Saturday, July 16, 2011

Two EFL Pedagogical Grammar books by Akira TAJINO and Goro TAJIRI

1 Thinkers and followers

There are two types of people who are usually referred to as a "scholar" in universities. One is the thinker. The thinker thinks for herself and her area of speciality (that is assigned by her university) makes no boundary for her inquiry. She thinks and investigates as her intellectual interest leads her. She doesn't mind breaking conventions to be creative.

The other is the follower. The follower doesn't think for himself and just follows what the authorities in his field do. What he says is determined by the authorities. Apparently, something very interesting does not usually come from the follower.

Akira TAJINO and Goro TAJIRI, the authors of the two books I'm going to introduce in this essay, are the thinkers. The books are pedagogical grammar of English as a foreign language for Japanese learners. They were written by the respective authors separately, but their creative thinking somehow converged and they seem to have re-defined the concept of pedagogical grammar (hereafter Pedagogical Grammar, or PG).

In this essay, I try to formulate their idea of Pedagogical Grammar and describe some features of the books respectively.

2 How we define Pedagogical Grammar

Pedagogical Grammar is usually understood as a grammar that is intended to help learners to learn a foreign language. But how is it different from the Traditional Grammar (TG)? Or if PG is also to help the acquisition of a foreign language, is it to have any resemblance to Generative Grammar (GG), that is supposed to be the representation of the knowledge of language in our brain? Let's see how PG is different from TG and GG.

2.1 Traditional Grammar (TG)

Traditional Grammar is usually considered as the basis of Pedagogical Grammar. I'll argue later, however, that PG is not a simpler version of TG. To understand that point, let's confirm the defining feature of TG.

TG tries to achieve descriptive adequacy. Descriptive adequacy is one of the levels of adequacy that was proposed by Chomsky (1965). Descriptive adequacy is a level where all observed language use is to be described systematically. In its pursuit for comprehensiveness and consisitency, TG tries to cover as much as it can, resulting in a large amount of description.

2.2 Generative Grammar (GG)

Generative Grammar attempts to attain one higher level beyond descriptive adequacy: explanatory adequacy. GG tries to accomplish not only consistency and comprehensiveness (as Traditional Grammar does), but also the predictability of linguistic events in general. GG is meant to be an adequate explanation of language by providing a "real" representation of the embodied grammar (the knowledge of language in the brain). The representation of that level is not something we know consciously. It is highly theoretical and technical and not meant for general readers as TG is. Below is what Chomsky says about GG.

Returning to the main theme, by a generative grammar I mean simply a system of rules that in some explicit and well-defined way assigns structural descriptions to sentences. Obviously, every speaker of a language has mastered and internalized a generative grammar that expresses his knowledge of his language. This is not to say that he is aware of the rules of the grammar or even that he can become aware of them, or that his statements about his intuitive knowledge of the language are necessarily accurate. Any interesting generative grammar will be dealing, for the most part, with mental processes that are far beyond the level of actual or even potential consciousness; furthermore, it is quite apparent that a speaker's reports and viewpoints about his behavior and his competence may be in error. Thus a generative grammar attempts to specify what the speaker actually knows, not what he may report about his knowledge. (Chomsky 1965, p. 8)

GG is a representation of what is embodied as the knowledge of language in our brain, which we know only non-consciously. As a representation, GG can of course be known consciously, but that requires highly theoretical training in linguistics. As an explanatory theory, GG predicts language events within its theoretical constraints.

2.3 Pedagogical Grammar

What, then, is Pedagogical Grammar? How is it different from Traditional Grammar or Generative Grammar?

PG is based on the description that TG provides (GG is obviously too technical for language learners). However, PG should not be regarded just as a simpler (or diluted) version of TG because it has its own distinct function.

PG tries to achieve "educational adequacy." Educational adequacy, as I use this term, is adequacy for helping learners to learn and use a foreign language. It is achieved to the degree that it helps learners.

