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Sabo
11-16-2006, 08:05 PM
On the one hand, the concept is so fundamental to the western thought and the structure of the indoeuropean languages, that it must be one of those many things that "already the ancient Greeks" discussed. But I can spontaneously only trace it back to the XVII century.

Does anyone know more?

Eagleheart
11-17-2006, 10:39 AM
You can chronologically arrive to your enquiring when you ascertain for example how old is the opposition to it, if any other source is unavailable. I can point you Buddhism from the 6th c. BC and its rejection of this "antispiritual" partition. No such proposition of the distinction is accepted by Buddhists/and surely it has to exist to provoke opposition/...

SheykAbdullah
11-17-2006, 03:26 PM
On the one hand, the concept is so fundamental to the western thought and the structure of the indoeuropean languages, that it must be one of those many things that "already the ancient Greeks" discussed. But I can spontaneously only trace it back to the XVII century.

Does anyone know more?

Linguistically, the difference between subject and object is as old as language. Every language in the world observes a structure to differntiate subject and object. Moving to a language as different in deveopment as you can be from Europe, Japanese expresses the linguistic difference by using ga/wa to demarcate a subject and wo/o to indicate an object. The distinction between subject and object is one of the foundation principals of human linguistic communication.

As far as the Ancient Greeks already discussing it, they must have. As in all Indo-European languages (including the few latent examples in English and the Romance languages) Greek has inflections. For example (the example is singular in both cases), the subject form (nominative) of 'word' is "logos" where as the object (direct, accusative) is "logon" and the indirect object (dative) is "logo." This distinction can be proven to be even older. Sanskrit with the same system of distinction between object and subject had its rules clarified and solidified during a period of time roughly contemporary to the Solonian reforms of Athens and its Golden Age under Pericles (the oldest Sanskrit grammar was compiled in the fifth century BC) and must have existed with limited changes for at least a few hundred years previous. It has since, as a result of compilation, become fossilized and probably represents the oldest unchanged language utilized in the world today (though it is not spoken). The very compilation of such a grammar would presuppose an understanding of subject/object relations, and indeed, the composition of Sanskrit grammars represents the first and last true, serious exploration of linguistics for several thousand years.

In any case, it is clear that the subject/object distinction must exist for logical human communication and thought. To even begin to ponder anything one must grapple the effect of the origin of an action, the action itself, and where the end of the action rests. It is this same dialectic which defines even mathematical reasoning.

Sabo
11-19-2006, 04:40 PM
Sanskrit with the same system of distinction between object and subject had its rules clarified and solidified during a period of time roughly contemporary to the Solonian reforms of Athens and its Golden Age under Pericles (the oldest Sanskrit grammar was compiled in the fifth century BC) and must have existed with limited changes for at least a few hundred years previous. It has since, as a result of compilation, become fossilized and probably represents the oldest unchanged language utilized in the world today (though it is not spoken). The very compilation of such a grammar would presuppose an understanding of subject/object relations,


Thank you very much for these clarifications. Exactly what I needed. Thanks.

vili
11-19-2006, 05:31 PM
Linguistically, the difference between subject and object is as old as language. Every language in the world observes a structure to differntiate subject and object.
This may be nitpicking, but there have been arguments that not all languages in fact employ subject/object distinction, at least if we consider subjecthood and objecthood to be purely syntactic properties (as they are usually defined). An example is Hungarian, which has often been argued to make no use of the notion of subject. (Of course, whether "not making use of" equals "not existing" is a valid question.)

Moreover, some (in theoretical linguistics, which is where I am coming from) argue that objects are in fact nothing but non-subject arguments, and therefore have no special status for themselves. Others seem to prefer to talk in terms of thematic roles rather than those of subjecthood and objecthood, although that also seems to me like a route that gets you into a lot of trouble. I have personally tentatively argued for subjecthood and objecthood to be interpretational, and as such the results of some kind of interaction between something like thematic roles and the pragmatic qualities of the arguments. Although I am the first to admit that I may be totally wrong. :)

All this, of course, is highly theoretical. Yet, I would personally be wary of supposing that every language naturally observes a structure to differentiate between subjects and objects. Especially when some languages have supposedly been attested that in fact tolerate subject-object ambiguity, and at least in certain cases make no effort to differentiate between the two. (Although I am personally still somewhat sceptical about the validity of these studies.)

