Epistemontological Synthesis of Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics. Chomsky vs. Skinner or Both?
One of the main obstacles encountered in my development of the Neurophilosophy of Consciousness model of brain dynamics had consistently been to demonstrate the crucial role the ‘generative’ human language faculty has in the generation of thoughts and an internal consciousness of ‘self’ as distinguished from the ‘other’ phenomenological perceptions in our external ongoing existential reality. I was logically forced to conclude that both language and thought are simultaneously cogenerated as ‘bottoms up’ information inputs access higher levels in search of meanings. It implied the existence of an inherited generative grammar (proto-language) subject to constant modifications by phenomenological environmental circumstances (body proper and environment). This is the classical stance of cognitive linguistics as opposed to psycholingistics as elaborated below. This was expressed in Volume I of our model thus:
“Any comprehensive philosophy of natural languages, or meta-linguistics, must include considerations on syntax, semantics, referentials, phonology, truth values and pragmatics. Of these the most important and puzzling component remains semantics, a theory of meaning. We asked in a previous publication, what is it about certain marks, figures or a noise that endows them with such distinctive meanings? In our opinion, as we will expand on below, the most successful answers have identified in all of them ‘propositional attitude’ atomic particles which are neither language neutral nor analytically divorced from the reality it struggles to represent (see Quine famous book “Word and Object”).” Consistent with our expressed underlying quotidian existential priorities, i.e., a biopsychosocial equilibrium (bps), we return back to this topic to argue again in favor of a hybrid synthesis of the unconscious, inherited generative neurolinguistic and the phenomenologically acquired psycholingustics. We hope this effort provides a justification for a ‘team approach’ in the management of mental illness.
In this brief analysis of human behavior in the decision-making process when confronted with familiar or novel phenomenological circumstances in his biospheric niche, the human species is the center piece when trying to choose the best adaptive solution to his contingency. The source of the environmental challenge can be internal (body proper) or external, whether it arrives as a sensory perception input we can consistently/falsifiably measure or not. The latter is the case when the relevant input resists being framed into symbolic or sentential logic representation however predictable their consequences may be. How can we assign meaning to that relevant, consistent and predictable sensory or extrasensory input when we cannot use physical real-world references and the only option is to employ metaphysical logical structures to manage and resolve ambiguity and correctly choose the best individualized adaptive alternative where meanings are inferred from words and concepts (semantics) or from context (pragmatics)? When psycholinguists analyze the representation and function of language within the context of a physical human brain dynamics and neurolinguists take seriously the tenets of a real space-time mesoscopic reality requiring familiarity with the physical brain language acquisition processing and discourse analysis in real time psychiatric wards will they appreciate that both approaches incorporating the ontologically measured/observed and the epistemologically inferred Bayesian probabilities are simultaneously needed. The current metaphysical logic based cognitive linguistics with its esoteric cognitive grammar, conceptual metaphors and frame semantics need not look down to the physical brain embodied experiences of the real patient in the psycholinguist’s office session. The ‘form-function’ correspondence stemming from symbolic/sentential logic leaves out the most important consideration criteria of ‘truth content’ forcing the theorists to resort to the conclusion of a mysterious functionalist ‘emergence phenomena’ of a general purpose or universal character belief ignoring the individualized ongoing circumstantial reality of the flesh and bones patient by interpreting language in terms of the universal concepts and seldom specific enough to a particularly environmentally acquired tongue, which must underlie its forms. A truth conditional theory of meaning is the un-articulated common denominator of ALL approaches, usually expressed as the ‘coherence value’ or the way a ‘true sentence’ relates to each other in a cognitive context. In so doing it is ignoring the more important empirical findings from the psychiatry/psychology practitioners. More important they ignore the individualized, unique and autonomous mental processes that underlie the acquisition, storage, production and understanding of speech and writing. The foregoing arguments should not be construed as an endorsement of an exclusive psycholinguistic practice approach but instead as a call for a joint team effort approach bringing both empirical and theoretical aspects of the problem to efficiently bear on the ‘bps’ equilibrium welfare of the real patient. Updating the diagnosing potential of mental illness by the cognitive linguistic approach is of the essence, as argued elsewhere, but ignoring the credible experiments of Broca and Wernicke establishing the modularity of language processing by proclaiming it is not separate from the rest of cognition, is a faith belief equivalent, just like declaring the irrelevance of a ‘generative grammar’ controlling linguistic communication is to the psycholinguist, an article of faith.
Having considered all historical arguments on ‘meaning’, whether ‘referentialism’ (words refer to things and their relationships in an actual or possible world) or Wittgenstein’s ‘use’ (a conventionally assigned value within an existing social practice) and variations thereof, it has become clear that whatever theory of meaning we may want to elaborate, it can not be isolated from an obligatory co-evaluation of both ‘syntax’ (grammatical ordering of word relations to achieve maximum consistency for a given language) and ‘pragmatics’ (rules to achieve the maximum meaning content for a particular speech context). A truth-conditional theory of meaning is the un-articulated common denominator of all approaches, usually expressed as the ‘coherence value’ or the way a ‘true sentence’ relates to others in a cognitive context.
Summary and Conclusions.
Cognitive linguist theorists have been consistent in denying autonomy to the brain based language faculty of the mind when they refuse to consider grammar in any other terms than its representational conceptualization; i.e., humans only learn languages by using them. In so doing they exclude the well established modularity of the human brain’s structure and function as amply demonstrated by Broca, Wernicke and others. This means that language -acquisition is neither unique nor autonomous, thereby ignoring self-evident neurosurgical observations to the contrary in support of the existence of a generative grammar. This way acquisition, storage and retrieval of language is not significantly different from the storage and retrieval of information from the rest of cognition. This leaves phonemes, morphemes, and syntax cognition as unrelated to the moderate Sapir-Whorf empirical world poetry model embedded in the experiences and interactivity of their users but exclusively in the conceptual domain of discourse.
As we have argued elsewhere, the phenomenological sensory perception (internal body proper and external environment) must precede the epistemological conceptualization. Humans conceptualize a given physical reality of interest/relevance whether measured, observed or deemed probable and not the other way around. Physical damage to Broca’s human frontal neocortex causes language deficits whereas physical damage to left posterior, superior temporal gyrus results in Wernicke’s language aphasia, both of which are correlated to mental aberrations.
Much later, in the decade of the fifties theoretical linguistics, under the leadership of Noam Chomsky, incorporated scientific methodology into the philosophy of language effort and effectively did away with the Skinnerian behaviorist skepticism about the worth of the neurobiological approach to study the brain directly. In so doing, Chomsky opened a new search path to discover the meaning of mind and self-consciousness. However, Chomsky concentrated on the syntax aspect of language structure, describing how natural language practitioners are able to generate and select only well-formed strings of sentences in a recursive manner appropriate for that given language, without much effort on the part of the subject. The implied grammar selection thus generated during the syntactic parsing by the ‘deep structures’ in the brain is considered by us as the possible search for a best-fit semantic content in the generated sentences. Can’t separate one from the other, is the meaning predicated on the syntax structure or vice verse? (Taken from Volume I). The details of Fodor’s Language of Thought (LOT) is beyond the scope of this brief presentation.
Dr. Angell O. de la Sierra, Esq. Winter 2013 Deltona, Florida.