Thursday, February 6, 2014

Universal and contingent image schema and cognitive structures

On a practical level, the evolution of language is relevant to this previous post. If we have universal, neurolinguistic human structures then we might be able to correlate this with universal human cognitive structures of the type we all go through, the usual developmental hierarchy. But there are over 5,000 languages in the world, quite a diversity, so what is universal about language and what is particular to cultures, regions, dialects? And given the ontocartographical bent, even different climates and geographies? And does that say something about English language prejudices about cognitive structures?

This recent paper suggests that "language seems to have evolved along varied, complicated paths, guided less by neurological settings than cultural circumstance." It mentions Chomsky's universal grammar, and that there may be a limited repertoire of universals but contra Chomsky they are minimal and diversity is the rule.

Recall Lakoff challenged Chomsky's universal grammar for cognitive (embodied) linguistics, of which I've made much hay. Lakoff also claims universals like image schema that he claims cross all cultures. But in this post and following there have been challenges to this view, noting that some cultural factors indeed enact different image schema. And not only that, but cultural development can via downward causation actually create new image schema that were not there originally, given brain plasticity and growth.

And this article explores how a different geography produces different sounds, influencing how languages in high altitude regions develop different sounds. It  also mentions that some studies noted more vowel usage in warmer climes, though it is controversial. I'd suggest the possibility that this could also affect semantic content in adapting to different geographies. Granted this entire field of geographical linguistics is relatively new, but it is proceeding nonetheless. And given such new philosophical fields like onto-cartography it seems an interesting topic to explore.

Balder explored the possible relationship of different philosophical schools being associated with particular linguistic elements. This could also extend to how different languages themselves developed from different, or at least variations of, universal cognitive structures, themselves highly influenced by climate, elevation and a host of other geographical elements. This is not to deny we have some universal cognitive structures, but that there might not be as many as we assume given our own language. And there may indeed be differences and/or variations in those cognitive structures based on cultural difference, themselves influenced by geographical parameters. These could very well be at least some of those unconscious (and virtual in that respect) attractors to which we gravitate in forming language, culture and even cognitive structures.

This article by Sinha and de Lopez, for example, lauds Lakoff et al for going beyond Piaget's logico-mathematical modeling in formulating invariant cognitive structures, but still criticizes the former for engaging in the same "epistemic individualism" (29). And while Lakoff refuted the logico-mathematical basis of cognitive structure with an embodied structure, he also  retained the notion of universal, invariant structure in individuals. The authors notes that while embodiment theories might resolve the mind-body half of the Cartesian dualism it still needs work on the individual-social half (30).

In a later section of the paper he discusses Vygotsky, who includes material functionality into the mix of image schema. And that different cultures apply this functionality differently with the consequent difference in image schema, language and cognitive structure.

“Our suggestion, then, is that a nonlinguistic sociocultural diff€erence regarding canonical artifact use, embodied in the material cultures and exemplified in nonlinguistic cultural practices, gives rise to slightly but significantly di€fferent conceptualizations of 'containment' in the di€fferent cultures” (35-6).

Given that containment is a significant schema in forming mereological relations and extended in how we formulate levels of development, this could point to a different cognitive structure for said levels. He also notes that Vygotsky applied this to material linguistic mediators, and given the different languages that developed from different schema this also involved different semantic content (36).

The above is just one example of how the Piagetian and Wilberian (and even Lakoffian) notions of universal structure are not eliminated but certainly adjusted when we take account of the above.

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