Saturday, 16 April 2016

Social cognition and the death of the inner voice

During a lively discussion at the most recent class on the subject of participatory sense-making, I cited Fred’s paper as an example of the kind of dynamic social phenomena that the theory of PSM seems to well describe.

The paper provides a detailed and persuasive account of the voice, and the act of speaking, as an integral part of language and languaging rather than a peripheral and non-salient aspect that is attributed to it by modern linguistics, which assumes phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics to be worthy, and the rest (literally) is noise.

Joint-speaking seems to have some interesting properties and cognitive science has little to say on the matter. It appears to act as a bridge between the between the inner world of the self and the outer world of the other. The Cartesian dualism that is the axiomatic bedrock of human sciences seems to vanish before our eyes. When we chant slogans together in the stands of a football match, sing in harmony in a choir, or respond in unison to the urgings of a brilliant orator at a rally, the world out there and the world in here do not seem to have the same purchase, its power seems to temporarily  dissipate as we are subsumed in a collective dynamic energy. Gazing into the future and ruminating on the past that are such features of ourselves as unified discrete "I"'s are forgotten at that moment. Descartes has lost his power. The inner voice is dead.

And yet it is this inner voice, the reassertion of the mind / world dichotomy that provides the platform to keep in check the power the madding crowd. The ferocious energy of the collective can be directed and misdirected. In the context of where and when joint-speaking is observed, a litany of problems can be identified. Here and Here are small examples of the power of collective speaking and the hateful abuse that, while certainly not synonymous with the act of joint speaking, are no strangers to it.

When the energy of the collective is accessed, through joint speaking or other means, direction of it and dissention from it are often most powerfully articulated through the outward expression of an inner voice. It is the introspection of the individual and the commitment of that introspection to writing that can act as a counter-balancing force.

So what to make of this relationship between the energy of the collective and the power of the inner voice? Vygotsky thought of the inner voice as the internalisation of socially learned languaging, “In Piaget’s view, [inner speech] arises from the inadequate socialization of what is initially an individual form of speech. In our view, it arises from the inadequate individualization of the initially social speech, from the inadequate isolation and differentiation of egocentric from social speech.” So the inner voice grows out of social cognition, and “the characteristics of egocentric speech do not atrophy…they strengthen and grow…they follow a rising not a falling curve”. So we have this continually shifting emphasis; it is only through social cognition that we learn language, the internalisation of this process results in the emergence and strengthening of the inner voice, seat of the Cartesian dualism, dynamically intertwined social phenomena such as joint-speaking seems to comatose this inner voice and unleash the powerful collective energy of the crowd, and it is through the reassertion of the inner voice in writing that the social excesses created by the energy of the crowd can be checked. 

The opposition of a Cartesian separation between mind and world, and breaking down of the barrier between self and other is a false dichotomy. We are obliged to inhabit both of these paradigms.

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