The cost of understanding PG, therefore, should be reasonably controlled. PG must achieve an optimal balance between the efforts it requires learners for understanding it and the effects it produces in learners' language learning and language use. Other things being equal, the less effort, the better; the more effects the better. The balance between effects and efforts is to be decided considering learners' cognitive and motivational conditions. Educational adequacy requires an optimal balance. As there are many types of learners, there should be as many types of PGs. While TG or GG should converge into one for the ideal researcher, PG should diverge to particular types of learners.

Because of PG's primacy of educational adequacy over descriptive or explanatory adequacy, the description and explanation in PG can be compromised as long as it attains better educational adequacy. TG shouldn't compromise in terms of consistency and comprehensiveness of description, just as GG shouldn't compromise in terms of predictability and biological reality. However, in PG, consistency and comprehensiveness is rather to be sacrificed if it helps to achieve better educational adequacy; Predictability and biological reality (at least in the rigorous sense) can even be neglected.

PG is not a description of a language, or a representation of the knowledge of language. PG is an instrument for language learning and language use. It directs learners to think in some way to learn and use a foreign language.

Language learning and language use can be rather different depending whether they are for reception or production. PG should be differentiated accordingly. Japan has had a good tradition of PG for receptive purposes (mostly for reading).

Modernization of Japan has demanded massive translation of western literature into Japanese. The translation is not like a translation between two languages of the equal or similar degree of development in civilization. Translators in modern Japan needed to understand very foreign, almost unknown concepts of the West. In addition, the structure of the Japanese language is very different from those of the western languages (actually it was more different in those early days; translation created the modern Japanese language). Japan needed a good apparatus to develop and train translators for these demanding tasks. The entrance examinations to universities demanded test-takers a high skill of translation. This demand prompted publication of many Pedagogical Grammar books dedicated to help reading a foreign language (mostly English).

Productive abilities in English was not seriously demanded until the latest version of globalization came toward the end of the 20th century (Globalization has had many stages throughout human history). The current globalization, coupled with the Information Revolution, has begun to demand productive abilities of English in Japanese learners. It is in this context that the two ESL Pedagogical Grammar books that I introduce below were published for productive purposes in EFL.

3 Tajino

This book, Learn English according to the semantic order『意味順英語学習法』 is written by Akira TAJINO, professor at Kyoto University. The book is to be considered as a sequel to his English composition according to the semantic order『〈意味順〉英作文のすすめ』. As a sequel, the current book is better designed to be used by learners as an instrument for learning.
The semantic order, according to Tajino (translated by me), is:


or if you include optional elements:


The order is obvious to English speakers, for they think along this line. But for speakers of Japanese, which has the order of (S)OV [Subject is often not used] and is very flexible in the word order of Modifiers, the "semantic order" of English is not easy to be embodied.

The emphasis on this difficulty, something that is often unattended by native speakers of English (and hence by the "followers" of Japanese researchers) is the point that Tajino and Tajiri share. In the following, I mention some features of Tajino's approach.

3.1 "80% principle"

Tajino is to keen to maintain an optimal balance between efforts and effects for learners' educational adequacy. What he encourages students to do is to speak with "80%" of accuracy. One side of this message is of course the liberation from perfectionism, but the other side is the emphasis on the semantic order. For him, the acquisition of the semantic order is of primary importance for Japanese learners.

In Tajino's framework, the seven basic sentence patterns of English are to be explained as follows:

Figure 1 Seven basic sentence patterns according to Tajino's semantic order (Translation is mine)

(Tajino's semantic order does not seem to differentiate SVOO and SVOC, but this must be the price he's willing to pay for educational adequacy.)

3.2 Syntagmatic semantic order and paradigmatic grammatical categories

Tajino makes the semantic order not only as the guide for learners' language use, but also as the framework for his Pedagogical Grammar. In the current book, he explains various grammatical items according to the relevance to the semantic order. Below is his two-dimensional schema of the syntagmatic (horizontal) semantic order and the paradigmatic (vertical) grammatical categories; he maintains that once learners acquired the semantic order (how to arrange the folders), they are encouraged to learn grammatical categories that have relevance to each folder (learning which files are to be put into each folder, and learning about each file itself). Here's Tajino's two-dimensional schema.

