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Title: Philosophical%20Aspects%20of%20Multimedia%20Communication:%20Towards%20a%20New%20Rationality%20Zsuzsanna%20Kondor%20Institute%20for%20Philosophical%20Research%20of%20the%20Hungarian%20Academy%20of%20Sciences

Philosophical Aspects of Multimedia
CommunicationTowards a New RationalityZsuzsanna
Kondor Institute for Philosophical Research of
the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
  • Presentation given at the London Knowledge Lab
  • 10-10-2007

Some preliminary remarks
  • The title
  • The evolution of the idea
  • Language
  • Communication
  • Representation
  • Cognition
  • Back to philosophy (epistemological relevance)

  • Communications technology has a much more
    far-reaching effect on our thought than we used
    to suppose.
  • Multimodality provides the basis of a common
    conceptual background.
  • This possibility opens up the way for a new

  • Why recently?
  • How is it possible?
  • What does this mean as regards philosophical
  • Does it have any practical relevance at all?

Why recently?
  • István Hajnal and the Toronto Circle
  • Beyond verbal representation (pictorial vs.
    verbal representation)
  • Secondary literacy Ubiquitous multimedia

István Hajnal and the Toronto Circle
  • Objectification
  • Primary orality
  • Literacy
  • Secondary orality

  • Alphabetical writing as the technical basis of
  • With the appearance of literacy, we know that
    what had been happening instinctively to this
    point in a human being's inner and outer life,
    now starts to become conscious. This sphere of
    life becomes objectified and abstracted the
    human being projects this sphere in front of
    himself and examines it consciously and from the
    outside. There arises the possibility for
    methodical purposefulness, for the conscious
    handling of concepts and for combinational and
    complicated work. (I. Hajnal, Európai
    kultúrtörténet írástörténet (1932), in F.
    Glatz (ed.), Technika, muvelodés, Budapest 1993,
    p. 18 )
  • Movements and sounds do disappear, still, humans
    can use them and their matter-relatedness to
    produce something that is objective, something
    that functions as an extrinsic intermediator for
    inner life. (I. Hajnal, Történelem és
    szociológia, (1939), in Glatz (ed.) op. cit. p.

  • Objectification induces over-mechanisation
  • Letters produced letters, writing produced
    writing. Purely speculative thinking was highly
    refined, even in the smallest of tasks, and more
    perfectly so since the more one-sidedly it
    functioned, the more it divided the professions
    into mechanical details, the more it exempted
    them from sensing the heavy material of life.
    (Hajnal, Évforduló (1948), in Glatz (ed.) op.
    cit. p. 449)

  • A primary oral culture is one which does not
    possess any knowledge of writing.
  • conservative and traditional.
  • storage language (usage of rhyme and rhythm,
  • special technology to weave ideas together, and
    to transmit awareness of the new facts of life
  • The way of expression was
  • additive
  • redundant, and
  • the expressions and words used were very closely
    embedded in concrete situations.
  • Intercourse was
  • empathetic
  • participatory and
  • agonistic.

  • The age of written records
  • transmission of ideas was liberated from certain
  • only text could provide context
  • potential to create concepts free of emotions,
    distanced from the human life-world and
  • possibility of the systematic analysis of ideas,
  • possibility of regarding events as linearly
    structured in time and thereby
  • possibility to recognize the eternally human.
  • ideas became remarkably easier to handle and to
  • replacing the live situation with mute words
    required considerable intellectual effort, and
    caused plenty of difficulties.

Secondary orality
  • Secondary orality set in with telephone, radio,
    television, and the various kinds of sound tapes
    and similar electronic technologies.
  • This new orality, as Ong puts it, has striking
    resemblances to the old in its participatory
    mystique, its fostering of communal sense, its
    concentration on the present moment, and even in
    its formulas. But it is essentially a more
    deliberate and self-conscious orality based
    permanently on the use of writing and print,
    which are essential for the manufacture and
    operation of the equipment and for its use as
    well. (Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy The
    Technologizing of the Word, London Methuen,
    1982, p. 136)

Pictorial vs. verbal representation from the
point of view of a scholar
  • Verbal representation
  • Linearly ordered
  • High degree of generality (far from experience)
  • distancing
  • Pictorial representation
  • Holistic
  • Close to mundane experience
  • (immersive)

