SIL International Home

Kenneth L. Pike (1912–2000)

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

by Kenneth L. Pike

Previous | Next | Contents

Chapter 6

A person may distort innate positive universals into negative particular action.

We know that societies and languages differ radically. How, then, is it possible for us to learn to live comfortably in a different culture? On the other hand, all cultures, all societies and languages, seem to share some kind of activities or goals. Why then do they differ so radically? I like very much the way the philosopher Goodman has stated (1978:x) that "what emerges can perhaps be described as a radical relativism under rigorous restraints" [emphasis mine, KLP]. Universal components, innate to all cultures, put restraints on the variability between cultures. Freedom to act to some degree as individuals is also an innate characteristic which allows for diversions.

Conviction 6.1. Nothing really bad is original; the bad is a distortion of the good.

Source: I have developed this conviction recently in a sad attempt to understand continuing international chaos, plus internal difficulties which can be found between some individuals in every culture. If there are exceptions to this conviction, they have not yet come to my attention. The following convictions give some of my current views along this line.

Conviction 6.2. Concerning intellectual universals, one that is present in every society is a desire for wisdom in oneself, or in some of one's respected colleagues. There is a recognition of some degree of wisdom present in any society, with some desire for this to be obtained and utilized by the self.

Concerning the distortion of intellectual universals, the desire for intellectual development can lead negatively to pride in oneself and then, indirectly, to the desire to dominate others in a manner unfortunate for them. From the perspective of others, such knowledge can be looked at negatively, as contributing to objectionable pride.

One source: We may expect to find in every culture some interest in history or in folk tales which emanate from ancestors, along with an expectation that such materials point down the road toward acceptable or successful behavior.

Conviction 6.3. Concerning aesthetic universals, there can be found in every society some kind of approval of materials (or environment) which are considered to be beautiful or pleasing to the eye and ear.

Concerning the distortion of aesthetic universals, negatively, there can be annoyance with, or disapproval expressed about, items which are considered to be ugly or untidy. Every culture, insofar as I know, has criteria which it brings to bear in this way.

Source: I have visited preliterate societies in the Philippines, in Papua New Guinea, in Africa, in South America; in every one I saw evidences of a thirst for beauty. It might be in a painting, or in beautiful earrings, or in the growing of pretty flowers.

Conviction 6.4. Concerning moral universals, there exists in every society some cultural approval of being helped by others, or approval of some kind of personal or social or physical possession or situation being respected and left undamaged or unstolen.

Concerning negative moral universals, theft of some kind or removal of things which are considered to be one's personal or social rights may be disapproved. Among the Mixtec of Mexico, I learned (Pike 1986) that a person could be scolded or ostracized from the community for failure to care for children adequately or for moral delinquency as judged by other members of that community.

Source: I have been astonished at the way in which people in a preliterate society can meet someone from outside that society, who enters with radically different cultural habits, but after some time, can recognize him or her as a good person in spite of almost unintelligible (to them) differences of culture. Kindness is a moral universal which is recognizable across vast gaps of appearances and of habit, given time and sufficient contact (before the outsider is killed, for example, under preliminary mistaken evaluation).

Conviction 6.5. Concerning physical or economic universals, every society will have some material which it prizes for food, for shelter, or for other needs. It may have some way for utilizing certain of these for exchange purposes. Hunger will be one physical universal associated with these matters, and there will be some attempt to care for it.

Concerning negative physical or economic universals, integrity in the economic handling of such materials may be downgraded by theft or by cheating in an exchange of goods; or people may steal, allowing others to die from hunger.

Source: If there were no way to attempt to satisfy hunger, humanity would have died out long ago.

Conviction 6.6. Concerning social universals, people desire some kind of esteem, appreciation, or approval by their society. They want some kind of social structure which allows people to work together, benefit by joint efforts, and to enjoy community fellowship.

Concerning negative social universals, on the other hand, people may be unhappy with some kinds of ostracism, disapproval, or low social classification accorded them within a layer of the society or within cross-layers of the society. They do not want to be rejected, but want to 'belong'.

Source: Again, around the world, we observe not only different ways of living together, but also the constant presence of different ways of giving appreciation or status to individuals in a society.

Conviction 6.7. Concerning alternate but different, affirmed religious universals, every society has members who attempt some explanation, beyond that of the physical, observable features of the society itself or of the nature of the physical world structure. One division here may be viewed as one between a commitment to a theistic accounting for the universe (the path I would follow) or a mechanist one (with a purely physical source of the universe).[13]

Concerning negative religious universals, from the theistic perspective, mechanism could be considered as a negative distortion of reality; from the purely mechanistic perspective, theism might be viewed as a distortion of an academic view of reality. Both views are found in the academic community, with variant perspectives in each.

