Thursday, May 7, 2009

Final chapter

The very end of the last chapter made me think about our discussion that we had in class the other day about fostering curiosity and wonder in students and in people.  The authors write that "One may enter a scientific career through wonder, but one cannot persist in wonder, at least not in public before one's peers." (367)  I question whether or not we realize that we express our wonder in public.  I'll use the example of a grocery store checkout line.  They mention tabloids in this chapter and I can't count how many times I have said something or heard someone else comment on the outrageous headlines in non-celebrity tabloids.  "Three headed baby survives..." or some other catchy headline will always grab my attention (although I don't necessarily believe it is true).  I am more in awe of the fact that these tabloids sell.  People display wonder all the time in public and although that might not mean that they want to pursue or inquire further on the subject, they still identify and comment on these wonders.  Is it that socially unacceptable to have an interest in wonders?  Or is it so common that we only notice it as unusual when someone points it out to us?

Chapters 8 and 9

One of the things that really got me thinking when I read Chapter 8 was the role of wonder and curiousity in today's world and the stature that intellectuals have in our society. While Daston's Chapter 8 was more specific to natural philosophy, I'm speaking more generally in terms of wonder/study/knowledge. Do the curious continue to be looked down upon? While education is highly prized, is there still a sense in which the curious are rejected by certain members of society?

I find it interesting that something so simple, curiousity, could take on so many faces and be viewed in so many different ways throughout history.

On a final note, I'm not sure if we were supposed to read the Epilogue or not, but I enjoyed (and agree with) the following passage. I remember when I first started reading the book I was struck by how little has changed with regard to our attitudes toward wonder:

"There are striking continuities between earlier and contemporary responses to wonders. The tabloids sold in grocery stores, like sections of the Guinness Book of Records, contain many of the wonders in early modern broadsides. Indeed, some of the wonders so closely duplicate seventeenth century oddities - a stockroom clerk who changes sex, a baby who sprouts gold teeth - that one suspects their authors are pillaging the Philosophical Transactions and Journal des Scavans" (365).


chapters 8 and 9

I very much liked the discussion at the end of the Daston book, it's a sort of expected ending like a "what killed the dinosaurs?" that comes at the end of each dinosaur book. But there's a few things that I seem to see as coming back around in regard to order and wonders that seem to make the idea of wonder a bit more cyclical to me. We've already discussed a little bit about the snobbery and the disgust that was looked at onto the people who did have a sense of wonder. But one thing that's continually being destroyed in nature, for example, is order. Once we found the rotation of the planets didn't follow a perfectly circular orbit, and indeed followed lop-sided loops, people were outraged that anyone would say that there wasn't perfection in the heavens. Indeed, there wasn't even close to that. New descoveries of quantum physics showed that at a micro level, the universe is completely random, and only things at a macro level can be even close to predictable. People lose half of their brain, and somehow relearn how to walk, talk eat and participate in society like nothing has changed.
If it felt at the end of this book that the wonders of life were killed and sacrificed on the alter of science, I think it's science that can help bring it back. I guess the question that arises out of these chapters now is that one glaring one: How do we tie this discussion about wonders of the world to truth, understanding and who we are as human beings? How does our own psyche and mind play into this discussion?

passions of inquiry

I think it is really interesting that this chapter opens with a discussion of wonder as "musing admiration" in the sense that wonder is passive and rather uninquisitory whereas curiosity is much more active and full of intent to discover the meaning behind this wonder. This ties is really well with what we were discussing at the end of class on Tuesday (props to McCrickerd) because I once believed that people today are much more curious and less relient on pure wonder, but after reading this Newton example, I feel like that thought has changed. We seem to be generally apathetic towards wonder today, in a sense that we rely heavily on science to tell us what is wonderful, but with that we have also lost a lot of what makes us curious individuals.

"The senses were first snared and lulled by delightful novelties; understanding snapped to attention as novelty deepened to philosophical anomaly; and body and mind nobilized to probe the hidden cause of apparent marvel (304)"

I think that people today are less likely to "delight in novelties" and we tend to reject that which is different or wonderful in hopes that science will tell us what to do/think about the natural order of the world. Maybe this is characteristic of human imagination in our time, whereas in Newtons time, that which was new and wonderful caused excitement and hightened curiosity, instead of confusion and repulse.

These novelties were was served as catalyst to scientific inquiry in the 17th century and out of this, dramatically new ideas came forward. For example, Newtons theories on light and colours came out of his wonder at the intensly coloful result of light passing through a prism. I can't really think of any examples in todays scientific world that began with pure wonderment? Can anyone else? I think it is interesting that something so sensible and direct as scientific inquiry could come out of pure wonderment, imagination, admiration, and curiosity. These words, to me, seem completely contradictory to sensibility or fact.

We talked in class also about a role of emotion in inquiry. This chapter addresses how emotion and sensibility fade in and out throughout a history of human imagination. Additionally morals, passions, and virtues begin to play a role in determining what is worthy of inquiry, making pure wonder a tool of the past, and turning more towards stable emotions as a way of building curiosity. This is seem much more today then a method of pure wonder and admiration.

I also like how chapter 8 points out that passion and inquiry are not just scholarly attributes, but rather important for general curiosity and discovery. Learning is built apon a base of curiosity and emotional attachement towards subject matter.

Wonder is often seen as a vulgar, or infantile way of viewing the world. It was not always seem as a scholarly attribute but rather as a recreation or hobby. I like how this book views wonder as a very signifigant way of discovering the natural world.

more to come later on ch9

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

playfulness and wonder

What really caught my eye in these chapters is this notion of playfulness. Wonder in this playful sense becomes a bit of a game between humans and nature where the two play off of each other. The wonder seems to come from the appearence of a game where humans are trying to one up nature by producing an imitation of what nature has despite the fact that it seems rather useless while nature seems to trying to one up humans by imitating the productions of humans. So you have humans who engineer an imitation of a duck and score the point and nature responds to the playful competition by producing an imitation of a painting of a cat or landscape. Back and forth both groups go showing off their skills of imitating the other and surprising each other with what the other is capable of doing. Humans walk away from this with wonder of how playful nature can be with them to produce imitations of the productions of humans that seem to have no function in nature nor an explanation for the reason of production. The wonder continues with the playful call to respond and one up nature through it's own show of imitation.

Monday, May 4, 2009


I found parts of chapter 6 to be kind of perplexing. I liked the idea that more people were not able to be considered academics, but that seem contradictory to notion of the need of credibility offered on page 219. Though I also thought the entire idea of credibility was almost contradictory to the concept of marvels and wonders. Perhaps this was due to the advances in technology of the time. The authors mentioned new forms of technology, including the printing press, and it seems these have impacted the society, which of course, is true, and this may be one of the first instances in this book where we see advances such as these playing a part in historical changes, which brings me to think abotu current society/technology and the impact that advances have on our ideas of credibility and "marvels." Technology and other advances have led us to become a society more focused on credibility than marvels - let's discuss that.

"It was the mutual imitation of art and nature that was wondrous, not th eobjects in themselves" (287).
This idea continues throughout the paragraph on pg 287, and I think this section captures much of chapter 7. The idea that taking nature and making it "more interesting" was quite a topic for this time, was it messing with something that shouldn't be played with? Or was it an amazing way to channel creativity? Personally I think it's fun and agree with the sense of imitation/mutation being captivating, and seems "wonderful" versus mundane being exciting, though I woudln't discount somethign natual as not being art. I'm pretty sure there's room for "normal" or natural and strange/unnatural.

Nature and Art

The relationship between art and nature came under scrutiny in chapter seven. The authors discussed the relationship prior to the seventeenth century as completely different than that during the seventeenth century. Art came to mimic nature, as evident in the most intricate of displays, such as the cabinet discussed in the first part of the chapter. However, nature could not be found in art. This was a great departure from earlier thought, as both were found to be completely separate and inimitable entities. One of the most interesting sections was then the close of the chapter, in which the authors suggest that later naturalists thought that simple works of nature could never be considered art. Nature was created by God, and could never be considered art in its own right.

Paradox of Categorization

I think the most interesting part of this chapter was the juxtaposition of apparently antithetical categories. The blending of nature and art and of natural opponents (the example of the cat-bird) creates a startling yet stimulating opposition that defies conventional categories. This is precisely what drew me into Buddhism; the utter disregard for convention and logical unfolding of logic itself opens one's eyes to many things not previous seen in our mental and social construction of reality.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


In Ch.7, Daston & Park emphasize a particular era of art in relation to wonder which they call Wunderkammer. In this historical era the relationship of nature and art is portrayed either mimetically or synthetically. Some artists sought to evoke wonder via artistic mimesis of nature by in some cases painting objects like grapes so realistically that birds tried to eat them. To mimic nature produced wonder because it was fascinating to see which was the Real. Another mode of evoking wonder was to synthesize art with nature. Artists would take natural artifacts and synthesize them into downright bizarre creations, evoking curiosity and wonder. The authors discussed how wonder came about in this synthesis by alluding to some of the philosophical mindsets prevalent at the time. Or, to say it differently, people were astonished by the art of Wunderkammer because it blurred the lines between art and reality, and at times, perhaps as a result of this, it would cause further wonder about the nature of reality itself. Questions like, "could this artifact indeed exist in nature?" could be posed when seeing a collage of marine and land artifacts synthesized into a greater composite. Wood with antlers, shells and leaves...astonishing synthetic creations.

