Mon Jul 9th, 2007 at 11:26:07 AM EST
The anti neocon vision is here: Piranha vision
Committed to an existence in which only observable experience is real, the Pirahã do not think, or speak, in abstractions and thus do not use color terms, quantifiers, numbers, or myths. Everett pointed to the word "xibipío" as a clue to how the Pirahã perceive reality solely according to what exists within the boundaries of their direct experience which Everett defined as anything that they can see and hear, or that someone living has seen and heard. When someone walks around a bend in the river, the Pirahã say that the person has not simply gone away but xibipío ‘gone out of experience,’ Everett said. They use the same phrase when a candle flame flickers. The light ‘goes in and out of experience.’
I still recall the first day that one universals fell down. I was probably 10 and somehow I woke up and stand tall and tired.. My mom hug me up and said "come on.. it is not like you are going to work the fields"... I , of course, did not understand. "what do you mean , mom?", "Well I mean you are not going to harvest like your grandma at your age".. she answered. "When was that?" I replied. I was known in the family by my insistence of knowing when things happened instead of why things happened... and with numbers attached to them.. that's why I asked the numbers of all the buses that came by during six months at the age of 2 (The patience of my mother answering them was for sure breathtaking.) Once she provided a date I trusted her.. but how was that possible.. how?.. and I did not utter a word...I could not comprehend...until.. LIGHT "Do you mean that there are children who do not wake up in the morning and go to school?" My mom smile back....There it was... my first cultural ethnocentric urban european belief smashed with a smile... at the age of 10...
Follow me below the fold...
From the diaries - whataboutbob
Actually I had had another encounter with a fallen universal which I refused to believe.. that had been at the age of 6-8... I refused to believe in it since my dad did not provide an adequate number for when (if any) languages which used weird letters had appeared. I could not conceive that anyone could use different letters than mine.. I could understand different languages..rearrange the letter to mean the same thing (like the English some people spoke with my dad) it just meant different order of the letters for the same thing... but different letters ???.. No way!! and the fact was completely rejected without any remorse.
So you may guess that I read with delight the linguistic analysis of the prianha language.. only 13 phonemes.. but so many pitches you can think they are singing all the time (I learnt that languages did not use only phonemes but also pitches to convey meaning.. but that was .. well five years ago? I was mature enough to accept it)
So today I want to share with you that another universal block I have always thought to be true may be at the verge of collapse...The universal traits of language that 99.9% of languages share might be not universal...It has been considered that recursion in language.. the ability to introduce a sentence within a sentence within a sentence (like the ability to generate any number for 1, 2... and then apply recursion on... up to 3, 4,5 ..) was an universal trait of language. Actually Chomsky even defended that it was the only thing really universal and human.. it made us human. The fact that some cultures did not have recursion in numbers but did have them in language (with the now famous numeral system known as "one, two, and many" of some african cultures) was more than enough (for me) to think Chomsky was right
Well check the link to the investigations with Everett among the Piranhas...
Thew New Yorker
The Pirahã, Everett wrote, have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for "all", "each", "every", "most", or "few", terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition. Everett’s most explosive claim, however, was that Pirahã displays no evidence of recursion, a linguistic operation that consists of inserting one phrase inside another of the same type, as when a speaker combines discrete thoughts ("the man is walking down the street", "the man is wearing a top hat") into a single sentence ("The man who is wearing a top hat is walking down the street"). Noam Chomsky, the influential linguistic theorist, has recently revised his theory of universal grammar, arguing that recursion is the cornerstone of all languages, and is possible because of a uniquely human cognitive ability.
Steven Pinker, the Harvard cognitive scientist, calls Everett’s paper "a bomb thrown into the party."
More surprising to me were the reports that they really did not have any art.. weird they do not do masks or figures (I thought) and yes indeed they actually do figures as any other culture.. but they only do figures of things that DO PRESENTLY EXIST. They spot a plane.. then they do one figure of a plane..and then forget forever until another plane appears. It is not that they do not have art. It is that they have an art vision which has nothing to do with us. Just like I have already learnt from my intense study of African Art Anthropology (private lessons)
And what about myths... They really do not like myths? Is it possible.. No narratives.. nothing... the universal I have been defending here for ages, false? well not so...nothing like a good Hollywood movie to check it...