So, I think that what I want to say is that I would never say never when it comes to linguistic data. :) In any case, I think SheykAbdullah's comment is spot on in terms of the history of linguistics (which I am by no means an expert on).

Although, while Panini's Sanskrit grammar was indeed composed on the 5th century BCE, isn't it generally supposed that there was also some rather influential, although by now lost, earlier linguistic work dating from around the 8th century BCE? I of course have no idea whether subjects and objects were discussed there.

Edit: I just realised that SheykAbdullah indeed also mentioned the earlier Sanskrit tradition. :)

SheykAbdullah
11-19-2006, 06:09 PM
This may be nitpicking, but there have been arguments that not all languages in fact employ subject/object distinction, at least if we consider subjecthood and objecthood to be purely syntactic properties (as they are usually defined). An example is Hungarian, which has often been argued to make no use of the notion of subject. (Of course, whether "not making use of" equals "not existing" is a valid question.)

I am not familiar with Hungarian, but I looked it up in Wikipedia and it does indeed have subjects, but it is a null-subject language, which means that there are certain indications within the verb which may allow a subject to be ommitted from the sentance (as it can be in most languages, English, French, and Chinese are notable exceptions). An example of this works is the Spanish sentence;

Yo voy a la casa

I go to the house.

Now Spanish (This is for those of you who do not know this already. Please forgive me those of you who do and to whom this is elementary) has different verb conjugations depending on whether the subject is singular/plural, first, second, or third person, so since the 'yo' or 'I' can be gathered from information found within the verb it may be omitted since its presence may be inferred;

Voy a la casa

Making it a 'null-subject' language. Hungarian has a similiar theme, but it does have a concept for a subject.

In fact, the subject/object relationship is so prevelant in linguistics the ordering of the subject-object-verb in a sentence can be used to catagorize languages (though not very well because some languages, such as Arabic, have a very felxible sentence order). For example, English is called a SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) language because we have (normally) a Subject, a Verb, and then an Object, but Farsi on the other hand is an SOV languages (Subject-Object-Verb), so sentences in English like 'I bake a cake' becomes the Yoda-like 'I cake bake.'

As far as the field of theoretical linguistics, I must defer to you Vili because it is out of my element. I am a comparative/Descriptive linguist and a linguistic anthropologist so such things are far out of my element. However, as far as natural languages go the rule that every language has a subject/object/verb is pretty close to unbreakable, though you are right. Normally linguistic conventions should never be written in absolute terms.

After all, a subject-object-verb realtionship can be expressed as nothing more than something acting something.

vili
11-20-2006, 03:22 AM
Sure, Wikipedia will tell you that Hungarian has subjects. However, some theoretical linguists like E. Kiss will tell you that this is a simplification of matters, and that if you actually look at the structural representation of Hungarian, it in fact does not have subjects. Or, maybe I should rather say, Hungarian makes no use of the syntactic notion of a subject. This actually has nothing to do with null-subjects, but is an argument that is wholly motivated by the structural representation of the language.

It is also true that SVO typology has been used to distinguish languages, and as far as I know it is indeed one of the most common typological distinctions along with the ergantive-accusative axis. But like all typologies, it is only a guideline, and as "free word order" languages like Warlpiri show, I would say that it is a guideline borne out of the configurational view of language, which in itself may be flawed.

(Note also that "free word order languages", I would say, are as far as I can tell not actually free in their word order, only free in terms of the SVO ordering. Languages like Warlpiri actually appear to have very strict word order rules, but they seem to be based on more pragmatic considerations.)

In fact, I think that the differences in our views are not actual differences at all, but simply borne out of the fields that we work in. I would imagine that in the fields of linguistic anthropology and comparative linguistics, which I am quite ignorant about, the S/O distinction (or should I say the S/A/O distinction) is actually not exactly the same as what those working on syntactic theories would see subjects and objects as being. So, perhaps it is a correct (and certainly useful) to claim in descriptive linguistics that all languages have subjects and objects (I don't know if this actually was one of Greenberg's universals), while in the more theoretical frameworks you end up having to be more specific, and investigate what objecthood and subjecthood actually stand for.