What I find compelling about what is going on in this book, by my read, is the dialectic that exists between the prevailing way of thinking of an age, and the art that co-temporally existed. By seeing these wonder-evoking syntheses of art and nature, one could further synthesize natural and artificial modes of thought. Maybe since these different mediums can fit together to produce a beautiful whole, there are more possibilities of existence than previously thought! And at the same time, perhaps the thought of the times influenced the creation of the new ways of art.

strange facts

The authors begin the chapter by addressing the new wave of people that are getting involved with wonderous things.  At this point in time there are more people that are able to advance their knowledge through learning about curious things.  On page 218 the authors write: "Title pages of works in natural history and natural philosophy began to address themselves to 'the curious' or 'the ingenious' of Europe."  They go to explain that this group of people "constituted themselves as self-declared, cosmopolitan elite, one which spanned national and confessional boundaries, and which was the immediate ancestor of the Republic of Letters of the Enlightenment."  Today, who would the curious be?  Is it a particular group of people with specific characteristics (such as intellectuals) or is everyone considered to be curious?  And is there a specific subject matter (such as natural philosophy or science) that the curious are interested in?  Or have we, in modern days, expanded the subject matter to include any and or everything?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reading these two chapters made me think about frontiers and the impact that discovery has on knowledge and philosophy. Having explored much of the Earth (minus perhaps the bottom of the ocean) and having explored "space" in our immediate vicinity, where are the frontiers of the future? I doubt that we're going to discover the equivalent of the America's in quite the same way Colombus did, and so it seems as though the notion of a frontier has fundamentally changed. What discoveries will spark a change in the way we think about thinking and in the way we view marvels? Are the frontiers no longer physical but technological and psychological?

with a sense of poise and rationality.....

It was interesting to see how the monster's where treated in regards to the emotions that they invoked. I started to think about this topic while I was driving and saw some road kill on the side of the road and I felt saddened. Then I wondered why such feeling are invoked when a squirrel is killed and not when I see a bug, pig, or rat. I used to hate mice and anything that looks like them. Then when I was a kid a video game character of a hedgehog and my perception of small hamster like creatures change. One of the reasons that I feel like my perception changed was because I was now recognizing these creatures as having feelings and thought processes closer to myself. Also the cartoons and games make the creatures have more human like abilities, like speech, emotions, and love. The reason some of these monsters where greeted differently was because of the failures certain individual to recognize the monster's as people like themselves, with the same intentions.

Reading for Thursday

Although the monster part of the book is pretty darn cool, as a science nerd, I was interested by the discussion brought up in chapter four. I find it interesting that science people have been having the same argument for 500 years. The concern about how information can be taken without it being subjective, and therefore useless to anyone else, is a difficult subject. This is especially true in writings and discussions about studying the brain. Indeed, self report and philosophizing about one's thoughts was once considered the way to study the world around us, while observing experiences was looked down upon. Then, as information gathered by observation began to play a practical role in maintaining health, people began to change their attitudes. The concern still plays out today when trying to figure out how we can study the brain. The brain, by nature, is changed when it studies itself, and self report is notoriously error-filled. However, in some instances, it can still tell us quite a bit about the brain through that process, as well as acting as the only means for gathering information as it stands. This debate hasn't changed very much through time, meaning that despite the surroundings changing, the concerns and implications of what either method can do are still important today. That leads me to an important question: Outside of the already discussed debate of practicality vs. intellectual curiosity, what other dichotomous debates do you see in this book so far?

Chapter 5

I agree with Matt, that it's interesting how societies' view of monsters changed depending on what was occurring historically. What caught my attention was when the authors wrote, "The portentous interpretation of monsters as objects of horror did not slowly fade of disappear, but reasserted itself in waves according to local circumstance" (187). They then go on to explain how each country's focus on prodigies coincided with times of unrest or instability. For example, Germany's took place during the Reformation in the late fifteenth-century. This made sense to me, but I wondered why exactly it was so. Are the authors arguing that societies' view of monsters as horrors was simply due to their mindsets at the time? Or do societies' sort of "use" monsters to explain their instabilities? It was explained earlier that many saw monsters as horrors in that they were warnings from God that something wasn't right. Did societies then think that monsters were horrors simply because they felt that God must be making some comment about the turmoil they were in?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

At first, I was a little confused when I read Daston's explanations of three different reactions to monstrous births: horror, pleasure, or repugnance. I thought it was interesting that there were two different negative reactions to these monsters. It seemed to reflect the society's current view of the relationship between themselves and nature. The monster was interpreted with horror if the society (earlier on in this period, especially heavily religious ones) did not really feel "in control" or recognized itself as having a poor understanding of nature. However, if a society felt like it knew what was going on with nature, it viewed it as more of an error or an accident. And while that latter view of the monsters seems conducive to finding solutions for them, are the authors saying that this may not be a good thing; that it leads to a closed-minded view of anything that doesn't seem normal at first? (The passage that caught my eye was, "'The first negro was however a monster for white women, and the first of our beauties was a monster in the eyes of negroes'" (213).
"Individual wonders were seen as signs of human sin and the righteous wrath of God" 175
I think now we admire individual differences, i.e. wonders

Evoked the notion of terror - "monsters" as evil omens, unknown, terrifying
This idea obviously fits in with the notion of the word "monster" of course, the label signifies fear, which as we discussed from the later chapters, is one of the greatest ideas associated with wonder. This actually reminds me of a discussion I was having with a friend earlier today. We were discussing the topic of driving somewhere unfamiliar, the idea of now knowing where you are. I shared my view that I get very uncomfortable with that situation and that I become nervous and feel that I would be more likely to get it or cause an accident than if I were in familiar territory. But then I realized that studies show exactly the opposite, noting that you are most liking to get in a car crash near your home, seemingly due to your lack of paying attention because you are familiar with the area. I decided that this is a personality based division, that some people (like me) are scared/fearful of the unknown and would prefer to stay in familiar territory, while others (I actually used my brother as an example) thrive on this "fear" of the unknown, and are energized by the challenge the new area/experience provokes.
Back to the topic... I think. So this is related because I feel that the ideas surrounding "monsters" changed with societies acceptance of the unknown. As we grow to be more technologically advanced the unknown seems less scary and more inviting. This is obviously a large estimate/generalization, and as I mentioned before, I'm one of those people who are still "scared," at least most of the time, but that is how I see these changes within the field/idea of "wonder."

Another notion of monsters is related to creativity/arts/literature and the like. This I feel, again, still comes up in life today and that it is a personal outlet of expression, but unlike in the time period this book is studying, I think we are more accepting of these ideas today. Maybe it is because we appreciate them as creativity as opposed to the threat that "monstrous" ideas evoked in the past.

What I would love to know is where these monstrous paintings/works of art were sparked? Did these creators dream these things or just want to have some fun with people? Obviously, I feel we have comparable artists/creators today, but living in a world with so much more fear/cautiousness as these people did may have impacted them a bit more.

Wonders, Ch 4&5

I agree with Cameron; is amazing (wondrous?) to me how intelligent many of these people are and how deeply superstitious they can be. Much of it was likely fueled by the wild politics of the Reformation, but superstition (which contains much more that simply religion) existed long before the Reformation and continues to this day. Perhaps it is the manifestation of fear in the mythologies of the unknown, or an urge or desire for experiential symmetry of linguistic dichotomies, such as the extraordinary births that was repeated mentioned in the text (in comparison the dichotomous counterpart of "ordinary" births). This will definitely be a topic of reflection in my paper.
What was really driven home for me in this chapter is really how smart the people were that believed in this stuff and worked with this stuff. Now we shrug it off as nonsense and magic and as I have been reading I have for the most part not really put the thought into it about who was really dealing with wonders. Yet in this chapter as it is laying out the documentation and the reasons for certain changes in explanation of wonders and also telling a little more about what was going on at the time. It really makes me wonder what will future generations think about us and read about what fascinates and helps define the world we live in that no longer makes sense to them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Pitfalls of Absolute Certainty

This was a particularly interesting chapter because it tied into what we read at the beginning of the semester - namely, that absolute certainty may not necessarily be a good goal for knowledge and understanding. According to the authors, authors such as Adelard rejected curiosity and some forms of wonder (ones that were not regularized with nature) as belonging to the domain of the ignorant or the superstitious. This is in stark contrast to the wonders of early and late Medieval courts.

A lot of what we read in Elgin and Lynch was theoretical (well, to an extent), and so I enjoyed this chapter because it shows what can happen, historically, when absolute certainty is put at the forefront or when knowledge is consigned to the domain of God. It led to misinterpretations of Aristotle's works and a sad intellectual decay.

