ONE SENTENCE ON FIVE LINES ABOUT CREATING MEANING; IN PERSPECTIVE OF RELATIONSHIP, PREJUDICE AND BEWITCHMENT
PRELIMINARY ATTEMPTS TO EXPLICATE SOME THOUGHTS THAT EVERYBODY ALREADY HAVE SOMEHOW THOUGHT OF
Ludwig Wittgenstein was much occupied with the question: «How can I go on?» (Wittgenstein, 1953, #154). It is the main project for all humans to find answer to that question, such that we can say: «Now I know how to go on!» I see it myself as a question of how we can go on from this moment to the next moment. There is more than on way to know, and I will mention three ways, each belonging to different realms of life; i) to explain, ii) to understand and iii) to be sensible of.
We can explain that which we can see and touch and is standing still such that we study it and eventually re-study it. The description we can make looks
like: «this is what it is». We can understand that which we can see and touch but does not stand still as it shifts with time and contexts. The description we can make looks like: «this is what it might be», implicitely saying that it might be different at an other point in time or m an other context. There are often situations when we can say: «I feel there is something here but I do not understand what it is». This third kind of knowing, to sense the situation leads to how one relates to the situation. One might relate well to a situation without be able to explain it or understand it.
The two first kinds of knowing can create meanings that can be formulated and passed on to others. This article, which deals with these two kinds of knowing, is an attempt to discuss various aspects of the act of creating meanings, formulating the meanings and the delivering of them; in daily life, in clinical life and in research life.
Particularity will the language’s impact on this act be mentioned.
We know from what we already have known
Before going into the issues mentioned in the introduction, I must deal with the relationships between basic assumptions and the meanings that are shaped. Donald Polkinghome summarizes this in his way, as he refers to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Peter Winch, Benjamin Lee Whorf og Hans Georg Gadamer:
«— all (those named above) propose that apodictic (objective, true, correct) knowledge is impossible, because human beings cannot stand outside their language system and cultures and obtain an absolute viewpoint. All our knowledge is conditional knowledge, constructed within our conceptual systems, and thus knowledge is a communal achievement and is relative to time and place». (Polkinghome, 1983, p 13.)
Martin Heidegger points to our preunderstanding and Hans Georg Gadam- er to our prejudices as the basis for what we come to understand about a particular person (Wachthauser 1986, Wamcke 1987). They say that we cannot not bring with us basic and general assumptions what a person is. These assumptions influence our understanding of a particular person in the moment with meet her or him. If we, in the meeting with this partcular other, see or hear something we have never experienced before, this new will turn back upon and nuance or even change our basic assumptions. That is called the hermeneutic circle.
One common prejudice
Very many people in the western culture have during the last three to four hundred years hold the basic assumption that what a person expresses is driven forth from an inner «core» that exists inside the person; «the centre of a person is within the person», and what person says or does represents this «core». To come to know has been assumed to be a result of an individual mental process (Gergen, 1994). There have been assumptions that this process is based on certain «intra-psychic structures», which have been labelled, for instance, as motivation, memory, subconsciousness, ego, etc. The individual person is assumed to be a passive receiver of impressions from the surrounding world, and the person is assumed to be able to make a representative and true picture of it. And, «..language is an instrument for bearing truth, on the one hand, and for conveying rational thought (internal concepts or meanings) on the other. To paraphrase, «When I make accurate observations of the world and share my conceptions with you via language, you too will know the world»» (Gergen, 1994, page 84).
A challenging prejudice
A person is not assumed to be a passive receiver of impressions, but an active selector of them. The person is not a neutral receiver of impressions but is prejudiced to select what he selects. The selected impressions are transformed to a picture, which is given meaning by putting it in a perspective. That is also a prejudiced activity. The language is a creative living force in the process of making meaning and the formulation of it. Since language also is a basic element in and indivisable from conversations, meanings are to a large extent created in the space between persons. This challenging prejudice says that; if a centre of a person exists, it exists between the person and other persons; in the language; in the conversations, in the relationships, in the culture (Gergen 1994, Shotter 1993). What a person says or does do not represent anything else. It is only what is said or done. It is there; «in plain view» (Wittgenstein 1953) Since language and conversations now has been so strongly emphasized I want to mention some assumptions about language.