Figure 2 Grammatical categories in the semantic order (Translation is mine)

The sequential arrangement of grammatical categories in PG is always difficult. When I was a senior high school student, for example, I was daunted by the first chapter of my PG: The Article, one of the grammatical items that does not exist in Japanese. Tajino's approach is to teach the semantic order (folders) first, and then grammatical categories (files) for each folder.

With a simple layout, this book by Tajino will be welcomed by adults who'd like to have a clear perspective of what they've learned.

For applied linguists, his two-dimensional idea of sentence construction is highly intriguing: the completion of the semantic order (the first, horizontal, syntagmatic dimension) and the elaboration of a semantic order element (the second, vertical, paradigmatic dimension) as is required by the literal meaning that the sentence is to convey.

This idea of two-dimensional expansion as a speaker constructs a sentence may sound too true to take notice of, but I believe this is one of the great sources of ideas for teaching English as a foreign language. I feel a lot of inspiration in this book, but I just cannot articulate my idea yet. When you read a book written by a thinker, you have to be a thinker as well.

4 Tajiri

Goro TAJIRI had been teaching in various public junior high schools for 26 years before he began his career as Professor at Kansai University. As those who know him directly or on television witness, he was an amazingly great junior high school teacher, but what is more surprising is that he's becoming greater as a practical researcher. As a thinker in nature, he never ceases to think in his practical positions (including the manager of the Kansai University baseball team) and always gives his utmost to help those around him. He's truly amazing.

The current book, English Grammar: You need nothing else『英文法 これが最後のやり直し!』 was written, I heard from him personally, primarily for the university athletes whose English proficiency is, honestly speaking, less than satisfactory. Yet, it has a much larger audience including adults who'd need to be proficient in English, high school students and English teachers.

One great feature of this book, amazing indeed, when you think of the reasonable price of this book (1,200 yen), is that it contains 3CDs narrated by Tajiri himself. He lectures according to the description of the book, adding more examples and episodes. As a great entertainer, listening to him explain and make jokes on English grammar is very a pleasant learning experience (he has a comfortable voice as well). Learners may want to listen to the CDs as they do something else until they remember what he says in them; teachers may learn the verbal art of a good teacher from the CDs. This is indeed a great book and such a bargain.

Below is some features that have importance when we think about Pedagogical Grammar.

4.1 Optimal balance between more efforts and more effects

In comparison with Tajino's book, this book requires more efforts to read, but the reward is of course more effects in terms of more detailed understanding of English grammar. This difference between the two books doesn't make either one good or bad as Pedagogical Grammar, for both keep educational adequacy in their own way. Learners are to choose their favorite book considering the time and motivation they have. (I'm not suggesting here, though, that this book by Tajiri is difficult. His explanation is as clear as always, and the explanation is clearer and more entertaining on the CDs). As I said before, we should have as many good PG as there are different types of learners.

4.2 Three canonical orders and other eight basic orders

Like Tajino, Tajiri also regards the acquisition of the word order of English as the most important element for Japanese learners. He has a different way of explaining the word order, though.

Figure 3 Tajiri's three canonical word orders and eight basic word orders(Translation is mine)

Tajiri regards the three patterns (1, 2 and 3) as the canonical, and adds to them other eight patterns (four, three, and one patterns respectively to the three canonical patterns) as the basic. These eleven patterns are first introduced in the book, and then grammatical items are added in three stages (Junior High School Grade 1 to 3).

Like Tajino's semantic order, Tajiri makes his word order patterns (three canonical and eight basic) as the first item to learn in English. After learners acquire a good sense of the first, horizontal, syntagmatic dimension, they learn to expand into the second, vertical, paradigmatic dimension. In actual language use, they use language in both dimensions simultaneously (or to be more precise, initiate the move in the first dimension followed by expansion in the second dimension). I say here once again that I'd like to think about this mental functions further on a different occasion.

