Friday, July 1, 2011

Four different "I"s in action: Behaving, Perceiving, Thinking, and Communicating

Conversational Analysis

When I was reading Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (Kindle version), a fascinating book that I've decided to use as a textbook in a graduate course in the autumn semester, I came across an interesting description about speaking from the viewpoint of Conversational Analysis (CA).

[I]n order to speak, a prospective speaker has to listen to how the turn in progress is unfolding. Participation in interaction, then, comes with an "intrinsic motivation for listening" (Sacks et al., 1974, p. 727), a motivation that is not a matter of volition but a system constraint of interaction. Moreover, the listener's understanding becomes available to the co-participants once the former listener assumes speakership.
(p. 120)
"A conversation-analytic approach to second language acquisition" by Gabriele Kasper and Johannes Wagner. in Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (Kindle version)

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E.A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn taking for conversation. Language, 50, 696-735.

Pat Metheny on playing music

In its emphasis on listening as the essential part of speaking in interaction, the above passage immediately reminded me of words of Pat Metheny on his DVD: We Live Here (Live in Japan, 1995). Here's my transcript:

For me, honestly I can say that when I' m playing really good, I'm not really thinking about anything. I'm just listening.

And in fact more and more as time has gone on, I realize that playing is more about listening than it is about playing .

What I mean by that is if I play one note, and then I really hear how that note fits with what everybody else is playing. Then there's a person inside me who's a fan of music who is a listener.

And then I just kind of ask the listener, OK, if you're listening to this, which you are, what would you like to hear next and then I just play it out.

So really it's the listening part of you to be the leader of the melodic phrase or whatever. So really I' m just kind of listening and that's the best thing I can say. I'm trying to really hear the whole sound of the band that is kind of participating.

Two points in Pat's remark

There two interesting points in his remark.

(1) Good listening is essential to good playing.

(2) It's not the thinking I but something else that is called a good listener that is the leader of the interactive band play.

(1) Learning to listen to play music; learning to listen/read to speak/write is essential

Point (1) has already been indicated by the CA quotation. Speaking is not just a matter of knowing lexicon and grammar; the speaker has to have a good idea of the flow of a conversation. The flow is not fixed or determined in advance, and so the speaker has to be a good listener to feel the actual flow so far to anticipate the potential flow from now. Listening is thus an essential part of good speaking in interaction, without which speaking would be of little relevance to the other participants.

Listening, or the feeling of the flow, is also essential in what looks like a non-interactive speech. A speaker in front of a large audience may look like not interacting with the audience (aside from the nods and other facial expressions from the audience as feedback). However, the speaker, in order to be a good speaker, must "listen" or the feel the flow of hypothetical interaction that should be taking place between the speaker and the audience.

As Relevance Theory claims, a theory of listening/reading constitutes a basis for a theory of speaking/writing because a speaker/writer should speak/write, not as she like to speak/write, but as a listener/reader would like to listen/read. At least, as long as a speaker/writer wants to be a good one, not just producing grammatical bits and pieces of little relevance to the audience, she has to base her speaking/writing on a good theoretical anticipation of listening/reading.

In music too, learning to produce notes is never good enough to participate in interactive performance. A player needs a good understanding of how the music will develop, and to have that understanding, he must listen to good music a lot so that he can embody the sense of what it is like to feel good in music. Unless he can listen well to feel the flow of music, he can never play well. This is also true in solo performance, as it is the case with a speech in an apparently non-interactive situation. This is how, it seems to me, a conversational analysis and music analysis meet.

(2) The listener inside me, distinct from the thinking I, is the leader of my play

However, the second point of Pat Metheny does not seem to be well described by CA: There is someone (or something) besides the thinking I when I play well.

Some friends of mine, who are good musicians, agreed on the second point. It is the listening, not the thinking about playing, that makes a good performance.

Pat used an expression of personification ("there's a person inside me who's a fan of music who is a listener.") He also said that he "asks" the listener what he (the alter Pat) would like to hear next. However, I wonder whether Pat is talking with a personal being by a linguistic means. So here are my questions.

(2a) Is the communication between the listening part and the playing part done linguistically?

(2b) Is the listening part of a good music player in performance a personal being?

(2a) How do I communicate with the "listener" inside me?