SheykAbdullah
11-20-2006, 09:59 AM
You are probably right. I am sure that I know at least as little about theoretcal linguistics as you know about descriptive/comparitive and linguistic anthropology.

As far as the immutability of SVO esitence and Greenburg's universals, I am not sure if the explicit existence subject/object existence is one. To me, and to everything I've read, it seems inevitable, according to everything I know and everything I've read a natural language has to possess a subject/object conception (again, maybe this is not how it worls in theoretical linguistics) on some level of order. I supose there might be a natural language out there I have never read about that explicitly lacks both, but it would be so fundamentally different from my experience I have to admit I'd be totally lost.

As far as free-ordering languages go, I can understand your point. Classical Greek was relatively free in word ordering in writing with the order being used on a flexible emphatic scale (words that wanted to be emphasized would come first in a sentence, however the coherency of propositional phrases and clauses would be fixed in their relative positions within the sentence), however it is unsure if this was just a writing convention or whether the Greeks were actually so fluid in speech. It is probably doubtful they were so liberal in speech as inflected languages spoken today from the Indo-European family are still affixed in a somewhat rigid word-order. Arabic, as I mentioned before, is another fairly free word order language, but it is only the verb that is allowed to float in sentence position. The most intersting facet of Arabic's word order changes is that the person and gender of the verb is modified based on the verb's relative position to the subject(s). Of course in the case of both Greek and Arabic declinsions in the nouns exist to denote their relationship to one another and to the verb. This is why I mentioned I personally do not feel that catagorizing languages based on SVO order is a particularly effective method of doing things. It creates universal rules that seem to be less than universal.

In any case, I can not imagine a language without subjects (not that I am doubting the idea from a theoretical standpoint), so how does it work that Hungarian is said not to have any?

vili
11-20-2006, 10:55 AM
The most intersting facet of Arabic's word order changes is that the person and gender of the verb is modified based on the verb's relative position to the subject(s).
That, indeed, sounds interesting. I might in fact look into this more closely, as it may actually be related to what I am working on at the moment. Does this take place in literary or colloquial Arabic?

To be honest, I don't know much about Arabic language(s) at all -- the only bit of Arabic that I have ever really read about was negation phenomena, and that was a while back. (But I seem to remember that in Arabic the negative marker is marked for tense, while the verb is marked for person? Which is the opposite of what takes place in for example Finnish.)


In any case, I can not imagine a language without subjects (not that I am doubting the idea from a theoretical standpoint), so how does it work that Hungarian is said not to have any?
As I said, this is based on the assumption that to be a subject is simply to occupy a specific syntactic position. In a nutshell, the argument then goes that Hungarian, which can be treated as a verb-first language, has no specific position for its "subject-like" arguments, and therefore it is difficult to say that there is a subject position in the language to begin with. In other words, the word order in Hungarian does not seem to be in any way influenced by the "subject-like" qualities of an argument. Instead, Hungarian rather makes use of notions like topicalisation (which, one could say, is dangerously close to subjecthood), focus and contrast in order to derive its word order.

This, of course, is all quite theoretical. And if you define a "subject" to be something other than a simple syntactic position, you will certainly end up with different results.

SheykAbdullah
11-20-2006, 01:31 PM
That, indeed, sounds interesting. I might in fact look into this more closely, as it may actually be related to what I am working on at the moment. Does this take place in literary or colloquial Arabic?

To be honest, I don't know much about Arabic language(s) at all -- the only bit of Arabic that I have ever really read about was negation phenomena, and that was a while back. (But I seem to remember that in Arabic the negative marker is marked for tense, while the verb is marked for person? Which is the opposite of what takes place in for example Finnish.)

To my understanding the alteration of verbal agreement occurs in dialect as well as in the literary form (MSA, or Modern Standard Arabic which has a use not only in literature but also in general media, and as such may be said to be a living language, though admittedly it is being kept alive by a linguistic life support system. It serves as the lingua franca of the Middle East and every foreign soldier, governmental official, student, linguist, academic, or diplomat trained to speak Arabic is trained in this dialect initially; the dialect from which the other dialects branched off in the course of time), but I am not really an expert in Arabic, just someone on the trail to learning it and as such my experience is somewhat limited, but proficient, with the aid of reference grammars.

