Tuesday, July 19, 2005

New York Times on Lakoff...

Very interesting. Rebelled against Chomsky, according to this article...not at all surprised. Nice to have my inferences ratified.

57 Thoughts:

Blogger pawlr said...

Doug, not to open a whole Lakoff can of worms, but did you get any better a handle on the science background of Lakoff's claims? I read the same article and was taken back to our discussions. I think you've actually misunderstood some of that science - believing that Lakoff posited innate structures in the brain rather than learned associations. In either case, I've seen studies lately that confirm the science behind Lakoff -- would be interested to hear your feedback on them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 1:26:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Post 'em and I'll read 'em. Lakoff, in this very article, either says, or has attributed to him -- it's in Moral Politics itself, anyway -- that these "frames" are hard-wired into the synapses of the brain. Not mind -- brain.

So, post away. I'll be happy to read them. To me, Chomsky is far more on the money. Lakoff's ideas still entail elitism, and still suffer from the same problem that all language-based philosophies have: the world is not language: Words are not Things; they are symbols for Things (and Ideas).

Anyone can play language games: the GOP are probably the most successful example of what they decry in postmodernism (a flexible, relativist, politically-driven view of truth), ironically.

I still don't think the answer is to mimic them. I found Lakoff to be a major lightweight, intellectually, and the "science" laughable -- as laughably unsubstantiated as phrenology or "intelligent design," and with a similar ideological basis.

However, post away. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 1:37:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

To take a different tack than some of the posts we've had before, I want to start off with a single question:

Does "knowledge" or "learning" change the nature of neural connections in the brain itself? If so, how, if not, how do you explain that two people with the same brains can think differently?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 1:37:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

One more thing: I can't see how posting arguments among Ivy Leaguers, without any "framing" apparatus, which, I assume, is what you'll do, does anything but undermine Lakoff's theory that no part (or at least an incredibly small part) of human thought is rational. Of course, he exempts himself, in this article, from that limitation.

Freud long ago argued that the mind wasn't wholly rational. And Plato long before that (both had tripartite divisions of the mind, interestingly, and not coincidentally, I imagine).

So, if you post articles that lack a frame, or that are aimed at my rationality, aren't you undermining the point of Lakoff? Or is it Levy-Bruhl all over again ("mentalities") -- "primitives" (i.e., those without Berkeley tenure) are more irrational than "moderns"?

I'm sure you'll accuse me of framing your subsequent posts -- that's the problem: "framing" attempts to be all-explanatory. Thus, it explains nothing, and its valid insights aren't particularly breathtaking or novel.

So, the novelty or epistemic validity seems to rest on the scientific articles, surely unframed, that you'll post. Or, you'll argue that science itself frames things. Fine. Then so does Lakoff, and what basis should anyone have to believe him? This is the relativistic boomerang effect I tried to get across.

So, if I'm convinced by the scientific data, that undermines Lakoff's claims that only by spoon-feeding information in the proper frame can anyone give their irrational assent. Or, if those data are themselves framed to meet my supposedly irrational preconditions for epistemic claims, then why bother to produce them? Why not just make it all up and make it properly framed? Finally, if I am somehow exempt from irrationality, or more so than the Great Unwashed, I don't see how Lakoff is anything but elitist in the extreme.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005 1:43:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Well, I can only answer that philosophically, as I'm not a neural scientist.

To me, the fact that there are, let's say, a trillion neurons in the brain with multiple connections among them means that, mathematically, there are nearly infinite (for all intents and purposes) ways of combining neural impulses. So, assuming two identical brains, in some physiological sense (probably largely true, but possibly not -- I just don't know; I assume brains vary like any other trait, but within certain boundaries; "normal" brains, I mean), I don't see how identical thoughts must arise, given the massive complexity those brains embody.

We've got kidneys that act differently over time, and among people. Not sure why the brain is any different...although certainly more complex.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 1:47:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Doug, surely you don't believe that whether an idea is "elitist" or not makes it any less true. Gravity can be said to be elitist; do you dispute its reality on those grounds?

Also, you continue to mischaracterize Lakoff as being "prioritizing words over ideas". How do you explain this quote from him in the same article you linked to:

"And Lakoff does say in ''Don't Think of an Elephant!'' albeit very briefly, that Democrats need not just new language but also new thought; he told me the party suffers from ''hypocognition,'' or a lack of ideas."

[Lakoff] despaired that all they had wanted from him were quick fixes to long-term problems. ''They all just want to know the magic words,'' he told me. ''I say: 'You don't understand, there aren't any magic words. It's about ideas.' But all everyone wants to know is: 'What three words can we use? How do we win the next election?' They don't get it.'' (emphasis mine).

Your main misreading of Lakoff is that he is a semiotician, which couldn't be further off. His ideas are based on science, so we should pursue that and his claims should probably stand or fall with that alone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 1:47:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Doug - and we're not all "ivy leaguers" remember? We welcome everyone.. that's the point of the blog.

.. also Lakoff would probably say that there is no such thing as a "frameless" idea outside of mathematics. All thought encoded in language involves some narrative or other because metaphor is indispensable in every day language.

This doesn't preclude the importance or the striving for "rational" thought -- just makes us aware of its limitations.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 1:50:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

The previous question I asked you was this: Does learning change the mind on a physical level, within the interconnections of the neurons? If you can't say yes or no to this definatively, then your opinion of Lakoff's scientific foundation doesn't really carry much weight, since this is the whole premise of his research.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 1:51:00 PM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Very interesting, Doug.

Tonight is the night W will make the announcement for the USSC.

I will be away from blogging for awhile. If you could please go and check out my post on this issue, and come back from time to time.
Tomrrow is the funeral, and then I will be in mourning.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 2:03:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

You're being sophistic with the word "elitist." If any theory or fact that isn't accepted and understood by every single person on the planet is thus "elitist," then all theories and facts are elitist. And thus none are.

Lakoff makes a specific elitist claim -- he, the Berkeley-trained linguist, can see bullshit coming a mile off, most of the time. I actually accept this. What I don't accept is that non-Berkeley-trained people, given a free and fair news media structure, couldn't damn well do the same.

So far, all I see in Lakoff is a word-player with a scientific patina. Await proof to the contrary.

As for your quote, it's selective. Here are some others:

1. "In the 1970's, Lakoff, verging into philosophy, became obsessed with metaphors. [Sure seems as though he still is to me.] As he explained it to me one day over lunch at a Berkeley cafe, students of the mind, going back to Aristotle, had always viewed metaphor simply as a device of language, a facile way of making a point. Lakoff argued instead that metaphors were actually embedded in the recesses of the mind, giving the brain a way to process abstract ideas. In other words, a bad relationship reminds you on an unconscious level of a cul-de-sac, because both are leading nowhere. This results from what might be called a ''love as journey'' frame in the neural pathways of your brain -- that is, you are more likely to relate to the story of, say, a breakup if it is described to you with the imagery of a journey. This might seem intuitive, but in 1980, when Lakoff wrote ''Metaphors We Live By,'' it was considered fairly radical. ''For 2,500 years, nobody challenged Aristotle, even though he was wrong,'' Lakoff told me, sipping from a goblet of pinot grape juice. Humility is not his most obvious virtue."

2. In Lakoff's view, not only does Luntz's language twist the facts of his agenda but it also renders facts meaningless by actually reprogramming, through long-term repetition, the neural networks inside our brains. And this is where Lakoff's vision gets a little disturbing. According to Lakoff, Democrats have been wrong to assume that people are rational actors who make their decisions based on facts; in reality, he says, cognitive science has proved that all of us are programmed to respond to the frames that have been embedded deep in our unconscious minds, and if the facts don't fit the frame, our brains simply reject them. Lakoff explained to me that the frames in our brains can be ''activated'' by the right combination of words and imagery, and only then, once the brain has been unlocked, can we process the facts being thrown at us.

This notion of ''activating'' unconscious thought sounded like something out of ''The Manchurian Candidate'' (''Raymond, why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?''), and I asked Lakoff if he was suggesting that Americans voted for conservatives because they had been brainwashed.

''Absolutely not,'' he answered, shaking his head.

But hadn't he just said that Republicans had somehow managed to rewire people's brains?

''That's true, but that's different from brainwashing, and it's a very important thing,'' he said. ''Brainwashing has to do with physical control, capturing people and giving them messages over and over under conditions of physical deprivation or torture. What conservatives have done is not brainwashing in this way. They've done something that's perfectly legal. What they've done is find ways to set their frames into words over many years and have them repeated over and over again and have everybody say it the same way and get their journalists to repeat them, until they became part of normal English.''

I asked Lakoff how he himself had avoided being reprogrammed by these stealth Republican words. ''Because I'm a linguist, I recognize them,'' he said. Even to him, this sounded a little too neat, and a moment later he admitted that he, too, had fallen prey to conservative frames now and then. ''Occasionally,'' he said with a shrug, ''I've caught myself.''

[That's pretty scary to me, for reasons already mentioned.]

3. You might say that Lakoff and the others managed to give the old concept of message discipline a new, more persuasive frame -- and that frame was called ''framing.'' ''The framing validates what we're trying to say to them,'' Pelosi said. ''You have a Berkeley professor saying, 'This is how the mind works; this is how people perceive language; this is how you have to be organized in your presentation.' It gives me much more leverage with my members.''

[This is snotty, yes, but gets at the recursive nature of these types of ideas, of which "frames" is only the most recent -- "paradigms," "epistemes," "mentalities," etc.]

Lakoff, like anyone who claims a kind of language-is-reality-based view, has to shuttle between being within-frame and without-frame in order to have his cake and eat it, too.

3. The question here is whether Lakoff purposely twists his own academic theories to better suit his partisan audience or whether his followers are simply hearing what they want to hear and ignoring the rest. When I first met Lakoff in Los Angeles, he made it clear, without any prompting from me, that he was exasperated by the dumbing down of his intricate ideas. He had just been the main attraction at a dinner with Hollywood liberals, and he despaired that all they had wanted from him were quick fixes to long-term problems. ''They all just want to know the magic words,'' he told me. ''I say: 'You don't understand, there aren't any magic words. It's about ideas.' But all everyone wants to know is: 'What three words can we use? How do we win the next election?' They don't get it.''