William M. Ivins Jr., Prints and Visual
Communication, Cambridge, Massachusetts Harvard
University Press 1953
  • Platos Ideas and Aristotles forms, essences,
    and definitions, are specimens of this
    transference of reality from the object to the
    exactly repeatable and therefore seemingly
    permanent verbal formula. An essence, in fact, is
    not part of the object but part of the
    definition. Also, I believe, the well-known
    notions of substance and attributable qualities
    can be derived from this operational dependence
    upon exactly repeatable verbal descriptions and
    definitions for the very linear order in which
    words have to be used results in a syntactical
    time order analysis of qualities that actually
    are simultaneous and so intermingled and
    interrelated that no quality can be removed from
    one of the bundles of qualities we call objects
    without changing both it and all the other
    qualities. (p. 63)

Comparing ancient Egyptian and Western metaphysics
  • Ancient Egyptian
  • Holistic
  • Complementary logic
  • Cyclic comprehension of reality
  • Creating writing/drawing seeing/grasping
  • Western
  • Analytic
  • Dualistic logic
  • Linearity
  • Disruption of the unity of creation and
    description of the world

Secondary literacy
  • Multimedia
  • Handheld devices
  • Secondary literacy is an epoch which is
    characterized by the rationality of literacy but
    due to the changes in communications technology
    allows for multimodal enhancement

How is it possible?
  • Cognitive background
  • Cognitive processing of visual percepts
  • Conceptual processing of perceptual information
  • Main differences between imagery and verbal
    processing from cognitive point of view

  • George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.
    What Categories Reveal about the Mind, Chicago
    and London The University of Chicago Press,
    (1987) 1990

  • Pierre Jacob and Marc Jeannerod, Ways of seeing
    The scope and limits of visual cognition, Oxford
    Oxford Univ. Press (2003) 2004

Cognitive processing of visual percepts
  • Visual percepts serve as input to higher human
    cognitive processes, including memory,
    categorization, conceptual thought, and reasoning
  • Visuomotor representation is at the service of
    human action.

Cognitive processing of visual percepts
  • Conceptual transformation means a loss of some
    details (The content of visual perceptual
    representations is both more fine-grained and
    informationally richer than the conceptual
    content of thoughts. (Jacob et al. 22))

  • In order to describe experience more fully
    language must be less precise. But greater
    imprecision brings more effectively into play the
    powers of inarticulate judgement required to
    resolve the ensuing indeterminacy of speech. So
    it is our personal participation that governs the
    richness of concrete experience to which our
    speech can refer. Only by the aid of this tacit
    coefficient could we ever say anything at all
    about experience a conclusion I have reached
    already by showing that the process of denotation
    is itself unformalizable.
  • (M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge - Towards a
    Post-Critical Philosophy, London Routledge
    Kegan Paul, 1962, pp. 86f.)

Cognitive processing of visual percepts
  • Now once the visual percept has been turned into
    a thought by a process involving a selective
    elimination of information, further conceptual
    processing can yield a still more complex thought
    involving, not a two-place relation between pairs
    of objects, but a three-place relation between a
    pair of objects and an egocentric perspective.
    (Jacob et al. 31)

Cognitive processing of visual percepts
  • Visuomotor representations are also egocentric,
    but in a strictly functional sense the spatial
    reference is the actors body.
  • Verbal or conceptual transformation is
    egocentric, but this means a reflexive relation
    in accordance with some general goals.

  • As perspectivally based cognitive
    representations, then, linguistic symbols are
    based not on the recording of direct sensory or
    motor experiences, as are the cognitive
    representations of other animal species and human
    infants, but rather on the ways individuals
    choose to construe things out of a number of
    other ways they might have construed them, as
    embodied in the other available linguistic
    symbols that they might have chosen, but did
    not. (Michael Tomasello, The Cultural Origins of
    Human Cognition, Cambridge, MA Harvard
    University Press, 1999, p. 9)

  • Social brain hypothesis (Robin Dunbar)
  • Cognitive evolution (Merlin Donald)

Conceptual processing of perceptual information
  • conceptual structure is meaningful because it is
    embodied, that is, it arises from and is tied to,
    our preconceptual bodily experiences. In short,
    conceptual structure exists and is understood
    because preconceptual structures exist and are
    understood. (Lakoff, Ibid. p. 267)

Conceptual processing of perceptual information
  • the preconceptual level is determined by
    kinesthetic image schematic structures (They
    originate from everyday bodily experiences and
    mean certain, relatively simple spatial relations
    such as containers, paths (movement in space
    with a starting and ending point including
    direction), links (regarding security and its
    source), forces, balance, different kinds of
    orientation (up-down, front-back, part-whole,
    center-periphery, etc. )
  • and basic-level categories which
  • do not overload memory capacity
  • are closely bound to motor activity.
  • emerge as gestalt (they emerge in overall general
    forms and at the same time their structures are
    identifiable as well)