Let's start with (2a), which should be much easier than (2b)

Language is not fine enough to communicate the delicate nuance of music and is not likely to be the medium of communication between the listening part of a player and the playing part. (Just imagine the hardship of a conductor trying to instruct how his orchestra should play via, say, e-mail, a linguistic medium that conveys no non-verbal means of expression. So we may conclude that when Pat says he "asks" the listener inside him, Pat is asking non-linguistically.

(2b) Is the "listener" inside me a personal being?

OK, then, (2b): Is the "listener" inside Pat a personal being? In order to answer this question, we need a definition of a "person". Let me introduce Luhmann's systems theory as I understand it.

Think of a person in communication (either linguistic or musical). Although we just assume that it is a person as a whole that participates in communication, Luhmann argues that communication per se is done by a social system that depends upon other two systems: a psychic system and a biological system.

(2b1) A social system, or a "communication system"

A social system is what constitutes communication. In linguistic interaction, it is the language that makes communication; it is not persons.

As you read this passage, I believe your consciousness is on (or so I hope), but it is rather the language you're processing that constitutes this linguistic communication. As you read, your consciousness may wander and you (or part of you) may be thinking something else. Your consciousness may be about something else that is not about this passage or only remotely connected with it. If that's the case, you have to come back to the language if what you're doing is to be called communication. The medium of linguistic communication is language, not consciousness.

Or you may be assuming my consciousness as a writer when you're reading this passage. I was of course conscious of the passage when I was writing it. But when you (whoever you are) are reading this passage (wherever or whenever it is), I may probably be not conscious about this passage; I may well be engaged in something completely different. Or, God only knows, I may be even dead by the time you're reading this.

If I'm still alive and to be engaged with communication with you, you have to produce language in response and when I read your language, you may be thinking something else or even ... sorry, let's leave this to God. So it is not really consciousness, yours or mine, that constitute communication. It is language upon which even a total stranger besides a writer and his intended reader can act. Language in communication is a social system, that depends upon, but is distinct from our consciousness, a psychic system.

(2b2) A psychic system, or a "consciousness system"

The psychic system is consciousness. Honestly, I don't know why Luhmann (or rather translators of Luhmann's works) chose to use the term of the "psychic system.") Personally, I prefer a simpler term of a "psychological system", or more directly a "consciousness system." So, please let me use the term a "consciousness system" to refer to what Luhmann called a "psychic system."

With the new term of "consciousness system," we should probably analyse further the concept of consciousness. According to Gerald Edelman's theory of consciousness, I divide the common sense notion of consciousness into the "primary consciousness" and the "higher-order consciousness".

The primary consciousness is non-verbal perceiving awareness: awareness of sensation and motion. The higher-order consciousness is mostly linguistic awareness of the primary awareness: the linguistically encoded meta-awareness of the primary consciousness.

Whereas an immediate escape from a falling object may be triggered by your primary consciousness (there are instances where even primary consciousness doesn't work in the escape, though; you do something before you know it), to yell "watch out" loud and then move your body is a work of your higher-order consciousness: linguistically expressed consciousness of your primary perceiving consciousness about the falling object. The consciousness system, then, is a system that works by consciousness, either primary or higher-order, or both.

(2b3) A biological system, or a "non-consciousness" system of the body

There is some other dimensions in the issue of consciousness: the lack of consciousness. Since Freud, the lack of consciousness has been called "unconsciousness." This unconsciousness is something, according to Freud, that can be brought to the level of consciousness (mostly the higher-order consciousness) with the help of a psychiatrist.

However, the state without consciousness has a deeper domain. For example, humans have no direct way of feeling functions of neurons or kidneys (You cannot even feel a pain in your brain). It's not something you can recall later with the help of a psychiatrist or whatever. This level of our being is called "non-consciousness." The biological functions of a person are mostly at the level of non-consciousness.

Layers of the three systems

If the level of non-consciousness is the level of most of our biological functions, then we may argue that the consciousness system assumes the existence of the non-conscious biological system. Likewise we may say that the communication system assumes the existence of the consciousness system.

I used as a verb "assume" not "depend upon," for at least from the functionalist point of view, the consciousness system may not need our human biological system and the social system may not need our consciousness system. Although our consciousness will be lost when some parts of our biological body is harmed, it is theoretically possible (at least in an SF-like thought-experiment) to imagine a consciousness emerging out of a system that is not composed of protein. Also, the consciousness system may not be necessary for the communication system because we can think of a world where, after the annihilation of human beings (again an SF-idea), bot systems reply to certain words and phrases from other bot systems, maintaining communication. With sophisticated algorithm, bot systems may develop and evolve communication.