And yet Lakoff had spoken for 12 minutes and then answered questions at the U.C.L.A. forum with Huffington and Frank, and not once had he even implied that the Democratic problem hadn't been entirely caused by Republicans or that it couldn't be entirely fixed by language. The more time I spent with Lakoff, in fact, the more I began to suspect that his complaint about ''magic words'' was another example of framing; in this case, Lakoff was consciously framing himself in his conversations with me as a helpless academic whose theories were being misused. The reality seemed to be that Lakoff was enjoying his sudden fame and popularity too much to bother his followers with troubling details -- like, say, the notion that their problem might be bigger than mere words or that it might take decades to establish new political frames. After all, Lakoff is selling out theaters and making more money than he ever thought possible; in 2006, Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish his next book, on how conservatives have changed the meaning of the word ''freedom.'' At one point, Lakoff told me he would like to appear as the host of a regular TV segment on framing.

[Hmmmm... Surely snotty, but possibly true. You don't see Chomsky cozying up to Democrats or the powers that be this way. Interesting, that.]

4. Peter Teague, who oversees environmental programs at the liberal Nathan Cummings Foundation, was Lakoff's most important patron in the days after he wrote ''Moral Politics.'' When I spoke with Teague about Lakoff a few months ago, he sounded a little depressed. ''There's a cartoon version of Lakoff out there, and everyone's responding to the cartoon,'' Teague said. ''It's not particularly useful. As much as we talk about having a real dialogue and a deeper discussion, we really end up having a very superficial conversation.

''I keep saying to George, 'You're reinforcing the very things you're fighting against.'''


4. I asked Lakoff, during an afternoon walk across the Berkeley campus, if he felt at all complicit in the superficiality that Teague was describing. ''I do,'' he said thoughtfully. ''It's a complicated problem. Of course it bothers me. But this is just Stage 1, and there are stages of misunderstanding. People have to travel a path of understanding.''

[Again, the philosopher will show us True Ideas; we unenlightened are merely watching the shadows on the wall.]

5. Consider, too, George Lakoff's own answer to the Republican mantra. He sums up the Republican message as ''strong defense, free markets, lower taxes, smaller government and family values,'' and in ''Don't Think of an Elephant!'' he proposes some Democratic alternatives: ''Stronger America, broad prosperity, better future, effective government and mutual responsibility.'' Look at the differences between the two. The Republican version is an argument, a series of philosophical assertions that require voters to make concrete choices about the direction of the country. Should we spend more or less on the military? Should government regulate industry or leave it unfettered? Lakoff's formulation, on the other hand, amounts to a vague collection of the least objectionable ideas in American life. Who out there wants to make the case against prosperity and a better future? Who doesn't want an effective government?

What all these middling generalities suggest, perhaps, is that Democrats are still unwilling to put their more concrete convictions about the country into words, either because they don't know what those convictions are or because they lack confidence in the notion that voters can be persuaded to embrace them. Either way, this is where the power of language meets its outer limit. The right words can frame an argument, but they will never stand in its place.

[I agree with this, basically, even though I despise the anti-intellectual bent of the writer.]

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 2:04:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Paul, you're misunderstanding my reaction to your question. You're mixing "physical changes" in the brain with the pathways among neurons which, I take it, constitute thought (and Mind). You don't need to make physical changes in order to have near-infinite diversity of pathways.

However, I don't know much about neural science, so I await your articles. I do have confidence that I can tell a good solid or potentially fruitful scientific idea from an ex-post-facto justification, though, given my training.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 2:07:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I find it telling and funny that you must put the usual scare quotes around the word "rational" -- either you're fer it or again' it, as Grandpa Simpson would say. If you think that it is a part of the mind, but not the only part -- well, just about everyone would agree -- including just about every Enlightenment philosopher I've read (Locke, Hume, etc.).

It's easy to sway people with bullshit. We all know this. It's been done for thousands of years.

What's new, historically speaking, is the basic democratic notion that we're all basically of equivalent rationality -- even if that must be fought for, and given that that statement is statistical.

Now, our portions of rationality are dependent upon a social structure that nourishes them -- literally and metaphorically (I mean this last as a pun).

Faced with an Orwellian party, I don't see how stooping to something within shouting distance of PR/marketing/ad-man bullshit on the other side is any kind of victory for republican democracy. I rather see it as a desperate measure, and a failure, if accepted.

Lakoff likes being a rockstar. That, of course, doesn't disprove his ideas. I read his big book; saw very little in there of value. What was valuable wasn't new; what was new wasn't valuable, to paraphrase S. Johnson, I think.

So, now that you've said that Lakoff's ideas stand and fall on the science, please post some examples of said science from peer-reviewed journals, and I'll read them. Promise!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 2:17:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

By the way -- this is no can of worms! I have no problem jousting back and forth on this, and I will read the articles you post -- well, you know I will. I read the big book to begin with.

Did you ever read On Bullshit? You should if you haven't...

I'm sure Palmer will have much to say about this, too.

Barbara -- best wishes! I'll check out your post later on...


Tuesday, July 19, 2005 2:19:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

By what mechanism do frames operate, inter-synaptically? More norepinephrine released for certain ideas? Less dopamine for others?

I mean at the biochemical level of what happens between neurons in the synapses -- and there we're dealing with neurotransmitters.

Is there any work on this question? Because talking about "physical changes" is all very well and good, but without some kind of mechanism, experimentally proven, or at least made viable for future research, I don't see how "physical changes within the brain" is anything other than, excuse me, a metaphor.

So, post it up, dude!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 2:26:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Doug, I'm not going to waste time on your more ad hominem points, nor your specious reconstruction of Lakoff's arguments. As far as I can tell, you completely invented his claim that people who don't go to Berkeley can't see through bullshit.
Did you get rejected from Berkeley or something? (I did.)

Re: The metaphor quotes you cited: they are accurate, but do not misunderstand his focus to be on language itself. Language, like all learned human behaviors, can become habitual and affect the neuronal AND hormonal configurations within the brain. Numerous studies show that repeated thoughts or expressions lower the resistance in neurotransmitters between cells in the brain and make similar thoughts and expressions more likely. Humans (and other animals) have been scientifically shown to be creatures of habit; not only that, but we know that changes to the chemistry of the brain reflect this in a feedback loop. Lifelong london cabbies (and certain species of dogs) have been shown to have literal maps of Downtown London (or the local piss-points of other dogs) embedded in their brain cells. These maps activate when certain activities are pursued; scans the electrical impulses among their brain cells literally light up in configurations that reflect the actual layout in space of physical locations.

Lakoff suggests that the inculcation of metaphors, as learned behavior, also causes the "rewiring" of neural pathways in the same way that similar behavioral habits rewire our brains.

It is a scientific inference borne out by several experiments which I will post shortly. Please be patient - I'm at work and can't track these down yet.. have to wait on it!!

Anyway - more later - nothing like a little Lakoff dust-up between us to spawn double digit comments in the span of 15 minutes!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 3:28:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

No worries on posting delays -- they weren't seen as such, but my repeated comments, which were meant to be taken as welcoming, could be seen as harrying. Not the intent.

As for inventing a claim, I clearly didn't ascribe that claim to something Lakoff comes out and says. It's inherent in his book, his interview as reported in this article, and is also logically necessary for his argument, as far as I can tell, to keep it from being lost in a permanent recursive loop.

Now, I'll be happy to read whatever you post, of course. However, let's say, for argument's sake, that habits of thought are canalized somehow in the mind.

Is this to be encouraged or discouraged? Is this to be taken advantage of or broken down, explicitly? I think these questions, which are not just rhetorical, get to the heart of non-Lakovians' worries about his ideas. I think it's inherently elitist, and -- worse, anti-democratic -- to appeal to people's unreason because you think you know best what politician they should vote for or what underarm deodorant they should use. The comparison is apt: we are in the world of PR/marketing/advertising now, and I am aware of some studies, non-biochemical in nature, that are currently being funded by industry to plumb the depths of the mind/brain in order to find even better ways of avoiding actual market capitalism. To the extent that choice and effort and responsibility is taken away by such efforts, regardless of the value of the "product," I am against them, entirely.

As T.H. Huxley argued long ago in Evolution and Ethics, just because nature acts in certain ways does not mean we should follow nature. Granting you the scientific ground in advance, for argument's sake (not that I don't want to read it), that's a major ethical decision to be made: whether or not to take advantage of natural processes to undermine choice and rationality or not.

Chomsky, on the other hand, has shown that all humans are immensely creative, as they have innate universal grammar which can take on a nearly infinite variety of forms (i.e., languages) which are learned with little effort. From this well-established theory, he postulates that other forms of thought and learning are equally widespread -- his ultimate ethical conclusion is that we ought to maximize the potential of each and every human being, as the differences among us are far less striking, when you sit back and look at us, than the similarities. Admittedly speculative, he locates a source for universal human rights in our shared human needs and abilities, regardless of the degree to which they are innate or learned. There is no privileged class, no Guardians -- and no, I didn't apply to Berkeley -- and no top-down manufacturing of consent, whether by Rovian, Orwellian, or Lakovian methods.

I'm down with that.

Ironically, Lakoff's skyrocketing fame comes out of an election "loss" that is itself fictitious. The Democrats have won the last four Presidential elections; I think that's pretty clear. It's thus ironic to watch them beat around the Bush, looking for yet another way to triangulate -- this time by possibly simplifying (I think, actually, simply following) the advice of a linguist that just so happens to dovetail exactly with what the GOP has perfected, without recourse to linguistic theory, neural biochemistry, or anything else.

Brains and minds have always been susceptible to suggestion, whatever it's material basis. I am not for that means, whatever the end.

Yes, Lakoff is fruitful for our blog! Waiting for others to chime in later...should be interesting.

Best, Dug

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 4:54:00 PM  
Blogger Palmer said...

