Experience as the Root of Language Development
Experience as the Root of Language Development
In this paper I am arguing for a 'middle way' between two extreme views of philosophy of language that are prominent in philosophy at the present time. Analytical philosophers stress logic, and denotation of objects in the external world to an excessive degree, ignoring the many hermeneutical ways that poets, politicians and ordinary people can play with language, as language games, as the later Wittgenstein would say. But , hermeneutical philosophers have stressed the interpretive aspects of language to an excessive degree, ignoring the grounding in truth and logic that languages need to function as communication systems, as the earlier Wittgenstein pointed out. I will argue for a need to include an experiential 'middle ground' between the two extremes, to tie them together, and make the whole package make sense. The experiential 'middle ground' will be rooted in First Person singular conscious experience of the type that William James and John Dewey considered central to an analysis of human life. To a Jamesian and Deweyan conception of experience, as a stream of consciousness, I will add insights from Lev Vygotski and George Lakoff, to clarify the content and structure of my contemporary account of experience as a basis for language. .
Language must index experience: a) individually, b) socially, and c) as recalcitrant reality.
What both continental and analytical language fundamentalists have in common is a denial that semantics ties the meanings of words to anything that is not a part of a language system or a language game. My opposition to both is specifically, a claim that semantics must be hooked up to human experience in at least one of three ways. For words to have meaning they must denote, refer to, or index some aspect of reality. The aspect denoted might be some thought or feeling in an idiosyncratic human stream of consciousness, some detail of social experience, or some aspect of the recalcitrant physical (or otherwise) world as it impinges on first person singular human experience.
This is not a claim that language cannot be self-referential. Logic is a self-referential discussion of the structure of language, and literary criticism is a self-referential discussion of works produced in language. Philosophy of language is also using language to discuss language. My claim is only that language can not be exclusively self-referential and still do its job. As Kant showed that lies are parasitic on truth-telling, so, self-referential uses of language are parasitic on more mundane cases of naming and predication. The most basic learning of language has to be of names for people, actions, or things.
The Individual Indexing Function of Language
Experience must be someone’s experience, and so it occurs, primarily, in the first-person singular. Thus, the denotation of language must have its basis in first-person singular experience of the world. To argue for this position, I will argue first, that primarily social and mechanical chains of causation that are the foundation for language in Kripke’s theory cannot secure reference for anyone other than the baptizer, and second, that Wittgenstein’s argument against Private Language has been applied to a far broader range of events than it can correctly describe. I hope to hereby show that some of the arguments against psychologism in the 19th century threw out the baby with the bath water.
Saul Kripke argues that words initially get their meanings through ‘baptisms’ at which someone names a thing, thereby naming a natural kind for all subsequent users of the term. Kripke may have accurately described the meaning of the term for the initial baptizer, but what he subsequently says about meaning chains misses an important point about the need for individual indexing of experience at every point in the chain.
Joseph Almog has argued persuasively that Kripke's historical chains of communication are pre-semantic, and so they can not be used, as Kripke tries to use them, to give an account of semantics. Almog observes,
[The chain] preserves the linguistic meaning of any expression. In the case of names, all there is to this meaning is to stand for the given referent. Ergo, the chain preserves the fact that the name stands for the referent.
The chain assigns a rule of reference to a syntactic shape; it is not mentioned in the rule of reference itself.
So, the historical, mechanical, chain cannot pass on meaning that it does not itself contain. Even Kripke's initial pointings do not give him the fixing of denotation that he thinks they do, and they certainly don't give a mechanical transfer chain that could carry the established reference abroad, even if the fixing had worked at home.
First, the initial baptisms do not do what Kripke thinks they do. For, a pointing person cannot denote something of which he has absolutely no experience or indexed conception whatsoever. The person who named 'water' for English-speaking people may have thought of it as 'the washing stuff', but almost certainly could not have thought of it as H2O. No one was to think of the chemical composition of water until chemistry emerged as a possible point of view --centuries later. Drawing a line from the tip of someone's finger to a lake simply does not rate as convicting him of prescient intuitive knowledge of twentieth century chemistry. And, in the absence of such a conviction, he has not tied the word 'water' to the chemical formula. The entire story is, as Almog points out, pre-semantic. Of course, it follows that if the initial baptism did not stick the namer of water with Kripke's full-blown natural kind, the corresponding social chain from the namer to us is not going to pass the natural kind along, either.