4.3 Personification (anthropomorphic metaphor)

Among Tajiri's great skills of teaching is the use of personification (anthropomorphic metaphors).

He uses one to explain do/does. One of the difficulties that Japanese students find in basic sentence constructions of English (I'm curious how students in other countries find them) is the fact that although do/does is required in the construction of a negative sentence and an interrogative sentence, it is not required in the affirmative sentence.

Do you like music?
I do not like music.
*I do like music. [When no emphasis is intended]

Does she like music?
She does not like music.
*She does like music.[When no emphasis is intended]

Tajiri explains that do/does is a shy boy and he usually hides himself behind the main verb; but when a negative sentence or a question has to be made, he has to appear.

This metaphor of a "shy boy usually hiding behind the main verb" works well for a sentence that uses a verb in third-person singular form of the present tense. The shy does tries to hide behind the main verb (like, for example), but because the boy is a little too big he can't hide completely ([like]s). (The same explanation works for did as well.)

*She like music.
*She does like music. [When no emphasis is intended]
She likes music.

*She like music.
*She did like music. [When no emphasis is intended]
She liked music.

For disappearance of does in the follwoing sentence, he uses the shy boy metaphor, too.

How does Taro eat salad every day?
When does Taro eat salad with dressing?
*Who does eat salad with dressing every day?
Who eats salad with dressing?

This time, the sentence construction is the question form, but a teacher can tell a story like this: "Because does is shy, he always wants to hide behind the main verb. So when he finds the main verb immediately next to him, he hides himself behind it (although not completely) even when the sentence is a question. "

A strong behaviorist would find a narrative like this is not necessary, but this is something Tajiri find essential to help his students learn and use English.

The general point for the discussion of PG is that the use of personification (anthropomorphic metaphors) may work quite well for learners. The explanation of grammar turns into a narrative of a protagonist. If PG is an instrument, we're probably justified to use whatever means available and appropriate to guide learners properly. Use of anthropomorphic metaphors in a narrative is one example of them.

4.4 Contrastive linguistic account

The last feature I point out now (actually there are many other points I'd like to discuss, but I leave them to other occasions) is Tajiri's contrastive linguistic account. As the first language is quite dominant in a foreign language learning situation, contrastive accounts are necessary when apparent results of interference from the first language are often observed. Being a keen observer of langaugae in use, Tajiri provides a contrastive linguistic when appropriate.

5 Conclusion

Overall, both Tajiri and Tajino maintain educational adequacy and the imortance of word order. Some other features are observed from Tajiri like personification and contrastive linguistic account.

If we are to explore further possibilities of Pedagogical Grammar, we need to observe actual PGs and responses from learners that use them. PG is more an instrument than a description (as Traditional Grammar is) or an explanation (as Generative Grammar is). A study of an istrument would be pointless without observing the actual use of the instrument.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Metaphors of Bach and Karate

One of the things that I often do as a college teacher is to read and advise on research proposals written by my students. Writing a proposal is not easy for them because the academic discourse is so different from the oral discourse of their daily life. After all, it's not a tea party.

An academic paper must be rigidly structured. Background must lead to Problem Statement properly, which, together with Literature Review, must direct the reader to Research Question. RQ demands a valid Method that must gurantee a certain result, which should be discussed in a more general term and must develop into the answer to RQ in Conclusion.

Yesterday, an undergraduate student of mine came to me with his research proposal. It was written, as should be expected, rather loosely. The purpose of the study appears in one section, and later in another. The section of Method includes one of the possible implications of the expected result, which should be actually examined in the section of Discussion.

It's not that he's a bad student. He just writes as he'd talk about his thesis to his friends in a party. (Indeed, he'd sound very odd if he talked in a party in the style of an academic paper). He just hasn't learned to write academically.