So I'm surprised nobuddy dropped the J-bomb on this thread--perhaps that's too New Agey for you cats, but it's hep to my scene, Daddy-O.

Symbols--as opposed to signs--are beyond the purview of the semioticians. There is something inherent in the symbol--and in the mind/brain of the perceiver--that imbues it with meaning. Hence the potency of "Who's yer Daddy?"

Dunno. Even the positivistic frame of this conversation gets a little dull. Rhetoric is about pizzazz, elan, and panache...not to mention moxie!! Citing sources is well and good, but it's not framing.

Framing is sophisticated. Can't talk framing and politics without talking Marion Barry and "B**tch set me up!"

Also, Doug, I find it surprising that you (Freudian, evolutionary) are so reluctant to accept that certain thought structures are hardwired or that we're predisposed to respond to certain kinds of thoughts, tropes, motifs, and bildungsromans (sic).

Wherein does the Oedipal inhere if not in the reptile brain?

SOme kind of protolanguage lives all up inside there, and the GOP is better at tapping that viceral lode. Hence they are better able to prey on (and manipulate) fear, repressed libido, and the will to power.

After all, Fascists always have the best armbands, logos, and uniforms.

At some point, the "scientific", "neurobiological" foundation of all this claptrap becomes moot. Key is it's how we roll, and until we find new language that doesn't make us sound like bleeding hearts, we're toast.

Gotta get out of the heart and move into the gut. Lose the intellectualisms, and rock the common language.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 5:15:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Grandmasta' MP taps into the hindbrain - preachin it like da pimp he iz. Droppin Jung like Galileo dropped da feather - yo. We needz mad symbolz to fight da powa.. jus' check tha influenza of su-astika, harmonic symbol of Sanskritian wizdomz.

Seriously, talk about pseudoscience - Jung is worse than Freud. Collective unconscious? Yeah next we'll be hearing about bioenergetics and the Reichian orgone.

Mike - can you articulate a street-power symbol that expresses what the Dems should be about? I wouldz still be mad inneres'ed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 5:55:00 PM  
Blogger Palmer said...

Yo Pimp My Nation!

Pseudoscience? Pop yer ritalin there Ross-dawg! You sound like Tom Cruise!!

Let's drop some Jung in a way you understand--archetypes is like the themes of the ancestral savannah. It takes a village and that's what the Tribe Mind is hep to.

Plus y'all intellectocrats haven't even touched on the paralinguistics. It's allabout the thumb points and flop sweats.

Theatrum mundi, kids, and survival of the fittest metaphors.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 6:15:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hey, guys:

Ah...good to have Mike on board.

On Freud -- I don't find his biological or phylogenetic musings too convincing -- those that I've read. And the Oedipal thing is way overdone...I'm more amenable to the Thanatos vs. Eros construct of his later years.

I do agree that we need a demotic -- which shares the same root as democratic -- that speaks about things that actually matter (i.e., who gets taxed, who doesn't, and what is done with those taxes) to those folks in Kansas (referencing the recent book) who are somehow voting against their economic interests. Among other interests.

I'm a fan of clear communication of ideas, and I don't think that any idea is too complex to be communicated to anyone who can read or listen. Carl Sagan and SJ Gould and Dawkins are good examples of that.

Anyway, at some point, we should bring in educational reform -- and I don't mean 450 more standardized tests, either -- as another fundamental basis for change.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 6:16:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I am totally ignorant of "paralinguistics." Enlighten me!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 6:17:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Mike, it would also help me grok your throwdowns if you could utter intelligible phrases to describe these areas of study since although I am able to "speak pimp" I don't always understand it. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 6:21:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Funnily enough, I actually more or less understand what Mike's saying. I did work a lot with him, not to mention some writing circles...

I like the variety -- Mike, I think you'll have to "dumb up" for Paul and Andrew. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 6:22:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

I pretty much got everything except "thumb points" and "flop sweats"

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 6:27:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Mike: On a hardwired mental predisposition, yes, I accept this. It depends on what level you're talking about. Universal grammar? Yep. That I'm convinced of -- how else to account for how language is so easily acquired by children, but not particular languages (obviously -- a Japanese infant brought up in America will speak 'Merican, and vice versa).

However, I have two bones to pick. First bone: The level of specificity that is posited. Are metaphors and metaphorical thinking hardwired? Maybe; maybe not. I'd need to see a mechanism, old-fashioned as that may seem. Second bone: Assume Lakoff is totally correct. Should we encourage the "reptilian" (or irrational) parts of the mind in the political arena? That, to me, is dangerous -- we have enough bullshit ad/PR/marketing crap to deal with; why add to it? It's basically undemocratic in nature and foundation, whether those who support it admit it or not. Still awaiting a counterargument to that.

I'm all for encouraging and nurturing those aspects of our minds that are rational. There really is no other hope -- if you still believe in a democratic, non-elitist, republican government.

I mean, we don't need to know the biochemics of fear to realize that we could, if we wanted, loose the totalitarian dogs on the nation and rule by fear (happening in large degree already), and just trust that those with the power and the message can be trusted. I don't have that much faith in human nature.

Paul will call this "ad hominem"; I don't think it is: it's relevant. Granting, for the sake of argument, that Lakoff is correct, biologically, should we use coercion, however attenuated, to shepherd the public into accepting notions irrationally? By "we" I mean those in power, which ain't us.

Not democratic, in my book. PR/advertising/marketing is inherently undemocratic, coercive, and corrosive for political discussion.

Some things just can't be shoved into a soundbite.

Remember, the Great Unwashed loved to listen to Lincoln and Douglas for six hours at a time. Outside. In the sun.

Were people any smarter then? Nope.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 7:06:00 PM  
Blogger Demotiki said...

Wow, the bullshit frame is in full action here.

Obviously learning changes the physical structure of brains. Equally obviously, the structure can be changed back later.

To give an example from comparative linguistics, we know that a Japanese adult perceives the English phonemes "l" and "r" differently than an American might. When an instructor teachers Japanese speakers to perceive the difference between "l" and "r" by greatly exaggerating the pronunciation and then gradually phasing the emphasis down to something like normal speech, it allows even adult Japanese speakers to learn how to distinguish between the two phonemes. Several studies have verified that the Japanese language counts the “l” and “r” sound and everything in-between as the same phoneme and that this information is hard-wired in the neural pathways of the brain. The ability to teach adults to overcome this hard-wiring shows that with proper training, these structures can be overcome.

However, I don’t think this point is so important. It's also abundantly clear that people use narratives to understand the world around them and that they are unwilling to accept fact patterns that contradict the narratives they are intellectually invested in. I believe that only narratives can provide transcendental meaning, without one, facts are just facts. To give one example, many educated people refuse to accept that humans are inherently irrational, and that they often fail to act in a manner that maximizes self interest. The myth of the rational actor is part of the narrative of the enlightenment. All of the improvements in governance and industry that have taken place over the last few centuries are chalked up to our adherence to this narrative, no matter how much empirical evidence that shows it is incorrect.

However, I understand the fears of some that framing will supplant rational discourse. If we admit that people and their intellectual beliefs are victims, not masters, of language, then how can a liberal democracy survive? To this I have a very simple answer. Framing is just another word for leadership. When you strip away the rhetorical flourish, framing helps to communicate ideas in terms that people can easily understand. A persuasive speaker makes voters “feel” rather than “know” that he is correct. A good politician must know his audience and understand their world view. Framing hopes to make this age old political truism the subject of fruitful scientific investigation and practice. How could anyone object to that? You don’t change your values, you don’t change your arguments, you just find better ways to communicate them to voters. Over time, it might even be possible to change voter’s own narratives. God knows the Republicans have achieved this.

The knee-jerk reaction against framing is based on the idea that it is some form of trickery. That is some way it is a retreat from the liberal democratic principles that emerged from Enlightenment thought. This concern is misplaced. By ignoring how audiences employ narratives to filter and incorporate information into their world views, we place an unnecessary barrier between the leader and his followers. From an anthropological perspective, frames and narrative consistency are what have allowed leaders to unify disparate individuals into a coherent body need for collective action. The dependency on narrative consistency is, in fact, the glue that allowed government in the first place. All ideology is sustained by this need for consistency, this loyalty to past thoughts. Without it, the gradual progression from chiefdoms to liberal democracy would never have occurred.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Damn, what he said..

I will grant you Doug, that a naturalist argument is not an ethical justification for self-consciously framing an argument for a given audience. I say this because, like you, I don't take any "natural" condition of humankind as prescriptive for what we can, or should, acheive for our present or future selves.

If science allows Men to nurse babies, or flamingoes to speak Urdu, lets do it, if it benefits our lives to do so.

But you gotta realize - we are living in a world where you have to work with what you got. And what we got is a nation full of voters who to a great extent are not voting, consuming, or acting in their own rational interests. When someone buys an SUV instead of a Prius because it fits their narrative mold of what a tough independent dude is, all the facts you can tell that dude about reducing emissions and saving gas mileage won't amount to a peehole in the snow. You have to use rhetoric in such a case rather than remain so elitist that you won't dirty your hands by employing it to get your point across.

And as I've said before, you seem to think that this "reprogramming" people attribute to Lakoff is the province of some Orwellian mind control, when in fact it is completely coextant with the process of learning itself. Anytime someone teaches you in some sense how to think - you are being inculcated to think in terms of a narrative frame. Rationality, like your neo-cortex, rests on top of a limbic system, an emotional basis which informs your ability to reason. I recommend "Decartes' Error" by Damasio for the science which demonstrates this.

Or do you accept Demo's pigeonholing of you as a srtict enlightenment guy?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 11:33:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Doug, as far as Lakoff's own prescriptions for the Democratic party ("stronger America", "better future"?) I think they suck.. mostly because I don't think Lakoff the speaker/strategist is the best one to apply his own ideas.