Second, even the pointing in the initial baptism is not a strong enough anchor to tie the meaning of water to the initial baptizer. For Helen Keller, the word ‘water’ was just a game played in hands with a teacher for a long time. Yet, at this point Keller had both the experience of water, through washing and drinking, and the hand-press symbol from the game that she could play with her teacher. When it finally clicked with her that the shape being pressed in her hand meant something, what she did was connect the game to the experience that was already familiar to her, washing. The semantic relationship, for her, linked a sense that was a socially learned arrangement of hand-pressing symbols, to an experientially indexed 'x', the experience of washing. It is the indexing of the semantic shape to the experience that rates as learning the meaning of a word. A thing that did not have experience, such as a computer, could not perform this indexing operation. No causal chains to it from anywhere, or lines drawn from it to any lake, would constitute giving it semantic capability to mean 'water.' As Searle also argues in his "Chinese room" example, symbol crunching does not constitute passing on meaning. So, as an account of semantics, Kripke's story can't work. At the outset, his baptisms aren't correctly indexed; to first person singular experience, not to a natural kind. And, his historical chains, in the absence of individual indexing experience by everyone in the chain, are pre-semantic, as well.
It follows from this argument that only creatures that are individually capable of indexing a symbol to an experience are capable of performing the semantic side of language. And, for each individual, to be capable of ‘meaning x’ requires that the individual have an experience of something to which he or she can index x.
One might wonder if I’m defending a notion of a private language, here, of the type that Wittgenstein is assumed to have argued persuasively against. The answer is yes and no. I am arguing that someone who has nothing in their experience to which to index a meaning of ‘x’, can not mean ‘x ‘, in the full semantic sense of the word. A student of mine, in discussing this issue admitted that she doesn’t really know what ‘headache’ means. She knows that other people use the word, and that she is supposed to leave them alone when they use this word. But she really doesn’t know what other people are talking about when they say they have a headache. By exceptional good luck, she has been spared full-blooded semantic use of the word. She can, however, parrot the word "headache", much as a computer can, or she can analogically figure that it must be something like the toe ache she got when she stubbed her toe, which a computer can’t. The prior capacity gives her the ability to master the symbol-crunching use of language, which is not properly semantic at all, not even in the social sense. The later capacity gives her the ability to be connected to a social semantic world. As I understand Wittgenstein, he was arguing that without the later capacity, language can’t have meaning.
One would have to tell a different kind of story to get at someone who had the 1st person indexical experience of something, and a name for it, but the name was not socially shared. Suppose that prior to her ‘awakening’ to the meaning of the hand-pressing symbol, Helen Keller had a personal symbol or name of her own for ‘washing stuff’ and another for ‘drinking stuff’, which she could use to think to herself, "I don’t want to wash again, I just did that.", then later, "I’ll get a drink" It is this sense in which, I take it, Wittgenstein is denying that Keller could have a language. I think that what he is denying, specifically, is that she could develop a communication system or a full-blown world view out of a language this primitive. And Wittgenstein is probably right about this.
Consider how the pre-semantic Keller case compares to the case of my blessedly headache-free student. My student has a context (knowing what a toe ache is) in which to locate her absence of headache experience. Keller, prior to acquiring the hand-pressing symbol, had no context in which to place any kind of symbol. She was in the condition that Catherine Elgin discusses as being incapable of having a semantics or a syntax because the symbols are not sufficiently disjoint and differentiated to do the work of a system of exemplification. Elgin discusses the relationship of syntax and semantics in exemplification systems, which she describes sufficiently broadly to cover pictorial art, dance, mime, or any medium that could be said to have symbols and do communicating. She says that syntactic disjointness and differentiation are necessary for a system to do exemplifying, pointing out that representation requires ability to identify a sample as a symbol;
In such cases it is possible to identify replicas of a sample—namely,
any other samples that in the same context belong, and can be recognized
to belong, to the same symbol. If it is not possible to decide what character
a symbol belongs to, the system lacks finite syntactic differentiation, and
if the symbol belongs to more than one character, the symbol lacks syntactic disjointness.
