Offering a false premise of certainty…

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. Wittgenstein

I have just returned from the European Conference on Education Research (ECER), which this year was in Helsinki.  The conference language was English which made me ponder  on Wittgenstein’s  language games as whilst the quality of English presentations was generally excellent, the extent of the understanding  becomes increasingly complex given the diverse cultural and historical meanings attached with any words.

For example one colleague from Russia whilst discussing Vygotsky clearly had a complex set of different associations and meanings with that one name than I could possibly comprehend. Not that I am ignorant of Vygotsky, but I have never lived in Russia and never read Vygotsky’s original publications in Russian.  I  simply cannot comprehend the cultural and historical significance of the name and I cannot associate the name with a whole host of other Russian literature and scholars. This was just one word of the thousands words spoken in the presentation – such are the variables with language  that it is astonishing that it is possible for two people to have a meaningful, productive and accurate conversation or to mediate a degree of understanding.

This very much ties in with my ‘illusions of knowing’ thinking and also ties in with my previous post related to physical differences in seeing. As whilst we see objects differently and talk about them differently – the physical differences are compounded by cultural, symbolic, historical and linguistic differences.

For example I am told that the  German for bridge is die Brücke, which is a feminine noun, whilst  el puente (Spanish for Bridge) is masculine noun. Whilst such gendered associations may not have physical embodiment they can innately have a gendered and cultural association. If we also said  the blue bridge then this may also mean something different in different cultural settings as radical variations in the way  different languages describe the spectrum of visible light. For example, whilst the  English language distinguishes between  green and blue  – some languages do not and the colours are considered shades of the same colour in different languages.

And added to this is the concept of  ‘context’ which becomes equally important as bridge to a dentist, architect and games player again represents a whole range of cultural, historical associations. Whilst the ambiguities of language and meaning  illustrate how adaptable our cognitive abilities are, it also illustrates the high level of ambiguity that we are able to tolerate and that a preciseness in language and communication cannot be achieved.

I presume I am referring to a form of ‘epistemological solipsism’ but at the same time questioning the position of education/ schooling  which can be considered in one part as the trading in the use of language and inculturation into shared cultural and historical meanings? Successful navigation of schooling therefore means decoding and  reproducing cultural and historical assumptions and ambiguities both in language and performativity. This is interesting (for me) as being ambiguous and existing in states of uncertainty is central to creative behaviours. Challenging meaning and reconceiving perceived realities  requires an emotional capacity to engage  in riskiness and challenges cultural and historical assumptions in the form of  redefined models of performativity which in turn adds to the ambiguities and shifting of language.

So what is my point?

Performativity fails to accomodate ambiguities and offers a false premise of certainty  – in doing so it seeks to constrain the acknowledgement of ambiguity and uncertainty through failing to recognise alternative psychological, cultural and historical influences as valid and as a consequence fails to acknowledge the rich cultural and historical diversity that exists -I think?

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I am not a good liar….

Genuinely I am not a good liar  so I try and tell the truth  – not because of any great moral or ethical reason but just because I dislike misleading people.  The ability to lie is however interesting, it is something that links to my work on creativity and emotion as to be able to tell lies you have to be creative. Equally to be convincing you are usually manipulating your own and others emotions.

The ability to tell lies does however serve evolutionary survival and reproductive purposes and also ties in with my concepts of illusions of knowing – as often we lie to ourselves without knowing. So although telling lies is considered bad, and some of us feel bad when we lie – lies themselves are an important part  our society. In fact lying is so embedded in our culture that it is difficult to disentangle from truth (what ever truth may be or mean). So children are told about a hairy old man (I am trying not to give the game away) who delivers presents every year. They are told to pretend they like their mad aunty and they are told not to tell granddad his breath smells. So deceit is both nurtured but very much in our nature. But lying is a delicate ecosystem – we also need to be able to spot liars as this too is an important part of survival and reproduction.

Changizi and his research team found that the eyes of Old World primates (including baboons, gorillas, and humans), particularly those who had less hair and exposed faces (okay and their backsides) are fine-tuned for detecting increased blood-oxygen levels in the skin—what most of us would call a blush. This visual sensitivity therefore  helps  animals read the moods of their kin  and their enemies. If we add this to a whole range of body and verbal clues  we can see that lying is a battle of the subtleties between the the deceiver and the deceived for reproductive and survival purposes. Interestingly it is also reported that females have the upper hand in the detection stakes as their ability to detect subtle  changes in colour  is greater – females can generally detect four basic colours whilst men  largely can detect three (or less). This would correspond that with evolutionary theory that it is perhaps more important for reproductive purposes  that females can spot liars better than men.