In any case, The VSO order in the language is always maintained unless the subject of the sentence is a pronoun, in which case the sentence automatically becomes SVO for clairty (In Arabic a verb ONLY agrees both in number AND gender with either an unmentioned subject OR a subject that precedes the verb. If the subject comes after the verb the verb agrees only in gender and is in the singular. If the subject is seperated from the verb by one or more words the verb is, again, always singular and may be, if the subject is feminine, either masculine or feminine (up to the writer's/speaker's discretion. If the subject is masculine it will ALWAYS be masculine. As you can see Arabic, at least the MSA, is the doll of a very old and established grammatical tradition).

As regards negation in Arabic, it does not necesarily denote tense though it can, but as far as I know this difference is mostly literary, though I could be wrong. In a negative sentence in Arabic a verb may denote tense (with the exception of the verb 'to be' which is a whole other explination and a verb that both does and does not exist. Apparantly, Arabic grammarians have historically been masters of existentialism), but certain negations may ALSO denote tense, in which case the tense of the verb will be different than the natural tense of the sentence. For example, 'lan' is used to denote a negative future condition, in which case the verb does not recieve the normal future prefix and instead appears in the subjunctive. In the case of 'lam', which is used to denote the negation of the past, the verb appears in the jussive and not the past (the jussive is also used as a kind of negative and first person imperative form). There are other forms of 'no', 'ma' and 'la', and while the use of these is directly related to a present vs a past sense (in MSA ) the verb appears conjugated in its appropriate context. As I said, I am almost confident enough to say that this difference is not existent in dialects (at least most of them), but I wouldn't want to be quoted on that point.

vili
11-21-2006, 05:54 AM
Thank you for the information, SheykAbdullah. I will certainly be digging deeper into the matters Arabic at some point.

SheykAbdullah
11-21-2006, 09:07 AM
If you're interested in the role of subjecthood another interesting investigation might be into the middle passive of Attic Greek (I'm not sure if you are aware of this already), but the middle passive acted as a kind of 'not-quite' real passive tense, in essence it was used to indicate actions where something owned or controlled by the subject was influenced by his actions (of course this being different than normally passive and intransitive verbs where, as you know, the subject is the object), for example the middle passive (which in most conjugations is the same as the passive) for 'I lead my horses' is;

'Agomai tous hippous'

Where as the normally conjugated transitive, 'I lead your horses' is;

'Ago humon hippous'

In essence, anything owned or controlled by the subject of the setence is regarded syntactically as part of the subject (in the first setence there is no possesive to denote ownership, ownership is implied and demonstrated by the use of the middle passive indicating the horses are 'you.' The genetive for 'my' would be 'hamon auton'). It probably, as an example, deals more with objecthood I would imagine than subjecthood, but I always thought it would be an interesting point if I were more of a theoretician.

vili
11-24-2006, 06:15 PM
Sorry about getting back so late, but finally the forum works again. I haven't been able to connect in the past couple of days.

In any case, I actually read about middle passives this spring when I was reading about subject choice and looking into differential subject and object marking cross-linguistically. It's an area that I would love to delve deeper into, but haven't yet got to the point where I could do so.

Sabo
11-30-2006, 08:59 PM
The discussion had taken an interesting turn, but the linguistic aspects have been dominating. Earlier today I was reading Werner Heisenberg's Physicist Conception of Nature where he underlines the fundamental chance in the status of subject/object relationship, brought about by the quantum theory (and the Copenhagen interpretation of it). Newtonian physics has a clearcut distinction between object and subject. When an XIX century physicist was approaching the study of the nature, he was hopping to unveil the law of it; the subject of his study was nature "itself". After quantum physics this is no longer possible - there is no "nature itself". The process of observation for ever changes the observed. The observer and the observed are interacting. Heisenberg writes: ”We can no longer speak of the behavior of the particle independently of the process of observation.” The laws we formulate are not about the nature itself, but about our knowledge of it.

There is no point in returning to my original question, since the discussion between vili and SheykAbdullah has convinced me that, with some possible exceptions, there seems to be a fundamental distinction s/o in most (major?) languages. When this distinction first appeared in philosophy is in that perspective not as crucial as I initially though (i.e. since the distinction is embedded in the language, it becomes more a question of making it conscious by philosophy or linguistics then coming up with some "new" philosophical idea, not immanent to the "world"). But has something changed since the advent of quantum theory? Is our awareness of the s/o relationships changing?