Elgin also argues that the labels, the referring items in a system must be semantically differentiated and disjoint if the symbol system is to pick thinks out. Density and redundancy, respectively, result from absence of differentiation and disjointness in the semantics of a symbol system, and these failures would result in failures of communication. So, Elgin shows that the structure of any system of symbols that would communicate has to have a basic structure that parallels that of a language. Keller’s lack of capacity to form a symbol system that performs these functions is precisely the problem that makes her incapable of developing a language on her own.
But I don’t think that it follows at all from the inadequacies of Keller’s pre-semantic thinking that language can exist in the absence of 1st person singular indexing of words, although this is what many philosophers have taken Wittgenstein’s argument against private language to entail. I think it is important to note that, although my student can use the word ‘headache’ perfectly competently in a sentence, there is a most important, indeed foundational, sense, in which she does not know what this word means. If all of my student’s language use were equally free-floating from her experience, her language use would be completely lacking in semantical function. She would suffer from the inverse of the problem of private language, which would be equally debilitating to her ability to speak a language. She would be like a computer, having no capacity to mean anything.
Thus, I have argued here that without the capacity to index words to some experienced aspect of reality, there can be no semantics, and hence, no meaning in language. The reason for this is that language has no foundation without individually indexed experience to which to refer. Symbols in a symbol system are free-floaters, or uninterpreted symbols without specifically indexed experience as Ruth Barcan Marcus has shown about substitutional logic systems. Both analytic and continental philosophers have denied the need for this primary, foundational semantical relationship. And both have become lost in sterile, impossibly self-referential accounts of truth and meaning as a result. The social meanings of language build on the foundation of 1st person singular indexing of meanings, without which there is no semantics for language.
But words also have public, social meanings, such as those that occur in a dictionary, which someone must use to be speaking, for example, English or Chinese. This is the sense of language meaning that Kripke has captured in his meaning chains, and that Wittgenstein has captured with his notion of language games. Words can, as items in a systematic natural language, take on a life of meaning of their own, provided that each user still has enough 1st person singular experiential foundation for the words to be anchored to reality. The difference is that at the social, higher level of meaning, gaps in the foundational indexing can be filled in other ways, as we saw my student indexing her use of the word ‘headache’ to an analogical experience because the real referent was not available to her.
There are two distinct senses in which the social world plays a definitive role in the meanings of words in language. First, the social world can be a source of direct experience, itself, and so can be the locus of linguistic indexing activities. For example, ‘the average American family’ is an exclusively socially indexed idea. No one could index an idea like this ‘in her head’, or in direct experience, the way my student indexed ‘toe ache’. A substantial number of the words we use and concepts we think about index alleged facts about the social world that are of this type. Interestingly, these are the types of ‘facts’ that analytical philosophers tend to avoid discussing all together, while Continental philosophers tend to zero in on them exclusively. To analytic philosophers, their variability is a reason to turn their noses up at such inadequately Platonic ‘facts’. To continental philosophers, their variability is a reason to say all facts are human made, infinitely variable, politically driven, and morphing at a Heraclitean speed of light. As I have been arguing throughout this paper, however, both positions are untenable extremes.
The social world, more than either the individual self-awareness world or the scientific world, is a source of human experience that is very variable. It varies with locations, being quite different in India than it is in England, with time, being very different in one time period than it is in another, across social classes, being a very different thing for a member of the golf club than it is for a welfare recipient, across genders, occupations, and so on. And, the social world is amenable to change through specific human efforts in more dramatic ways than either the facts of conscious experience or the facts of the independently existing extra-human world are. Sartrian saints, such as Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, and the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, make big differences in the social world.