As I knew he was a good player in the University Wind Ensemble, I decided to use a musical metaphor to explain what he has to learn. I said something like this:

Please don't try to write like Mozart. Good music doesn't flow out of you unless you're a genius. Rather, write like Bach in counterpoint. Write not what you want to write, but what you must. What produces a good work is not your current talent but the great rule of music. You may have to revise and revise like Beethoven or Bruckner, but you first have to teach yourself to be true to the logic of music.

A change in the look on his face told me that the metaphor worked. It is really good to share a common interest.

Another student of mine came to me today with his research proposal. He said he'd like to find a better method to teach paragraph writing in English as a foreign language. However, I found his focus shifted from one aspect of paragraph writing to another without realizing it himself. It was apparent that his idea of paragraph writing was vague. His research proposal was not a model of paragraph writing, either. He was not experienced in academic discourse.

I said he should think about "what to teach" before "how to teach." One of the preoccupations that students in Faculty of Education have is that all they have to learn is "how to teach." They rarely know that they first have to learn the content of teaching before the method of teaching (Having graduated from a high school doesn't mean that you know enough to be a high school teacher). As one of such students, he was not really convinced of what I was trying to say.

Then, because our common interest was Karate, I chose to use a Karate metaphor:

Imagine a novice coming to a Karate Master. The novice says he's interested in how he can teach Karate to others. The Master reminds him that he's only learned Karate for a week and that he still doesn't know what Karate is. The novice says he already knows, but the Master says that the novice doesn't even know that he doesn't know Karate. "Your expression of 'How to teach Karate' is too vague," said the Master. "If you are to teach, you need to focus on a specific aspect of Karate first, like how to stand, or rather how to use your inner muscles when you stand, or even which inner muscle you should use in one way and which other inner muscle in another way when you stand. You don't know specific aspects of Karate yet. You just can't teach 'Karate' before you know and embody them yourself."

As he's been practicing Karate for many years, this metaphor hit him hard. "Now I know what you mean," said the student. "My 'paragraph writing' is like 'Karate' of the novice. I first have to have an analytical understanding of paragraph writing; but more importantly, I first have to learn to write in paragraphs in English for myself. Trying to teach something to students, or rather, trying to teach teachers how to teach something to students before I learn to do that myself is silly as the wish of the novice in the Karate dojo is."

I'm not suggesting, by the way, that I'm really good at paragraph writing in English myself. I have to learn to write well in English as well. In fact, that is part of the motivation of writing on this blog in English. No genius like Mozart, I have to be aware of what I have to do like Bach and make many failures and revise them like Beethoven or Bruckner. No, I shouldn't compare myself to Bach, Beethoven or Bruckner! I have to learn like a humble student in a music academy, with books in his bag, spending many hours a day playing his instrument.

Anyway, what I learned from these two episodes was that metaphors work when they're proerly used and that they sometimes produce a greater effect in a listener than a speaker expects.

Or maybe that Bach and Karate are just great.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Prospective Consciousness

Retrospective Consciousness

With the progress of neuroscience, we've been enlightened about the limited (and probably biased) function of our consciousness. David Eagleman uses a newspaper metaphor to explain consciousness in Incognito (excerpts from Chapter 1 is available on NPR).

Consider the activity that characterizes a nation at any moment. Factories churn, telecommunication lines buzz with activity, businesses ship products. People eat constantly. Sewer lines direct waste. All across the great stretches of land, police chase criminals. Handshakes secure deals. Lovers rendezvous. Secretaries field calls, teachers profess, athletes compete, doctors operate, bus drivers navigate. You may wish to know what's happening at any moment in your great nation, but you can't possibly take in all the information at once. Nor would it be useful, even if you could. You want a summary. So you pick up a newspaper - not a dense paper like the New York Times but lighter fare such as USA Today. You won't be surprised that none of the details of the activity are listed in the paper; after all, you want to know the bottom line. You want to know that Congress just signed a new tax law that affects your family, but the detailed origin of the idea - involving lawyers and corporations and filibusters - isn't especially important to that new bottom line. And you certainly wouldn't want to know all the details of the food supply of the nation - how the cows are eating and how many are being eaten ? you only want to be alerted if there's a spike of mad cow disease. You don't care how the garbage is produced and packed away; you only care if it's going to end up in your backyard. You don't care about the wiring and infrastructure of the factories; you only care if the workers are going on strike. That's what you get from reading the newspaper.