I do wonder though - why the emphasis on Aristotle? One of the main arguments put forth in this chapter is that early Medieval thinkers misinterpreted his works - is this necessarily a bad thing? Must thinkers stick to Aristotle as though his works are orthodoxy? Is there perhaps not a better argument against the sort of practices adopted by Adelard and company?

Shock and Awe

In the beginning of this chapter the author's speak of the emotions that a wonder evokes. This seemed to relate to our discussion of how we need to focus on problem based learning instead of the way we learn now. with the different degrees of satisfaction and content after exploring a solution or a wonder we see that this gives motivation and drive for somebody to go through the experience again. For example when a child finds out for the first time why the moon goes through its phases, if he was initially looking to solve his curiosity he would also be going through the same levels of emotions that someone may be going through when they discover a wonder. This rush of emotions which Adelard described as "the flight of the heart" is positive reinforcement that we should hope children accept as the the only reason in which they pursue solving their curiosity, because then their curiosity will always lead to a reward not dependent on a grade, job opportunities or other awards, and this would be a self sufficient system that would empower the child to continue to always be seeking wonders.

chapter 3

On page 129 the authors say "Thus natural wonders often overlapped with 'secrets' and 'experiments,' another group of phenomena accessible only to experience."  Today, with a much broader knowledge of the world, are we more likely to attribute those things which we can see but can't explain as wonders?  Or do we wait until we have an explanation of how the things work before we call them wonders?  How much experience do we really need to have with something wonderful (if any experience at all) to qualify it as wonderful?  Or do we need any first-hand experience with something?  It's interesting to think about the things that we know are true, but have no explanation for.  We've discussed in class how sometimes more knowledge of something makes it even more wonderful.  But is this necessarily always true?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chapter 3

As I was reading, I was especially struck by Augustine's pessimistic view of curiosity. He likened it to lust, which also has been perceived in a negative light. As Cameron commented, it is amazing to see exactly how thoughts on certain things have changed in current times. Curiosity is now a positive, sought-after quality, one which employers look for in potential candidates and one which children are praised for having. However, lust is still seen as negative. Similarly, Augustine associated curiosity with pride, as he believed that only learned individuals sought new information about the wonders in nature. He believed that this was wasteful and distracting from the things that actually matter. In a similar situation, pride has a mixed reputation of sorts today. It is simply interesting to see how attitudes and general opinions change over significant periods of time.

the changing of what is wonder

What really caught my attention in the reading for next class is the changing definition of wonder from Aristotle to the natural philosophers. At first it seems that they are in conflict in what philosophy is and what it should be concerned with but then we see that the definition of wonder has changed and thus the philosophical stance on wonder changed. Aristotle held that wonder was the basis of philosophy while the naturalists thought that wonder was a sign of ignorance that philosophy fought against. But while wonder for the naturalists was the stuff of lore and magic for Aristotle it was the workings of the universe and understanding the causal relations these were what was wonderous and so philosophy worked well with wonder because philosophy was about understanding the world we live in and wonder was about curiosity about the world we live in and the natural things that happen in it. But in the late middle age wonder was a sign of the divine and magic rather than being something of the world that had a causal explanation to be curious about. The chance in definition of wonder then led to a change in rhetoric in philosophy that ultimately lashed out on wonder and all thought about wonder. My question from this is are we in a period of redefining wonder again and if we are how has our definition changed?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Marvels and the Far East

Throughout Chapter 2, there were a number of references to the far East. Although this chapter was about the sorts of marvels found in churches and courts from the 12th or so century on, many of these were derived from the "periphery" and tended to have "Eastern origins" (69). It strikes me as interesting that "exotic" people and places were at once fears and revered. Objects which had their origins in "the East" were made an integral part of courts and churches, and were often used as a symbol of wealth, stature, and, interestingly, "civilization" (91). The authors write: "a central characteristic of many artificial marvels: their explicitly civilizing intent" (91). I find this interesting and ironic - I wonder how "the exotic" morphed into a symbol of culture and civility.

In the writings and artifacts described, a clear "otherization" of "Eastern cultures" begins to emerge in the European societies of the 13th century onward. Interestingly, however, artifacts from "the Orient" are held in high regard from the 12th century to medieval times. I think it would be interesting to compare 18th and 19th century attitudes to the Orient with those that emerged in the 13th century, and analyze how they have changed over time.

A wonder to far

This chapter seemed to continue this expose of wonders and the adventures of those that tried to attain them. Going through this chapter, I started to wish that I could fly back and be able to make these new discoveries and be the heroes that produced these marvels. It seems that during this time, you are either providing the services to ensure the basic needs of the people (security, food, shelter) and when you have the extra time you would seek knowledge and inquire about the order of things. So we have more information now than ever, we all have more free time to do what we want than the people we are reading about. Then why am I jealous of those wonder explorer's instead of pursuing them myself. It seems as though to reach a new frontier we have to go so far into the learning process that only at the very end of our lives that we may be able to extrapolate a new wonder. This could seem to be the reason that we go through a process that sterilizes our curiosity and inquiry. We no longer question the system, we question which system to use in order to get information. Our definition of curiosity now, is a kid who wants to read all the encyclopedia's in the library, back then those kids would eventually be writing the encyclopedia's using their own experiences and samples as building blocks.

Don't Touch my Lady

I very much enjoyed this chapter that recapped some of the history of what wonders and treasures meant to the royalty of Europe. The section I found the most interesting was the discussion that starts around page 94, when the topic turns to Francis Bacon who used an old Muslim text describing how to scientifically approach the world to think up fantastic invented wonders that could "harness the hidden powers of nature." I find it interesting how it was such a different culture from the middle ages Europe that first introduced the idea of man-made marvels. Indeed, such a thing as a flying machine would truly have been a marvel at the time, and in fact, I still think it's pretty awesome.It's very intriguing to see how what was originally an idea to use nature to our benefit was the original inspiration for experimental science. It's true that the subject is used to better human-kind, so it really does make sense that the greatest scientific feats of the world were originally inspired by the world around the inventors of the time. Art was then seen as what we now see as science, and science was really just beginning. Artisans and craft workers knew how to manipulate natural wonders to use their powers for the greater good. I guess the question I wondered as I read through the work was about today's interpretations of other cultures going through this process. It's true that in most developed nations of the world today, that although homeopathic medicine is very big, killing rare or endangered animals for their parts is seen as poaching and a waste of a rare species. Is it fair for European and American culture to have this attitude toward poaching when we were doing the same thing not that long ago? Despite the fact that extinct animals can't make anymore animal parts and extinct animals harm ecosystems, can we have a moral objection as well, or is that hypocritical? Or is it still wrong and Europe was just wrong before as well?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

more wonders

Chapter 2 was like a nice little history lesson on wonders. I'm feeling that since this is such a different book than the others, I'm having a hard time figuring out if I am missing something or not. Am I supposed to be looking for a deeper meaning in the text? Or mostly just appreciating the history of wonders and noting the differences in what was once considered a "wonder" and how and why that may have changed throughout history.
I also think it's worth noting that the terms "wonderful" and "wondrous" are used so differently in today's world than in the past. What we consider to be wonderful is something we find interesting or "cool" but really, the term is meant to describe something beyond words, something that makes you stop in your tracks and literally makes you wonder.

chapter 2

This chapter does a nice job of addressing a question we had after reading the first chapter about the advance of science and wonders. Here we can see that there are many human-made wonders taking place in the late middle ages with the engineering of doorways and what not that seemed to defy what was known about the laws of nature. Even though it was known by people how this worked it was still a wonder because of it's rarity in the world and the way in which it plays with the mind.
What was also rather interesting to me was the way the wonders were guarded in order to keep the wonder with the object. Those that had these wonders never wanted them on display often or to people of little importance. The idea was that they could only be shown on rare occasion to important people otherwise the power would ware out. This is pretty true in that if you show something off enough then no one really cares so it wont work as a status symbol anymore.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Daston and Park speak a great deal about the passion and the emotion of wonder as well as wonders as physical objects that have a topographical location. I like that they locate wonders at the edge of the word or on "the margins of nature". This is how I think of wonders, they are far off places or things that may exist and which I would some day hope to see. I think that we have to think of wonders as far off an sort of unreachable because it is sometimes difficult to recognize everyday marvels (like Boyles glistening meat) if we dont look closely enough. I think that this idea that everything has to be proven or scientifically explainable in order to be worth caring about and in this first chapter of wonders and the order of nature Daston and Park attempt to refute that. Wonders are things which people (at least they used to) write novels about, or think about as part of the natural world or at least as a bridge between the natural and the unnatural.

