Monday, January 28, 2008

The Cognitive Foundations of Perspective III

In this post I continue to elaborate on my inquiry into the cognitive structure of the shared systemic space. As we have seen Discourse Representation Theory, File Change Semantics, the Theory of Visual Indexes, and the theory of object files together construe a useful methodology for a research program interested in the structure of mental representation.

Hurford himself uses Kamp & Reyle’s (1993) box-notation of Discourse Representation Structures to describe the mental representations of non-human animals, because the observations I discussed in my last post led him to conclude that
“it is natural to assume that human language evolved by building upon pre-existing representational schemes in animals” (Hurford 2007: 140).
There is one thing we have to make clear, before we can make the findings I describe in my last post fruitful for research into the properties of the systemic space: the contributions of global and local attention. Basically, when we perceive a visual scene
“An initial rapid pass through the visual hierarchy provides the global framework and gist of the scene and primes competing identities through the features that are detected. Attention is then focused back to early areas to allow a serial check of the initial rough bindings and to form the representations of objects and events that are consciously experienced.” (Treisman 2005: 541)

To give you an example adapted from Hurford (2007: 152), if we want to represent the results of global and local scans toward a scene in Hurford’s adapted notation of Kamp & Reyle’s (1993) Discourse Representation Structures, the result of a quick global scan would look like this:
but if the result of focal attention to the individual scene would have the following mental representation:
This process is closely related to profiling, that is the distinction between figure, the
“integrated visual experience that ‘stands out’ in the center of attention” (Coren et al. 1999: 564),
and 'ground',
“the background against which figures appear” (Coren et al. 1999: 565).
The most famous illustration of this principle is Rubin’s reversible face-vase figure, where we can either see a white vase as the figure which stands in front of a black ground or two black faces that are in front of a white background (Goldstein 1999: 187).

As there is additional “evidence that imagery engages brain mechanisms that are used in perception and action“ (Kosslyn et al. 2001: 635), and the fact that “perceptual representations are routinely activated during comprehension” (Zwaan 2004), (and as we have already established that we can indeed we can draw an analogy between these two areas), we are able to make an analogy between this “primitive example of perceptual organization” (Coren et al. 1999: 296) and language comprehension.

Thus we can say that the mental representations underlying language comprehension, i.e. the structure of the systemic space, probably underlies the same principle of global and local attention/figure and ground. What I mean by this is that when we create a discourse universe, we create layers of meaning on a variety of planes, such as temporal layers (Before I started studying, I… But now… etc.), Theory of Mind layers (I thought that he knew that she knew that I…), degrees of relevance, and so on.
In such a structured systemic space, some aspects are more important than others, are ‘background knowledge’ so to speak, whereas other aspects are in the foreground and are brought to the spotlight of our attention. They represent the ‘figure’ of the message against the ‘ground’ of context. (Köller 2004: 442f)
Köller (2004: 442ff.), following the German linguist Harald Weinrich, calls this power of language to establish such layered and meta-structured systemic spaces its ability to create reliefs.

Summarizing these considerations, there are now some additional properties of the systemic space, and we have gained additional insight into how language can locate things in the coordinate system of subjective orientation:

In my next post I'll speculate a bit about the ontogenetic as well as phylogenetic pathway that may have led to our modern ability to take perspectives.

On a related note, the admin of the language evolution blog has posted the first post on "Major Language Evolution Papers", this time about Tomasello et al.'s (2005) great paper on the "Origins of human cognition" - go check it out!


Coren, Stanley, Lawrence M. Ward and James T. Enns. Sensation and Perception. 5th
ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1999.

Goldstein, E. Bruce. Sensation & Perception. 5th ed. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole, 1999.

Hurford, James M. 2007. The Origins of Meaning: Language in the Light of Evolution. Oxford: OUP.

Kosslyn, Stephen M., Giorgio Ganis and William L. Thompson. “Neural Foundations
of Imagery.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2 (2001): 635-642.

Kamp, Hans and Uwe Reyle. 1993. From Discourse to Logic: Introduction to Modeltheoretic Semantics of Natural Language, Formal Logic and Discourse Representation Theory. Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer Academic.

Köller, Wilhelm. 2004. Perspektivität und Sprache. Zur Struktur von Objektivierungsformen in Bildern, im Denken und in der Sprache. Berlin/ New York: de Gruyter.

Treisman, Anne (2005). Psychological issues in selective attention. In Michael A. Gazzaniga (Ed.), The Cognitive Neurosciences, III,. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.: 529–544.

Zwaan, Rolf A. (2004). The immersed experiencer: toward an embodied theory of language comprehension. In: B.H. Ross (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Vol. 44. New York: Academic Press.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Im from Melbourne Australia.
This is a bit off post but also relevant.

Please check out this reference which gives a unique "perspective" on the limitations of perspective.