"affordance"

[From Bruce Nevin (980313.1124 EST)]

Bill Powers (980313.0201 MST)--

If we get into this more deeply, I'm afraid we'll end up in that same
disagreement about categories.

I'm not sure we were ever clear enough about it to merit calling it a
disagreement, but, yes, we are talking about categories.

[Categories are] not a matter of fact, but of definition and agreement.

OK. And we are talking about metaphor as well--this rock looks just like a
hammer, or is just like a hammer in relevant respects. In particular, I can
use it as means for controlling other perceptions as I would use a hammer
to control those perceptions.

A table, whether speaking of an artifact or metaphorically of a flat-topped
boulder near our picnic, is a flat surface convenient to hands for dealing
with food and such. It is higher for people sitting on chairs than if we
sit on floor or ground as in a Japanese restaurant, because the height
convenient to hands changes with our expected posture. Saying "why not
spread the cloth on the table here" would contribute to the good humor of
the picnic. Much humor hinges on metaphor.

Perhaps you are right to avoid the term "affordance." Readers/listeners are
apt to focus on familiar words and phrases and imagine what they would mean
by those words or phrases in place of what you actually say--like you
saying "behavior is control of perceptual input" and your listener saying
"Yes, of course, perceptual input controls behavior." You have provided an
instance of this in your objection to "linguistic universals." We'll get to
that in a bit.

Is "furniture" a universal?

I don't know, could be. I didn't say that. Likewise tools, utensils, etc.
The stone-knapper has a piece of antler and a piece of leather from the
thickest part, in the neck of the elk, that he carefully wraps and puts
aside between sessions of making obsidian points. The monkeys getting honey
with long straws don't store their "tools" for later use, so they are more
clearly found objects that serve a purpose.

I said "What I'm trying to get at is that we do recognize furniture and
tools." What I mean by that is objects that serve a purpose are the objects
to which we most strongly grant ontological status as being really really
"out there" in our environment. We depend on their being there in a stable
and predictable way as means for controlling other perceptions that matter
to us.

Is "universal" a universal?

I don't know what that means.

[...] asking about "linguistic
universals" is pointless -- the properties implied by such a term probably
don't exist. Many words and ways of speaking are empty of experiential
meaning; we use them because others use them, but whatever meaning we think
we see in them is purely imaginary and arbitrary. We assume that everybody
else knows what they mean, but in fact nobody does because they have no
meaning except the other words to which they point. "Linguistic universal"
sounds to me as if it ought to have a meaning, but I have to confess that
for me, it doesn't have one.

The bit about linguistic universals wasn't about denotation or any other
aspect of meaning. It was about characteristics of human physiology and of
physics (acoustics) that provide "affordances" for keeping the
pronunciations of similar vocabulary items distinct from one another.

These universals started out as descriptive generalizations from the
thousands of languages that have been studied using some version of the
Pair Test to determine the differences of pronunciation that make a
difference to speakers of each language. Then Kenneth Stevens and others
found an explanation in the physiology and acoustics of human speech. The
findings of physiology appear to be universal across humans, and the
findings of acoustics appear to be universal in our physical universe. The
descriptive generalizations appear to be without exception--the norms or
targets or reference perceptions for pronunciation fall within these
regions of the vocal tract in every language known. This explanation makes
them something more than merely descriptive generalizations.

This is different from thinking of furniture and tools as "affordances"
perhaps because we are not normally aware of the perceptions that we
control when we say "a cat attack" as they come romping up on the bed
miaowing to be let out. Feel where and how your tongue touches for t, and
where it touches for k. Now (and this may not be easy) make contact at a
point midway between the places for k and t. Representing that as @,
substitute @ for both k and t sounds in "a cat attack", that is, pronounce
"a @a@ a@a@".

OK, this is hard to do because it is unpracticed, it is a sequence rather
than an event, and the @ part of the sequence is unfamiliar. It may be less
easy to notice, but perhaps you can hear that the sound produced by the @
articulation is more variable than that produced by either the t or the k
articulation. This is not just a matter of practice. It follows from those
universal facts about physiology and acoustics.

Me:

What I'm trying to get at is that we do recognize
furniture and tools.

i.kurtzer (980313)

some people.

Are you saying that there are human cultures where the people don't have
furniture and tools? Please tell me more about them.

A rock can be used as a hammer but that does not make
it a hammer, a boulder can be used for sitting or for shelter from the wind
but that does not make it a bench or a wall.

is the above an empirically derived conclusion? if not, on what basis is this
made?

I'm speaking of my perceptual universe. I believe it generalizes to others.
If I say I need a hammer, my friend does not find a rock for me.

There is something different
about artifacts, partly convention, partly design for fitness.

same query as previous.

Same answer.

Bill asks where do you draw the line between artifacts and resemblant found
objects. I agree that such a line cannot be drawn. The reason is that
categories are inherently metaphorical. If a category is a prototype and
its resemblants, then the prototypes for tools are artifacts. If a category
is a cluster of perceptions some subset of which is sufficient, then some
of the input perceptions are more dispensible and some less so. If we
perceive a category in the absence of some "core" perception then our doing
so is more metaphorical. Being an artifact is a less-despensible "core"
perception input to a "tool" category like "hammer".