Chapter 1, Daston

I'm glad to see that we're finally coming around to the last, and in my opinion, most difficult sensation of all the book topics: wonder. We've explored truth, knowledge, understanding and now we're onto something else that feels about as subjective, if not more, than the aforementioned topics. While reading through the introduction and first chapter, I too noticed the myriad of emotions that seem to spring from wonder. I had a harder time accepting that feelings of wonder were once thought to be due to one's own ignorance. At a logical level, it makes sense that one feels wonder when they're introduced to a novel idea they find to be brilliant, and therefore, your own lacking knowledge of the topic seems to be genius. However, thus far, I feel that wonder translates to an emotion closer to love: each time it's experienced, it's a little different, but the sensation is never one you're used to feeling. Perhaps wonder is something more related to an individual's own personality, being that certain people will find wonder in events while others won't. This leads me to my question that I continually thought about as I read through today's readings: Does additional knowledge of something necessarily always have to reduce one's wonder of the subject? Is some base knowledge necessary in order to really appreciate the beauty of an event, or does knowledge simply muck up what otherwise would be something wonderful?

Where amazing happens

Well I've been looking forward to reading this book ever since I bought it from Matt. This chapter was very interesting in showcasing and taking us on a exhibition of the wonder's that were being spread in tales. Using what we have learned from previous chapters we can see that some of the paintings and depictions seem to be puzzle pieces of other animals or experiences that they saw during the time (world making). Now this is a stretch, but it seemed to make sense and I can't go a post without relating the chapter to . This could be one of the reason that Pokémon was such a huge hit. It didn't just make up new monsters and creatures, it combines different animals we know today and this created creatures that we could relate too and felt like we already knew. A squirrel plus a turtle, electricity and a mouse, and a bird with a ice. It created a world that I as a kid could relate too, each new Pokémon was a new wonder giving us a sense of joy, emotion, and fueled exploration into this make believe world. If you look at the depictions and books that were written at the time we can see how they were extractions and combinations of the blocks of knowledge that people had at that time. In the same way, we still have wonders today, they just seem much more sophisticated. The Brain is a wonder to us today, but to the Egyptians it was just mush, and not a seen in the same light since they used to throw it away before they made their mummies. Diamonds to us can be seen as a wonder, but if somehow a pre Columbian Aztec stumbled upon it, it may just end up looking like just another clear rock. So it seems that what is a wonder is defined by the time and society, a sort of postmodernist viewpoint. Don't forget historical wonder's. The Stonehenge could of just been a bunch of rocks for some town, but to some of us we see this as a marvel.

Wonders, Ch 1

What I found most interesting is how the "unknown" can inspire wonder, fear, curiosity, loathing, compassion, and hatred. Travelers, merchants, and generals brought high tales from afar that stoked the interest of the people back home; the more fantastic the better. These tales were "put to use" in moralizations, folklore, scare tactics against sinful behavior in adults, and likewise in children. My question is: did doubt ever come into play against these fantastic stories? It is largely absent from the text, but surely doubt is as powerful a mover as fantasy?

Modern Wonders

In response to Laura's question, yes, I believe we do still have wonders - both in nature and in the sciences. Even with the greater understanding we have now of medicine, disease, and genetic mutations, there are still things I find miraculous. 

I found it interesting how often people in medieval times attributed "wonders" to religious premonitions - especially their belief that conjoined twins were a warning from God. We now know the reason for conjoined twins and, in many cases, can perform surgery to separate them. This makes me wonder how many of our modern beliefs and practices will be considered outlandish by future generations. One example I can think of is the use of radiation to treat cancer. It's our best treatment as of now yet it is essentially toxic. Perhaps it really is the only treatment but I can't help but remember how people used to believe blood letting cured people and in reality the people that lived were only living despite the large amount of blood they had lost.

On an unrelated note: what on earth is a barnacle goose?

Wonders Intro and Ch. 1

When reading the beginning of this book, I noticed a few things that reminded me of topics we've discussed before. The link between emotion and wonders was stressed multiple times by the authors. They write, "As theorized by medieval and early modern intellectuals, wonder was a cognitive passion, as much about knowing as about feeling" (14). From my understanding (which could be off) they suggest that wonders worked to somehow map out nature because they looked at the periphery of nature and our knowledge of it. In this way, wonders seem to structure nature. If this is the case, and wonders are an integral part of our understanding, does this mean that emotion can have a great impact on our structuring of nature as well?

Emotion is brought up again in chapter one. At the beginning of the chapter, the authors give Gervase of Tilbury's list of wonders and explain that the only thing the wonders have in common is "the emotion evoked by all of them" (21-23). This seems to make sense, that our reactions to wonders are often intense ones, like repulsion or passion. The authors also note that wonders are that which are out of the ordinary. So, can we take this to mean that a wonder is something that is different from what we have encountered that also evokes a strong emotion in us?

On a somewhat unrelated note, what most intrigued me about this section is something I know will be discussed in more depth later. The authors note that wonders became "vulgar" and sort of died out. I wonder how the wonders discussed in this book relate to things we encounter today. The authors, in their discussion of wonder and belief, note that, "Like novels or movies today, they [wonders] demanded emotional and intellectual consent rather than a dogmatic commitment to belief" (60). It is suggested that we are still able to suspend disbelief. Do we, then, still have our own wonders?

Monday, April 20, 2009

wonder ball

Many of the wonders cited in this reading such as magnets, dolphins, and volcanoes are not so wondrous to modern day citizens. Similarly, children's wonder is often looked upon with a longing for something that we as adults cannot or do not experience the same way. In both cases the latter has a greater understanding of the way in which the world works. To what extent is understanding/knowledge related to wonder?
On page 25 the authors begin to discuss how medieval writers noticed how marvels seemed to appear on what was the edge of their world.  They say that they were talking about places like Ireland but also places to the east and south of the European continent.  I would assume that by this they mean the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China as 2 examples.  The line that I found most interesting was when they cited Ranulph Higden's observation about wonders.  He said, "At the farthest reaches of the world often occur new marvels and wonders as though Nature plays with greater freedom secretly at the edges of the world than she does openly and nearer us in the middle of the world."  (25)  This addresses human curiosity and preference to what is new and different.  The wonders found in new territories are much of the time of much more interesting than the ones you have known about for a while.
Another especially interesting parallel to wonders occurring on the edge of the world are religious texts.  When the world was separated by oceans, and long distances there was the edge of the world and wherever you were at that time was the only thing that one may have ever seen.  When pretty much everything was the edge of the world is when the majority of religions that are still adhered to today came to be. It seems that as the world became more connected was when these new texts stopped being adhered to.  This definitely has something to do with skepticism and other critiques of religion were first common.   Still today whenever someone today says they have found a new religious text they are seen as a lunatic or at least eccentric.  The connectedness of the world (aka the edges of the world becoming the part of the center) and the sharing of massive amounts of information is what has caused this.  

on wonder

I thought it was interesting in today's reading about discovery and wonder when Daston mentions "the insatiable human appetite for the rare, the novel, and the strange" (23). And while the chapter was supposed to be about the ways in which that appetite manifested itself during that specific time period, I couldn't help but wonder why that was. For one, I can think of the evolutionary argument--it makes sense that if you have the cognitive capacity, it could be beneficial to figure out how to tame fire, develop and use simple machines, et cetera. But is there a specific argument that could be drawn from this book as to why we're curious and inclined to seek out wonder?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Poverty, IQ and Education

Since we spend so much time discussing education, there's a pretty interesting column in today's NYX by Nocholas Kristof about how IQ might be more "malleable" than previously thought, and that one's socio-economic status (and thus one's access to opportunities, support, and even a good school) is enormously important. For instance,poor children who were adopted into middle-class homes saw an increase in IQ, as did kids who were identified as "at risk" for retardation and were placed into an intensive program. Kristof concludes that schools should implement into their curriculum the clear qualifier that IQ can in fact be expanded and increased.

Tomasello's final chapter clearly and concisely wrapped up his argument with a cute little bow on top.  For the majority of the chapter he just re-hashes his argument and made it abundantly more clear to me what his argument was.  After reading this book it is clear that human cognition is pretty much a miracle of evolution, in fact its pretty much inexplicable.  The tools that humans have developed have just sped the process along.  A perfect example of this is language, especially in a child and their aptitude to learn it shows just how we have grown.  We are designed to learn from each other.  This ability is what sets us apart from everything else in the entire world.  
Is Tomasello trying to stop the debate about nature v. nurture and just try to lump them into one thing that is a process unto itself?  Also how does this relate to the phenomenon of certain group of animals (I think especially primates) learning a technique and it immediately being known to another group when it is impossible for them to have communicated?

Tomasello - Chapter 7

Although I can't make it to class today because I'm spending my morning BSing my way through a presentation, I still had a question I wanted to ask the class. Tomasello goes through a few different theories at the beginning, explaining why his theory is all encompassing and why others have flaws. One he particularly mentions is the modules model. He explains that it cannot be true due to the time frame required and the phylogenic time necessary. Although he does make some important points on this, I'm still not convinced. The modules theory is often used to describe why humans do not need to learn all the individual pieces of language. The theory also stands up against something Tomasello didn't mention as an important aspect of the theory; that it helps explain that of 162 recognized languages in the world, 161 of them follow one of two basic formats. It's clear that humans went through a bottle neck a few ten thousand years ago, so our evolution has suffered some lack of diversity not that long ago.
My question is then this: Isn't it possible for both of these ideas to have some truth? If not just the modules theory, but some of the other theories he mentions? If human evolution is so complex and we're still struggling to figure out exactly where we gained our most basic human abilities, couldn't more than one thing have come after a first initial spartk? (ie. first we gained the ability to recognize other humans as having intentions like ourselves, and through that others also slowly developed?)