Given this layered relationship among the three systems, not of dependence, but of assumption, we argue that the functions of the three systems are distinct. Therefore it is not only possible but also reasonable to argue that communication is done not by a person as a whole, but (in the case of human beings) by the three systems in relation, mostly by the communication system, although we're mostly aware of our consciousness.

Different aspects of Pat Metheny

So, let's divide the whole person of Pat Metheny into three . First, the thinking Pat that is not really contributing to musical performance. This is apparently the consciousness system. Next, the playing Pat, which produces great music without much help from the thinking Pat (the consciousness system), should be the non-consciousness system of the body. Lastly, the listening Pat, which, presumably, the consciousness system of Pat communicates with non-linguistically. However, the identity of this listening part of Pat is not as easy as the other two.

We confirmed that the communication between Pat and the listening part of him is non-linguistic. Therefore, Pat as the consciousness system in communication with the listening part should be the primary consciousness system, not the higher-order (linguistic) system. Likewise, the listening part of Pat shouldn't be the higher-order system. Is it, then, Pat has two primary consciousness systems that communicate with each other?

Before we conclude, let's pay attention to the way Pat described his musical performance. He used a conditional expression, "if you're listening to this, which you are." This expression may seem redundant because he uses a conditional expression of "if" and he immediately negates its conditionality by the expression of "which you are." Yet, given the high intelligence of Pat Metheny, I assume this expression was a necessary one in some way or other and argue further with this assumption.

The conditional expression of "if you're listening" suggests that the being referred to as the listener (we'll talk about the personification later) is not a habitual or prototypical listener (if it is, Pat wouldn't have used a conditional phrase which was to be negated soon). Since one of the typical functions of the primary consciousness system is perception, the primary consciousness system is typically to be considered a listener. Therefore, it is unlikely that what Pat tried to refer to by this series of conditional and negative expressions is the primary consciousness system. We have already excluded the higher-order (linguistic) consciousness system as a candidate of this "listener." It is also not likely for the non-consciousness system to be his "listener" because given its non-conscious state of being it is not likely to "communicate" with the thinking Pat who asks it what it would like to hear next.

The only candidate left, it seems to me, is the social system of communication (or the "communication system" as I call it). The thinking Pat asks , if only metaphorically, the communication system (music itself, in this case) what it would like itself to be next. Music can listen to itself, as it were ("if you're listening"), and it can indeed listen to itself ("which you're"). Luhmann's systems, whether social, psychic, or biological, are all autopoiesis systems that (re)produces themselves ("self-(re)production" or "self-organization"). They refer back to itself to (re)produce themselves anew. So, although it may hard for you to anthropomorphize music, music listens to itself to play itself. With this feature of listening, Pat probably personified music and called it a "listener."

The "listener" is both a personal and non-personal being

We may have reached an answer to (2b): whether the "listener" inside Pat is a personal being or not.

The listener inside Pat is personal in the sense it metaphorically listens to itself just like persons listen, but not personal in the sense that it is distinct from Pat as a biological being: the music can go on if - Heaven forbid - Pat suddenly dies without being noticed by other band players in the middle of performance.

However, this non-Pat of music communicates with Pat, or, to put it differently, penetrate into Pat's consciousness system. This doesn't mean that the music is inside or belong to Pat. The sound of the wind outside, for example, can penetrate into your consciousness, without being part of your biological system. Something outside of your biological system can directly penetrate into your consciousness system by the medium of "meaning". This medium is not physical (or indeed just mental). Something you perceive carries some meaning in itself, otherwise you wouldn't notice it. The entity shares meaning with your consciousness, if it is a vague one ("what's that?") or a very specific one ("a bear!").

The four Is

Let's summarize different parts of Pat as he plays music. I'll introduce new terms (four Is) in an attempt to better describe this issue.

(i) the non-consciousness system of the body (the Behaving I) that plays the instrument in coordination with the primary consciousness system.

(ii) the primary consciousness system (the Perceiving I) that communicates with music (the Communicating I) that listens to itself.

(iii) the higher-order consciousness system (the Thinking I) that does not much other than ordering the primary consciousness system (the Perceiving I) to communicate with music (the Communicating I) .