But, the absence of Platonic rigidity in social facts does not imply that there are no such facts. Every person who ever has lived has lived in a social world and developed whatever skills and accomplishments he or she has attained either supported or hindered by the social world. Sociologists research and amass these facts, novelists write about them, and they are sources of linguistic indexing.
There is also a sense in which these facts are ‘hard facts’ that are ‘there’ as much as any other kind of facts. When Betty Frieden wrote about ‘the problem that has no name’, she was zeroing in on a very specific social fact that was created as a by product of human social institutions, but that no one in the social culture had named or paid any attention to before. Like wise, ‘date rape’ and ‘domestic violence’ name social facts that existed long before the current names for them were developed. In the case of all of the above ‘facts’ women were silenced and ridiculed for grousing about facts of their experience, which men had a vested interest in denying, so there is a political component in both these facts, and their denial, as well.
So, my conclusion on my first observation about the social world and experience is that, contra Analytic Philosophers, this is an important area of human experience that yields namable and experienceable, if variable, facts. But contra continental philosophers, these facts have a degree recalcitrance. They can be resisted and sometimes, altered. But there is no ‘word magic’ involved in how this happens, on the contrary, lots of very real blood, sweat and tears gets shed along the way to changing the more recalcitrant ones.
Second, the social world plays an important role in ‘bootstrapping’ language that neither analytic nor continental philosophers seem to acknowledge. Philosophers who argue that semantics reduces to logic think that language is a package deal that comes with the hard wiring of the brain at birth. It follows from the 'package deal' position that only sufficient nutrients and a bit of linguistic stimulation are required to produce a Shakespeare or an Einstein. On the continental side, the excess is to see the entire linguistic process as a creative will to power. Sartre, Nietzsche, or Foucault would seem to think that great creative and power-mad wills drop from the sky into strong adult bodies, and immediately undertake a complete destruction and revision of the environment. The anti-dote to these excesses is a strong dose of Lev Vygotski’s learning theory.
Vygotsky was a Russian Psychologist who did extensive research into how children learn. He discovered that there was a direct co-relation between the amount and quality of schooling that children received and the degree of their ability to handle complex or abstract concepts, linguistic and grammatical structures, or scientific ideas. He did many controlled studies that showed that mastery of language and thinking developed according to hierarchical rules that were independent of the level of maturity of the person doing the tasks. That is, a very young and immature child could go through the right steps in the right order and master the material. Meanwhile, a much older and more psychologically developed person would get it wrong if they tried to master the steps in the wrong order or quit going to school, and so, quit trying to progress in terms of linguistic or scientific mastery of concepts.
The order of concept development is a function of a dynamic interaction between what Vygotski called spontaneous concepts and taught concepts. Spontaneous concepts are not innate, or strictly a question of maturity, but are a dialectical development out of the combination of prior learning and thinking about the prior learning on the part of the learner. Taught concepts have to be pitched to the student’s ‘zone of proximal development’, which means the point at which spontaneous concepts are open to expansion through being brought one step further. New concepts that are below the student’s zone of proximal development will simply bore the student, while new concepts that are above the student’s zone of development will overwhelm or frustrate the student and result in no learning.
Further, writing, speaking, and thinking, although all performed as language tasks, are initially three separate operations of thought. In babies, speech and thought are initially separate operations that become combined when children learn to suppress ‘automatic speech’. Writing is a completely separate operation from speech and thought. Writing requires translating speech and thought into a graphic structure that does not just duplicate either speech or thought. To understand how to write is to understand a translating process and a rule for constructing a concept system that represents speech and thought. Once speech, thought, and language get combined, the combination enables a child to think and speak by writing. After this, the combined resources take off in exponential increases in conceptual ability. Learning to write is thus, more like learning a new language than it is like learning to think or speak in one’s own language. And it is the artificial, taught language of writing that enables the higher-level thinking through which students learn school subjects.