Chapter 7

I thought that Tomasello was particularly clear in Chapter 7 with regard to his argument, and would like to pull a few quotes that I found helpful.

On page 201, Tomasello reiterates his argument that humans possess cognitive adaptations not shared by other primates. He states that the "species-unique cognitive adaption is...especially powerful...because it changes in fundamental ways the PROCESS of cognitive evolution." I think this is a good way to reinforce his point that traditional genetic evolution cannot account for how quickly humans covered "cognitive ground" - ergo, his theory of a different non-genetic process of cognitive adaption is well illustrated by the phrase "changes in...the process of cognitive evolution." It implies that if genetic cognitive evolution can't fast-forward (the pictorial linear-looking) process of evolution as it is traditionally conceived, traditional evolution, so to say, grew a branch that veered off to the side - hence, "the PROCESS changed."

I'm really doubtful with regard to whether or not that made sense to anyone other than me....

On page 205, Tomasello explains why the cognitive adaptation that was acheived by humans (whereby we understand one-another as conspecifics) would have occurred in any number of circumstances; "if an individual understands conspecifics as intentional beings for whatever reason - this understanding will not then evaporate when that individual interacts with conspecifics in other circumstances. In other words...communication, cooperation, and social learning are not different modules or domains of knowledge, but rather are different domains of activity, each of which would be equally profoundly transformed by a new way of understanding conspecifics, that is, a new form of social cognition."

He concludes on pages 216-217:
"The fact that culture is a product of evolution does not mean that each of its specific features has its own dedicated genetic underpinnings; there has not been enough time for that. A more plausible scenario is that all human cultural institutions rest on the biologically inherited social-cognitive ability of all human individuals to create and use social conventions and symbols."

And then he REALLY concludes with the following excerpt, which nicely ties together the three evolutionary frames he discusses in his book: biological, cultural, ontogenetic:
"Modern adult cognition of the human kind is the product not only of genetic events taking place over many millions ofyears in evolutionary time but also of cultural events taking place over many tens of thousands of years in historical time and personal events taking place over many tens of thousands of hours of ontogenetic time" (216).

I find it interesting that Tomasello ends his book by casting aside binary divisions such as nature/nurture, innate/learned, genes/environment as "too static and categorical" (217). If this is in fact his view, what approach should we take with regard to education in general? In other words, although he didn't address this question directly, based on what he has written, what would he say are the implications of his conclusion - and particularly his last sentence - for education and learning in general? How should we approach it, given that binary divisions are so central in the modern schools system?

Overview of Tomasello

I think that Tomasellos arguments have made me think about how unique it is to do the kind of things that humans are capable of. The idea that we can understand jokes, recognize and build upon patterns, reason, empathize, learn, understand, etc. are because we have this inherent "delta" gene or genes which separate us from the rest of the primates. All these things which we have been discussion in class thus far, ie knowledge, understanding, truth etc can only be realized by human cognition. I think that we have a great deal to attribute to our social nature and to human culture, which is an added element to understanding which has yet to be introduced into the picture. At least, Elgin and Lynch did not go into much detail on this and Understanding Understanding focused more on the fact of understanding in itself. Does anyone want to comment on how social and cultural aspects of human cognition play a role in understanding, truth, and knowledge?
I like what Marissa mentioned about growing up watching disney movies. I feel like I never realized, until this book, what a unique skill it was to communicate with other humans and I never thought to question the fact that a dogs bark or a bears growl isnt their own form of intelligent "human level" conversation. I guess it is the same thing which Professor McCrickerd talks about in class, we always think that everyone else thinks the same way that we do, but according to Tomasello our way of "thinking" is uniquely human.

Cultural Cognition

I have to agree with Matt's post, in that this chapter - along with the first - were both the most easy to understand and ultimately the ones I will best remember. A point was brought up in the final chapter that I had been pondering throughout this book, especially since Adil kept bringing up Tarzan. Disney has brainwashed my concept of reality. Tomasello puts this much more elequently:"The many popular accounts based on anecdotal observations of animal behavior, along with a healthy dose of the human penchant for seeing other beings as idential to themselves, are not, in my opinion, helpful to the enterprise" (206). This is especially true for me, as I imagine much of my generation, growing up watching Disney movie after Disney movie. I want to believe that giant gorillas have maternal instincts and that a pet tiger could feel jealousy towards its owner's love interest. As humans, it is my opinion that our unique ability to empathize is both our strength and our downfall. I want to believe that I can empathize with these animals and therefore I attribute human qualities to them. It is for this reason I've struggled with some of Tomasello's arguments when initially reading them, though I always ultimately am convinced after our class discussions. Did anyone else in the class face this same problem? Even while talking about the autistic woman who found a better way to slaughter cattle, I empathized with the cattle and imagined the intense fear they must face simply because I fear death. I'm not a vegetarian, that was just my initial response. After Professor McCrickerd talked about the fact that cattle do not have the capacity to fear death I drifted back into reality, however I must admit I wanted to challenge her at first. It was only after considering my absurd argument for "cattle rights" that I held back. Did anyone else experience this?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kevin Kuhle - An Interesting Observation

In our last class while I was listening to discussion and thinking to myself, I came to an interesting connection or observation about the way in which human cognition is formed and how it operates. When listening today, the point was brought up the we as humans don't learn much, come to beliefs or know much of anything first hand purely through our interactions with our surroundings and environment. What Tomesello writes is that we are massively dependent on other for our learning. We are dependent on communication with others to come to hold beliefs, learn about our surroundings and environment and know anything; the ratchet. Tomesello continues on to talk about humans' ability to be uniquely flexible in their thinking and ability to explain things in multiple different ways. While all of this is very interesting, the most intrigueing fact is that while we learn from communication with others and not from our environment, our ability to communicate and understand each other is hugely dependent upon our interactions with our environment and our experiences. Aditionally, our language is based in metaphors, which makes sense to humans because of shared experiences with our environment. So, we learn from communication with others, but our ability to communicate and understand each other is dependent on our experiences and interactions with our environment. Am I explaining this properly and does anyone else see this as being intriguing/ confusing???

Cultural cognition--aha!

Am I the only one who loved that this chapter started out with a joke? Where was that all book?

This chapter was nice for me--I almost feel like I could have just read chapters 1 and 7 and three months from now, I would have the same knowledge about the topic, but thats okay--because it stated in a more explicit way the integral role culture plays in cognition. The pieces definitely fit more clearly. The biggest theory it seems Tomasello is trying to disprove is that human cognition is unique simply because of genetics--that humans are innately more advanced than other primates. His explanation that we need the rachet effect and cultural exchanges, et cetera to develop the well-oiled mental machine that is the human mind makes sense, if only because we didn't have enough time to evolve these things. Here's my question: is it even possible to evolve--over an infinite time horizon, and obviously without a human presence around, dominating the planet and just messing things up--a being that can do the same things (from joint attention to advanced mathematics) that humans can do? Could a species become so genetically advanced that they pop out ready to do math like a bird knows to fly?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Something Intelligent to Come Later

I might have something legit to contribute at some point, but this had to go up now since we discussed thinking differently and Ender's Game:

Chapter Six

In my opinion, this chapter did an excellent job of tying together many of the concepts we had been already discussing in class. The concept of an infant human growing up without any other human contact was touched upon and Tomasello went so far as to claim that the knowledge they could acquire was limited simply because observation of the world (and not another human) was the singular way they could acquire knowledge. I'm curious as to whether the infant could acquire knowledge by observing an animal (i.e. a primate) and its actions but I'm not sure what studies could actually be done to discover the answer. Obviously a child mimicking a parent of the same species could acquire more knowledge but I would assume some level of knowledge could be acquired - at least a higher level than other primates.

Tomasello discussed the fact that even nonliterate cultures are able to transmit skills and knowledge to their children but he went on to say that these cultures do communicate with symbols which seemed confusing to me. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding but couldn't symbols be a form of a language? After all, our alphabet is really just 26 symbols. Irregardless of this discrepancy, Tomasello makes a good point in claiming that human children rely on knowledge taught (or simply observed) by human adults. If this did not occur, culture would not be passed on and no progress would ever be made.

What's important about language

Got a question about chapter 6, though I'm worried that it might have actually been addressed in the text and I just missed it. So keep that in mind.