That evening, Everett invited the Pirahã to come to his home to watch a movie: Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong. (Everett had discovered that the tribe loves movies that feature animals.) After nightfall, to the grinding sound of the generator, a crowd of thirty or so Pirahã assembled on benches and on the wooden floor of Everett’s Indian room, a screened-off section of his house where he confines the Pirahã, owing to their tendency to spit on the floor. Everett had made popcorn, which he distributed in a large bowl. Then he started the movie, clicking ahead to the scene in which Naomi Watts, reprising Fay Wray’s role, is offered as a sacrifice by the tribal people of an unspecified South Seas island. The Pirahã shouted with delight, fear, laughter, and surprise and when Kong himself arrived, smashing through the palm trees, pandemonium ensued. Small children, who had been sitting close to the screen, jumped up and scurried into their mothers’ laps; the adults laughed and yelled at the screen.
If Fitch’s experiments were inconclusive on the subject of whether Chomsky’s universal grammar applied to the Pirahã, Jackson’s movie left no question about the universality of Hollywood film grammar. As Kong battled raptors and Watts dodged giant insects, the Pirahã offered a running commentary, which Everett translated: "Now he’s going to fall!" "He’s tired!" "She’s running!" "Look. A centipede!" Nor were the Pirahã in any doubt about what was being communicated in the long, lingering looks that passed between gorilla and girl. "She is his spouse," one Pirahã said. Yet in their reaction to the movie Everett also saw proof of his theory about the tribe. "They’re not generalizing about the character of giant apes," he pointed out. "They’re reacting to the immediate action on the screen with direct assertions about what they see."
But what about those so lovely myths that we have about our origin.. for sure they must have them... well actually yes.. this is their myth about their own existence come to being..sort of.
ORIGINAL MYTH OF THE PIRANHAS:
"IT has always been like this."
y punto pelota (as we say in Spain).
With art and narratives understood in the proper context they regain their footing...we again confirm that art is not universal in the European sense.. but in some kind of weird history joke it is used to define completely different things....but that was already known by me thanks to the above-mentioned private lessons. So I know that the thing we call African Art has nothing to do with "Art"-The narrative we have created about Art. A mask is not art.. is another thing we do not know how to name it..and we call it art.. Mask are about personal and existential experiences, about rithuals.. a mask which is not used is not worthy, irrelevant..hanged in a wall..are you kidding? A mask in a museum, or any other figure goes against any basic meaning that most african communities give to their own so-called Art.
Something similar can be said about the narratives of the piranhas... the narrative of the piranhas is presencial..so their universe is existential.. no abstraction, no abstract myths to live by.. but an encompassing vision to describe the present.. used to follow a history line of events that happen in front of you... realism to the extreme.
Regarding feelings...well it seems from the reports that they have empathy (as any other culture documented up to date, good for the Star trek writters and mythology based on it), they have a complex social net..and a rather complex economic structure which has never "improved". It can also be checked that fear is agian unviersal.. thanks god for not destroying two universal the same day .
What about the other feelings some people think are universal like happiness, sadness... Somehow I really doubt that any of our complex abstract feelings exist there..But they still must recognize some patterns to generate narratives like in the movie. They recognaize empathy and fear... any other? what about the unviersal feelings in dispute? How can they be angry as we are? I am sure some pshychologists must be looking for something which looks similar to depression (bad joke I know.. but next time I am depressed I am really going to think about them... "of course they do not have any kind of depression, it is abstract" I will tell myself).
And finally.. to the big price... the universal gone.. the thing I really will have a hard time defending from now one: recursion..what about the possibility that language may not have anything particularly universal. Much more, what if it is not specially different from other animals comprehension except for the cultural part. What if recursion is not really biological stuff but something quite spread which must be kept there thanks to our culture...Well now it certainly can be...
I just have to wait to know the results of the experiments described in the article..which, as can be seen in the last block I provide, are going extremely, extremely well...... sort of.