Also I think we need to be specific about what "hardwiring" means -- I actually think Chomsky is the one positing "hardwiring" with his innate universal grammar while Lakoff is the one concerned with "softwiring" - the environmental and habitual reconfiguration of linguistic behaviors which arises from social intercourse. Furthermore, I have neither read nor experienced anything that indicates that their two areas of interest are in conflict, either with each other or with the truth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger Demotiki said...

What Paul says about the SUV buyer is true. You have to use a narrative that has some traction with him in order to motivate him to change his beliefs about SUVs. A litany of facts and naked rationality will accomplish nothing but annoy him. In fact, it is irrational to use such an approach if it's useless.

Think of it this way, the narrative is above reason. It provides purpose and transcendent meaning for those who believe in it. It allows someone to “feel” rather than “know” that they are correct. Don’t forget most of the facts, opinions and arguments that circle around the political spectrum are anything but tautologically valid. In this situation of uncertainty, “feeling” you are right when you “know” you might be wrong is preferable to “feeling” you are wrong when you “know” you might be right. That’s the key to the power of the narrative. It gives us all confidence to stay the course and plug away with our ideology of choice. In a fast changing environment, we need some of this consistency or we would never be able to organize for collective action.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 12:01:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Very interesting posts, Andrew!

Yes, I am pretty much an Enlightenment guy, if you understand that as a trend that began somewhere deep in the (European) renaissance and continues through the 18th century up through the Romantic reaction (whose literature I love to read) and into the twentieth century, right up to today.

I don't accept many aspects of the Enlightenment, such as the blank-slate theory, and I acknowledge that there are many hypocrisies to be pointed out (Voltaire's antisemitism, slavery, etc.), but the basic notions of equality, liberty, fraternity, and so forth seem to be right on the money to me.

As for Demo's post, it's far from obvious to me that physical changes occur, insofar as neurons change. I need a mechanism to accept something. Metaphors won't do. Yes, Chomsky (to bring in Paul's point) argues for hardwiring, but at a deeper level than Lakoff. I don't think anyone has dealt with the hierarchical levels inherent in Chomsky's view, which I pointed out earlier. That's one of the main points that differentiates Chomsky's linguistics from Lakoff's. As for conflict -- the Times article itself points out that Lakoff and Chomsky split acrimoniously, a fact I had inferred from reading Chomsky and watching him pound on Lakoff back in the '70s. That is neither here nor there, as far as their epistemic claims go.

Back to complexity and mechanism: it's all well and good to state that it's obvious that brains change physically based on language differences. I need to know whether that means neurons themselves, or connections among them. If the latter, then how?

I think Andrew hits the nail on the head, unintentionally. I'm not really all that concerned with getting "leaders" to communicate better with "followers." I'd be happier to see -- and you can see it in many places, e.g., Brazil, as Chomsky points out re: Lula -- actual, mundane working people self-organizing, coming up with platforms, and picking which candidate -- not "leader" -- they will hire to do the job.

That, actually, is the notion of democracy, or democratic republics.

Now, the epistemological point that we all need narratives to understand the world, I might agree with, if by "narratives," you mean "theories" in the strict, philosophical sense. What's the difference? Only a sense of reality -- "narratives" imply some kind of story that may or may not intersect with reality; "theories" denote a mental construct that is not only consistent with reality but also "consilient" with other theories and facts in other areas of verified knowledge, and which throw up falsifiable tests. That's science. No one, including Bacon, actually believed that you go out and start recording facts and then induct theories from them. How to distinguish the noise from the data? Thus, theories are the guide in the hypothetico-deductive method. It's imperfect, but it has given rise to a tremendous amount of verified knowledge in the past 500 years.

As for human beings being inherently irrational, well, no one's arguing that they're not. It's a question of degree. Part of most people are rational; part are not. Andrew seems to be arguing that people are basically irrational, and thus need narratives -- stories -- in order to be led. That's pretty scary, to me. It's an inherently elitist and at least potentially undemocratic view.

It also suffers from the problem: gee, why are "people" basically irrational, but Andrew, say, is not? Why should I accept Andrew's statement -- isn't he a person, and thus irrational? Or should I just accept his narrative and be led?

This is not specious -- it is exactly my point. Years of up-close-and-personal experience with any number of nonrational theories of knowledge have taught me that they fall into the recursive/relativist trap outlined above. I didn't invent this argument; it's well-known.

It also forms the basis for 1984: There, the party's narrative is that, if necessary, party members must believe -- not rationally, of course -- believe that 2 + 2 = 4 and/or that 2 + 2 = 5, depending on what the Leader(s) want and need, politically.

I'd like to see some empirical evidence that the spread of scientific thought is somehow not worthy of credit for the various expansions of knowledge of the past 500 years. I am fully aware of the irony that this knowledge has led to a point at which we can either achieve real, mundane happiness or destroy ourselves. I would say we're on the brink of finding out whether Eros or Thanatos will prevail -- or, if you like, whether reason or unreason will prevail. Nothing is predetermined, but I'll be damned if I'm going to err on the side of unreason, whatever the goal. Noble goals have a way of receding when power is concentrated in a self-appointed class that somehow thinks itself exempt from the irrationality of the "masses" who must be led, like sheep, to the Omega point determined by the chosen class.

Guess I'm too old-lefty to buy this family of notions of which Lakoff is only the most recently popular.

Finally, collective action comes from below, spontaneously (or not); I don't dig "a leader" organizing action via emotional appeals to irrationality from above. That, again, is not democratic republicanism. There is another name for it. I find it crushingly ironic that folks who have decried this method in the GOP recommend it for the Democrats. Makes me think Palmer's solution -- a pox on both their houses -- is more on the money.

But, it seems Lakoff's star is falling, at least among many Democrats. It's typical to grasp at language when you lack power -- I think passing laws about voting machines would be a better, albeit less sexy and more democratic, method for ensuring fair elections.

Of course, recourse to a Leader who corrals the irrational public based on emotional appeals and "grand narratives" -- the very thing most postmodern scholars (at least historians) fight against, actually -- is an option. It has a pretty sketchy past, but if you want that, please don't call yourself a democrat.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 8:47:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Also, I'll check out Descartes' Error, but I'd love to see the actual studies that have been referred to here by both Paul and Andrew. I mean, peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

Or were those statements just rhetorical flourishes in your narrative that I'm supposed to accept on faith, or rather, because you have found a narrative that lines up with my limbic system's needs? In that case, I won't be led -- I need evidence. I guess I'm stubbornly rational that way. ;)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 8:54:00 AM  
Blogger Palmer said...

Yo Doug, it's the profusion of dendrites, bro. Didn't want to come right out and say it, but...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 9:27:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Assuming you're not kidding (always to be considered), true, each neuron has a host of dendrites, each of which (if I remember correctly) connects up with others via neurotransmitters.

Anyway, yes, that's yet another complexifying element of brains.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 9:35:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Paul, I found a more recent publication of Damasio's here. (The book is from 1994; this is a 2002 Scientific American article -- surely he's learned more since then, and this should serve as a good introduction to his more recent thought.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

OK, done. I have zero problem with locating Mind in the brain -- there really is no other scientific option. How that plays out is another issue, but I don't see how it pertains to the claim that irrationality is supreme.

I have a feeling (pun intended) that Damasio's argument for the primacy of feeling -- if such exists -- is what you want me to read. That wasn't present in the article I just bought.

It looks like Finding Spinoza is Damasio's most recent book; perhaps I should look there.

I was never under the Cartesian impression (pun intended) that Mind and Body are separate, and, again, I don't see how that pertains to our specific discussion. But I assume you're referring to something else in Damasio's work, of which I've seen hints in a brief web search.

In any event, at the "surface" level, it's clear that people are partly rational and partly irrational. My only point is that we ought to be maximizing and encouraging the rational side when we choose our political means, not bowing to the irrational.

I think that my "boomerang" objection still obtains: if "people" are mostly irrational, then why should I accept Andrew's (or anyone's) argument -- or even pretend that it is an argument -- when all that is needed is my faith-based or emotion-based assent to a leader-issued narrative?

If I take Andrew as my leader, meaning his narrative somehow gels with my emotional needs (which have been assumed to be coequal to irrationality, and irrationality has been assumed to be regnant in the mind, whatever the mind's biological basis), then what we have is a complete retreat from democratic principles based on I-know-not-what science yet, despite all the protestations of not committing a naturalistic fallacy.

I think that dichotomous thinking, as Mike pointed out in a different context, along with its usual partner, "either/or," obtains here. Clearly, the mind has its rational and irrational elements, domains, or what-have-you.

The ethical question, regardless of the molecular basis for thought (or quantum basis), and which cannot wait for physico-chemical causal consensus, is: do you want to maximize rationality or not? You can claim, I guess, that there is no such thing as rationality, or that, in its weaker form, rationality is not "in charge" of cognition...but you then fall into the recursive trap that all nonrational theories of knowledge I've ever read fall into, despite their superficial attractiveness.

But if you aren't claiming that there is no portion of rationality granted to us mere mortals (and without getting to just-so about it, I hardly think we'd have made it without some "reality principle"), then you are confronted with the ethical choice of whether you are going to maximize rationality or take advantage of irrationality to push your own agenda. This is an ethical choice regardless of the agenda.

Basically, in the Lakovian enthusiasm with which many Democrats seem to be infected I see an ironic adoption of the very things those Democrats decry in Bush's GOP, a retreat from otherwise dearly held beliefs, rationally based, if you will, in the ability of all people to think as rationally as one thinks oneself is thinking, and a desperation borne of our precarious poltiical situation to find a cure-all, or more accurately, a short-cut (and a dangerous one at that) to power.

That's what I object to. Would love to hear objections to that. I see little difference between what I'm objecting to in adding yet more watered-down, intellectually barren, PR/marketing ad-phrases, in which complex points are boiled down, USA-Today-like, into five words or five lines of text/endlessly repeated talking points, and, say, "getting control of voting machines" and cheating as the GOP has almost certainly done in order to get power.

Both "solutions" belie a retreat from supposedly deeply held democratic principles in the face of a severe challenge to them. In other words, the GOP wins.

