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(2000) ‘Anthropological psychologizing and what we need to do about it’ 20th Annual Conference of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness: Tucson, Arizona, 5-9 April
Anthropological psychologizing and what we need to do about it
15 minute presentation Affiliations and research: Department of Anthropology, University College London Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, University College London Harrow School of Computer Science, University of Westminster Correspondence: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.socialmirrors.org
ANTHROPOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGIZING Anthropological psychologizing and what we need to do about it Title = Slide 1. their representational processes must be different. That's a bit like explaining a photograph of a UFO by arguing there must be something wrong with the camera. In fact. if you think of all the ways anyone might react to a photograph of a UFO. THE CAMERA Faulty Normal THE REAL WORLD Political Theatrical OTHERWORLDS Platonic world Denial . what you get is a synchronic metaphor for 150 years of anthropological thought. 1. Core problem For over a hundred years field anthropologists have been confronted with people who do not seem to think the way we do. if other people represent the world differently. Some have inferred that.
CHARLES WHITEHEAD Slide 2. .
Marx made an interesting observation when he said: ‘We become . or just people fabricating an illusion.ANTHROPOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGIZING So. history. and explain all the ordinary photographs instead. Well we can't talk like that any more. so we have to assume the camera is normal: that's the approach taken by the intellectualists in the 19th century. and so on. or an anti-structural inversion of society. to J. But he ends up arguing that animism is natural precisely because it's not natural. He accuses us all of ad hoc psychologizing.' Pascal Boyer tackles the UFO head on. 2. 2. 1.`primitive' and `modern'. emotional. not a one-way transfusion. or deny that anyone can ever explain anything . 3. We need to export anthropology into cognitive science so they will know what it is we all need to explain. There have been major advances in the cognitive sciences: it's time we took note of that instead of continually reinventing psychology ex vacuo just to suit ourselves.the terminal Kantian position. and there are no clues to what it might be. The traditional approach in cognitive anthropology has been to say `Let's ignore the UFO. we have a suitably unidentifiable object in the middle. All cameras take photos of UFOs precisely because they are designed not to. from Boas and Lévy-Bruhl. Real-world theorists tell us the UFO is not what it appears to be – it's false consciousness. `Faulty-camera' theorists. so dividing humanity into two ideal types . Let's look at real-world explanations. You cannot explain cultural difference on the grounds that people are all the same. Some people will blame the camera. or pre-logical. And the reason Boyer attempts the impossible is because the cognitivist paradigm itself ignores real world experience.maybe something sinister concealing vested political interests. Others will think it's something real . childlike. and the structuralists and cognitive anthropologists in the 20th. inaccessible to science. Simply importing cognitive science into anthropology is not good enough. lots of people can see it. society projected onto the sky. variously describe the non-literate mind as primitive. Taylor and Hallpike. without reference to real-world experience. Others will say it’s from another world.V. 1. We need cross-fertilization between disciplines.
And if you ignore competition. the collective-representation/ liminal anti-structure schools focus on play.. This is the Saussurian paradigm. pointing everywhere and nowhere. The denial of explanation is equally false. helplessness and need. and the failure of cognitive anthropology to deal with religious belief. except towards postmodernism.CHARLES WHITEHEAD conscious by acting on the world’. which also rests on self-contradiction.. They deny explanation – the ‘world of meaning’ can only be understood by interpretation – and more recently. We are both at the same time. But he inferred therefore we create ourselves through labour. The denial of psychology is always hypocritical: Geertz goes straight into ad hoc psychologizing. Gellner described relativism as a revolving signpost. let's push that final button labelled `self-destruct'. fear.. is all about human awe. You cannot observe anything. like the forces-andrelations-of-production theorists. he says. you ignore everything that makes us human. you ignore everything that makes us monsters. Everything becomes subjective. Marxist anthropologists focus on the world of work. The Problem of Meaning. which led to the collapse of structuralism. knowledge is impossible. 3. Hermeneutic anthropology takes the Otherworld approach . so we need to combine these two approaches.. it leads to absolute relativism. let alone describe it. science is mythology. it's all too much.is no more a psychological phenomenon. like pantomime-and-performance theorists. . Acting on the world. than the progressive form of the verb (1973: 13). they denied psychology as well. Secondly. and culture as communication. in the face of uncontrollable natural forces: the same simplistic psychology that Malinowski imposed on the Trobrianders. If you ignore childhood. however. without assumptions of significance – which are covert theories.assuming a Platonic world of self-sufficient closure that can be understood without reference to the real world. You can't write an emic account unless there are etic universals that allow you to understand your informants. does not begin with labour – it begins with childhood play. Clifford Geertz said: culture.