Fitch’s experiments were based on the so-called Chomsky hierarchy, a system for classifying types of grammar, ranked in ascending order of complexity. To test the Pirahã’s ability to learn one of the simplest types of grammar, Fitch had written a program in which grammatically correct constructions were represented by a male voice uttering one nonsense syllable (mi or doh or ga, for instance), followed by a female voice uttering a different nonsense syllable (lee or ta or gee). Correct constructions would cause an animated monkey head at the bottom of the computer screen to float to a corner at the top of the screen after briefly disappearing; incorrect constructions (anytime one male syllable was followed by another male syllable or more than one female syllable) would make the monkey head float to the opposite corner. Fitch set up a small digital movie camera behind the laptop to film the Pirahã’s eye movements. In the few seconds’ delay before the monkey head floated to either corner of the screen, Fitch hoped that he would be able to determine, from the direction of the subjects’ unconscious glances, if they were learning the grammar. ... "They’re going to do exactly what every other human has done and they’re going to get this basic pattern. The Pirahã are humans"humans can do this."
It quickly became obvious that the Pirahã man was simply watching the floating monkey head and wasn’t responding to the audio cues."It didn’t look like he was doing premonitory looking," Fitch said. "Maybe ask him to point to where he thinks the monkey is going to go." "They don’t point," Everett said. "Nor, he added, do they have words for right and left. Instead, they give directions in absolute terms, telling others to head "upriver" or "downriver," or "to the forest" or "away from the forest." Everett told the man to say whether the monkey was going upriver or downriver. The man said something in reply.
"What did he say?" Fitch asked.
He said, "Monkeys go to the jungle."
Fitch grimaced in frustration. "Well, he’s not guessing with his eyes," he said. "Is there another way he can indicate?"
Everett again told the man to say whether the monkey was going upriver or down. The man made a noise of assent. Fitch resumed the experiment, but the man simply waited until the monkey moved. He followed it with his eyes, laughed admiringly when it came to a stop, then announced whether it had gone upriver or down.
After several minutes of this, Fitch said, on a rising note of panic, "If they fail in the recursion one"it’s not recursion; I’ve got to stop saying that. ...
"This is typical Pirahã," Everett said soothingly. "This is new stuff, and they don’t do new stuff."
"But when they’re hunting they must have those skills of visual anticipation," Fitch said.
"Yeah," Everett said dryly. "But this is not a real monkey."
Do not worry .. if the subjects do not match your theory.. pick up the right subject.
Everett dismissed the man and asked another Pirahã to come into the hut. A young man appeared, wearing a green-and-yellow 2002 Brazilian World Cup shirt, and sat at the computer. Everett told him to say whether the monkey was going to go upriver or downriver. Fitch ran the experiment. The man smiled and pointed with his chin whenever the monkey head came to rest. The computer crashed.
By the next morning, Fitch had debugged his software, but other difficulties persisted. One subject, a man in blue nylon running shorts, ignored instructions to listen to the syllables and asked questions about the monkey head: "Is that rubber?" "Does this monkey have a spouse?" "Is it a man?" Another man fell asleep mid-trial (the villagers had been up all night riotously talking and laughing" a common occurrence for a people who do not live by the clock). Meanwhile, efforts to get subjects to focus were hampered by the other tribe members, who had collected outside the hut and held loud conversations that were audible through the screened windows.
One Pirahã man seemed to make anticipatory eye movements, although it was difficult to tell, because his eyes were hard to make out under the puffy lids, a feature typical of the men’s faces. Fitch tried the experiment on a young woman with large, dark irises, but it was not clear that her few correct glances were anything but coincidental. On the fourth day, Fitch seemed to hit pay dirt. The subject was a girl of perhaps sixteen. Focussed, alert, and calm, she seemed to grasp the grammar, her eyes moving to the correct corner of the screen in advance of the monkey’s head. Fitch was delighted, and perhaps relieved;
well.. thanks god for that girl....Luckily I just have to wait for the results... and somehow trust them?... well you know what... I will quit saying that the universal grammar is universal.. and that's it.. It is easier and I can safely ask:
"When was that?" I can calmly answer myself..."It was when you were 31 years old... in a boring weekend following links at dailykos."
So now that I have a date.. it must be true.