These observations of Vygotski’s clarify some of the points that I made in the last section of this paper. The individual indexing in consciousness that I said must be there as a foundation for thought and language denotation applies to the speech and thought levels of language use. Writing, and foreign language acquisition, apply to the social, learned, and translation-indeterminate levels of language use, on which Wittgenstein (in his private language arguments) and Quine (in his indeterminacy of translation arguments) insist. Vygotski observes:
In learning a new language, one does not return to the immediate world of objects and does not repeat past linguistic developments, but uses instead the native language as a mediator between the world of objects and the new language. Similarly, the acquisition of scientific concepts is carried out with the mediation provided by already acquired concepts.
Spontaneous and Non-spontaneous concepts inform each other across the learning process; they are not mutually antagonistic, as Piaget claimed they were, according to Vygotsky. The difference between the spontaneous and non-spontaneous concepts is that the spontaneous ones are un-self-reflective. A child who knows the word ‘brother’ and can accurately use it may not know how to define it or specify its relationship to other concepts. But to learn the scientific concept of something is just to be able to define it and cite its relationships to other things. Vygotski cites Claparede’s law to explain how teaching unfamiliar material stimulates concept development. Claparede’s Law states that the more smoothly we use a relation in action the less conscious we are of it; we become aware of what we are doing in proportion to the difficulty we experience in adapting to a situation.
Vygotski argues that children become conscious of thoughts only when they become part of a system of thought. School instruction induces the generalizing kind of perception that makes a child conscious of his own mental processes. Science instruction teaches a child to define terms, organize hierarchies of concepts, and show levels of abstraction among systems of concepts. Until a child has done this, his or her spontaneous concepts are not well understood by the child.
Vygotsky points out that people almost never go through this dialectical process independently of formal schooling. He did a broad range of studies that indicated that the level of ability to handle complex concepts was directly co-related to how much formal schooling the people had. Studies that he did together with his colleague, Alexander Luria compared peasants in Soviet Uzbekistan with collective farm workers who had received some schooling and students in a teacher’s college.
The conclusion of this field study… fully confirmed the basic tenets of Vygotsky and Luria’s cultural-historical theory. For illiterate peasants, speech and reasoning simply echoed the patterns of practical, situational activity [name-action complexes], while for people of some education, the relation was reversed: abstract categories and word meanings dominated situational experience and restructured it.
Vygotski argued that self-reflective knowledge of a language and how it works developed only through studying grammar for writing and studying foreign languages. It was only by wondering how their own languages did the things that a foreign language did differently that students developed knowledge of how their own languages worked. Also, it is only through studying science and mathematics that students developed the ability to wonder about other abstract categories of thinking. The input from these non-spontaneous school subjects jogs student thinking to seek systematic and reflective concepts in other areas of learning, and to use abstract conceptual thinking in formulating their own spontaneous thoughts. This combination of conceptual thinking and spontaneous thinking leads to a second exponential explosion in the use of language and concepts, creating the adult thinking world. The adult world of concepts is, thus, a cultural artifact. Without formal schooling, it might not happen.
My conclusion from this foray into the social functions of language is thus, that there are two extremely important functions that the social world plays in language production and use. The first is that it provides a wide variety of experiences that people can name and discuss. The facts related to these experiences are more fluid than either the facts of individual consciousness or the facts of the extra-human world of stars and oceans. As such, social facts utterly lack Platonic eternity and rigidity, and Sartrian authenticity is obligatory with respect to them. But social facts still have a high degree of recalcitrance in the sense that we must pay attention to them to learn what they are and how they work, and it can take a whole lot of Sartrian sainthood to change them. Our words or symbols do not, by magic, create even the social world, and we are all given a social world with which we must contend, for better or worse.
