Experience does not revamp basic capacities?

I came across an article by Pinker, which then came up in comments on the Savage Minds blog.

I must say that I never finished The Language Instinct, and I think his work is interesting but doesn’t quite get there for me. (I quite like Deacon’s argument about that language evolved to the human brain, and I think the truth is something along the lines of mutual construction) The take-home point I got from the article was that the media/ technology are not evil because doing one thing does not change how your brain works in regards to any other things. In Pinker’s words, “Experience does not revamp the basic information-processing capacities of the brain.” I wonder though if Pinker’s point about the media is made through ignoring a lot of ways that certain abilities and traits end up being clustered or the very real effects of certain types of experiences, albeit experiences a bit less banal than watching TV or using a computer. Yet there are so many different types of ‘activities’ when it comes to the brain. I remember reading not that long ago about a study that concluded (something along the lines of) physical activity being a better way to reduce your risk of Alzheimers than doing brain puzzles.

Anyway, while I am no advocate for using scientific models for understanding societies, this article seemed to come at the perfect time because I have been thinking about our expectations when it comes to certain experiences revamping the way we interact with others. I think a questioning of the value of such a logic underlying place based policies and participation is really opened up in an article I just read by Burton, Goodlad and Croft (2006).

Perhaps there is something innately appealing to people in the idea of sympathetic magic. Or perhaps it is more accurate to suggest that this could be understood through the idea of icons, that a part of something can stand in for the whole thing.

We take day to day social interactions to mean, or have significance, beyond what is overtly communicated. She is not talking to me or he brought me over a cup of coffee achieves more than me getting some silence or a cup of coffee. Not only are such actions able to communicate information beyond the actual physical acts, which we can only understand with ‘insider knowledge’, but they can be acts of social work when it comes to negotiating relationships.

Maybe social research also relies on such a logic. After all if a theory does not extend your understanding beyond the words it contains, then what is the point? Yet this is not that much of a point and I could be lumping together any sort of model for understanding models along with inference.

Clearly I have not worked this through, but it is an interesting article by Pinker.

Burton, P., R. Goodlad, and J. Croft. 2006. How Would We Know What Works?: Context and Complexity in the Evaluation of Community Involvement. Evaluation 12:294.



One Response to “Experience does not revamp basic capacities?”

  1. Tracey Says:

    This article on the ABC’s website reminded me of Pinker’s article. Mark Newton (who works for an Australian ISP) argues against censorship because being exposed to what may be deemed undesirable material (less acceptable porn, images of violence, sexist song lyrics) does not change behaviour. He sees society as being on a progressive march towards enfocing less ‘protection’, and increasing freedom, for its members. This is described using the language of trust – humans have capabilities and we should trust in them – and also reciprocation – why should we trust our elected representatives if they do not trust us.

    I do not see that society is necessarily on a progressive march towards ever increasing freedom. Overall I do not think that this article is particularly remarkable, but I think the fact that human behaviour is unable to be explained through deterministic models means these sorts of conversations will not go away any time soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s