Seven assumptions about language and voices
What I write in the following is pretty condensed compared to the sources it relates to. The written sources are:
Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein 1953,1980, von Wright 1990, Grayling 1988, Shotter 1996), Vygotsky (Vygotsky 1988, Morson 1986, Shotter 1993,1996), Derrida (Sampson 1989) and Bakhtin (Bakhtin 1993, Morson 1986, Shotter 1993,1996). The sources are also my own experiences of the usefulness of these assumptions when they are applied in practical work. Actually, the practical focusing on what others expressed, emerged more or less «by itself» in the socalled “reflecting processes”. These processes are open therapeutic talks, where questions and answers come from all the praticipating parts’ perspectives (Andersen 1995). An other extremely significant source has been the collaboration I have been fortunate to have with physiotherapist (physical therapist) Gudrun 0vreberg and her colleagues in nothem Norway. Gurdrun 0vreberg herself learned from Aadel Bulow-Hansen, who is our elderly mentor. In that collaboration learned about the connection between muscular activity, breathing and the expression ofoneself. Unfortunately the two books we have written are in norwegian language (0vreberg and Andersen, 1986 and Ianssen(ed.)1997).
- Language comprises all kinds of expressions. Not only the words but other kinds as well, for instance; painting, dancing, singing, sculpting et cetera. All these expression have in common that they are bodily activities, and if these actiivities occur in other persons presence, language becomes a social activity.
- Language is the vehicle by which we create meaning. The language will on one side give the possibilities for, but on the other side limit what we come to understand; language limits our realities.
- There is no meaning “behind” or “under” what is expressed. What is, is what is expressed and in that expression is the meaning.
- The activity of language comes first, then the meaning.
One searches through one’s repetoire of language to find the best expressions. With the expressions, when they are found, comes the thought (meaning). As Harry Goolishian, a famous armenian american family therapist, who died in 1991, used to say: «We need to talk in order to find out what we think!»
- Language comes at first from outside. The small child, up to two or three years of age, learns the adults’ words as part of a social activity. The child’s first repetoire of words can be regarded as imitated sounds. Then, between approximately three and seven, when the child plays alone with itself and talks loudly, the child makes the words it’s own. The language becomes personal, but since it comes from it’s surroundings, it will never be private. At the time when the play and the simultaneous loud talk vanishes, the inner dialogue of the child is established. When that happens the child have both outer and inner voices to carry the words of it’s language. Lev Vygotsky assumes: «We are the voices that inhabit us», (Morson, page 8), and «For Mikhail Bakhtin, the creation of a self is the selection of one innerly persuasive voice from among the many voices you have learned, and that voice keeps changing every time it says something» (Morson page 8). I would add that the selection of one innerly voice happens in the moment. In the next moment an other voice might be selected. vi) A person's utterance, for instance a word, will when the person self recognizes (experiences) it, make the person re-experience of something she or he has experienced before. The same word might therefore carry very different meanings for different persons, and the word does not represent what it is to describe, it relates to other words in our language.
vii) A person’s utterances are informative as they tell others and the person self something about her-Thmself.
- In addition the utterances are formative as the activities of utterances not only form the person’s thoughts and meanings, but the whole person. That means that in the moment the utterances occur, the person’s being-in- the-world is created as well. One does not do something kind because one is kind, but by doing something kind one becomes kind.
- When words are spoken in the open they may become extremely powerful. A fantasy or a fiction may start to exist as a fact if it is talked about long enough.
The voices and the words
The outer and inner voices, when they carry the words and thereby our pre-understandings (prejudices), will form our meanings and thereby our being-in-the-world. We are not protected from what Wittgenstein called the bewitchment of our own utterances, neither as ordinary persons nor as clinicians nor as researchers. What is found on the last six lines could be called the big assumption. One might say that part of being a person is to be bewitched and to be prejudiced. We can neither not be bewitched nor not prejudiced. Both inner and outer voices are followed with bodily movements. One could say that the movements are parts of the activities of the voices. When a person speaks his or her outer voices the simultaneous bodily activity can be seen. When a person speak his or her inner voices, that vice can not be seen by others, but we can see the bodily movemnets that foloow the voice. This raise an ethical issue, and my stance to that is: when a person prefers not to let the inner voice become an outer voice, I shall neither see the activities that follow the inner voice. It means that I refrain from interpreting “non-verbal” signs.
The hermeneutic circle and the community
Our inner talks correspond with our outer talks, and the outer talks are part of the conversations in the community we belong to. These conversations are significant as they have the power of centralizing certain languages and marginalizing others. Which kind of language is available for forming our basic assumptions?
The act of one’s understanding the particular
The act of one’s understanding something and share this understanding with others comprises at least five elements;
- a relationship between the one who is to understand and the particular (f.i. a situation or a person) to be understood;
- one makes distinctions (defines the foreground) plus
- one selects the perspective (defines the background). The ii) plus iii) «produces» a description (for instance a story); foreground against background;
- one formulates this description in a spoken or written text; and v) one shares what is formulated with the community.
One of the assumptions in this paper is that our on-going daily inner and outer talks determine how we relate to the five mentioned elements. For simplicity I have chosen to discuss prejudices (inner and outer talks) of the five issues by giving two contrasting stands on each of them as examples.