I also came to think of another idea that I read a few years back. Unfortunately I can't remember the authors name, but maybe someone else does. He's German, now living, possibly a writer or a theorist of culture. My memory is rather dim, but he claimed something like: the western man's relation to the nature and other people etc was that of s/o; opposed to this was some other culture's (let's call them non-western, since I don't remember which it was). Non-western relation is not s/o; he calls it the culture of presence, I think. The idea was appealing at the time, but I wonder how much substance it possibly could have. The language is, I believe, at least to some extent a mirror of the values of the societies that use it. How probable is it that most languages in the world would have s/o distinction and at the same time not have the s/o thinking about their relations with other people, the nature etc.

I hope you'll be indulgent towards the jumps in my reasoning (from language to philosophy to culture). I'm not trying to make a convincing universal statement; I'm simply speculating on a question which has occupied my mind recently.

SheykAbdullah
12-01-2006, 11:00 AM
There is no point in returning to my original question, since the discussion between vili and SheykAbdullah has convinced me that, with some possible exceptions, there seems to be a fundamental distinction s/o in most (major?) languages. When this distinction first appeared in philosophy is in that perspective not as crucial as I initially though (i.e. since the distinction is embedded in the language, it becomes more a question of making it conscious by philosophy or linguistics then coming up with some "new" philosophical idea, not immanent to the "world"). But has something changed since the advent of quantum theory? Is our awareness of the s/o relationships changing?

In order to change our fundamental view of object/subject relations we would need more than just quantum physics to intervene. Our entire logical structure is based on subject/object distinctions. You don't just have to look at language, even in mathematics the conepts exists, only not nearly as explicitly. I have often been intriqued by the relationship between langauge and math (indeed, I firmly believe that all human thought is essentially rooted in logical systems and it is my proposition that human cognition is incapable of producing illogical thought, but that is a bit of a controversial statement so I'll leave it here). For example, the statement 'I bake a ckae for Julie' has a subject, objects, and a verb, namely it has something that originates an action and something that is acted upon to create a result, which is just like an arithmatic expression (I will use simple expressions for the sake of simplicity, but every mathematical expression from the most advanced calculus to the strangest modular arithmatic follows these same steps), eg, '2+3=5' has something that originates the action (2), something that is acted upon (3) and a result (5). One may point out that two and three may be reversed, but so may the 'subject' and 'object' in an intransitive sentence such as, 'It was he,' but note that in the mathematical equivalent of a transitive sentence ('He fixes a car.'), a subtraction equation, '2-3' does not yield the same result as '3-2', so it may be seen that in both mathematics and language the same propensity to subject and object relations exist (even furhter, one could suggest a third leg added to the triangle, that of the concept of 'transformative,' or maybe 'transferitive').

Fundamentally all human thought exists in this linear aspect, and I think it would be nearly impossible to change it. Additionally, I firmly believe (and this is another thing that may need to be saved for later) that mathematics and science are entirely arbitrary abstractions that are NOT Objective Reality, instead are BASED on Objective Reality, and in that sense are slaved to humanity's basic outlook on the universe which is submerged in subject/object values. I would say that no matter how much scientists would like to escape the notion of science and math being slaved to humanity's basic inability to understand anything outside its artificial (systematic) constraints, they will never be able to because they are still men.

To prove that subject/object relations still exists and dominates even in quantum physics one must merely look at the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle itself, namely that the observed is changed by observation. This statement itself demonstrates a subject/object distinction (and observer vs and observee). In order to truly embrace the full implications of the destruction of subject/object distinction in quantum physics one would have to observe without observing and that in itself is impossible, unless somehow cheated; unless the observation proccess in nullified in a way CONSISTENT with out basic cognitive conceptions (subject/object, logical orders, etc). Perhaps with Star Trek's Heisenberg Compensators?

I have often heard that it is impossible to break the laws pf phsyics, but it is possible to bend them. If that is so it is only because we are bending our own perception of how the laws operate and not the laws themselves (because I say no laws exist). Science itself is all about this kind of thing, namely taking the object (nature) and bending it, twisting it, cheating it, and explaining it to the subject (us). It is an inescabable cycle, and the moment someone figures out how to break the relationship they will transcend humanity and, dare I say, become an equal with God himself.

