Animals, man and language

Ingold, Tim 1988. The animal in the study of humanity. In: Tim Ingold (ed.), What is an animal?. London (etc.): Unwin Hyman, 84-99.

If earthworms learn, and if culture is learned behaviour, it follows that earthworms have culture. What, then, becomes of our cherished idea that the study of culture is an aspect of the study of humanity? To solve the problem, as some writers do, by distinguishing between the 'proto-culture' of non-human animals (Hallowell 1962) and the 'euculture' of human beings (Lumsden & Wilson 1981, p. 3) hardly helps, unless we can adduce independent criteria by which these kinds of culture are to be set apart. One possible solution, much favoured by contemporary anthropology, is to refocus the definition of culture upon the notion of the symbol. Its primary reference is then no longer to non-genetic (or 'social') modes of behavioural transmission, but to the conceptual organization of experience, or 'the imposition of an arbitrary framework of symbolic meaning upon reality' (Geertz 1964, p. 39, see also Hollowell 1969, p. 395). (Ingold 1988: 84)
Can proto-culture and euculture also be distinguished in humans? And how can we know anything about the conceptual organization of experience in different species? We can't even be sure of each other's experience!
Tylor believed that human beings, alone in the animal kingdom, were endowed with the quality of mind and that the greater or lesser 'cultivation' of this quality accounted for the differences between peoples on a universal scale of degrees of civilization. The evolution of culture was therefore equated with the advance of mind, along uniform channels, within a constant bodily form. Only subsequently, following the publication of Darwin's The descent of man, did Tylor's views begin to shift towards the position that mental progress was a function of advance in inherited bodily form, and particularly in the form and complexity of the organ of thinking: the brain. This view, applied to the differences between human populations rather than between human beings and other animals, underlay the virulent racism of the late 19th century. (Ingold 1988: 86)
It may have had a racist undertone in the late 19th century but today we could probably view mental progress indeed in terms of brain functioning, depending on the development of neuroscience.
The conventional view, yet to be shaken by Darwin's revelations in The origin of species, was that every species had been separately brought into being by God at the time of Creation, and had retained ever since its essential bodily form. Now Morgan was as convinced of this as anybody; and like so many of his contemporaries, he also believed that the human body was the place of abode for an incorporeal essence, known as 'mind' or 'spirit' - or in Morgan's own words, 'the thinking principle' - whose cultivation amounted to the process of civilization. Unlike Tylor, however, Morgan felt that the thinking principle was not unique to humanity. To the contrary, he believed that the Creator had endowed all animal species, and not mankind alone, with a mind as well as a body. If anything convinced him of this, it was his observations of the technical accomplishments of the beaver. (Ingold 1988: 87)
In short, that other animals, too, can think.
According to Morgan, then, the beaver is a perfectly self-conscious, intentional agent; indeed, a consummate engineer, fully capable of planning out in his own mind a complex sequence of instrumental operations before even beginning to put them into effect. 'When a beaver stands for a moment and looks upon his work', Morgan (1868, p. 256) went on, 'he shows himself capable of holding his thoughts before his beaver mind; in other words, he is conscious of his own mental processes'. (Ingold 1988: 89)
This kind of self-consciousness is supposedly unusual among animals (in humans it is desirable but not always present).
Kroeber's remarks on the uniqueness of human works were by no means novel. They were, in fact, anticipated by Marx in a celebrated passage from the first volume of Capital, where he seeks to establish a form of labour peculiar to the human species:
A spider carries on operations resembling those of the weaver, and many a human architect is put to shame by the skill with which a bee constructs her cell. But what from the very first distinguishes the most incompetent architect from the best of bees, is that the architect has built a cell in his head before he constructs it in wax. (Marx 1930, pp. 169f.)
That is to say, the human architect, who here denotes cultural man, carries a blueprint of the task to be performed, prior to its performance, whereas the non-human animal does not (Ingold 1986b, pp. 16-39). Thus, the Gothic vault, to borrow an example from Bock (1980, pp. 182f.), is literally man-made, in the sense that its presence may be explained 'by reference to the doings of persons'. Neither the web nor the hive could be said, in the same sense, to be 'spider-made' or 'bee-made'. However, human beings do not always act like architects or engineers, so that Marx's distinction could just as well be carried over into the domain of human conduct, to separate the novel products of intentional design from the habitual replication of traditional forms. This would be equivalent to Alexander's (1964, p. 36) contrast between 'selfconscious' and 'unselfconscious' processes, and corresponds to ours between the artificial and the innate. (Ingold 1988: 90)
Ah, I like when these kinds of elaborations are introduced.
One of the most interesting and outspoken contributors to this area of debate has been Griffin (1976, 1984). He put the question of animal consciousness in the following way: 'Do animals have any sort of mental awareness of probable future events, and do they make conscious choices with the intent to produce certain results?' (Griffin 1977, p. 31). Posing the question thus, he is really asking whether animals engage in rational deliberation, and whether they have a reflective self-awareness. (Ingold 1988: 91)
I sense a similarity with Dostoyevsky's underground man's distinction between an active man and a conscious man.
'We speak first to ourselves, then to those nearest us in kinship and locale. We turn only gradually to the outsider...' (Steiner 1975, p. 231). So why shoud apes speak to outsiders before speaking to themselves? These questions, compounded with doubts about the validity of the experimental results, make me frankly sceptical of claims that non-human animals converse in language (see also Sebeok & Umiker-Sebeok 1980). I am fairly sure that the answer to whether they possess a linguistic faculty is 'no'. (Ingold 1988: 92)
Vygotsky and Mead would argue conversely that we speak first to others and then learn to speak to ourselves.
The dance, in short, is not a symbol that connotes an idea, but a sign that commands action (Langer 1942, pp. 61-3). Hence there can be no conversation between humans and bees, if by that we mean an intentional exchange of ideas between thinking subjects. Among themselves bees communicate, in that there is an exchange of information, but this information carries what Bronowski (1978, p. 43) has called 'the pre-programmed force of an instruction', and lacks any cognitive content. Since for that reason bees do not converse, participation in the full anthropological sense is out of the question. For the would-be participant observer there is simply nothing to participate in. (Ingold 1988: 93)
It's nice to see Langer here. I should revisit her sign/symbol distinction when discussing regulation or the regulative function. And Bronowski could help with metacommunication (in the sense of metacommunicative instructions).
Attending to concepts, moreover, is what we call thinking. Thus language is, first and foremost, an instrument of thought, and not just a means for the outward expression or broadcasting of thoughts that are somehow already there, but which - in the absence of a broadcasting medium - would remains private, known only to the subject. (Ingold 1988: 94)
Score for "private signs".
First let me ask of the reader: how many times in the recent past have you stopped to consider possible future outcomes before you acted? Not often, I should imagine. For the most part we no more think before we act than do other animals. As Whitehead (1938 [1926], p. 217) has remarked, 'from the moment of birth we are immersed in action, and can only fitfully guide it by taking thought'. That is, thought interrupts action, breaks it up into fragments; but by no means does it constantly direct action. The fact that we can think things out in advance does not imply that we always do. If we did, ordinary life would probably grind to a halt, since its demands would grossly overload our cognitive capacities. (Ingold 1988: 95)
This sounds Sapir-esque.
The difference is simply that we are able to isolate separate intentions from the stream of consciousness, to focus attention on them, and to articulate them in discourse. This corresponds to what Giddens (1979, pp. 24f.) calls the 'reflexive monitoring of conduct', and entails the operation of a discursive consciousness that rests upon the linguistic faculty and is uniquely human. Yet it is important to bear in mind that fully articulate, propositional language, such as is printed in books, is not the norm of human communication, but only the tip of an iceberg compared with the mass of spontaneous, non-verbal communication which we share with other animals (Midgley 1983, p. 88; Ch. 10, this book). (Ingold 1988: 96)
This seems useful for thinking about self-censure (e.g. Scheflen 1972).