- One might f.i. say: «he has much agression» or «his angry behavior is related to his character». Such on-going daily inner and outer talks bewitch one to think that being angry is an individual phenomenon, and thereby to think that the observed is what he is, independent of time and context.
- The constrasting inner and outer talks might say: «he is angry right now related to what the other said». Such ongoing daily talks bewitch us to think that the present parts influence each other and both are participants, and in a wider sense such talks bewitch us to think that human behavior is communal and related to time and context.
- (I have myself found a great interest to notice the particular powerful bewitching effect the two verbes to be and to have might have, if one forgot to add the aspects of time and context to them.)
- On-going daily inner and outer talks that bewitch us to think of behavior as an individual phenomenon, make us search for personal distinctions of the other, by f.i. filling out individually oriented questionnaires or rating scales.
- Contrasting on-going daily inner and outer talks make us think of behavior as time- and context-bounded, and make us search for distinctions of relational kind, f.i. by asking «who talked with whom in which way at which point in time?»
- On-going daily inner and outer talks of such kind: «he is angry because his childhood was so difficult» or «he is angry because he has never met friendliness» make us easily think that behavior is an individual phenomenon an can best be understood in perspective of the personal history.
- Contrasting on-going daily inner and outer talks of the following kind: «he is angry in order to protect himself or «he is angry in order to cover his sadness in the presence of those he dislikes», tend to bewitch us to think of behavior in the perspective of his be- ing-in-the-world in the on-going circumstances in this moment.
- Our formulations will naturally be similar to what we say in our inner and outer talks.
- We might formulate: «he is angry» or «he is very aggressive» or «he has a strong agression».
- A different way to formulate would be: «he was angry for some seconds when he thought..» or «he was angry when he heard..» or «he was angry when he was talked of as..»
- How will these two kinds of formulations influence the receiver of the text? The receiver might be bewitched as well, maybe without realizing (recognizing) it?
- Which community will receive and accept which kind of formulation?
- The community will most probably prefer the language it is already used to.
- Maybe the community will require a certain language in order to take the text into consideration?
- That certain language bewitches the person (that carries and utters that language) in a certain way, I would say!
One sentence on five lines
I will now put one sentence on five lines, where each of the five lines represents five different levels of the act of creating meaning. All the activities on each line are activities in language.
The communities regulate the formulations (language) of the stories (meanings) of the distinctions (what one see and hear) of the event (episode, moment, problem etc).
Notice the underlinings; the event is in singular, the others: distinctions, stories, fomulations, communties are in plural. One event can give rise to many distinctions, one and the same distinction can create many stories, one and the same story can be formulated in many ways etc.
Turning down up one might say:
The text (the episode, etc.) creates texts (distinctions) of the text, which create texts (stories) of the texts of the text, which create texts (formulations) of the texts of the texts of the text.
Our on-going inner and outer voices carry our prejudices such that our distinctions are almost made before we have made them. Our prejudices «sneak» in between the line of event and the line of distinctions and form the actual distinction. Correspondingly the perspectives are selected beforehand, as are the formulations by which we express our stories.
Monological and dialogical conversations and corresponding relationships
The finnish psychologist Jaakko Seikkula refers to Vygotsky and Bakhtin as he talks about these two kinds of conversations (Seikkula, 1995). The first kind, the monological, is a talk in the perspective of one of the parts only. One part asks the questions and the other parts are there only to answer. The other kind, the dialogical, is a talk in all parts’ perspectives where all present can ask and all can answer.
The first kind could be called a hierarchical relationship, with one upper and one lower part. The upper is usually called an expert.
The second is a democratic (and heterarchical) one, where all parts can influence how the parts talk and work together. The parts are not equal as they come from different backgrounds and have different experiences. But they have equal right to influence on how they collaborate.
Tn relationships with one part as the expert, one often finds the language to be an expert-language. The meanings or the knowledge created in expert-language will easily be useful for the expert and his expert-community only.
How many experts are aware of how their expert-language bewitch them and produce their prejudices? How many experts think of how these prejudices «sneak» in between the five lines in the sentence above? How many experts think of how their prejudices contribute to select one particular of many possibilities on each of the lines? In relationships where all parts can influence how they talk and work together, one most often find the parts’ ordinary, daily language. Even if the parts are not aware of their prejudices, all voices can be heard in the process of making distinctions, selecting perspectives and finding formulations. The knowledge created in their own daily language becomes available in their daily community.
«Now I know!»
Maybe an understanding of the activities within the sentence on the five lines can help us, whether we are psychotherapists, clients, scientists, mothers, fathers, presidents, prisoners or whatever to know how we come to say : «Now I know how to go on!»