I'm wondering what it is about the usage language that gives its integral role in cognition. It makes sense that the thinking processes behind verbalization is critical, but what about the actual speaking part of language? (Obviously, it's much more difficult to think of what to say as you're saying it rather than, for example, when typing a blog post leisurely.) Is cognition impaired for children that communicate through sign language? Or could there be a benefit to writing? Additionally, how does the content of communication matter? Would an intense disagreement/argument do more to further cognitive development rather than a series of agreements?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Human Cognition Ch. 6

A lot of what I got out of this chapter had to do with the construction of language. Tomasello explains, "Given that languages work mainly categorically...the categories and schemas immanent in language enable take multiple perspectives on the same entity simultaneously" (166-67). This was fascinating to me. Tomasello stresses that language does not create categories. Humans had to come up with these categories before they could use language to describe them. Still in a child's development, language allows their minds to develop categories; like Tomasello says, something can be both a rose and a flower. It seems apparent that language is a system. It has been constructed and changed by humans since it came into existence. There are rules and these rules begin to govern how young children organize their thoughts.

What I began to wonder was how humans began to organize, or categorize, their worlds in the first place. According to Tomasello, if an infant were on a desert island with no contact with anyone, it would not categorize its world. Would Tomasello suggest, then, that categorization first came about when humans first began interacting with one another while understanding the intentionality of the other? Was it a necessity at this point in order to express a desire or some other feeling?

What I also found interesting in terms of this idea of language as a cultural system was when Tomasello explained that when asked to explain something, children (after a while) give a certain type of explanation "once they have caught on to the types of explanations  that adults normally give and value" (184). There seems to be this whole way of speaking and organizing the world that is determined by society. This is why there are some metaphors that make sense to us and some that do not. Tomasello claims that our cognition is shaped by society, and I wonder if he is also claiming that language shapes how we view the world.

Finally, what I found to be Tomasello's major point was what he discussed at the end, the idea of representational rediscription. He explains that the mind can internalize information and then the individual may do what they want with it once it is in their mind. This seems like such a basic idea, but it seems to be a major thing that separates us from all other animals. This also reminded me of the three types of knowledge we have discussed previously. Taking in knowledge and changing it to do something else with it seems to be in line with proactive knowledge, though I think Tomasello calls it declarative knowledge. Still, the idea that our brains are complex enough to take in ideas and make them our own in a way is pretty remarkable.

Chapter 6 - More of the same, but in a good way

I completely agree, this article, and much of my education, suggests that humans learn from communicating and discussion and therefore that is the best type of classroom to ensure productive learning. This chapter further explained Tomasello's argument of children's learning processes as well as capabilities and gave multiple examples including the water measurement discussion. Without someone to discuss a problem/thought with, the problem or thought is seemingly irrelevant.

chapter 6

Why don't school make most courses discussion based? This chapter shows how language and our interaction with other people helps our cognitive development. In looking at the move from merely seeing other humans as having intentions to having beliefs that can be different from their own we can see that language plays a huge role in that. Children learn through listening to adults that causation counts as a proper explanation of things and this then forms the child's belief that people are related to the shaping and changing of the environment around them. They continue to develop the understanding of others as having different beliefs and knowledge bases through confusion over the meaning of utterances in conversations. Children also do better on various tests of cognitive development when asked to work with other kids like the example of whether the taller glass has more water than the wider glass or not. When paired in groups where one believes the taller glass does and the other believe the wider glass does the children are able to see the problem better. Also through talking problems through children reach better answers than they do if only asked for the answer. All of this suggests to me that humans develop best when allowed to discuss problems and ideas with others and work them out rather than just listening to a lecture or reading a text book.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Language and Culture

Tomasello shows in Ch. 5 the significant role of language in the development of the human species. Essentially, language is a biologically adaptive capacity that the species homo sapiens has which allows for significant evolutionary and developmental processes to occur. By using and understanding language we move from a reflexive posture toward the environment to a creative one. We no longer need to always be on the defense, or experience life anew in each moment because of our capacity to categorize and generalize with our symbolic referents, called language.

Tomasello shows how the ages of 1-3 are important biologically for the development of language, and also how language is essentially a social phenomenon. We create symbolic referents for the purpose of communication. We communicate with one another because we see enough similarity in the other to deem them safe (as contrary to some primate groups) and deem them useful and worthy of the interaction.

This makes me think that Tomasello may have highlighted a significant point that separates humans from animals, namely, our capacity and application of language is beyond that of animals, biologically speaking, and as a result of this unique capacity, we have evolved culturally to where we are today. It's kind of an amazing thought to think that language may be a significant part of the key to our exciting evolution! To think that it plays such an important role! A question that follows, is whether we are capable of using language to develop the physiology of the brain in primates, such that they may be able to more sophisticatedly use language and develop their own culture to perhaps someday resemble more closely our own?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ch. 5 - Tomasello

In this chapter Tomasello lays out a fascinating system of how children learn to speak.  The first very striking passage to me was discussing how children only hear "concrete utterances."  These utterances are ones that can be sensed but they are the building blocks for children develop in to more abstract thoughts.  Tomasello marks this as an important step in a child's cognition as it marks a point where they are beginning to use language in a metaphorical way.  The development of children from not knowing language and by just imitating what is said around them to eventually learn language is fascinating.  If you have ever been around a child you can tell that Tomasello identifies real stages by which children develop (presented on page 152 in table 5.1).  Form the use of one word phrases to their uses of partial sentences and finally being able to make full sentences is very accurate.  Since children learning language are "imitation machines" what is the best way to teaching the to talk?  What words are children most apt to learn?

Chapter 5

As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time with young children, I have witnessed language development in multiple family settings. As Michelle mentioned, Tomasello's conclusion is that children learn through imitation, whether simple vocabulary words or sentence construction. Obviously, I cannot evaluate other languages' learning techniques because I am only fluent in English, but I was curious about the link between the child's imitative learning and the adult/parents' teaching methods. Many parents, when teaching their children to speak, simply point at objects and state the noun used to describe the object. The next obvious progression is then pairing those nouns with actions, or verbs, and most parents or influential individuals in a child's life do this. My question is this: If this is the teaching method that is employed by most parents, what choice do children have but to begin speaking in such a matter if most of their learning is indeed imitative?

Chapter 5

After going through chapter five in the text, I was intrigued by the various kinds of speech and the ease at which children pick up different kinds and the settings they need in order to make the process work. From a very early age, children start to pick up important and simple words that they soon turn into phrases, and learning is conducted in many different ways. It's clear from the discussion and information presented by Tomasello that words that are nouns are much easier for children to handle and use in context than verbs that need conjugation and must be altered from the start. My question is about the method of uptake of language. Tomasello lists the few different ways that children absorb language, one of them being the necessity of use via hearing it from adults as sources. The more variations that children hear for uses of verbs, the more they are able to understand verbs abstractly, which is a very important detail in human language. My question is about television for little kids. Is it the case that children's movies and videos are simply dumbing down concepts they'll need to understand some day or are they giving a leg-up for children so they can slowly absorb, little by little, different uses for verbs and words that contain abstract uses? Or, is it the case that TV is just a poor substitute for human interaction all together and children don't really absorb as much as they would via talking to another human?

Tomasello - Ch 5

Tomasello's discussion in Chapter 5 was fairly thought-provoking, and has spurred the following questions:

1. If young children are in fact "'imitation machines' as they seek to appropriate the cultural skills and behaviors of the mature members of their social groups" (159) through techniques such as "verb island constructions" (138), in what ways might the influence of a particularly creative adult impact the cognitive development of a child? I am led that to think that if "human children have a very strong imitative tendency," then imitating a creative or intelligent adult will enhance their ability to act creatively when they do eventually develop that skills. However, the very act of imitation is a foundation for creative skills that are to develop later, which might suggest that the mere act of imitating any adult, creative or not, impacts a child's cognitive development in the same way.

2. The discussion on pages 141-142 with regard to the idea that "construction itself carries meaning" (142) was fascinating. In the examples given by the author, the reader can imagine what the word "floos" might mean in a given context based on the words around it (ie: "X floosed Y" or "X was floosed by Y"). In some languages, such as Japanese, context is extremely important (and perhaps more so than in English). Does the importance of verb-island constructions diminish in these languages since verb-island construction involves using the same verb with different types of nouns if the child imitates the adult and thus imitates phrases based on context? Might that hinder a child's cognitive development in any way?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tomasello Chapter 5

Tomasello says: "...[language acquisition is] imitative learning, plain and simple" (145). Surely he cannot mean that language is purely social, with no biological influence? It seems like language can be greatly (or at least marginally) affected by genetics and cognitive patterns and tendencies.

"Very little is known about how young children abstract or schematize across verb island constructions and create more abstract, productive, and adult-like conversations" (147). I would hypothesize that language is used and understood through a matrix of relational dichotomies, and more advanced/complex conversations can be created as an individual's matrix becomes larger.

Tomasello comments on the relationship between language and cognition. Has there been studies done on the similarities and differences in cognitive patterns and capacities between human language-users and humans who never learned a language? What conclusions, if any, were drawn?

Short and sweet

Tomasello writes that when talking about a scene of experience, speakers select language that best fits their "communicative goals" as well as the "communicative needs and expectations of the listener." (154-155). My question is whether this ability to understand a listener's perspective is an innate cognitive skill or if it is learned through cultural transmission with language? Does empathy develop solely to allow for more successful communication?