Your conscious mind is that newspaper. Your brain buzzes with activity around the clock, and, just like the nation, almost everything transpires locally: small groups are constantly making decisions and sending out messages to other groups. Out of these local interactions emerge larger coalitions. By the time you read a mental headline, the important action has already transpired, the deals are done. You have surprisingly little access to what happened behind the scenes. Entire political movements gain ground-up support and become unstoppable before you ever catch wind of them as a feeling or an intuition or a thought that strikes you. You're the last one to hear the information.

This metaphor neatly describes some aspects of our consciousness: 1) it only reports a tiny portion of what has been happening in the world/your mind; 2) that portion is of relatively higher layers of the world/your mind; 3) it possesses no (or at least little) causal agency about the described events because the report is only retrospective.

From the third aspect in particular, you can draw an argument about the limit of free-will, which actually Eagleman did. The legal implications from the argument are highly interesting and controversial.

However, I'm more interested in whether or not consciousness is only retrospective. The current state of my consciousness (the perception of my PC monitor) is about the world some milliseconds ago; as a memory, I can recall some fragments of a certain event many years ago. I can monitor my current movement; I can reflect upon the past event and probably learn some lesson from it. But is our consciousness only about the past? If it is, doesn't it not make us only a worrier of what's going on, a negative person who cares only about the past, and, heaven forbid, a philosopher who just keeps thinking about what has already happened for its own pleasure? If so, what is the evolutionary advantage of our consciousness?

Gary Klein on Intuition and Higher-order consciousness

In this regard, I found "Insight: A conversation with Gary Klein" on Edge particularly interesting. Being an "applied" psychologist, Klein is interested in practical issues of the use of expertise in organizations. He wonders whether the current emphasis in modern organizations on checklists and formal procedures are valid. He acknowledges the importance of our intuition (which is never explicit or formal) in our practice. Below is his general account of System one (intuition (that you become aware of)) and System two (higher-order consciousness: second-order conscious thinking about the intuition that you're conscious of).

System one is really about intuition, people using the expertise and the experience they've gained. System two is a way of monitoring things, and we need both of those, and we need to blend them, and so it bothers me to see controversies about which is the right one, or are people fundamentally irrational, and therefore they can't be trusted? Obviously system one is marvelous. Danny Kahneman has put it this way, "system one is marvelous, intuition is marvelous but flawed." And system two isn't the replacement for our intuition and for our experience, it's a way of making sure we don't get ourselves in trouble.

If we eliminate system one, system two isn't going to get the job done because you can't live by system two. There are people who try, there are people who have had various kinds of brain lesions that create disconnects between their emotions and their decision-making process. Damasio has written about them. It can take them 30 minutes to figure out what restaurant they want to go to. Their performance on intelligence tests isn't impaired, but their performance in living their lives is greatly impaired; they can't function well, and their lives go downhill.

So we know that trying to do everything purely rationally, just following Bayesian statistics or anything like that isn't going to work. We need both system one and system two, and so my question is what are the effective ways of blending the two? What are the effective ways that allow people to develop expertise, and to use expertise while still being able to monitor their ideas, and monitor their actions?

Too often it's treated as a real dichotomy, and too many organizations that I study try to encourage people to just follow procedures, just follow the steps, and to be afraid to make any mistakes. The result is that they stamp out insights in their organization. They stamp out development of expertise in their organization, and they actually reduce the effectiveness and the performance of the organizations. So how do you blend those is an issue.