Democatic (big-D) problems stem from their insistence on triangulating to get power in the face of a rightward shift, rather than facing that shift head-on and giving voice to the still majority views on healthcare, abortion rights, anti-militaristic adventurism, and so on. The GOP lives on keeping information from people and bombarding them with fear- or hate-driven "messaging." The Democrats ought to provide a clear opposition to these means, as well as clear definition of their actually quite popular policies.

Finally, another irony is that the very panic felt by many Democrats in the face of the GOP is in itself a reflection of the double fiction of Republican propaganda -- which is the case for all ruling classes.

1. What we want is the majority opinion, and we'll shove it down the throats of the majority in all the ways decried on this blog by all actors in this debate. What the tiny rich minority wants is, by definition and historical experience, not in the interests of the majority of nonrich people. The challenge is to articulate this fact clearly.

2. The GOP has lost 4 elections in a row. They can only win by cheating, by taking advantage of terror by compounding it, and pulling the irrational wool over at least partially rational eyes. To be frightened into contemplating a retreat on abortion rights or from the basic human right of same-sex unions or anything else is just Clintonian triangulation redux. It plays directly into the hands of the GOP, as it shows Democrats being unable to stand up for what they supposedly believe. It is the tactics of the weak, and is rightly seen as such.

Anyway, I, too have to work, and 11:00 AM is too late for me to start! :)

Btw, D and I are getting married on 9/25 -- party in NYC to follow, along with details of same, as this is a family-only affair. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Very good introduction of Lakoff's ideas and their empirical background here.

Doug these might confirm or alter your assumptions regarding Lakoff, take a look.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 2:21:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Cool; thanks.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 3:06:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Well, that didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, nor was it peer-reviewed science, but, like this, blogging.

Lakoff tosses off things as emprically verified that just aren't -- unless you're a true believer. That rationality is a reflex, basically, is the question to be answered, not evidence of his beliefs. He strikes me as a latter-day Herbert Spencer, who also had a brief flash of fame, and who also picked and chose from among the science of his day to build a system that, as Lakoff says, refutes 2500 years of false belief, starting with Aristotle. That one quote alone belied an arrogance that makes me trust Lakoff all the less. To say nothing of wanting a TV show.

Anyway, I really would like to see actual scientific articles that support Lakoff's three main points.

Point 1, I have no problem with. Mind emanates from Brain -- an originally French Enlightenment concept, I might hasten to add: "The brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile" (Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis [1757 - 1808]).

Point 2: "Thought" needs to be defined, but I think he means rational thought. If it's mostly unconscious, then how did Lakoff arrive at his insights? Is he somehow superior? I love how Lakoff makes grand pronouncement (this, I know isn't his writing -- I'm talking MP -- assumes you'll just accept them on faith, and then says, specfically, (Fitanides still has my book or I'd find the quote) that empirical or statistical confirmation of his "found" objects -- emprically found, he has the temerity to assert -- are "beside the point." That's called having your epistemological cake and eating it, too.

Point 3: Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. This can be true, but it can also be true that people are consciously aware of their metaphors, or can be, or can be taught to be.

The key point is point 2; that does overturn much of Enlightenment philosophy, and it's not at all established by this series of blog articles. Or by Lakoff, of what I've read.

Plus, if Lakoff, due to his linguistic background, is able to overcome conservative bullshit/metaphors, why, then isn't anyone else able to as well? Donna's father, without even a high school degree, can see through Bush's bullshit with nary a thought on "frames."

Sorry, Paul, this not only wasn't what I was looking for (peer-reviewed articles on the material basis for the driving force of irrationality), but it also wasn't particularly enlightening, so to speak, on the philosophical and ethical problems I have with Lakoff.

Simply repeating that progressives have an investment in Enlightenment views, and then dismissing that as somehow naive, doesn't constitute an argument. If I am to give up those views, I'll need evidence. If you then accuse me of working within my frame, paradigm, episteme, discourse system, mentality, or whatever, well, you run into the boomerang problem. If I am, you are, too. How do we adjudicate this? Power or reason? Foucault's answer, power, never impressed me much either.

If, on the other hand, some elect get to operate above the frame, et al, then why them and not anyone else? If it's because they've studied it, great. We're back in a realist epistemology where one can be right or wrong with reference to reality, not with reference to metaphor or language or whatnot.

Anyway, thanks for the post. If you have actual scientific papers, post them whenever you get a chance...


Wednesday, July 20, 2005 3:44:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I might add that the goal of depth psychology, especially Freudian or neo-Freudian, is to use analysis to uncover the "primitive" or irrational, bring it to the surface where it can be recognized by reason, and dealt with through reason. None of that seems to apply here -- Lakoff has no such desire, that I can tell.

Sure, Freud would be the first one to admit -- maintain -- that much of our behavior is driven by the irrational -- the innately irrational. But he doesn't embrace it; he created a talking therapy that aims to maximize rationality in order to overcome the irrational. And he applied this, with varying degrees of insight, to history, culture, myths, religion, and so on. He was a true child of the Enlightenment, in that sense, unifying the best of the Romantics with the core of the Enlightenment notion that we all have the power to know -- scientia est potentia, as Bacon put it.

That potentia is within reach of everyone -- the promise is to turn neurosis into "ordinary unhappiness" -- he was funny and wise, that Viennese! Meaning was to be found in love and work; by extension, that applies to everyone. Thus, everyone ought to have equal or equivalent access. Erich Fromm brought this out brilliantly, in my opinion in The Art of Loving.

It's not sexy or grandiose. Just basic follow-through on key beliefs in equality, liberty, fraternity, the pursuit of happiness, and all of those supposedly outdated and unsophisticated notions. That follow-through is hard is a measure of our class system -- the minority in power don't want everyone to have the same priviliges they do. I do.

So, that's my take. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 3:51:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Doug - please don't take my lack of peer reviewed article citations to task just yet - I'm still looking. I do take your requirement that I provide them seriously, just want you to know I haven't forgotten. No need to continually harp on it, in other words.

As an aside - you keep insisting that Lakoff believes "seeing through frames" is the province of some elite group alone; this is pure fiction on your part. Lakoff never says any such thing - the whole point of his writing is that anyone can see through them if you're aware of them. Chomsky makes similar claims about his innate structures - anyone can see them if they know how to recognize them. What privileges Chomsky any more than Lakoff to speak of his categories?

Which leads me to ask (and this doesn't let me off the hook) what hard studies Chomsky bases his innate universal grammar upon. Just want to make the point that what's good for the goose, etc. and that I would be interested to see them.

Does Chomsky's theory of innate universal grammar, in other words, make any claims about the hardwiring of the brain at birth? If so, are his claims based on specific scientific research about the brain in peer reviewed neuroscience journals? Or is he not even making those claims so he doesn't need them (don't really know).

My point being that your standard of belief for Chomsky seems to be lower than the one you have for Lakoff. Of course you may also refer me to anything good on Chomsky's theories and any other science that backs it up.

Thanks again for your always expressive and voluminous responses.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 6:03:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Lets focus specifically on Point 2, which based on your own responses, seems to be where you and Lakoff part ways. Here it is: "Thought is mostly unconscious".

I'm going to do my best to reconstruct your main objection to this (Lakoff aside) before posting anything else. Please tell me if this is accurate.

For a person to make this claim as a rational statement, they have to place themselves beyond the scope of irrationality, therefore leading to what you call "the boomerang problem"--why trust someone making this claim about irrationality if much of what they say is itself unconscious (possibly irrational)? What gives a person such as this the right to place themselves outside their own framework, a necessity for making the above statement?

Only empirical evidence (part of a realist epistemology) can provide the necessary basis for a claim like "most thought is unconscious".

So lets start with just this - is this more or less what you mean?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 7:20:00 PM  
Blogger Demotiki said...


I hardly know where to begin. You said a great many things with which I would like to dispute, but I can’t imagine spending that much time sweating over my keyboard. It’s too fuckin’ hot.

As for the “fire-and-wire” theory of learning, it is very well known and doesn’t apply to just linguistics.

Look into Donald Hebbs

and for a similar theory that is goes into the physical changes in the neurons,

long-term potentiation (LTP)

as an interesting aside, check out this page on neural networks.

As for the Japanese language bit, I read about it in the Times in 1999. I can’t remember the reporter, but this page here gives a description of the experiment.


Before I get on to the meat and potatoes, Doug, are you channeling Mark Evenson? The only reason I ask is that you seem to be wading in it.

I don’t think that accepting the political and material realities of the world is necessarily elitism. In fact, I believe that willfully ignoring such realities while dreaming of a perfectly rational universe where milkmaids write political manifestos is “elitist.”

It is a fact that there are leaders in democratic society. No democracy could exist without leaders. It is also a fact that the “spontaneous” political movements you speak exist in only in the pipe dreams of leftist intellectuals and the occasional food riot. Movements need leaders or they consume themselves in endless circular debate (something like in this thread.)

Your observation that I am talking about a world where leaders “command” (my emphasis) and followers “obey” slavishly is only rhetoric. A successful leader in democratic society learns how to serve his followers and the public at large. A great part of this service is to give voice to their desires. The present discussion concerns how to do this efficiently as possible. It does not, as you suggested, concern how one can make people desire things that the leader himself wishes them to desire.

A great leader knows how to work political judo. He senses the zeitgeist of his era and the concerns of the people. If he is exceptionally skillful, he can show his constituents better ways to achieve the goods they desire, or to even convince them of the necessity for other goods. To put it in your terms, the voters pick a leader who they trust to carry out their wishes. Part of what they want him to do is to better unify their interest group so as to solve problems demanding collective action.

I am not saying that people are irrational and need to be lead by the nose. I am just accepting what is obviously true, that people perceive facts differently depending on their perspectives. You seem to believe that using narratives for better communication is just the same as pulling the wool over people’s eyes. It is not. Telling people a story that they relate to builds a bond that helps create the acceptance of facts needed for a person to even begin to reason. It is not a shortcut and doesn’t remove the need for reasoning. Most of all, it is not, as you shriek, “inherently elitist and at least potentially undemocratic view.” Not at all.