Conceptual processing of perceptual information
  • Our conceptualizing capacity consists of
  • The ability to form symbolic structures that
    correlate with preconceptual structures in our
    everyday experience. Such symbolic structures are
    basic-level and image-schematic concepts. (That
    is, we can speak about basic-level categories in
    a twofold sense categories that emerge out of
    the network of motor activities, and categories
    that are in accordance with the former and refer
    to concepts in linguistic form.) The ability to
    project metaphorically from structures in the
    physical domain to structures in abstract
    domains, constrained by other structural
    correlations between the physical and the
    abstract domains. This accounts for our capacity
    to reason about abstract domains such as quantity
    and purpose.
  • The ability to form complex concepts and general
    categories using image schemas as structuring
    devices. This allows us to construct complex
    event structures and taxonomies with
    superordinate categories. (George Lakoff, Ibid.
    p. 281)

  • image schemas are crucially important since they
    play two roles They are concepts that have
    directly understood structures of their own, and
    they are used metaphorically to structure other
    complex concepts. (Lakoff, Ibid. p. 283)

Idealised cognitive models
  • Image-schematic
  • Bodily experiences
  • Spatial relations
  • Metaphoric (describes ways of mapping )
  • Metonymic (describes ways of mapping )
  • Propositional
  • no use of imaginative devices as in the previous
  • elements are basic-level and concepts
    characterized by cognitive models of other types
  • Symbolic
  • linguistic elements are associated with
    conceptual elements in ICM

  • Propositional models have an objectivist
    flavour, since they contain entities, with their
    properties and the relations holding among them.
    It seems to me that when we understand our
    experience by projecting propositional models
    onto it, we are imposing an objectivist structure
    on it. (Lakoff, Ibid. p. 285)

Main differences between imagery and verbal
processing from a cognitive point of view
  • Verbal processing
  • not as closely related to motor activity
  • narrower domain
  • propositional
  • linear
  • Imagery
  • closely related to motor activity
  • rich in iconic content

  • Systems of thought emerge from this reflective
    activity i.e., representational redescription
    because self-observation employs all of the
    categorization and analytic skills that are
    employed in perceiving, understanding, and
    categorizing the outside world in effect the
    subject perceives, understands, and categorizes
    her own cognition facilitated by the fact that it
    is expressed externally in language.(Tomasello,
    Ibid. p. 195)

Summing up I.
  • Language inherently has a distancing effect
  • and tendentious character.
  • Written language radicalizes these features.
  • Imagery has strong immersive potential.

Summing up II.
  • using multimedia means a nearly direct access to
    others experiences
  • decreasing dominance of verbal processing
  • access to mundane particularities
  • the conceptual background is changing due to
    ubiquitous multimodality

What does this mean as regards philosophical
  • The birth and evolution of atomistic
  • A turning-point in the fields of ontology,
    epistemology, philosophy of language, and even in
  • Convergence of long-established opposed traditions

The birth and evolution of atomistic
  • Heraclitus
  • Plato
  • Descartes

A turn in the fields of ontology, epistemology,
philosophy of language, and even in metaphysics
  • Bergson
  • Dewey
  • Heidegger
  • Wittgenstein

  • The mistake of ordinary dualism is that it
    starts from the spatial point of view it puts,
    on the one hand, matter with its modifications,
    in space on the other hand, it places unextended
    sensations in consciousness. Hence the
    impossibility of understanding how the spirit
    acts upon the body or the body upon the spirit.
    But hence also the impossibility of constituting
    either a psychology of memory or a metaphysic of
    matter. (Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, New
    York Zone Books, (First published in French,
    1896) 1991 p. 220)
  • The reality of matter consists in the totality
    of its elements and their actions of every kind.
    Our representation of matter is the measure of
    our possible action upon bodies. (Ibid. p. 38)