as an antidote to relativism . ignore real-world experience. and explain difference in terms of sameness because they have: • • • 3. A baby is learning what wet and dry mean every time it has its nappy changed. which are reductionist. and presented a range of anthropological views as a series of denials: 1. because childhood is the major liminal stage in human development.ANTHROPOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGIZING So. So all these denials reflect a common problem and require a common solution: we need to . We need to ground human meaning in embodied experience. and allow both reductionist and expansionist accounts to coexist. There are camera-based theories. we need to know the universal substrates of symbolic behaviour. In the middle we have real-world theories which do acknowledge embodied experience. a disembodied view of culture as communication a disembodied Saussurian linguistic metaphor a disembodied cognitivist paradigm At the opposite pole we have anti-reductionists who deny psychology. deny explanation. which is the same thing. 2. We don't invent symbols then look around for something to attach them to.a universal basis for etic accounts of cultural difference. It doesn't need to read Mythologiques to understand binary oppositions. What Marxist anthropology lacks is an account of childhood. and emphasize • a disembodied Platonic view of meaning But meanings are always grounded in real world experience. rooted in experiences which are real because they cause pleasure and pain. of how we become conscious through childhood play. What `performance' theorists need is an operational account of liminality. Meanings are there first. I've been unforgivably negative. biological and psychological.
Where we need to start Social mirror theory. Ethnographic data suggests that human adults reify representations. 2. make-believe and reality. such as the difference between appearance and reality. 3. Communication Play Performance Implicit Gesture calls Embodied Song-and-dance Mimetic Iconic signals Role-play Ritual Conventional Approval and disapproval Games with rules Economic exchange . somehow. What we need cognitive science to explain is the power of collective representations to turn make-believe into makebelief. in all societies studied to date.CHARLES WHITEHEAD know the universal cognitive and biological underpinnings of enculturated behaviour. which appear to be innate or universal in our species. and role-play. are signs of an explosive proliferation of social mirroring behaviours in our species. Performative behaviours such as song. deriving from Dilthey. Children are realists. have ontological intuitions. and adults are representationalists. says: Without mirrors in society. and Mead. which means that. Baldwin. or dreams and reality. there cannot be mirrors in the mind. the real-world intuitions of childhood have been turned on their heads. and the place to begin is with social mirror theory. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we are manufacturing a blindness to reality: our representations become so powerful that they blot out the world. What needs to be explained What cognitive science can tell us right now is that three-year-old children. dance. Cooley.
did not show robust activations relative to controls [Slide 6]. Mapping role-play in the brain I propose a collaborative approach between anthropology and cognitive science. which exploit social mirroring behaviour. we can develop a scheme which: 1. 3. Maintaining the non-role state also involved significant activity in contrast to roleplay states [Slide 5]. The point I want to make is that. indicated in this slide [Slide 4]. with Robert Turner at the Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology* in London. avoids creating an artificial discontinuity between nature and culture – which is itself a reified representation 2. 4. which aims to investigate and understand human social mirroring abilities and social adaptations of the brain. Role-play itself. avoids fabricating Platonic or Saussurian worlds of disembodied meanings and symbols Social mirrors make us conscious.ANTHROPOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGIZING Slide 3. if we begin with real-world social mirroring behaviours. I have only put one example in each box. The main findings were: 1. however. 2. Switching from role-play to a non-role task involved significant areas of brain activity. and switching role-play on. . It is ironic that collective representations. more or less blinded to the real-world orientation of our childhood.Social mirrors The table above is an attempt to sort human social-mirroring abilities in a heuristically useful way. should turn us into representationalists. My own programme has begun with a brain-mapping study of role-play.
CHARLES WHITEHEAD *Now the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience .
ANTHROPOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGIZING Slide 4: Switching off role-play Slide 5: Maintaining the non-role state .
on the right). and the triangular area at the back (top left)] are areas you would expect to be involved in role-play. `Towards a Science of Consciousness'. `Theatre of mind' continues through the control tasks. I will be presenting a fuller account of this study at next week's conference. Instead we find increased activity here only when role-play is being `switched off'. but unconsciously. But our study did not reveal that. .CHARLES WHITEHEAD Slide 6:Role-play minus control The two areas you see here [this refers to Slide 4: in the side view of the brain I am indicating the dark oblong area at the front (i. on Tuesday 11th April at 4. Cognitive effort is needed to suppress or ignore social imagination when we are engaged in non-social tasks.30 pm.e. How do we explain these `wrong way round' findings? One possible interpretation might be that role-play is a default state for the human mind. and we only see one brief flash at the moment of dissociation.
Research into the social brain seems likely to provide insights with theoretical relevance in anthropology. 3. UCL . Cognitive research has a role to play in anthropology Cognitive science is not yet sufficient to help answer core anthropological questions Social-mirror theory offers a useful basis for theoretical development and research. 2.ANTHROPOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGIZING Summary and conclusion (Slide 7) 1. Department of Anthropology. Charles Whitehead.
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