Griffin, Donald R. 1981. The Question of Animal Awareness: Evolutionary Continuity of Mental Experience. Revised and Enlarged Edition. New York: The Rockefeller University Press.

The molecular biologist Monod (1975) reiterated the widespread view that "man is endowed with a completely unique capacity, which no other species shares, namely language... There is nothing argumentative for instance, in animal communication." This opinion overlooks the many cases where animals exchange ritualized threat signals and can reasonably be considered to be arguing about who should retreat. (Griffin 1981: 73)
In this sense even humans nonconsciously "argue" over power positions.
Langer continued: "As I remarked before, images are more prone than anything else we know to become symbols. ... In animals typically, every stimulation that takes effect at all is spent in some overt act..." (Langer, 1962). "A genuine symbol is, above all, an instrument of conception, and cannot be said to exist short of meeting that requirement; that means that an ape thinking symbolically could think of an act he had no intention or occasion to perform, and envisage things entirely remote from his real situation. ... Symbolism is the mark of humanity" (Langer, 1972). (Griffin 1981: 74)
Oh my! Langer seems to have read Peirce in her later years. "A genuine symbol" is explicitly Peirce's notion and the conception that symbols originate most readily from icons is here reiterated.
Cultural transmission of human language has often been cited as one criterion establishing it as unique to our species. For example, Pollio (1974) states three criteria necessary to qualify an event as a symbol: it must be representative of some other event, "freely created," and transmitted by culture. The dances of honeybees are recognized as being representative, but are held to bee too rigid and unvarying to satisfy the second criterion, and to be genetically programmed rather than culturally transmitted. (Griffin 1981: 77)
Quite useful for thinking about my sunshine- and cloud symbols in talking about facial expressions.
Culture has been defined in many ways, but basically it is used to mean a shared set of learned behavior patterns for regulating social interactions. (Griffin 1981: 77)
Culture defined is terms of the regulative function!!!
Although the task seems to become increasingly difficult as more and more is learned about communication in other species, it is important to review the 16 design features included by Thorpe (1974a) in the latest version of this general scheme: (1) use of the vocal-auditory channel; (2) broadcast transmission and directional reception; (3) rapid fading; (4) interchangeability (the same individual can act either as transmitter or receiver of information); (5) complete feedback (the organism emitting the signal also perceives everything relevant about the message); (6) specialization (relatively weak signals trigger biologically important consequences); (7) semanticity (the communication system is used to correlate and organize the life of a community); (8) arbitrariness (signals or symbols are abstract, in that the meaning they convey is independent of their physical properties); (9) discreteness (signals are unitary entities and do not grade continuously into one another); (10) displacement (discussed in Chapter 3); (11) openness or productivity (meaning that new messages can readily be created and understood); (12) tradition (conventions passed on from one generation to the other by learning); (13) duality of patterning (while single units of the communication may be meaningless, patterned combinations of them convey important information); (14) prevarication (using communication signals to convey information known to be inaccurate); (15) reflectiveness (the ability to communicate about the communication system itself); and (16) learnability (the ability of a user of one communication system to leran another one employed by a different group of organisms). All of these features are certainly present in human language, and the question that arises is the degree to which any of them, or any combination, provide an objective basis for concluding that there is a fundamental difference in kind between human language and all communication systems used by other animals. (Griffin 1981: 81-82)
Some of these are quite relevant for revising the communication model and including Ruesch's metacommunication (here, reflectiveness) and Bateson's mu-function (here, semanticity).


Post a Comment