With this research question, Klein interviewed firefighters in their natural environment. Well, this is not exactly "hard science," but it reveals something laboratory models of decision making can't deal with. (You may recall the works by Hubert Dreyfus or Donald Schon. Yes, I'd like to read their books again, but this is another story.)

Back to Klein's account, I may classify cases that the firefighter report into two: easy cases and difficult cases.

How an experienced practitioner deals with an easy case

In an easy case, a firefighter doesn't ever think. He just knows what he has to do and simply does it. Here is what Klein's first interviewee surprised him by saying he follows the "procedures". Expecting the "procedures" to be a written manual or something, Klein was shocked, but soon learned that they were intuitive, automatic executions.

He [=the firefighter] looked at me, and there was a certain look of not exactly contempt, but sort of condescension, I [=Klein] would say at least, and he said,"I've been a firefighter for 16 years now. I've been a captain, commander for 12 years, and all that time I can't think of a single decision I ever made."


"I don't remember ever making a decision."

"How can that be? How do you know what to do?"

"It's just procedures, you just follow the procedures."

My heart sank, because we had just gotten the funding to do this study, and this guy is telling me they never make decisions. So right off the bat we were in big trouble. Before I finished with him, before I walked out, I asked him, "Can I see the procedure manuals?"

Because I figured maybe there's something in the procedure manuals that I could use to give me an idea of where to go next. He looked at me again with the same feeling of sort of condescension, (obviously I didn't know that much about their work) and he said,

"It's not written down. You just know."

"Ah, okay, that's interesting."

Something was going on here. It feels like procedures to them, but it's not really procedures, and it's not that they're following the steps of any guide, or any set of checklists. We conducted a few dozen interviews to what people were doing, and we collected some marvelous stories, and some really very moving stories from them about how they made life and death decisions. What we found was that they weren't making decisions in the classical sense that they generated a set of options, and they looked at the strengths and the weaknesses of each option, and then they compared each option to all the others on a standard set of dimensions. I mean, that's classical management-type decision-making, get your options, A, B, and C, get your evaluation dimensions, rate each option on each dimension, see which comes out ahead. They weren't doing that.

So an experienced practitioner in an easy case just knows which scenario he's learned so far best fits the current case he's dealing with. He just knows (i.e., be aware of; be conscious of) what to do. This knowing, which happens in the arena of primary consciousness (Edelman), came not from his linguistic thought (higher-order consciousness), but from his un/non-conscious processes. He did not "think" to choose the best options among possible ones. He just knows it and does it.

An experienced practitioner does not "think, decide, and then act": he just "acts as he decides" like a Samurai in action. Consciousness as an awareness of what he's perceiving is of course in operation: His primary consciousness is on. Yet, his linguistic, higher-order consciousness of thought plays little role. Then what about a difficult case?

How a practitioner deals with a difficult case

Here's a description of a rescue expert from Klein's work in a difficult case, where he had to "figure out how to make the rescue."

But then he [=the rescue expert] imagines what would happen as the [sic] lifted her [=the one to be rescued], and he imagines the way her back would sag, and it was a painful vision, a painful image, and he thought

"Too much of a chance we're going to do damage to her back, that's a bad option."

He rules that out. He thinks of another few options, and when he imagines each of them, they're not going to work, so he rejects all of them.

Then he has a bright idea, he has a clever idea. What about a ladder belt?


And he imagines it, he does what we call "a mental simulation." He sort of works it through in his head to see if there will be any problems, and he can't think of any. So that's the way he makes a decision to do the rescue.

This "mental simulation" is obviously a conscious act, for the rescue expert sees an image and a vision and makes a decision as he evaluates an option one by one. This function of consciousness is more prospective than retrospective. Through consciousness, he sees a possible scenario of the future.

Of course, the image and vision must be made up from the multitude of images and visions he's learned from experience. His un/non-conscious mind arranges the bits and pieces in a meaningful way for this situation and projects a coherent vision in his (primary) consciousness. In this sense, i.e., the sense that the vision is made from the past experience, the consciousness may be described as retrospective. Yet, more importantly, the vision itself is of a possible future, and we may say that this function of consciousness is prospective.