I do not claim that I am somehow superior for understanding how humans absorb information. Furthermore, I do not claim that I am free from the “errors” of reasoning that sometimes result from being framed into a corner by narratives that might be designed to exploit my particular frames. I obviously have frames. We all do. You have several which I find highly irritating and entertaining in turn. However, we are able to discuss matters rationally. Think of frames as habits of thought that organize related facts into useful narratives that express a person’s beliefs about how the world or any particular part of it works. They are at the beginning of reason, not the end.

It is intuitively obvious to me that people have habits. Some people shower in the morning, others in the evening. Some folks smoke after intercourse, others have never bothered looking. We use frames to habitually sort through the vast amount of data we receive every day from the world around us. It allows us to efficiently pick out what we need and to build up supporting evidence for the way we view the world. Naturally, we are grateful to accept facts which support our argument of the world.
If someone wants to catch our attention in this maelstrom of data we now live within, and to communicate better with us, they should present their arguments in a narrative that we readily relate to. Framing grants one entrée. It allows one to be heard over a chorus of competing voices. It allows one’s argument to be considered, and then accepted or rejected on the merits.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 11:07:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hi, Paul:

Wasn't harping on it; just had expected it, and you hadn't said that more were coming. No worries.

Anyway, if one can learn about frames, then how does that gel with the basically irrational or emotional basis for cognition which Lakoff seems to posit continually? If he means that minds are partially emotional/nonrational and partially rational, then I don't see the novelty. Point 2, "Thought is mostly unconscious," in your previous link seems to mean just that. How then, does one overcome it? I think it hinges on "mostly," and thus we're back in familiar territory and Lakoff has avoided the recursive trap. My point is once you banish rationality from the mind, you fall into a boomerang situation that undercuts your own argument. So, if Lakoff actually believes that there is such a thing as rational learning -- which is indeed implied by his very act of writing a book -- then why does he insist upon arational bases for thought so insistently? Why dress up his fairly uncontroversial statement (if I'm correct) with neurobiological hypotheses (presented as fact in this string, and, I think, in Lakoff's writings) that are basically unproven, as far as I can tell from Damasio, and unnecessary, as many here have pointed out. We don't need to know the physico-chemical basis to note, emprically, the "phenotype," so to speak, that certain tropes and other forms of bullshit (or, rhetoric) work. To tart that up with cutting-edge science seems to me premature and an unnecessary window-dressing for his ideas. Grabs attention, though; and the scientism of it adds weight to some, apparently.

That brings me to your question on Chomsky. From what little I've read of his huge output, not only does he not need a biological substrate for his lingusitic theories (hierarchical levels of meaning, again), but he also deems any such theorizing as speculative and premature. His universal grammar is based more on set theory and other types of mathematics and logic. As I said before, more or less quoting Chomsky, he takes the Mind and the language function (he even calls it an organ to emphasize its material basis) as an evolutionary given -- he's a materialist, that is. He notes that there are two interesting features of this "organ" -- 1. all children learn languages with particular ease (all nondamaged children). 2. Obviously, and demonstrably, any child from a given culture, when raised in another culture, absorbs that cultures language, not his biological origin's language. (Japanese babies in the US or vice versa.) How can both of these uncontroversial facts be accounted for? His hypothesis, way back in the '50s, was that there must be a universal grammar that is biologically based (mechanisms not attempted to be explained, at that time, which is, to me good science -- don't get ahead of yourself; Darwin did the same) -- given that he doesn't believe in miracles or nonmaterial explanations (with good reason). This universal grammar, which underlies all languages, is shaped by whatever linguistic environment the child grows up in to produce an English speaker, or what-have-you.

The burden of proof for Chomsky was wholly within the linguistic realm: are all languages reducible to one universal grammar? can all languages be derived from this universal grammar? and so forth. His books, Syntactic Structures (1957), which I haven't read, and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965) are the seminal books. This latter one I'm struggling through; it's dense!

A good introduction to his thought, linguistic and political, can be found in the book On Language (1998), a republishing of Language and Responsibility (1977) and Reflections on Language (1975). Or, browse through Chomsky.org.

I don't think he's against a biochemical basis for his theories (obviously), but from what I can tell, he doesn't claim to have that expertise, and also found the state of neural biochemistry to be insufficient to even make more than well-labelled speculative claims.

He may have a different view now, after the work in the 1990s by neural scientists; I don't know.

But, in its original formulation, Chomsky's theories were at the linguistic -- or "phenotypic," if you will -- level, and they stood or fell on that. My impression is that they stood.

He is definitely anti-empiricist in the sense of Lockean empiricism positing a blank slate -- he's too much of a Darwinian to accept that.

A weakness, in my view, is his allergy to depth psychology, being one of the leaders of the Cognitive Revolution. But no one thinker can encompass everything!

So, my problem with Lakoff's seemingly cavalier, "scientistic" statements about neural channeling or what-not is that first, they don't seem to be supported much, at least in MP; second, they strike me as scientistic window-dressing that belies a kind of arrogance that makes me trust him all the less -- and rationally, not emotionally; third, he flies so far ahead of what's known, as far as I can yet tell, that he hasn't taken the time to deal with philosophical problems that are well within his purview, which I (and many others) have brought up.

As for your reconstruction, yeah, that's close enough. We can run with it. Caveat: make sure you decide first whether Lakoff means "totally irrational/emotional" or "partially irrational/emotional," and then try to elucidate to what degree the irrational rules the rational. In my reading, it seems primary...which leads to a boomerang problem.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 9:33:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hi, Andrew:

I'll look at the wikipedia entries, but, again, that's not peer-reviewed science, which is not perfect, but is the best we have.

Sorry you think I'm full of shit, but that in itself doesn't constitute a counterargument.

I don't see how the civil rights movement, labor movements, or movements like the current World Social Forum are pipe dreams, and they are certainly bottom-up movements. Many exist in history, so I think your pipe-dream objection is unfounded -- or perhaps founders on your apparent predilection for Leaders.

I didn't sense any "shrieking," but I imagine that to discredit my argument, you need to "frame" me as hysterical. So be it.

I would encourage you to go back and read your post that I was reacting to. It is most definitely not democratic. In a democratic republic, the people demand from the candidates who they choose to lead. Sovereingty rests in the people, as opposed to the leaders. I'm well aware that this doesn't occur much anymore. So much the worse for it are we.

Are "frames" "theories," as I asked before? And, if so, do "frames" in that sense have any relation to Lakoff? Open questions, yet unanswered.

You slide from habits of showering to habits of thought. Surely, the latter exist; the question is how strong are they, and do you want to replace one habit with another (if, as it seems, frames are habits to you, and possibly to Lakoff), or do you want to encourage critical thinking, which uncovers habits of thought, brings them to the surface, so to speak, and teaches -- not indoctrinates -- people how to think about thinking, and then leaves them to their own devices to choose what they will, politically, ethically, and so on. To me, that's what education is all about -- it's certainly how I was educated.

If you mean "theories" when you write "frames," then, yes, we all have them. They are chosen rationally, with much reading and effort. There is no guarantee of 100% correctness -- in fact, I'd say that humans are likely unable to gain total truth. That, of course, doesn't mean we can't get at degrees of truth. Knowledge claims are probabilistic; that much Hume taught us. Only religious folks -- and geometers -- claim total certainty. Or system builders.

Inherent in your response is a disbelief that people are able to absorb new facts oustide of "theories," if that's what you mean. That's patently false; it's hard, yes, but if it were impossible, no one would ever change his or her mind, and no intellectual change would ever occur. People aren't necessarily as closed-minded as you seem to believe, but learning is hard, and keeping an open mind even harder. Complexity is the rule of life (biological and human); that fact ought to be demonstrated and communicated, as Kerry tried to do. But the PR/marketing/ad world would like you to appeal to the limbic system (or whatever -- the lowest common denominator) in as few words as possible, endlessly repeated. I don't see that as progress, or likely to foster a political discourse that has any hope of facing our major species-threatening crises head on.

To point to one internal inconsistency in your earlier comment, you first claim:

"The myth of the rational actor is part of the narrative of the enlightenment. All of the improvements in governance and industry that have taken place over the last few centuries are chalked up to our adherence to this narrative, no matter how much empirical evidence that shows it is incorrect."

Then you say:

"The knee-jerk reaction against framing is based on the idea that it is some form of trickery. That is some way it is a retreat from the liberal democratic principles that emerged from Enlightenment thought. This concern is misplaced."

Now, come on out and say it: do you or do you not accept Englightenment thought? In one paragraph, you dismiss a large portion of it, and deny it any credit for the improvements in the conditions of human existence in the past 400-500 years, but then comfort me by saying that Lakoff isn't really out to overturn the Enlightenment, so I should worry not.

Ideological consistency or discipline isn't really a concern of mine. In any event, the Democrats showed quite a bit of consistency, and -- if you accept the vote -- almost beat a sitting presdient during wartime after the worst attack on American soil ever. That's a testimony to the ability to rationally communicate and for everyday people to see bullshit coming a mile off. I don't really accept the vote -- too much data shows major shenanigans with touchscreen votes in Ohio -- so I think that Dems won. Again. Hence my amusement at all the rending of clothing and ashes placed on heads by Democrats (some) -- it's completely misplaced and inappropriate. Kerry ran a good campaign, destroyed Bush in debates (you now see why BushCo wanted only three, rather than monthly debates, which Kerry suggested early on; but you probably saw that before!), and in my book, almost certainly won. As did poor, "boring" Gore.

So, I don't accept the GOP "frame" that the Dems have no ideas or are out of touch or that values voters turned the election. It's based on the fiction that the Dems actually lost the election, which is almost certainly not true. Even if it is -- how close they came! And much of that effort was due to bottom-up, self-organized movements, like moveon.org, ACT, and so on.

Anyway, thanks for the comments!

Thursday, July 21, 2005 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hey, Paul -- one more thing. I realize that given your huge job and my much more flexible time, I have an unfair advantage, timewise.