The second is that the social world provides a bootstrapping function for language that enables it to progress beyond the mental indexing operations of unassisted consciousness. Education, specifically, produces the ability of thinkers to formulate concepts, do abstract reasoning and problem solving, and become reflective about language, itself. My student might not be able to do the analogical reasoning function that enables her to understand a headache by comparing it to a toe ache without her schooling in formal reasoning. Wittgenstein clearly thought that there can be no language without this type of ability. If he is thinking in terms of effectiveness for communication, of course he is right. This bootstrapping function adds a lot to what languages are and can do. Without it, a language can not become a complete logical system or provide a coherent world view. But speech and thought happen in children and illiterates at a less sophisticated, less coherent and less effective level, which is the foundation on which the bootstrapping operation builds.
c. Language Must Index Experience As Recalcitrant Reality
On the face of it, it might appear problematic to claim that language must index experience as recalcitrant reality. For, one might say, that language is one thing, experience is another thing, and reality is still quite another. A way to bridge this apparent divide is offered by George Lakoff. After doing an analysis of extensive research into the types of categories used by people to index experience, both linguistically and experientially, he reaches the following conclusions about the variety of types of categorization schemas the research ( by Roach et. al.) has discovered;
--In the Conceptual system there are four types of cognitive models: propositional, image-schematic, metaphoric and metonymic. Propositional and image-schematic models characterize structure; metaphoric and metonymic models characterize mappings that make use of structural models.
--Language is characterized by symbolic models, that is, models that pair linguistic information with models in the conceptual system….
--Cognitive models are embodied, either directly or indirectly by way of systematic links to embodied concepts. A concept is embodied when its content or other properties are motivated by bodily or social experience. This does not necessarily mean that the concept is predictable from the experience, but rather that it makes sense that it has the content (or other properties) it has, given the nature of the corresponding experience. Embodiment thus provides a non-arbitrary link between cognition and experience
In sections (a) and (b) above, I have been claiming that there is such an embodied and non-arbitrary link between human experience and cognitive or linguistic usage, on the one hand, and human experience, whether self-regarding, in terms of awareness and experience of one’s own consciousness, or other-regarding, in terms of one’s experience of a social world, on the other hand. Although this embodied linkage has been presumed without question in the self-reflective and social contexts, however, it has traditionally seemed to become problematic when applied to the so-called ‘external world.’
But, as William James and John Dewey pointed out, humans experience the ‘external’ world in the same ways we experience the ‘internal’ world: through sensation, perception and cognition applied to the task of understanding, naming and interacting with our environment. If none of the above were capable of providing us with experience of the ‘external world’ we could have none. And so, it seems clear that we have experience of rocks, stars, buildings and mountains in the same sense in which we have experience of hunger, of thoughts of tomorrow’s important meeting, of being greeted by a neighbor, and of a social ‘glass ceiling’. In each case, some aspect of the experience is indexed consciously, and named. And the name is taken to apply not simply to the experience of the thing, but to the thing, as it is.
The embodied linkage between conscious experience and some aspect of reality does not reduce to a formal property of Universal Grammar, as in Chomsky, because there is both an intentional and an attentional quality to the indexing operation. People do not notice what they don’t want to notice and haven’t paid attention to, no matter how obvious its presence in their attentional field may objectively be. And both the intentional and attentional qualities are effected by a learning element, which improves and expands the indexing operation. People’s capacity to index aspects of reality is relative to their knowledge of appropriate categories for sorting those things, which increases and diversifies with education. So, there is very little content in the indexing operation that could be innate, i.e., existing prior to experience, that could determine the way that the semantic indexing operation connects experience to cognition and language via this embodied linkage.
But the linkage between what aspects of reality are indexed cognitively to what embodied experience is is not arbitrary, as the continental philosophers would insist, either. These linkages take place, initially, according to the basic concepts learned first by children, as both Lakoff and Vygotsky have argued, and then develop (or not) as education and various forms of non-formal linkage, which can be either mental or cultural in origin, connect them to other things. Further, there are good reasons for saying that the linkages provided by sustained study over long periods of time, whether in science or in some other systematic and enduring professional tradition, are more adequate than the radial, idiosyncratic, or cultural linkages that provide non-arbitrary, but less useful categories.
