless than a minute ago via Twittelator

Now we enter into a realm I am very familiar with. There are so many examples of aesthetic philosophy and critical theory regarding art appreciation that speak to this exact notion. Given this, one must ask, "Does it really matter what I meant to convey?" Statements like, "That's not what I meant!" are often made as a referendum on the misconceptions of others who interpret differently. However, "That's not what I meant" should be seen rather as an inability for the person to convey their or create a shared meaning. This then also brings into question the nature of reality. For instance, are you who you are or how people perceive you? Could there be two you's? The you who you know and the you who other people perceive may be two different people. Which one is the real you?

Ok, I was pretty much with Postman & Weingartner up until pages 122-132 which consist entirely of quote (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

I think it rather naive to think that something is not observable or knowable without a word to describe it. (in (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

When I was a college sophomore I vividly remember getting into a heated argument with a philosophy professor who made these same statements about the nature of thought and language. He insisted that all thought is done in words and wanted us to establish that as a fact in order for him to move on to his next point which would build on that premise. This professor would come in to class each day, sit down in his chair, put his feet on his desk, and proceed to have a "conversation" with us about philosophy. This "conversation" almost always consisted of him talking to himself. He talked an awful lot, rarely gave any wait time, and quite frankly I don't think he cared about whatever responses we might have given to the questions he raised in his philosophical self discourse. When I stated that I would like to challenge the notion that all our thoughts are verbal he was inquisitive but noticeably agitated.

Take, for instance, music. How often do we get a tune stuck in our heads and think A, C sharp, B, etc. No, we think the sound. Now, you could say that this comprises a language of music but it also comprises simple sounds. The same could apply for other noises. It is not as if we don't hear sounds we have no names for or words to describe them. Having words to describe them makes it easier for us to identify them in our environment but their perception does not require a word for it's perception. The same is true for visuals. How often do we see a pattern or a color scheme and just get the visual thought? How often do we think in pictures?

If we have to have a language to think, how would anyone learn a language? Also, how do we describe the obvious behavior of infants or dogs? When I brought this up in college with my professor I remember him sitting and thinking for an uncomfortable length of time after which he dismissed the idea just by saying, "No, I think all thought is verbal." Then he went on with whatever self-talk he was going to have. While I disagree strongly with what Postman, Weingartner, and my former philosophy professor have to say about the nature of thought I completely agree that language has tremendous power to influence how we think. My objection to their "closed" view here by no means is meant to degrade their argument about the power of language to shape our perceptions.

1 comment:

Bill Genereux said...

I see that you and I have been thinking about some of the same things. Don't they call that synchronicity?

Don't you find it amazing how well a 40 year old book can still ask relevant questions and make relevant observations?