So, just be aware that I realize that, and will try not to take unfair advantage of it. Take all the time you need -- we need not be in a hurry to have this interesting and important debate.

Ciao, Dug

Thursday, July 21, 2005 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Demotiki said...


I think we will just have to agree to disagree on this one. I am pretty tired of going over the same ground again and again.

As for your theory that the civil rights movement or past labor movements existed without leaders, that's just bunk. Neither movement would have gotten off of the ground without someone to organize them. Remember, it's called, "organized labor" not "spontaneous protest labor." The only example of mass behavioral change might be something like women stopping wearing bras during the 1970s. Even then, you are dealing with a fashion statement as much as a political movement. And even then, there were people who advised women to stop using bras. It was part of a greater movement.

Changes like women using more birth control might be a better example. Even there many women were given the confidence to change their behavior from something outside of themselves. Just as they were repressed by society into not using the pill, changes in society allowed them to change their behavior without being stigmatized. Whether you admit it or not, there was a powerful narrative behind the feminist movement that was crafted by public figures - leaders if you will. This narrative of female strength and independence came from the writings and speeches of women and men who had already freed themselves. To suggest that the efforts of these heroes of the woman's movement were somehow totalitarian in nature I think is dishonest. Being a leader is not the same as being a despot.

I appreciate the power of idealism, and I respect that quality in you, however, one has to look at the reality of the situation. The reality is that people don't spontaneously do anything of political importance unless things get very very bad. The riot is really the only spontaneous movement that reappears consistantly throughout history. Most people are content to watch Rome burn.

As for your contention that I am demanding an end to Democracy, well . . . I just can't take that criticism seriously. If we are to make our democracy better, we need to know how people think. I really don't care what you call the phenomenon we have all been discussing here. I find it glaringly obvious from talking to other human beings that when presented with evidence, they try to use that evidence to validate their world view. This is so widespread and so intuitively obvious that I really don't know how to communicate this idea to you. The whole framing debate isn't about brainwashing people, it's about how to get past this natural human tendency to block the adoption of poorly packaged information by using stories that are familiar and have real meaning to people. When you put your facts into a story which contradicts the listener's world view, you have less success than if you put your facts into a story that reinforces the listener's world view, or in some way nuances it. It's just that simple. You can believe it or not. Proving this point wouldn't be difficult, but why is it necessary. Don't you see that it is true?

Think of it this way. Pretend we are teaching a young child to add factions. If we dryly tell him the rules of adding factions we might have some success, but wouldn't we be better off teaching him to add slices of pizza, or using some other device that made adding fractions fit with what he knows and likes in the world. Parents do it all of the time with their children. You find a way to explain complex ideas or situations to your child using narratives that they understand. Your argument that somehow using these stories is lying and trickery is on the face of it just silly. Is it trickery to know how a boy likes to learn? Do you dupe him to learn fractions when you talk about pizza or pies instead of platonic real numbers?

There are limits to rationality. Of course people are irrational as well as rational. I would argue that the area where people are least rational is in politics. I have spoken to Republicans who support Bush despite the fact that Bush is wrong on every single issue they care about. They support him for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they identify with his story of what America is. I suspect that with time, as the distance between Bush’s story of America and Bush’s America grows, these individuals will defect. However, I don’t think for a minute that people make political decisions based on rational argument alone. So much of our current system is like rooting or a sports team. People love backing a winner; they love feeling that they are part of the winning team, the Republicans. They go to the country club and feel full of pride when they tell their friends how they took part in the team’s victory by making a contribution. Heck, we do the same thing.

This is not to say that in the future people might make political choices on a more rational basis. That is what we as Democrats must be moving towards. Unlike you, I feel that using framing and crafting attractive narratives of Democratic values will move us closer to that more rational democracy. If you disagree, start a spontaneous protest. However, keep in mind that if you work to convince others of your anti-framing concept, you are becoming one of those "leaders" you abhor.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 1:38:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hey, Andrew:

You're probably right that we won't agree on this. It's telling that you refuse to discuss it any further; if I don't immediately accept your position, I'm not worth talking to (on this score -- obviously, we're friends and this is a debate among friends; that much is clear to both of us!)?

As for bottom-up movements and leaders: they choose their own leaders from among their own. Like labor, civil rights, and so on. No advertising is needed, or at least, not this kind of PR-type bullshit we all laugh at when we see it on "The Simpsons."

Also, I find it I suppose unintentionally supportive of my mistrust for Lakoff's views, and their adoption and use by others, that you chose a parent-child metaphor (I take it, unconsciously -- yes, I see the irony here) to serve as a model for what Lakoff's frames are meant to do. Yes. Exactly.

What do you make of the World Social Forum or the Landless Peasant Movement? Or moveon.org? Or afterdowningstreet.org? Or Dean's campaign? They began as bottom-up protest movements -- Dean always claimed his supporters were better than he, to his credit. That leaders (not Leaders) grew organically out of those movements doesn't obviate my specific criticisms of Lakoff. Neither can I find anywhere myself saying that the leaders (not Leaders) of the feminist movement were totalitarians. I'd be happy to see where I said or implied that.

You tend to flatten argumentation into extreme categories; perhaps this is one reason you find Lakoff amenable: he thinks in similarly black-and-white terms. Which, I realize, would show that some people do have "frames" as understood by Lakoff. It's not unusual to project one's own style of thinking onto the world -- in fact, it's quite human. Which is why knowledge is essentially social; so it's too bad you want to bow out of this debate, unlike Paul.

You might be getting bored with it because you refuse to actually react to what I say, but rather simply repeat what you've already said. Hard to move a debate forward in that way. Paul, on the other hand, is starting at first principles and will try to convince me. He may or may not succeed, but at least he's engaging me.

Anyway, I don't disagree that people can and do twist the facts to match the policy they espouse. No one has ever disagreed about this in this or the previous debate on Lakoff. I don't agree that that is as widespread or as intractable as you seem to believe.

I do think people can be reached through rational debate, especially one that "outs" the kind of PR/marketing/ad-language bullshit that so pervades our culture. The Daily Show makes its bread on outing that kind of crap, as did Monty Python, in their more generally political moments.

It's too bad you won't let me know whether you consider "frames" to be "theories" in the sense I mentioned. There is a large epistemological difference, which matters to me for reasons I've laid out.

But, as you say, you're done with this debate. So, I'll continue it with Paul.

On another topic -- check out the Avenue Q clips. That show looks hilarious.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 2:11:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Thanks for the response Doug - I think some of the issues we're dealing with are obscured by lumping together "the unconscious", "irrationality", and "emotion", when in fact they're very different and independent things. Its clear to me that many conscious thoughts are irrational, and many unconscious thoughts very rational, in fact more rational than consciousness is.

In fact, its the frequent irrationality of consciousness that poses the problems that Lakoff and many cog sci people are trying to solve. How to explain it? How to work with it, or pare it down, in an effort to acheive the larger goal of a more humane society?

Still thinking, looking at/for the science, but will post more when I can.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 2:15:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Yes, I had noticed that those three categories were getting mixed up, too -- good point!

Unconscious rational thoughts is an interesting notion -- what would be an example? Freudians/neo-Freudians would probably define unconscious thought as irrational by definition...but I might be wrong about that.

As for the irrationality of conscious thought, without a depth psychology, cognitive scientists/psychologists are going to have a hell of a time. Which is why I always found that style of explanation a bit barren. Not that I'm intimately familiar with the entire corpus.

No hurry on the scientific articles -- we have plenty of time.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 2:23:00 PM  
Blogger Demotiki said...


I probably am finished with this post but I wanted to try to clear up a few misconceptions.

So, do you admit that leaders and followers are both components of a healthy democracy? Previously you declared that my acceptance of this proposition was indicative of a non-democratic streak. If you do feel that leaders have a place in democracy, won’t you admit that whatever helps the leaders communicate to their followers is inherently good? If so, then the debate will just be about whether an understanding of framing is useful for this communication.

I think it’s very difficult for you to defend the proposition that the leaders of past democratic movements were unwillingly drafted into service by well organized and demanding mobs. In my humble opinion, movements move because someone is there to steer them. Why did Gandhi go on a hunger fast - because his followers forced him to? He helped to change mob behavior for the better by using a technique that fit the narrative of self sacrifice his followers had internalized over years of practicing non-violence under his guidance. Or perhaps you believe he cynically manipulated them by exploiting their feelings and irrationality? You see, there are a million situations where leaders manipulate their followers with rhetoric of action or word. Bad leaders do this cynically and with bad intent. Good leaders do it in a heartfelt way hoping to accomplish good.

I just want to point out that your criticism of my metaphor of teaching a child is . . . for lack of a better words . . .GAY. It’s just a simple way of explaining how we all frame words and concepts as a pedagogic technique. You can substitute an adult into the example if it helps you to understand. There is nothing wrong with using what works. There is no rulebook of unusable frames. You choose the ones that open the lock of learning for your students. If you had your way, teachers wouldn’t be able to use metaphor, games, or anything that was non-literal, because that would be appealing to student’s irrationality. After all, students should be able to understand that learning is good for them and rationally sit down and get to it.

As for “the World Social Forum or the Landless Peasant Movement,” how many troops do they have? Are the landless peasants still landless? These examples are pathetic, and if you scratch the surface a little, I am sure you will discover that someone gave voice to the concerns of these people. Someone organized their activities. In short, they have leaders. Believe me, I know. I went to “The School Around Us,” a “leaderless” collective of a school. Our entire philosophy was based on grassroots and non-authoritarian organization. Strangely enough, the books didn’t balance themselves, the building didn’t design or build itself and the students only made up part of their curriculum. Leaders naturally arise. It’s a simple fact. If they are competent leaders, they avail themselves of the best tools at their disposal.

Dean wasn’t bottom up, that’s bullshit. He used framing to wake passions in peoples hearts by exploiting a narrative his followers carried in their hearts and minds. He used the tools you feel are bad to start a very powerful movement that has accomplished a lot of good. The desire to support Dean was there before Dean ever stepped up to a podium. He merely channeled the energy. In that sense he is correct in saying that his supporters are more important than he is.

