Kenneth L. Pike (1912–2000)

Talk, Thought, and Thing
The Emic Road Toward Conscious Knowledge

by Kenneth L. Pike


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Chapter 5

A personal search for knowledge involves the search for patterns within patterns in a holistic context.

No pattern can occur in isolation, autonomous from a larger kind of context or set of assumptions, and still be meaningful to human beings. Patterns require larger contexts, with relevance to more inclusive patterns, if they are themselves to be meaningful to us. The total autonomy of parts of knowledge does not exist.

Conviction 5.1. A description of units within patterns within larger intersecting patterns is a kind of knowledge and a component of truth.

Source: In trying to analyze the structure of systems of sounds in various languages previously unknown to me, I learned that I could not do so if I tried to deal exclusively with the sounds themselves. They had to be studied in relation to the grammatical units which they in part comprised (see Pike 1947b). In addition, I needed to study the use of those sounds in relation to the reaction of native speakers (Pike 1947a—as indicated in Conviction 2.5). Then, in trying to move to grammatical analysis, I was forced to treat language as a whole, with its grammatical components, in relation to anthropology—to human behavior as a whole (Pike [1954, 1955, 1960] 1967). This problem, in turn, forced me to look more explicitly toward human thought and what turned out to be philosophical presuppositions, even though I did not recognize them as such at the start.

Further Implications: Sinclair (1944:129), for example, affirmed that "explanation does not consist, as we say in a convenient metaphor, in finding 'a reason' for the puzzling fact or situation. It consists in finding a way of regarding a fact or situation so that it is seen as an integral part of a larger whole or system." Compare, also, Margolis (1987:1f) who suggests that a pattern itself becomes part of a feature or subpattern within a larger pattern. Johansson (1989:6f) notes that "holistic views... maintain that any particular item can be what it is only if all other items are what they are."

Conviction 5.2. Such a study of patterns within patterns can also be viewed as a type of cohesion (see Conviction 3.4), or frame of reference, or system.

Patterns of patterns, within higher patterns, when seen as integrated, suggest that one is approaching some component of truth. A mode of discovery which leads to finding such patterns is not purely formal, but includes the observer, with his physical-social experience, his observer intuition, his observer guesses, and his testing procedures.

Conviction 5.3. Life is in context.

Source: We observe that a baby needs a mother. A plant needs nourishment and water from outside itself. Abstracted meaning needs physical experience as a basis. Structured language form needs language meaning to exist emically. Nothing can survive outside of a patterned context.

Conviction 5.4. Knowledge is related to memory.

Source: A child in school needs to remember what it has been taught; and memory is needed, whether it is at the forefront of conscious knowledge, or whether it is hidden in the person, waiting to be called forth at particular moments for particular purposes. We may call to mind incidents with friends, comments seen on television about history, or folk tales which have been read.

Conviction 5.5. Knowledge of a larger context may tie the particular to the general, or the general to a mass of particulars.

Source: To live within a society it is not sufficient to know an UNCLE—we must also know his categorized relationship and his relevance within the larger family, or else we may not know how to behave appropriately.

My emic philosophy is complex. It combines observer and thing, thought and act, moral intent and aesthetic judgment. It starts from a complex system, with society and the 'outside' universe integrated in an emic dualism of self and thing. I am encouraged to accept the complexity of my view, however, by the logician Langer ([1937] 1953:185) who says: "If we chance upon a fairly complex and even surprising proposition, from which very many simple ones would follow, we are perfectly justified in taking the former as a postulate and deriving the others from it." And I want my postulates to begin with the ontological, moral, and aesthetic validity of person, and—at least to some degree—with the explanation of things in relation to observers of things who categorize their environments. With this approach, I can both live 'inside my office' as well as outside it in ordinary behavior.

Conviction 5.6. A person is more than a formal computer. A person needs goals as well as physical form. A person needs pattern of both physical form and mental meaning—and is himself pattern within intersecting patterns.

Source: A person who thinks, only, cannot live. A person who eats, only, cannot live a life of insight in the world. So I start, not with an isolated description of rules, or relations, or classes of items, but with person, thus merging the subjective and the objective in the emics of things and the emics of behavior and the emics of the relation of person to behavior and to things.

Conviction 5.7. In other words, there is no culture apart from an emic structure; no rule apart from an emic structure; no meaning apart from an emic structure; no game apart from an emic structure; no rational behavior apart from emic human beings; no physical form known by us, in itself, apart from our categorizing it emically.

Further Implications: Anthropologist Kearney states (1984:4): "In the short run people's actions are best explained by the ideas they have in their heads. This is the main strategy of cultural anthropology. But in the long run the problem is to explain these ideas, and to do this we must examine the social, economic, political, technological, demographic and geographic conditions in which they developed . . . And here the balance tips in favor of social and material conditions. We can say that this world-view theory is tactically mentalistic, but that strategically it is founded on historical materialism."

The anthropologist Dundes (1968:467) has said that: "For most of the thousands of song and folktale texts recorded in the ethnographic literature, there is either no interpretation at all or else a passing speculative comment or two provided by the collector who tells us what he thinks the song or tale means." And (301): "The formal features of religions, e.g., the techniques of worship or the names and hierarchical ordering of the principal deities, have been dutifully recorded, but too often the underlying or implicit attitudes toward fellow men, toward life, or toward nature in general have not been rigorously investigated. Yet it is essential to know the values of a society if one has any aspirations to understanding that society." Also, in discussing anthropologists as themselves involved in an emic structure or worldview, he notes (1968:150): "There is such a thing as the culture of anthropologists" and (vii) "no human observer can be completely free from his native cultural categories."

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