Lakoff studied the complex social interlinkages among the family of English words consisting of ‘mother’, ‘genetic mother’, ‘surrogate mother’, ‘step mother’, ‘adoptive mother’, ‘unwed mother’, ‘housewife’, "working mother’ and the like to point out that these concepts are neither logically distinguished from one another, nor definitionally independent of one another Necessary and sufficient conditions for the linkages or separations among them could not be given. But the linkages are very much tied to the social prejudices of our culture, and clearly linked through identifiable paths of meaning to one or another of the ‘basic ideas’ that children develop as the foundation of language and meaning, when they learn the word ‘mother’. So the meanings and linkages among the co-related uses of ‘mother’ are neither arbitrary nor subject to completely unconstrained creative alteration. The meanings of the words are "embodied’: in a natural world, in a social context, and in the personal mental experience of a child, first indexing all of those worlds, and building meaning on that foundation.
Basic concepts, for both Vygotsky and Lakoff are neither Lockean empiricist primitives, stated only in sensory language nor rankings of things based on a genera, species, family –type classification system. Nor are they sets of things, arranged in a set theory ranking of first order predicates, second order predicates and the like. Rather, they are, roughly, the mid-sized objects that children first come to name; mother, father, chair, dog, bowl, cup, window, tree, baby, etc. Both Vygotsky and Lakoff point out that these basic ideas are all combined initially with actions, as well. ‘Mother hold’, ‘father carry’, ‘chair sit’, ‘dog bark’, ‘bowl eat’, ‘cup drink’, ‘window lookout’, ‘tree climb’, ‘baby cry’, might more accurately express the respective basic concepts. All are rooted in biological experience of a human sensory and kinesthetic world. Vygotsky says that initially, the only combining of ideas that takes place is in ‘syncretic heaps’. Through interaction with others and socialization, children eventually learn to do some sorting of the linguistic action-thing complexes. But systematic sortings or classifications into primitives, genera and species or levels of predication would never happen without explicit schooling in these techniques of organization. Likewise, Lakoff points out that people, including but not limited to children, learn to extend basic concepts as much through metonymy, stereotypes, idealized models of a concept, metaphorical extensions, linking chains of similarity or usage, or radial collections of ideas, as through any logical or hierarchical category system.
So, the foundation of semantics and language must be this experiential name and action oriented base that I have been calling ‘experience’. It can be analytically divided into self-reflective experience of one’s own consciousness, social experience of relations with other people in a social world, and experience of an independently existing external world. But they all arrive in a baby’s awareness together, as, simply, experience. It is a subsequent learning process to discover what is me, so I can control it, others, so I have to negotiate about it, and neither, so independent of both. Indeed, many people reach adulthood without having adequately sorted these distinctions.
And this experiential foundation provides the basis for semantic reference to rocks, stars, shoes and ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings, as much as it provides the semantic base for reference to self or social facts. Concepts that start off as ‘rock trips you’ or ‘star twinkles’ evolve through complexes and subsequent education into ‘this rock is composed of volcanic igneous and rose quartz’ and ‘Alpha Centuri is light years away.’
The reason that the experiential field does not collapse into a 'mere' stream of consciousness, here, is that it does not collapse into a mere stream of consciousness, even in the case of consciousness. Descartes believed that he was capable of becoming completely aware of all of the contents of his own consciousness simply by introspecting. But psychology since Freud has pointed out that someone is as likely to fail to see, misinterpret, misunderstand or perversely ignore aspects of their own thinking, feeling, or behavioral life as they are likely to do the same things to aspects of the social world or natural world. Considerable humility, honesty, and open-minded study are required to see accurately what is happening in any case. Reference to aspects of the ‘external world’ through experience are no more inherently problematic than reference to self-consciousness or the social world are. The key insight required to see the parallelism among the three areas of experience is to see how wrong Descartes and Nietzsche really are in thinking that somehow they had transparent knowledge of and ultimate dominion over the mental or social worlds, respectively. Both ‘worlds’ are as operationally opaque to observers and difficult to understand as the so-called ‘external’ world is. And the so- called ‘external world’ is not more opaque, mechanical or obscure, because we see it at a distance, or through instruments. Better and worse methods of inquiry apply in all cases, and in all cases it is our experience of the world which is being sorted, analyzed, measured, categorized, extended, modified and, ultimately, understood, as we work towards truth.