SheykAbdullah
12-01-2006, 11:00 AM
I also came to think of another idea that I read a few years back. Unfortunately I can't remember the authors name, but maybe someone else does. He's German, now living, possibly a writer or a theorist of culture. My memory is rather dim, but he claimed something like: the western man's relation to the nature and other people etc was that of s/o; opposed to this was some other culture's (let's call them non-western, since I don't remember which it was). Non-western relation is not s/o; he calls it the culture of presence, I think. The idea was appealing at the time, but I wonder how much substance it possibly could have. The language is, I believe, at least to some extent a mirror of the values of the societies that use it. How probable is it that most languages in the world would have s/o distinction and at the same time not have the s/o thinking about their relations with other people, the nature etc.

I have often heard this myself, and I hope I don't offend anyone by saying this, but it's nothing but new-aged, new-fangled gobbeldegook, and anybody who find these guys can send 'em to me if they've got a problem.

Starements such that 'Easterners have no conception of a differentiation between subject and object' stems from two basic misconceptions of the East. The first is that Easterners (really everyone outside of Europe) traditionally, and in many ways presently, have either a totally different or nonexistent belief in Free Will. They don't question what they should do here on this earth, or why something happens (traditionally, again, traditionally.), instead they attribute their actions, the actions of others and the actions of nature to an abstract idea of fates.

In Islam, for example, the idea of Allah as the omnipotent being is taken to a degree that only the Calvinists dared to in Europe. They believe He is directly responsible for everything and anything. For example, when two people part ways and intend to meet again they say 'God willing' to one another, no matter how sure that meeting in the future is, because everything is in God's hands. Now this is not mere superstition, rather it a fundamentally different world view than we posses. There is no one outside of a European tradition that believe in Free Will with such fervor as we do.

As another point to this I had originally written a long story about Hideyoshi in Japan. I think it was convoluted, but it was pertinent so I will condense it for a second example. The jist of the story is that there was a poor peasant in Japan (which had in its medieval period a society nearly as rigidly stratified as India) who in the period of civil wars immediately preceding the Tokugawa Shogunate managed to become THE power in Japan. He had, for all intents and purposes, executive authority, but he never breathed an ill-wind toward to Emporer or even mentioned he wanted to be Shogun, which he couldn't have been under the law because he was a peasant. He effected what the Japanese consider a revolution, but it is almost laughably impotent according to the bloodier European revolutionary standards, and the reason Hideyoshi didn't overthrow all the powers that be (normally the first step of a Western revolution is a strike at the head of state, just look at the assasination of Alexander II a few decades before the Russan Revolution as an attempted instigation, or the assasination of the Archduke of Austria by The Black Hand of Serbia) was that he was trapped in a system which he didn't have the ability (so he precieved) to change. He hadn't the will. His role was predestined despite the fact that he was the most powerful man in the country because of his universal outlook on the world he felt slaved to his tradition.

This faith in fate seems to point to a lack of S/O distinctions, after all they seem to indicate the belief that we are all nothing but leaves in a creek, floating to our ultimate destinies, but there is a very strong, powerful S/O distinction underneath the surface, which is that the Divine (subject) meets his will (transformative) upon man (object), and there is no escape. One might even call it the ultimate S/O distinction.

The second thing that makes people mistake the basic cultural make-up of the East as being one where subject/object distinctions are nonexistent is the belief in Nirvana by the Buddhists and a similiar concept among Hindus. The goal in each of these religions, the 'paradise' for each of these faiths, is a state of oneness with the world. It is, essentially, defined by the destruction of subject/object distinctions, but it is a goal that hardly a soul achieves, and in Buddhism it can only be attained by TOTAL denial of the world (in itself saying that their world, the world of the east, is itself fraught with subject/object distinctions, which they must rise above in order to destroy the subject, or ego).

In essence, what the western intellectual does when talking about the actual Eastern state of existence, one frought with subjects and objects, is to confuse it with the ideal state, one without subjects or objects. This is like taking the Christian belief in a firey hell and saying that this belief is why Europeans (I didn't mention this earlier, but when I say European I refer to not only to the Continentals and the English, but also all of the established thought of North and South America, which have their roots in Euoprean traditions) punish prisoners, when in the East, where many places the idea of hell does not exist (at least not in our terms), prisoners are punished at least vigorously.