As for my defense of leaders, you had posted that my acknowledgement of them revealed some totalitarian tendencies. You then posited that movements are spontaneous and do not have leaders. You have since backtracked on this point but I am not sure where you stand. However, I would be delighted to drop it because I don’t think it’s particularly germane to this discussion.

You also did some rather two-bit psychological deconstruction of my argument which amounts to something like the fact that I am projecting because I have frames. Whatever, I am sure I do, I KNOW you do. Let’s promise not to do this sort of penny-ante deconstruction. It doesn’t advance the debate and it just comes off as mildly arrogant and clearly insulting.

As for moving the debate forward, you asked for scientific evidence that brains form structures as a result of repeated firing of neurons. I gave you several links. If you read up on them you will learn that “fire-and-wire” originally proposed by Hebbs, is supported by “long-term potentiation,” and explains how patterns of thought are modeled in the physical structure of the brain. LTP has actually been tested and verified in rat brains. Don’t dis my source, Google LTP and you will find a million sources with more snob appeal. I personally don’t see anything wrong with Wikopedia. You made what I feel is an arbitrary distinction between a habit that has a physical result and a habit of thought. It seems quite clear to me that taking a shower every morning is a mental habit. One’s body doesn’t pick itself up and jump in the shower. Something in the brain tells it to do so, even when the conscious mind is still foggy with sleep. In fact, most of what we do, we do out of mental habit. That this includes our casual thinking should come as no surprise. Granted, if you force someone to sit down and really think you might get a different result, but you can’t do that with a TV transmission or even a book. Most people just float through the day. That’s a fact.

A chess player’s brain “chunks” information to allow the more rapid processing of move sequences. This “chunking” is somewhat similar to framing. The chess player eliminates off the wall moves (a small fraction of which might have been useful) to focus on those “chunks” of the chess board where pieces have a predefined relationship to one another. At this point, the player is relying on stored narratives of how these pieces interact. By sorting out the possible consequences of each of these sub regions of the board in turn, the player is able to then tackle how the sub regions will interact with eachother. This layered approach is more efficient than “plug and chug” approach of all the pieces at once. However, it does introduce some error when chunks may not interact as the player has assumed. You can feel yourself doing this when you are deeply concentrating on the game. Over time, you get better at chess by learning to chunk better. In other words, you improve as much by learning to ignore than learning to pay attention.

As for your optimistic assertion that people can be reached through rational debate alone without the use of rhetoric, did you follow the 2004 presidential election? Did you miss something? Bush was killed, absolutely killed, in the debates. Every day “rational” evidence of his criminal incompetence was available everywhere. It didn’t win the day for Kerry (although he did win). Rational argument didn’t stop the swift-boat bullshit from really hurting Kerry. These are facts, not theories. Rational argument alone was insufficient. As for the Daily Show, what evidence can you present that it has changed anything. Although it performs an important function by calling everyone on the bullshit, it doesn’t change anyone’s mind. If we were to believe your ideas about the primacy of rationality, then any one of the Daily Show’s hundreds of broadcasts would have switched over millions of Republican viewers. Sadly, it did not. Repetition helps. If Republicans watched the Daily Show every day for a year or two, I am sure you would see some weakening of party loyalty. However, this isn’t because of rational argument, but rather because they would have internalized the “anti-bullshit” frame. Equipped with a new found respect for truth-telling, they would find it harder to pull the level for the GOP. Rational argument should work immediately, and yet, we have little or no evidence of anyone changing parties “immediately.”

You want to know if I think “frames” are the same as “theories.” I don’t know how you define the two, and I don’t particularly care. I explained my understanding of “frames” before - which is very much similar to what Lakoff is talking about. This point isn’t meaningful. We both know what we mean by frames, namely cognitive structures that influence the acquisition of information and the formation of thought from new information. In this sense, frames are above theories and ideologies, although ideologies can incorporate frames. If you have ever spoken with a determined Marxist you would understand what I am talking about. People like this will ignore the sun shining through their roof and tell you how great it keeps out the rain. Believe me, I have seen it first hand.

I think my travels have made me a little more leery of an over reliance on the rational. Different cultures have profoundly different ideas about truth and rationality. Knowing this, I find it easy to understand how different groups within my country also react differently to attempts at persuasion. A vast number of Americans have no patience for politics and will choose who to support based on a gut feeling. Correctly or not, they just don’t feel like they can make a good choice any other way. Given that none of us actually knows any of these candidates, who are we to call them irrational?

Thursday, July 21, 2005 7:40:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hi, Andrew:

I think I'll let that post speak for itself. You don't really want to engage me, just to enrage me, which won't work, as I'm not angry, nor can you make me angry.

I can't go through all of your misstatements and mischaracterizations as you don't want to listen, and, as you say, you're done with this post.

The world is a lot less black-and-white than you seem to think, and not everything is about pounding your perceived opponent into submission -- that's not how one gains assent. Humiliating, or attempting to humiliate, someone into submission is not debate. It must fulfill some other need. Sorry if you find this too "psychological," but you ascribe things to me out of thin air -- I never even mentioned feminism, let alone its totalitarian nature.

You play very fast and loose with your argumentation, jumping from one point to one a light-year away with a lot of handwaving, and then get annoyed and attack when someone questions you. You've done it to me, to Allen, and to others as well.

It's OK; doesn't mean I don't like you. Just means that when we disagree, there's nowhere to go. I imagine this is the same with anyone who disagrees with you, which will make it hard for you to learn much from anyone else.

Anyway, I plan to work this through with Paul. He and I may both learn something. And probably won't need to have recourse to homophobic epithets in the process.

Paul, I await further discussion!

Pax, Dug

Thursday, July 21, 2005 8:20:00 PM  
Blogger Demotiki said...


Please do not take this approach, it doesn't reflect well on you as a person.

The reason I jump around so much is because you jump around so much. My response to your rather eclectic complaints is only as broad as the comments you made previously. As with your other rather ad homenum arguments, you are wrong here as well. You are the one who generalizes to the point of incoherence. When you characterize my arguement as "fast and loose," you are simply saying that you have no answer to what I have said. When I quote science that proves that the brain changes when the mind changes, you ignore what I say and continue as if your false belief is actually true. In fact, your last post was nothing but insult after insult without any substantive comments of note.

I don't think you are being intellectually honest about this for the following reason. You are a big believer in therapy, and you are constantly talking about how habits of thought exist that prevent people from doing what is plainly in their own best interest. Since you frequently make this argument, that people often act irrationally in their lives, I find it hard to believe that you don't believe it to be so in a more general sense.

I have no desire to enrage you. In fact, I didn't believe even you had this desire until that last post, which was quite insulting. However, I really don't invest too much in these little tete-a-tete so, no hard feelings. It's just frustrating that you refuse to counter my points. I took great pains to address every little complaint in your rather "fast and loose" last post.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 9:37:00 PM  
Blogger Palmer said...

Unconscious rational "thoughts" are everywhere, Doug. Desires to sleep, procreate, eat are all rational but not always conscious. Plus there are all the overlearned thoughts that are rational, but no longer require conscious attention. E.g., I want to play the drums well, so I should hit the symbol after the bass drum, etc., etc...

Conscious attention is the roving spotlight, and it's frequently steered by odd unconscious whims and tangents (hence the stream of conscious evident in many of these posts).

You seem to view the unconscious as dangerous, and the rational as the seat of the most noble aspects of the self. To me, things are more fluid.

Getting back to paralinguistics, the term stands for non-verbal communication--inflection, body language, interruption patterns, that kind of thing. Whether you believe that we are hardwired to respond to certain metaphors, you can't deny that we're predisposed to respond to certain tones, postures, facial expressions, etc.

These are the things I was referring to (somewhat obliquely, of course) when I talked about thumb points and flop sweats. Clinton wanted to emphasize his points without appearing overly aggressive, hence the thumbpoint. Nixon supposedly lost the debate with Kennedy due to his flop sweat. Reagan had his "there you go again..." during one of his debates.

Debating the neurochemical basis of "frames" seems to miss the point, although the debate can be entertaining. The fact is, framing in some sense takes place in any discussion. The framer gains an advantage over anyone who adopts his language or his terms.

If the so-colled Left can become more plain-speaking and mobilize some communicators who can speak to the common man and woman, maybe we can start to reclaim the discussion. Currently, the only place where I see the new frame of reference coalescing is on the Daily Show, but that might just be because my attention span is shortening over the years.

Anyhows, maybe we should apply some energy to some new discourse with other folks in addition to this record-breaking thread (btw: os this a record?)!

Thursday, July 21, 2005 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

It's actually not a record (yet); 61 is.

Thanks for the downlow on paralinguistics...reminds me of Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

I totally agree that the neurobiological basis for frames is kind of beside the point, which is why I granted it earlier on in this string. I'm more concerned with the epistemological, ethical, and political implications of Lakovian frames. As you can tell, I'm sure.

Another slippery term to be defined: "thought", perhaps versus "thoughts." I think the key here is what part of the mind is actually rational, and more importantly, how much of the mind is rational and how much control does rationality have -- and, normatively, do we prefer to maximize rationality or play upon irrationality? And, finally, how does all of that pertain to Lakoff.

I'm all for bringing others in -- hence the new post up top now. Feel free to join in, Mike.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 11:44:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Ah, I see you might mean, "let's put our energies toward another topic altogether."

Absolutely, if you want (or anyone else does)...we have multiple conversations going on all the time...there are no limits here; whatever you want to talk about.

Friday, July 22, 2005 12:15:00 AM  
Anonymous EasyE said...

Demotiki jousts:

Before I get on to the meat and potatoes, Doug, are you channeling Mark Evenson? The only reason I ask is that you seem to be wading in it.

Ouch! That's all the respect I get from ya, after countless hours of debate, ha? Then I gotta come in to help Doug out.

Friday, July 22, 2005 4:29:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

LOL! Respect is not at a premium here, easye...

It's all in good fun, I'm sure.

Friday, July 22, 2005 5:01:00 PM  

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