  • All of these separations culminate in one
    between knowing and doing, theory and practice,
    between mind as the end and spirit of action and
    the body as its organ and means. (J. Dewey,
    Democracy and Education. The Middle Works of John
    Dewey 1899-1924. Vol. 9, Carbondale and
    Edwardsville Southern Illinois Univ. Press
    1985. p. 346)
  • Relying on the findings of physiology and
    psychology, Dewey concludes that no one who
    has realized the full force of the facts of the
    connection of knowing with the nervous system and
    of the nervous system with the readjusting of
    activity continuously to meet new conditions,
    will doubt that knowing has to do with
    reorganizing activity, instead of being something
    isolated from all activity, complete on its own
    account.(Ibid. p. 347)
  • Considering the results of biology and
    contemplating the doctrine of evolution, Dewey
    claims that the living creature is a part of the
    world, which implies a new comprehension of
    knowledge. If the living, experiencing being is
    an intimate participant in the activities in the
    world to which it belongs, then knowledge is a
    mode of participation, valuable in the degree in
    which it is effective. It cannot be the idle view
    of an unconcerned spectator. (Ibid.)

  • Being-in-the-world
  • Ready-at-hand vs. present-at-hand
  • Referential totality

  • Our language is tempting us to draw some
    misleading analogy. This should remind us of the
    case when the popular scientist appeared to have
    shown us that the floor which we stand on is not
    really solid because it is made up of electrons.
    (Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books.
    Preliminary Studies for the Philosophical
    Investigations, Oxford Basil Blackwell (1958)
    1984, p. 48) different language games
  • The problem may seem simple, but its extreme
    difficulty is due to the fascination which the
    analogy between two similar structures in our
    language can exert on us. (Ibid. p. 26)
  • There are the sounds of the words, and all sorts
    of bodily sensations connected with gesture and
    intonation. Where we are liable to go wrong is in
    supposing that sensations connected with words
    are somehow in the mind. The phrase in the
    mind has caused more confusion than almost any
    other in philosophy. (Ludwig Wittgenstein,
    Wittgensteins Lectures. Cambridge, 1932-1935
    Oxford Basil Blackwell (1979), p. 114) one
    painful example

Summing up the differences
  • Towards a new rationality
  • embeddedness
  • focus on action and perception
  • emphasis on the activity of the brain
  • language in a new light
  • the importance of imagery
  • Atomistic individualism
  • dualism of mind and body
  • focus on abstract reasoning
  • the human mind works as a machine which
    manipulates symbols
  • symbols are internal representations of external
    reality (correspondence)

Does it have any practical relevance at all?
  • Conceptual framework
  • Institutional setting, especially education

Conceptual framework
  • Think of the question of reality in the mobile
    age. Is there any reason to distinguish virtual
    and real in the case of a location-sensitive and
    at the same time location-independent device?
    What should be considered real, the given
    circumstances and the concomitant tasks, or those
    engendered by the mediated-from-afar via mobile
    devices? Is there any relevance to the
    distinction between real and virtual when
    considering function and effect?

Conceptual framework
  • The intuitive idea of so-called local realism
    (which Einstein shares as well) suggests that a
    particle cannot be instantly influenced by a
    distant event, and that its properties exist
    independently of any measurements. (M. Brooks,
    Reality Check, in New Scientist 23 June 2007,
    p. 31) Although the implications of quantum
    physics suggest that the world could not be
    local and real, poses the question of whether it
    is either local or real. The various experiments
    supporting quantum theory led to the conviction
    that it is possible that there is nothing
    inherently real about the properties of an object
    that we measure. In other words, measuring those
    properties is what brings them into existence.
    So does the universe exist independently of
    measurements? (Ibid. pp. 32)
  • We need to rethink and radically revised our
    basic physical concepts before we make the next
    big breakthrough in physics (Ibid. p. 32)

Institutional setting, especially education
  • Everywhere the school system has the same
    structure, and everywhere its hidden curriculum
    has the same effect. This identity of the
    school system forces us to recognize the profound
    world-wide identity of myth, mode of production,
    and method of social control, despite the great
    variety of mythologies in which the myth finds
    expression. (Ivan lllich, Deschooling Society,
    Marion Boyars, London, (1971) 1978 p. 74) That
    is, the influence of literacy is recognisable
    everywhere in the world.

Taming vs. integrating new technology
  • instead of the computer cutting across the
    disciplines in the subjects, the computer is now
    confined to a computer room and it is a subject
    of its own, taken out of the mainstream of the
    learning environment. Theres now a specialized
    computer teacher. Theres a curriculum even for
    the study of the computer. It has been normalized
    by the system it has been tamed. Thats not the
    only way in which it can be tamed. (Papert, S.
    1998 Child Power Keys to the New Learning of the
    Digital Century. http//

Thanks for your attention