PS In the pervious conversation may have been a little confusing. For me, EVERY language has a subject object distinction, where as for Vili not every languages does. We both are involved in different branches of linguistics which use a different standard to define 'subject' and 'object.' To me a 'subject' is something that acts and an 'object' is something that is acted upon. He defines the idea syntactically, which is different.

Therapy?
12-02-2006, 05:51 AM
The distinction is not complete - objectivity is fundamentally shared subjectivity.

Sabo
12-02-2006, 07:54 AM
The distinction is not complete - objectivity is fundamentally shared subjectivity.

What does that mean? (And objectivity/subjectivity is a rather different type of problem than object/subject.)


SheykAbdullah, you have a lot of interesting reflections. I don't think it's so much new age gibberish as it is the good old idealization of "the other". You are so right about the s/o relation in the fatalism.


Perhaps with Star Trek's Heisenberg Compensators?
:lol: I don't really agree on your view on QM. Even though there still is the distinction s/o, there has been a changed compared to the classical physics.

SheykAbdullah
12-02-2006, 08:37 AM
Sabo, no doubt there has been a change. The difference is total, like going from regular arithmatic to Calculus. The system is more dynamic, better at explaining on going, micro-sized events where Newtonian physics just breaks down, but there is no change in how we understand subject/object relationships within the discipline. Like I said, there are some fundamental points that human cognition cannot escape due to the linear nature of our reasoning and one of those is a subject/object distingtion.

What has been redefined in QM is the nature of passivity. We understand now that the subject has unpredicted and possibly random effects on the object, beyond that which we expect, so it seems to bring the observed and the observer closer to oneness, but linearality is something we just simply cannot escape.

I think the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the laws of QM it effects (all of them) are like the old riddle about a tree in the forest. After all, if a tree falls in the forest and has no object to act upon, does it make a noise? Does it make a noise just for the object, you? And that's not even the worst question. Now you have to find the darn thing, because you may have heard the noise, but the more clearly you hear the noise the less certain you are of at what angle the tree fell and what colors its leaves are, and don't even get started on the location, you'll never know the velocity. It's a pain being the object sometimes.

vili
12-02-2006, 08:50 AM
Just something that came to my mind when reading SheykAbdullah's excellent recent posts: didn't Heidegger in Being and Time launch an attack against the subject/object division, or substance in general, when arguing for his concept of Dasein?

I also seem to remember reading commentaries of Kant's works in which the existence of a "subject" is problematised to a large degree. And didn't Nietzsche have something to day about this as well? It's been ages since I went through any of this, and therefore all I can offer are pointers like these, and the hope that someone else could perhaps put some flesh on these comments.

I guess I should also mention that, as far as I can remember, none of the above-mentioned deny the fact that much/all of Western/human thinking has been influenced by the subject-object division. Like SheykAbdullah mentions, it seems to be one of the fundamental properties of the human cognition. They simply argue that one should attempt to go beyond it. (Whether this is possible is of course a good question.)

But something that in fact might explain the concept's central place in human thinking is the theory of cognitive metaphor as developed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Their book Philosophy in the Flesh : The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought on some level touches on the subject of subjects and objects, although I don't have it here at home and have only read some chapters, so I can't really give any real account of it.

SheykAbdullah
12-02-2006, 05:06 PM
I also seem to remember reading commentaries of Kant's works in which the existence of a "subject" is problematised to a large degree. And didn't Nietzsche have something to day about this as well? It's been ages since I went through any of this, and therefore all I can offer are pointers like these, and the hope that someone else could perhaps put some flesh on these comments.

I have to admit. I hardly read philosophy, but I do know that the Buddhists write alot about this sort of thing since, like I said above, the ideal state of their religion is a total abolishment of the self, and I imagine that when the self goes the object goes with it.


I guess I should also mention that, as far as I can remember, none of the above-mentioned deny the fact that much/all of Western/human thinking has been influenced by the subject-object division. Like SheykAbdullah mentions, it seems to be one of the fundamental properties of the human cognition. They simply argue that one should attempt to go beyond it. (Whether this is possible is of course a good question.)