However, this prospective function of consciousness is not like a classical decision making process that modern rationalism assumes. To see a possible future, an experienced practitioner never stops to compare different possible future options: he just sees the one that comes first and examines it.

We [=Klein and his co-researchers] learned about how he [=the rescue expert] did the evaluation. He looked at several options, but he never compared them to see which was the best one compared to the others. He wanted the first one that would work, and he did this mental simulation. He did this imaging process for each one. That was the way he could evaluate one option at a time, not by comparing it to others, but by seeing if it would work in this particular context.

(By the way, this strategy of dealing with only one option at a time, never stopping to compare multiple options at the same time, is also suggested in Relevance Theory, when the authors are trying to explain how a listener/reader effortlessly deals with several possible interpretations that an linguistic expression allows. They explain in terms of efficient information processing.)

So, in a difficult case, an experienced practitioner does not begin an action because he knows that he doesn't know a good option (this is higher-order consciousness). He then "thinks". But this thinking is not comparing, examining and analyzing multiple options which you may associate with the word "thinking" (as modern rationalists conceive it to be.) The practitioner may "look at" several options, but never "compares" them. He comes up with an option, and he is ready to use this first option. But he is not yet convinced that this is good enough (higher-order consciousness, again) and he "thinks". But once again, this thinking is not really a linguistic examination (= the typical "thought" according to modern rationalists), but rather seeing things immediately. In this mental simulation, he imagines and gets a vision, and that is his "thinking," if we should ever use this expression. Or we may say that this is a function of higher-order consciousness that is not linguistic.

Let's compare an easy case and a difficult one once again.

An easy case just takes one step:

(E1) An experienced practitioner gets an intuition un/non-consciously and acts upon it consciously in the sense of primary consciousness. (Note: decision and action is one and the same)

A difficult case takes two steps:

(D1) An experienced practitioner gets an intuition un/non-consciously and realizes consciously that he has to "think" (Note: this consciousness is higher-order consciousness).

(D2) He starts a mental simulation (his "thinking") and gets a vision. If it is a good one, he just acts upon it; if not, he goes back to (D1) and gets a second intuition. (Note: this higher-order consciousness is mostly non-linguistic except when he says to himself "Good" or "No".)

Here's how Klein puts it:

It's really a two-part strategy. The first part is the pattern matching to get the situation framed about what to do. Then the second part is this mental simulation to be able to evaluate and monitor an option to make sure that it will do a good job, and to use your experience.

Prospective consciousness

I've started this essay with a general question whether our consciousness is only prospective or not. As we examined Klein's report on practitioners, we first confirmed that our higher-order consciousness (typical "linguistic thought" we associate with the word "thinking") played little role both in easy and difficult cases. However, in difficult cases, an experienced practitioner "thinks" in the sense that he deliberately starts a mental simulation and sees a future vision. But a more important point for this essay is that a practitioner's use of his consciousness is prospective. We can use our consciousness for our future in a very practical way.

This prospective use of consciousness (mental simulation) is to be distinguished with hallucination or illusion, that have, presumably, no practical value. Prospective consciousness in a mental simulation is advantageous for survival of the conscious being.

Given the limited function of our retrospective consciousness, that is, we can only monitor what our brain has already started to do, we sometimes wonder what evolutionary advantage our consciousness has for survival. Consciousness as a monitor may look like a nanny going after a little child to take care of the mess he's made. However, in a mental simulation (a practitioner's "thinking"), he can project the essence of his past experience into a prospective vision to have a better future. What our linguistic thought (linguistic higher-order consciousness) does may only be to say "Think!" or "No, it wouldn't work" to ourselves, but that makes a huge difference, because then our un/non-conscious mind starts again for a new task. Isn't this use of consciousness great enough?

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.