Archive for the ‘rationality’ Category

030907 – Rationality and communication

Sunday, September 7th, 2003

030907 – Rationality and communication

Following up on Watzlawick, et al., Pragmatics of Human Communication I find that in later discussions by the “communications” community, there is an unspoken assumption that communication has rational motivation.  For example, quoted from Dirk Schouten, “Real Communication with Audiovisual Means”


Habermas divides speech acts (what someone says) into two principal categories.  There are Strategic actions (speech acts which make people do things) and Communicative Actions (speech acts which are designed to arrive at a common understanding of a situation).


Speech acts, according to Habermas contain a propositional and a performative part (like Watzlawick and Austin, he believes that when we say something we also do something.) The propositional part indicates a state of affairs in reality. For example: “The average income of farmers in South America is just 87 dollars per annum”. The performative part implies or indicates how the propositional part needs to be understood (in this case “The speaker thinks this is disgraceful”). In that way one can categorize or question something. An audience can respond: “I think that is disgraceful, too.” Or: “Why do you think it disgraceful?” Or: “I see what you mean, but…”

In fact a speaker, by saying something, not only says something that is true to her, but also says: “I claim the communicative right towards you to have an opinion and to say it to you in this defined situation”. The performative part defines the boundaries of the communicative action. It marks out the (communicative) context of the (propositional) content. It makes clear which relation the speaker wants to make to their audience. As long as the participants are aimed at reaching mutual agreement, a communicative situation is shaped, because the speaker makes three “validity claims” with their speech act:

1. They claim that they are speaking the truth in the propositional part of the speech act;
2. They claim normative legitimacy concerning the communicative act in a smaller sense (the performative part); and
3. They claim truthfulness/authenticity concerning the intentions and emotions they express.

These validity claims the speaker makes can, in principle, be criticized, although in practice this possibility is often blocked. In communicative action the hearers can (if they wish) demand reasons from the speakers to justify their validity claims.

The problem with this analysis is that the process of originating a communication is one of shaping and selection of behaviors based on internal models and internal states.  The “intention” of behavior is to add a pattern that will move the shape of the current pattern towards a projected pattern which is created by feeding the current pattern and the “intended” behavior into the optimal projection pattern.  Huh?

Let’s try this again.  There is a current pattern of activation.  It is a combination of

existing patterns


patterns created by external receptors, enteroceptors, and proprioceptors


patterns created for and by effectors (motor patterns, behaviors)


modulating influences (generally neurochemicals)

030828 – Are human beings rational?

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

030828 – Are human beings rational?

My wife asked an interesting question: Do I think that human beings are inherently rational.  I think the answer is emphatically no.  Human beings have the ability to learn procedures.  One of the procedures that human beings have discovered, found useful, and passed along culturally is the procedure of logical analysis or logical thinking.  The fact that in many cases logic enables us to find good solutions to certain classes of significant problems ensures that logical analysis will be one of the procedures activated as a candidate for execution in a broad range of external circumstances and internal states.

What strikes me is that the end result of evolution selecting organisms with greater and greater ability to learn and apply procedural patterns has resulted in an organism that is capable of learning to simulate serial computations, at least on a limited scale.  Certainly it was Dennett who put this idea into my mind, but I do not believe that he arrived at this conclusion by the same path that I did.

This raises an interesting question: what kind of pattern and procedural learning capabilities are required in order to be able to simulate serial computations or, more precisely, to be able to learn and execute a logical thinking pattern?  Human beings certainly aren’t much in the way of serial computers.  We’re not fast.  We’re not computationally adept.  We don’t have a lot of dynamic memory.  Our push down stack for recursion seems to be limited to one level.  (The fact that we must use the logical thinking pattern to analyze pathological sentences like, “The pearl the squirrel the girl hit bit split,” rather than the (unconscious) language understanding pattern simply underlines this limitation on our capability for recursion.)

So, is human language ability the result of the evolution of ever more sophisticated procedural pattern learning capabilities?  Is the driving force behind the evolution of such enhanced procedural pattern learning the advantage obtained by the organisms who best understand their conspecifics?  Is this evolution’s de facto recognition that brawn being equal, better brains confer a reproductive advantage?  Now if better understanding of one’s conspecifics is the goal, language ability may just fall out automatically, because if one has a mechanism that can build a model of others, it makes it a lot easier to figure out what the other intends or is responding to.

Clearly, since the ability to take the viewpoint of another person does not manifest itself in children until some time after they have acquired at least the rudiments of language, the manifestation of the ability to take the viewpoint of another person is not a requirement for the acquisition of at least the rudiments of the language.  There seems to be a subtle distinction to be made here: when daddy says “hudie” (the Chinese equivalent of “butterfly”) and looks at, or taps, or points to a butterfly or a representation of a butterfly, something has to help the child attend to both the butterfly instance and the sound.  That something may be the emerging model of the other.  Or maybe it’s the other way around as I suggested earlier: the trick is for the parent to take advantage of his or her own model of the child in order to intuitively construct or take advantage of the situation in which both the butterfly and the sound of the word will be salient to the child.

Still, I keep coming back to the idea that the internal model of the other is somehow crucial and the even more crucial is the idea that the internal model of the other contains the other’s model of others.  As I think about it though, it seems to me that creating an internal pattern, that is to say learning a pattern, based on experience and observation of the behavior of another organism is not a capability that is uniquely human.  It would seem to be a valuable ability to have.  What seems to be special about the patterns we humans develop of other people is that we attribute to the other a self.  An or to animal can get a long way without attributing a self (whatever that means) to other creatures with which it interacts.