This is why I used to really be interested in Buddhism; more than anything else I always wondered how somone who had obtained enlightenment would think, but I guess the only way to know if it is even possible is to do it yourself and I have a lot of desires to fulfill before I get rid of them all.

On a somewhat related note to this sort of thing, and referencing my above comment that all human thought fits into systems, I have often wondered about autism and savants. Namely, I wonder whether what they suffer from is not a lack of intelligence, but instead a way of systematizing and catagorizing information that is totally and fundamentally different than 'normal' human cognition. Thus, they are incapable of communicating with the rest of the human population because they do not understand our systems, but understand intimiately their own, and so are capable of performing tasks that to our otherly ordered brain seem like bizzare feats of mathmatical genius with infantile simplicity. Perhaps the difference in their system of thought is somehow related to our discussion, namely their lack(?) of perception of subject/objects and their nonlinear cognition (I have a lot of other things that lead me to this conclusion, but it would be too far off topic to go into here).

Proof of this nonlinearlity of thought is evident. Several scientists suggest that savants do mathematical feats by an innately programmed modular arithmatic. One famous US savant who is an assistant professor at Colorado State University named Temple Grandin has even called herself "an anthropologist on Mars" (a book was written about her by one Oliver Sacks has the same title. I have not read it, but it may prove interesting to the discussion of perception, which this is primarily a discusion of.) when describing the way she feels around normally operating people. Perhaps people such as she have better answers to this question and how non-subject/object oriented thought operates.

In any case, I am positive the future questions of cognition will be answered by better studying the savants and autistic. It is the closest thing we can get to a totally different cognitive structure without leaving humanity.

vili
12-02-2006, 07:19 PM
On a somewhat related note to this sort of thing, and referencing my above comment that all human thought fits into systems, I have often wondered about autism and savants. Namely, I wonder whether what they suffer from is not a lack of intelligence, but instead a way of systematizing and catagorizing information that is totally and fundamentally different than 'normal' human cognition.
I know next to nothing about savants, but about autism I read almost daily as I run a website devoted to news related to linguistics (see here (http://lingformant.vertebratesilence.com/) if interested). I don't claim to be an expert, of course, but here's a thought.

As far as I understand, the most widely accepted theory concerning autistic people is that they generally appear to lack a theory of mind, or the understanding (or should I say theory) that other people are separate individuals with their own thoughts and feelings. This is also at least partly suggested by the fact that mirror neurons in the brains of autistic individuals seem to fail to activate when they observe other people doing something. You could, therefore, perhaps say that in their world view there indeed are no objects, only the subject -- themselves. The problem, as a result, is not so much that they don't understand our cognitive systems, but rather that they do not understand us (on the existential level, that is).

There are also some rather interesting accounts of severely autistic people who have to some degree overcome their communicative problems and are capable of near-normal (whatever "normal" is) communicational behaviour. These people often seem to explain that while they can, on the conscious level, believe that others exist as separate individuals, it still remains only a theory for them. Deep down in their mind, they still suppose that others do not exist as individuals.

I don't know how good a comparison it would be, but perhaps this is comparable to the thought experiment that I suppose all of us have tried at least at one point in our lives: the thought that you are the only conscious individual in this world. Although I can personally accept this possibility on the theoretical level (after all, I have no empirical evidence that any other individual exists with a mind of their own), I must say that deep down I still assume that I am not alone. And not only that, I sometimes even catch myself assuming that inanimate objects like rocks and chairs have their own minds too, even if on the "rational" level I really doubt that they do.

It seems to me that the "theory of the Other" is inherent to most of us, which I suppose makes evolutionary sense as we are social animals and depend on being able to work with other individuals. It is probably also because of this that we have arts and literature -- not only because if we can't feel for the other (if our mirror neurons fail to activate?) literature makes no sense at all, but also because if we could not distinguish between ourselves and the Other, there would be no metaphors, and at least if we follow Lakoff and Johnson (see my previous post), almost all of our cognition is inherently metaphorical.

The speech of someone with autism is meanwhile usually described as mechanical. While autistic people can use the linguistic mechanism itself, they do not appear to have that extra push that would make them actually be creative with their language use. Whether this is because of a different cognitive system or the lack of social adjustment (if they don't take it for granted that others exist, learning to communicate obviously is of lesser importance) is of course another question.