Source: External or internal experiences, including relation to family, society, schooling, research, or unproven starting beliefs (cf. Conviction 4.2).

Conviction 6.8. Concerning linguistic universals, I have already pointed out several universal linguistic components around the world: In Convictions 1:1–2, the possibility of cross-cultural interaction to language; in Convictions 1:4–5, the importance of the naming of emic units, with contrast, variation, and distribution within the units; in Convictions 3:1–4, the presence of the three hierarchies of phonology, grammar, and reference, with each of them having different levels of structure, and with tagmemic units on each level of structure, with tagmemic features including slot, class, role, and cohesion; in Convictions 4:4–6, the relation of temporary choice of perspective via particle, wave, and field, in terms of the ability of the self to focus in different ways.

Concerning the negation of these linguistic universals, if we were to deny emic units, then no persons, things, or events, could be recognized upon meeting them or seeing them for a second time. If we were to deny hierarchy, life would cease, because one could not tell the difference between a nose and a head, with the part-whole relationship denied. If we were to deny grammar, there could be no structured story, no sentence highlighting a dog which kills versus a dog which gets killed. If we were to deny referential background (horizon, or frame of reference, or social setting), we could never know where we belong in society, nor what happens first, second, or third in a sequence of catastrophic events. If we were to deny a possible choice of focus change from static, to dynamic, to relational views (particle, wave, field) we could never change our attention from doing something to being something.

Source: Observer of human experiences.

Conviction 6.9. Relevance in human language requires simultaneous—or oscillating—attention to both physical form and mental meaning (see also discussion under Convictions 2.4–5, 3.3, 4.1–4).

In a phrase such as goals are important to a good government, the physical form includes the sounds and the clausal structure, but the referential meaning refers to the structure of government itself, with its values and purposes. Similarly, the noun goals, in spite of its abstract referential meaning and implied specific detailed purposes, also has the physical component (its form) of the sounds when it is said aloud, or else—if it is at the moment only a thought in somebody's mind—its formal molecular or neurological structure buried someplace, somehow, in the brain.

Concerning the negation of form or meaning, if we deny the necessity for meaning or for words chosen for their meaning, we may end up with an elegant, logical, theory, but one which is difficult—from my viewpoint—to live with.

Source: My former colleague at the University of Michigan, anthropologist Leslie White, for example, stated (1949:349fn) concerning the "protoplasmic mechanisms that are men" that "whether a man—an average man, typical of his group—'believes in' Christ or Buddha, Genesis or Geology, Determinism or Free Will is not a matter of his own choosing. His philosophy is merely the response of his neuro-sensory-muscular-glandular system to the streams of cultural stimuli impinging upon him from the outside." Similarly, an excessive reliance on the mental factor can lead to hyperboles in another direction. Note the philosopher Katz, who says that he considers preferable the "Platonic realist view that grammars are theories of abstract objects" (1981:3), with "the sentences as abstract objects like numbers" (1981:6).

Conviction 6.10. Contrastive starting points lead to different end results:

Source: The philosopher Searle (1984:55) adopts "a view that does not require us to postulate any intermediate level of algorithmic computational processes mediating between the neurophysiology of the brain and the intentionality of the mind." Since "there is no other level . . . no gap filler is needed between the mind and the brain, because there is no gap to fill." Nevertheless, "we cannot give up our conviction of freedom" (p. 97); and he holds this view in spite of problems of trying to prevent denying any one of the "four features, consciousness, intentionality, subjectivity, and mental causation" which "are what make the mind-body problem seem so difficult" (p. 17). Searle implies that "the features that are characteristic of living beings have a biological explanation" and "exactly similar considerations should apply to our discussions of consciousness" (p. 23). This, in turn, implies to me that Searle holds a belief in the total evolutionary origin of human nature. This makes it difficult for him, it seems to me, to leave a place for a self (or soul) which is sharply divergent from the physical brain and body, even when his own self seems to me to be interacting with it (i.e., with an epistemological fallacy). On the other hand, Searle discusses details of many of the problems involved in any attempt to relate mind and brain much better than I can do.

I would have a different starting point, however, a theistic one which leads to a self or soul of man as beyond that of pure brain and beyond that of a shepherd dog. But just as Searle is unable to explain in detail how he connects believed-in consciousness with a biological source, so I do not know how to try to describe scientifically the nature of the self. Theologians might have something to say in that area, which is beyond my competence; compare, however, treatment by the mathematician-theologian Poythress (1976), of religious assumptions in philosophical relation to particle, wave, and field.

Perhaps it would be appropriate here to give a poem of mine (1985:45f), as (7), which expresses a bit of my own unproven feeling toward the overlapping linkage (and see again 1d).

Previous | Next | Contents