For furniture, tools, and such, the empirical basis for answering these
questions can only be enquiring into peoples' perceptual universes. These
are my answers; what are yours?

It's a little different with the universal constraints on the means
available to humans for distinguishing words from one another. Our
ancestors might have started making artifacts because they liked the
convenience of some found object and wanted more, or one more portable,
etc. "That flat rock was nice to have. But it's snowing out there. Maybe I
could prop up one side of this log and put my flint-knapping tools up on it
just as conveniently." But you just can't tinker with the physiology of the
vocal tract or the facts of acoustics. Not much evidence of even evolution
changing the vocal tract, beyond the dropping of the larynx and freeing up
of the tongue that separates us from simians (at the risk of making us more
subject to strangulation on food). No, there's pretty solid empirical
evidence for the particular linguistic universals that I have described to
you.

  Bruce Nevin

i.kurtzer (980313)

Bruce N:

What I'm trying to get at is that we do recognize
furniture and tools.

i.kurtzer (980313)

some people.

Are you saying that there are human cultures where the people don't have

>furniture and tools? Please tell me more about them.

In the sense I wish to drive home, it could be almost anyone..that is noone
but you has furniture. "Furnitures" and "tools" might be reliably paired to
be some concatanation of specifications for you but these specifications might
be entirely irrelevant to someone else _even though_ at a different level they
"do" the same thing as you. What makes "furniture" so to you or anyone is not
clear. Certainly, there are some clusters--artifacts--but whether these are
meaning-kernels is another issue.

[From Bruce Nevin (980313.1316 EST)]

i.kurtzer (980313)--
13:08:11 EST

noone
but you has furniture. "Furnitures" and "tools" might be reliably paired to
be some concatanation of specifications for you but these specifications

might

be entirely irrelevant to someone else _even though_ at a different level

they

"do" the same thing as you.

And so with any perception. Perceptions are private. Yet we take much of
our world to be public. And we get away with it. We also get away with the
assumption that chairs and walls are what we experience as solid, so that
when we sit on the one and lean against the other we in fact go through
neither. But if solidity is an agreement it is at an inaccessibly deep
level, a condition of being an incarnate being perhaps. The difficulty of
using a tongue position midway between that of k and that of t to
distinguish words (as compared with using k and t to distinguish "a cat"
from "attack") is also at that level to the extent that this difficulty is
grounded in physics. The difficulty of communicating in English that you
mean "a cat" by saying "attack" is at a level of inherited social
convention, a level of agreement that is difficult for the typical adult to
access perhaps because it was bought into in early childhood and without it
and others like it communication fails, but agreement nonetheless.
Perceptions of furniture and tools as opposed to found objects that serve
the purposes of furniture and tools are at a level between these, partly
grounded in physics (as the found objects are) and partly grounded in
convention (as Scandinavian Design and a Kennedy rocker are, and at a
greater depth the word "cat" vs. Katze or chatte or le:'ca:'li). An
appointment to meet you at the boat is a matter purely of agreement which
you might nonetheless rely upon as though a matter of physics, getting away
with that assumption when I am in fact physically there.

What makes "furniture" so to you or anyone is not clear.

You asked "what empirical basis." What empirical basis is there for
investigating agreements? And (separate question) on what empirical basis
do people come into agreements of the several kinds noted? Physics
constrains what the child is free to come up with as means for
distinguishing "a cat" from "a chat", "a cap", "a can" and so on. On what
basis do speakers of English come to agreement what to call a chair vs. a
bench? We even agree about which cases are fuzzy or hard to determine, and
in general terms why. How do we arrive at such agreements?

Certainly, there are some clusters--artifacts--but whether these are
meaning-kernels is another issue.

You'll have to unpack "meaning-kernels," the phrase is mysterious to me.

  Bruce Nevin

[From Bill Powers (980313.1426 MST)]

Bruce Nevin (980313.1124 EST)--

My first intention was to avoid getting drawn into the "affordance"
discussion. I think I'll go back to that intention. I don't really have
anything useful to contribute.

Best,

Bill P.

i.kurtzer (9803.1800)
[From Bruce Nevin (980313.1316 EST)]

i.kurtzer (980313)--
13:08:11 EST

>>noone
>>but you has furniture. "Furnitures" and "tools" might be reliably paired
to
>>be some concatanation of specifications for you but these specifications
>>might
>>>be entirely irrelevant to someone else _even though_ at a different level
>>they
>>"do" the same thing as you.

>And so with any perception. Perceptions are private. Yet we take much of

our world to be public. And we get away with it.

again, sometimes..and to me what you are suggesting is that for many cases our
"getting away with it" depends on "affordances", and i think that is
incomplete.
It would seem just as likely "to get away with it" for a variety of reasons
attributable to the system's pecularites.

We also get away with the

>assumption that chairs and walls are what we experience as solid, so that

when we sit on the one and lean against the other we in fact go through

>neither.

I don't believe in unknown assumptions, that allows too much squiggle for me,
like unconscious inference.

But if solidity is an agreement it is at an inaccessibly deep

>level, a condition of being an incarnate being perhaps.

i wasn't suggesting experience to be "decided upon" . i was only saying the
trivial truth that your "furniture" might not be mine is non-trivial in
determining what mine might be. The Test suggests a procedure do determine
what it might be
Not to suggest you are not aware of that.

i.