EXCURSUS: How we "process" communication of all kinds
- The issue under discussion is NOT what we do with the content AFTER processing it, but what factors play in our 'getting' the message into our heads. (One can readily anticipate that the will plays a LARGE part in whether we accept the content of some communication, but it also plays an important part in actually 'getting the message in'
- One major ground-point: our FIRST experiences of putting together messages is in a Personal context (Mom!)...when a baby looks out at these things called 'faces' in those first few days, they immediately organize the data around persons...this notion of person is built-in and forms the learning paradigm for the rest of life...
We are 'built' for communication, esp. with people. Consider this data from TCELThe Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (p. 238):
Very young babies present an extraordinary range of auditory abilities. There have been several experiments in which different sounds are played to babies, and their responses monitored. For example, day-old babies have been played their mother's voice speaking normally, the same voice speaking abnormally (in a monotone), and a stranger's voice: only the first caused them to attend. Other studies have shown how babies turn their heads towards the source of a sound within the first few days of life, and prefer human voices to non-human sounds as early as 2 weeks.
We bring this personal context to seemingly everything we do--we personify everything from Mother Nature to Lady Justice to Father Time to 'those stubborn bosons!'...If we see a chaotic stretch of debris, we assume vandals or passersby or maybe natural forces (like hurricane Camille!)
- Bottom-up vs. Top-down perception:
- Our 'processing' of communication centers around pattern recognition. The 'build-up' of a pattern-whole from the feature-parts is NOT a deliberate activity!
The feature-extraction and feature-combination processes underlying pattern recognition are NOT available to conscious awareness. What we are aware of are the patterns (Epis. and Cognition, p. 186)
- This bottom-up activity is also complemented by a top-down activity (E&C, p 186):
In addition to bottom-up processing, there is considerable evidence for top-down processing, in which higher-level beliefs, or background beliefs, influence the interpretation of low-level perceptual units. Psychologists have particularly shown that knowledge of a pattern's context influence how one perceives that pattern.
- We seem to experience acoustical elements sequentially in time, but we don't process SENTENCES that way!
A great deal of research has been carried out on the perception of isolated sounds, syllables, or words. In connected speech, however, very different processes seem to operate. We do not perceive whole sentences as a sequence of isolated sounds. Grammar and meaning strongly influence our ability to identify linguistic units. (p147)
- In many cases we use the data from the context to 'help us hear/see' the bottom-up stuff:
One reason why we are able to recognize speech, despite all the acoustic variation in the signal, and even in very difficult listening conditions, is that the speech situation contains a great deal of redundancy--more information than is strictly necessary to decode the message. There is, firstly, our general ability to make predictions about the nature based on our previous linguistic experience -- our knowledge of the speaker, subject matter, language, and so on. But in addition, the wide range of frequencies found in every speech signal presents us with far more information than we need in order to recognize what is being said. As a result, we are able to focus our auditory attention on just the relevant distinguishing features of the signal. (TCEL, p146)
- We are able to 'see the whole' without seeing all the 'parts':
Normal speech proves to be so rapidly and informally articulated that in fact over half the words cannot be recognized in isolation--and yet listeners have little trouble following it, and can repeat whole sentences accurately." (TCEL,p147)
- This 'top down' approach is especially useful in high noise environments.
- "Attention" - we filter out others in favor of one 'thread' of signal, such as paying attention to only one dinner party conversation...we ignore the other data (unless it reaches emergency status, of course)
- A very wide concept -- can include ALL PRIOR knowledge!
- works in identification tasks (K vs. D in work vs. word)
- Works due to huge amounts of redundancy n systems
- Examples: acoustic cues
- grammatical cues: slithy toves gyre and gimble in the wabe
- knowledge of the setting(e.g. "there's beer in the fridge" after different questions)
- knowledge of the speaker (e.g. interests, vocab, etc.)
- Context selects between lexical and grammatical variants
- I ate ice cream with my... pie.
- I ate ice cream with my... spoon.
- I ate ice cream with my... son.
- Can be retroactive: later chapters in the book can define/refine earlier ones, similar to how a sardonic ending can change the perceived content of the first part of a sentence.
- One's starting point and/or view of God functions as a part of context - see Heb 11.6
- We interact with text and context in a dialogical model
- semantic units are embedded in other semantic units (e.g paragraphs in chapters)
- the hermeneutical 'spiral' - a hopefully converging process of this dialogue
- ambiguity in one place is typically 'corrected' by redundancy in another
- we consistently are doing pattern matching/testing, often at an sub/unconscious level (much like we do in science)
- One key type of pattern is that of 'personal'
- example: a nightshift (and messy roommate) that we never saw - we could actually tell when it was a 'normal' mess vs. an act of vandalism
- example: a longtime friend/spouse--"That's just like her to do that for me!"
- example: paranoia - the most unlikely data is 'merged' into a personal pattern
- personal knowledge is gained more from stories than from lists of attributes (but both can be contributory)
- Using the personal context for interpretation
- The Stranger - Basil Mitchell tells the story about a member of a resistance movement meeting a stranger who impressed him very deeply. The Stranger tells the partisan that he himself is on the side of the resistance--indeed that he is in command of it, and urges the partisan to have faith in him no matter what happens. The partisan is utterly convinced at the meeting of the Stranger's sincerity and constancy and undertakes to trust him...The two never met intimately again. Sometimes the Stranger is seen helping members of the resistance, and the partisan says to his friends, "he is on our side"...but sometimes he is seen in the uniform of the police taking patriots into the custody of the occupying power. On these occasions the partisan's friends complain, but the partisan still says, "He is on our side." The partisan retains the confidence that despite appearances, the Stranger did not deceive him.
- Alternate responses to miracles of Jesus!
- Luke 11:14ff Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
- John 11:45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did (i.e. raised Laz. from the dead), put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
- Examples: Psalm 107: 6,13,19,28
(For more interesting information and 'fun' visuals on the pattern/Gestalt issues in pattern recognition, see the selections on psychology and cognition in Books)
The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com]