Don't have much to say about chapter 5...

This was one of those passages that I have so little knowledge of the basic principles being discussed, I just kind of nodded and tried to soak up everything--I kind of gave up trying to look at things with a critical eye. The two significant questions I ended up writing down ("what do these language-learning strategies in the first section have to do with social learning?" and "how does language-learning translate to the development of cognition?") were answered almost immediately after I wrote them down.

But here's a smaller, much-less-relevant question I had relates to the specific natures of different languages. Tomasello says that the radically different grammatical structures of different languages is proof that there is no innate specific-grammar abilities we have, but he also seems to treat various stages like verb islands as universals (I'll take his word for it). He then later comes to the logical conclusion that language impacts and advances our cognitive development, through allowing us to parse the world, create abstractions, and so on. But in these radically different languages, from English to Mandarin to that Amazonian language with only present tense, does the cognitive development differ in form? Is a developing English-speaking child able to unlock different mental doors than one growing up and learning a different language, and how so? And if that's the case, are infants developing two languages at once (say, Spanish and English) equipped with more cognitive tools than those learning just one?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tomasello - Chapter 5

This chapter was very interesting with Tomasello describing the Verb Island Constructions, and of course, again makes me excited to go home this weekend and verb test my 22-month-old niece. Though she is on the younger end of verb testing, I'm still gonna do it.
The amazing thing about this study is the fact that the children can differentiate between the word usage in the examples. Although Tomasello suggests it is not the same process as learning a different language, it does bring me back to Spanish class and having to use context clues to figure out what the new word presented means, however when I was doing this in class, I knew exactly what I was attempting to do:

*Question: Do children know they're using context clues to determine new words/concepts?

*Question: I'm wondering if making up fake words to test this is fair for children? I figure it isn't that big of a deal because after the experiement they don't hear that word again, but doesn't it seem unnatural to use words that mean nothing for these tests? Is the goal to use a word that the child has never encounterred so that we see what reaction he/she has? But isn't that unnatural too since it is highly unlikely that the first time a child understands "put" or "ball" is the first time the child has actually heard the word?
I'm curious to anyone's thoughts about this.

Also, I agree with the chapter's conclusion that children mostly learn via imitative learning.

Chapter 4, Tomasello

I found Tomasello's discussion on language to be interesting. Perhaps the most thought-provoking part was the small differences between humans and non-humans. The fact that two-year-old children could create and understand interactions that were not replicable by the non-human subjects is almost unbelievable, given that there is not a large genetic difference. I am curious regarding further development processes, and the point at which humans can learn to interact with multiple people at once, as well as how they learn social behaviors in such instances.

Tomasello Ch. 4

The development of language in children is one of the most interesting things that could be discussed in a book about human development.  As one of the main differences between us and our closest genetic relative is our ability to communicate it is natural to attempt to dissect this process so we know more about it.  The reason that Tomasello identifies as the principle cause of our ability to develop language is the human capacity to understand others as intentional beings.  By learning to understand others intentions we can learn about symbolic gestures and how they communicate also we can learn how people intend to communicate.  With this skill children can understand how a variety of people act in similar situations.  Even with all of these tools a t their disposal children must have experience a situation multiple times before learning how to understand it and communicate within it.   One thing that I got confused about was the "joint-attentional scene"  I understand that it is necessary according to Tomasello for language development, but it am confused about how it actually works.  

Chapter 4

What first intrigued me about this chapter was its connection to chapter 3. Tomasello writes, "Sounds become language for young children when and only when they understand that the adult is making that sound with the intention that they attend to something." He makes this point several times, that a child can only learn language once they perceive the intention of others, which occurs around 9 months as was discussed in the last chapter. Before this point, does a child merely hear noise when an adult is speaking to them, and after it are they able to begin to attach meaning to the noise? What interested me, also, was not just how children are able to grow to understand language, but how they begin to speak it. Tomasello discusses how children imitate adults, but that unlike with a specific action, they must put themselves in the adult's position. Does this, then, mean that the child must "teach" the adult their imitation of a certain noise? I wondered if this went back and forth until the child had said the word correctly. 

This brings me to something else I noticed. Tomasello references the traditional view that language is "the symbol and its referent in the perceptual world," but rejects this by claiming that there is so much in language that does not directly refer to a physical object. This made me wonder how children go from looking at a ball and learning it is a ball, to understanding abstract emotions, to metaphors. I also wondered about how children learn such things as nuance in language, or how to understand sarcasm or irony with regard to language. That may be a totally different subject, but what came to mind for me was how the development of language must be some sort of a building process. This takes me back to the ratchet effect, that each person builds on the knowledge of those before them. It also seems that since language is always changing, that part of communication is simply a quest to accurately portray and express the world, and that our interaction allows us to perfect this.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dreams, perspectives, and "thinking" in language

At two different times while reading, I wrote a note in the margins about how Tomasello's findings would apply to a different aspect of cognition--dreaming--so I'll run with it here in this post.

On page 100, Tomasello says that a joint attentional scene is possible for a child because "it is as she were viewing the whole scene from above, with herself as just one player in it." That image really struck with me, the idea of being able to imagine yourself from a third-person perspective, and how that impacts your thinking. When one (either a child or an adult) constructs hypothetical situations, such as winning the lottery or an encounter with a mugger at night (I suppose we could even call this daydreaming), are they viewing it in their mind from a first- or third-person perspective? I would guess that a good proportion of the time, it's from a third-person perspective, and I think dreaming is the same way. (I remember realizing at some point in my childhood that I viewed myself from a third-person view in my dreams, so I guess this is assertion entirely based on that) I'm also going to go out on a limb (metaphor!) and say that there is some significance in the unconscious nature of dreaming (more on that later).

A dream is the same as a conscious hypothetical in that someone is imagining scenarios that involve themselves. What is the significance in a person constructing hypothetical experiences from a third-person, rather than first-person, view? Is that a cognitive achievement?

Additionally, when Tomasello says "The process of acquiring and using linguistic symbols fundamentally trasnforms the nature of human cognitive representation," it reminded me of how people will often "think" in words or dream "in" languages. (This is often noticed by people who acquire another language when living in another country and find themselves switching languages on occasion). How does our ability to "think" in languages affect our thinking, and how do different languages change or augment that thinking?

Connecting Class Topics Huzzah! <- also a metaphor

While looking through the Lakoff piece assigned for Monday's discussion, something important came to my mind. It's interesting in the Lakoff research piece the different categories he creates in which we place metaphor and how those aspects are important for understanding. My question is simply this: Is it possible that our collective ability to use and understand the world in metaphor has helped us evolve to where we are today?
Tomasello, in chapter 3, describes some of the major ways in which we as humans differ in learning from other primates. He explains some specific examples, but the inability of other creatures to partake in a simple trifecta learning process between a child, a parent and an object stunts other animals and prevents them from carrying on important information. But what if we, as creatures with advanced languages, use metaphor as a means for helping others to understand our experiences before they occur to the other person. In that way, they can read our mind, understand our emotions attached to an event, and can react like the person who experienced it without doing it ourselves, therefore adding emotional impact to the information and saving it away. For example, we all know that getting a finger bitten off by a snapping turtle must really hurt. But we can understand that if we've never seen a turtle, been bitten by a weaker turtle or met anyone who has had the event happen. We can read it or hear it from someone else who heard it from someone else, and it allows us to understand why we should not do an action without experiencing it; thus saving our fingers.
Perhaps it is our ability to all understand language as a set of metaphor that helps ground it to a universal standard and then helps it mean something to us, even if we've never experienced it. This, in turn, helps set us apart from other animals who must first experience something before they understand.

Monday's reading

I find it a little difficult to connect the three texts we read for todays class, but I guess and underlying theme would be the idea of metaphor and experience as an important part of human cognitions. For a teacher, in the Embodied Knowledge article, her personal practical knowledge is a combination of three things (1)teachers personal past history, understanding of human affairs, and cultural understanding(2)teachers aesthetic, her mode of perceiving and interacting withthe enviroment and with other people(3)view a persons understanding as their mode of being in,or having, a world. These three aspects are not static, concrete things, but rather everchanging ideas which grow as her experience of the world grows. Also it is important to point out that her experience of the world is shaped by her past, her aesthetic, and her mode of being. Johnson states that, "Knowledge is an activity by means of which we are able to transform our experiences." I think that this is a viable definition for knowledge. Knowledge is a process, and a way of driving and achieving understanding of our expereinces. In additions, knowledge and useful interpretation of metaphors are an important part of cognitive experience. In Lakoff's article, he claims that cognition is a metaphorical experience and that by describing abstract concepts in non-abstract and definable terms, we can better understand these concepts. However, it is also difficult to unravel these terms without first having a knowledge of what each overlapping metaphor means and how its many parts can make up and relate to the abstract concept. He uses the example of IDEA as a person, a plant, a product, a cutting object, a resource, etc. These metaphors are related, a person and a plant both can die for example, but not directly related. A person is not a cutting object. It is important to understand these relationships to understand the concept of IDEA.
Nussbaum introduces another form of metaphor into the mix with fiction. Fiction and novels are important aspects of cognition.Ppeople care for the books they read, they are changed by what they care for. This is something which we have discussed in class before. When reading a certain book, you can change the way you look at and percieve the world around you.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