(iv) the communication system of music (the Communicating I) that listens to itself and suggests how it'd like to be played to the primary consciousness system (the Perceiving I).

When a person plays good music, all the four Is are involved. When someone plays miserably in a band, the fourth I (Communicating I) is missing, or the third I (Thinking I) is doing its work too much to interfere the Perceiving I and the Behaving I.

As a person plays good music, he may say he doesn't really know what he's doing, and when he says so, the non-consciousness system of the Behaving I is so powerful that both the primary and the higher-order consciousness systems cannot follow its move. He may decline to include the Behaving I into his personhood for its unreflectable and uncontrollable nature. He may also deny the Communicating I as part of himself, for, as he says, he doesn't really know what he's doing as he plays.

An intelligent (or should I say "reflective"?) player like Pat includes the Communicating I as a very important part of himself as a musician. Someone who is more a critic than a good musician may have a very good Communicating I and a Perceiving I (and also good Thinking I when he writes a review of music), but his Behaving I cannot satisfy the other three Is of his.

To put it differently, the boradest notion of "I" of a player includes the four Is from (i) to (iv). If you're inclined to the Cartesian notion of conscious self, you may regard only (ii) and (iii) as "I" (the rest is the body and music). The notion of "I" as banal musicisans like to have contains (i), (ii) and (iii) of I, but not (iv).


What does Pat Metheny's remark on playing music tell us who are interested in the issue of conscsiousness and practice/action. The folloing is my answer.

(1) Either in music or language communication, a learner must first immerse herself in the flow of that practice to embody it. Listen or read a lot before you ever produce anything. At least if you want to be a good musician or language user, you have to listen or read enough so that you can anticipate how music or language will develop itself.

(2) Higher-order (linguistic) consciousness, or the Thinking I, is of not much help when you're in action. If you want to be really good in action, you have to learn to "listen" or "read" in the above sense. This listening or reading is not done through a language as a code. You just listen or read the meaning. (Remember, even in a linguistic passage, the whole aspect of meaning is not codified). Develop the part of you that focuses on listening or reading in this sense (the Communicating I) and let it communicate with the Perceiving I and the Behaving I.

Thank you very much for reading. The Thinking I of mine worked a lot, and my Behaving I typed much. I sincerely hope my Communicating I listened to a hypothetical conversation between you and me and my Perceiving I heard what my Communicating I said to instruct my Thinking I how to edit my passage so that my Beharioral I can type.

P.S. (July 4, 2011)

David Eagleman's new book Incognito: What's hiding in the Uncounscious Mind seems so interesting that I bought a Kindle copy. Here's his interview.


avaruusmies said...

I think that what you are referring to also applies to "movement" in a physical sense when perceived in "free" or "non rehearsed" dance. In those situations we also use many elements that require "listening" and anticipating the flow of the movement. I would also go as far as to consider some forms of martial arts combat similar since the combatants have to listen and understand their opponents. It goes beyond re-action and kinetic memory of the muscles.

In conclusion, I contest that you could also broaden the act of communication to include motion or movement and that similar states must apply to motion since there are factors in play that require you to "listen" or "read" the situation.

Yosuke YANASE said...

Hello, avaruusmies

Thank you very much for leaving a comment.

I absolutely agree with you to include "free" movements of dance or martial arts combat as something that requires "listening" to be proficient in it. Thank you for expanding my horizons.

I believe Wittgenstein somewhere talked about "Grammar" (with capital G) to mean "the flow of the movement/development" in our term. This Grammar tells us not only what is possible (like the ordinary grammar of a language does) but also what is likely to come or even what must come (something that linguistic grammar doesn't tell us). If you know this Grammar, you know what it is like to be proficient in the art. Without the Grammar but with only fragmented knowledge of what is possible in the art, you're just a very awkward, clumsy performer, and some may refuse to acknowledge that you understand the art.

Studies of language acquisition (FLA and SLA) has focused on the acquisition of linguistic grammar per se, but as the "Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition" that I mentioned in the article demonstrates, the studies are expanding their scope to deal with the Grammar in Wittgensteinean sense.

It seems to me that the embodiment of the Grammar, its ontology and its functions in particular, is of much academic interest. Philosophy of mind and neuroscience, which are one and different, seem necessary to better understand language acquisition, musical performance, dance movement or martial arts self-defence.

Thank you again.