This article on relationships between texts and moral development seems to have combine the hermeneutics class and the moral truth class. We bond with texts in a very hermeneutical fashion insofar as we give ourselves to the text and "fall in love" with it and allow it to shape us. This bond with the book is called a friendship by Booth but Nussbaum disagrees that it is the same with Philosophical works as it is for fiction. She argues that you dont get seduced by works of philosophy and the way we read philosophy naturally keeps the text at a distance which does not create the type of friendship that is created in fictional works. It could be that because I dont really read fiction very often I dont fully understand what she is saying but I think that Philosophy can be very seductive. We are of course taught to read with the hermeneutics of suspicion but also taught to use the hermeneutics of faith at least for the first read through. I think a good argument for showing that there is more than a hermeneutic of suspicion going on in reading philosophy is to talk to any philosophy student in a class where they read multiple short essays that come to drastically different conclusions. What I think you will find is that with every essay the student falls in love a new and abandons the old one and through out the course of the class he will have fallen in love with 9 texts that are basically arguing with each other. Though I think the hope with philosophy is that a student would go back and read them again suspiciously and work through the arguments to see problems. But at least initially I think philosophy is very seductive. This however is just a tangent on the article as a whole. The idea is that texts have a way of shaping our development specifically for this piece it is our moral development. This happens through the bond with various characters we develop and our ability to work through various scenarios through the book. This is all very interesting and very scary to me, to think of all the power a single writer could have on so many lives.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Monkey Waiters in Japan

This is moderately relevant to the Tomasello book. Okay, not really, but it's pretty funny.

I can't seem to post the link to the video, so it's under "comments."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tomasello, Ch. 3

While I found this chapter to be extremely interesting, I would have liked to see Tomasello discuss autism more than he did. If what sets us apart from non-human primates is our ability to identify with others in our species, it seems like a huge deal that there has been an increase in autism cases, where people have a disease that stops them from doing precisely that. I would have liked to see Tomasello discuss how that fits into the puzzle, instead of briefly touching on the topic.

Chapter 3

I find all of the examples of research, provided by Tomasello, to be very persuasive in convincing me that infants do indeed undergo a change at nine months. I also have to admit that I agree that there exists a clear difference between a nonhuman primate's concept of self at the age of nine months and later and a human at the age of nine months and later. The only issue I'm having with this chapter is that I'm unsatisfied with Tomasello's attempts to explain the reason for this abrupt alteration that occurs around the age of nine months. Why nine months? Tomasello himself asks this same question on p. 68 yet, in my opinion, still fails to give me a satisfactory answer. The pessimist in me wants to think that it can be answered by accepting one of the theories dismissed by Tomasello and saying it's just coincidence. Infants have had nine months to observe the world and it just happens that, biologically, it takes about that amount of time to begin imitating others and have the appearance of a concept of self. Tomasello claims there is too much data from research to contradict this simple explanation but I'm not yet convinced.

In response to the sidenote on another post, I believe it was Michelle's, I too have been having issues with Tomasello speaking about his research in third person. I'm glad someone else noticed it.

Chapter 3

Question: How is it possible to actually know whether a nine month old is mentally rearranging objects or estimating the correct number in a small group?

I was intrigued, but puzzled when I read this. It seems impossible to track the children's thought, especially given their lack of communication development. I understand Tomasello's theory regarding the chapter, and the cognitive changes that occur at nine months of age are truly amazing. I am simply skeptical of the accuracy and the ability of these studies to accurately measure the results.

It takes two, Tarzan

Looking at my title you may very confused at what a Disney movie has to do with anything we are learning in Tomasello, but it will relate to my questions that I will pose later

Most of the posts have already explained the miracles of the nine month phenomenon and how it is amazing that we are able to gaze others as intentional beings. To tie this back into our computer debate we had earlier in lab, we can see how computers would most likely only interpret inputs and outputs in the same way a primate could. So although we may think that a robot is being able to become more like a human in it's ability to respond like us, Robots will remain in the realm of cognition similar to an animal. It's int resting how the two extremes from nature to science could share that aspect.

Now back to Tarzan. Since Tomasello states that infants have the ability to recognize and understand others with their intentions and not just the actions that they cause. He also states that children were confused when presented with just hands that did movements they were not used to. Since they could not understand intentions or be able to associate with the movements we see how it was hard for them to understand. Now imagine the story of Tarzan, raised by apes in a primitive setting. Since he would continually be exposed to responses from other mammals that were unlike his own, would he of not been able to develop social cognition skills? Would he grasp the self concept that he thinks differently than them or just adapt to mimicking their behavior and forfeiting intentions since they would not be consistent from each primate.?

What seems to be the conclusion is that in order to develop social cognition and think the way we do, we need to be exposed to others that are able to think the way we do. So if evolution was accepted, their could of been instance in a early human showing advanced cognitive abilities but since nobody else thought the same his cognitive abilities did not expand it's primitive form. In theory you would need two to be able to develop like Tomasello states. So therefore would it be true that the Theory of Evolution may be reliant on a scenario like Adam and Eve?

Cognition of Infants

"It is unclear whether nonhuman primates engage in protoconversations or neonatal mimicking in the same way as humans.... Whether very young human infants are social in ways unique to the species - or whether human social uniqueness awaits further developments at nine months of age or beyond - is thus an open question at this point." (60)

This issue posed by Tomasello fascinated me, causing me to think about what really is the cause of such cognitive abilities as human children have that other nonhuman primates lack. The fact that there is so much cognitive ability that cannot be easily explained away genetically is absolutely intriguing. But it also begs a question of what causes this sort of ability.

Is the social conditioning that human infants receive so radically different as to instill these new cognitive abilities? If as Tomasello suggests on page 60, chimpanzees can mimic the social behaviors of human infants when provided with an appropriate level of attention from a parent figure (in this case human parent figures), does this suggest that they are capable of similar cognitive processes if this really is rooted in the social behaviors that human children became versed in at such a young age?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Something to ponder...

As I was reading this chapter, I had no difficulty accepting Tomasello's hypothesis that human infants start understanding others as intentional agents like the self at around nine months of age (61). However, this got me wondering what causes this understanding of self to develop. The only thing I could think of was language, because this seems to develop at around nine months as well (I think). This suggests to me that language introduces the concept of self to the infants--they learn from others to talk, think and understand in terms related to the concept of self because the way society talks, think and understands is also shaped by the concept of self.

Is this why nonhuman primates do not seem to possess an understanding of self? Because they do not possess language? Or perhaps they do possess language, but do not possess a cultural idea of self?

This leads me to wonder if the self is an actual entity (do we all really have selfs?) or if it is only an idea that is created by the language of our society or culture. Perhaps it is not a biologically inherited trait, but only a culturally inherited trait. In that sense, does the self really exist if it is a cultural phenomenon and not a biological one?

In the Theories of Consciousness class that I am taking we have discussed the theory of a cultural evolution of consciousness through gene-like replicators called "memes," which is similar to my idea. If you're interested, you should definitely google that and read up on it.

Chapter 3 Tomasello, chimps & babies

pg. 60 "for the most part, nonhuman primate mothers and infants do not engage in the kinds of intense face-to-face engagement characteristics of Western middle-class mothers and infants, but they do stay in constant physical contact and so their interactions may, like the interactions of some non-Western mothers and infants, reflect protoconversations of a different sort. There is only one study of a single, human-raised, chimpanzee infant mimicking tongue protrusion in much the same way as human infants (Myowa, 1996), but there are no studies of chimpanzee mimicking of other kinds of actions or the making of adjustments to reproduce novel movements."
[protoconversations: interaction patterns between mothers and babies where the mothers speak when their babies stop babbling or when the mothers finish the babies' 'conversations']

So my question here is, is this because the chimpanzee was raised by humans? How does that complicate the study? I would think that the study would need to have been done on a chimp to chimp protoconversation because that would be the natual experience that Tomasello is trying to compare the the human experience... any thoughts?

Question #2: I'm not sure if this is related or not, but I'm wondering if there is any gender differences in this 9-month thing, since Tomasello points out that it isn't just 9 month bday and the baby changes, but that it is a span. I've heard before that boys and girls are virtually the same as babies and toddlers, however, I have also heard that speech, mobility and toilet training all occur earlier with baby girls... any correlation here?

Also, as Tomasello continues to describe these children and their 9-month revelation, along with the different studies of imitative, emulative, etc. learning, I can only think that the largest difference bewtween humans and primates is the addition of language. Although I'm guessing chimpanzees have some sort of noise language (i don't know much about animal communication) I am pretty sure that their language is not quite as involved as ours and therefore their children do not have both language to listen to and actions to observe.

***complete sidenote: This book is interesting, but he's driving me crazy when he refers to his studies in the 3rd person!