Author Archives: Handan Uslu

Codevelopment of language and cognition

After going through the readings, I was able to identify certain commonalities about what a language is. Hoping that my thoughts are resting on an adequate level of abstraction, here is what I was able to come up with, in regards to defining and characterizing the concept of “language.”

  • Understanding a language is different than understanding how a language works.
  • Languages consist of structures.
  • There are multiple structures in a language.
  • The structures in a language are interdependent.
  • Spoken languages differ from other symbolic systems
  • Natural acquisition of languge suggests what is evolutionary about language
  • What differentiates a native language from a computer language, or any other structural meaning system is due to its relation with cognition.
  • Cognition and language co-developed.

Natural acquisition of language is the most prominent cue that tells us what is really significant about a spoken language. Language has an inherent ability of being naturally acquired at young ages – and this is a difference that makes a difference, and defines why spoken languages differ from software languages.

Acknowledging that a certain part of the brain is structured to acquire a language suggests something evolutionary about language. Languages did not only evolve in relation to cognition; they have also provided contextual basis for cognition to evolve. Therefore, languages do not only function for interpersonal communication, it also provides a neural basis for thought. Considering the co-development of cognition and language, it is not possible to differentiate cognition from language.

This awareness can shed light on other social concepts, like how to words function to create emotion, and how acquired language renders human brain path-dependent to the already acquired language. Furthermore, understanding language can give insight to development of certain cultures, cultural trends, and whether lacking certain abstractions or conceptual frameworks restricts human understanding as well.

 

Symbols in the current context: Identity as a Symbolic Construction

As I finished this week’s readings, I realized that all readings were converging to one topic: Embeddedness and dependencies of human behavior and cognition.

While defining technology is a challenge, understanding the human symbolic system made it even more challenging for me. While the readings historicized human symbolic interaction, and Wong, in her article “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture,” described the process of behavioral revolution, I realized that human symbolic interaction was similar to that of a technological tool: While technology is path-dependent, human symbols are path-dependent as well, and that path is evolution.

What is even more challenging is understanding how symbols function today, and what is different in their functionality in regard to the past. The rise of globalism, consumerism, and nationalism in the current context, and the way ideologies use symbols might give the idea that symbols are socially constructed. Understanding the history of symbols, however, reveals that symbols still function to address survival instincts: Flags have symbolic value, because it symbolizes nations – whereas nations are defined in regard to enemies from other nations.

In the current context, however, symbols are functional in many areas. Communicating identity was probably not common throughout history. As symbols were employed to communicate identities, consumer culture found an instinctual basis to develop. Another occurance today is how the symbols carry value of the concepts they symbolize. And finally, symbols’ roles as stigmatizers: Symbols do not only help us communicate our identities, but also help us understand oru identity in regard to our environment. While cognition is embedded in the society, as Clark mentioned in “Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, action, and Cognitive Extension,” identity is embedded in the environment. It is probably not what we are, but rather what we are not that dbest describe who we are.

On methodologies: Social Interfaces and Mediology

Recently, I spent some time trying to understand how content becomes viral in social media. In my attempts to formulate how content becomes clickable, and realized that the factors that don’t relate to the content itself were taking effect. Looking at the commonalities of social media platforms revealed that online interaction was strictly structured in all media platforms: Twitter didn’t allow more than 140 characters, Vine didn’t allow videos taking longer than 6 seconds. Later, I realized that all social media platforms had the scrolling-down functionality embedded, which allowed you to scroll through live content with one simple finger movement.

Considering these two properties in regard to cognitive science knowledge, I realized they were attending the same mental process in the brain: the reward network. In social media platforms, content is designed to be consumable and digestible, and the scrolling-down process is designed to enable the digestion of small bits of information. Actually, the process design appeals to human cognition so successfully that a compulsive behavior called the checking-habit[1] is recently identified. Social media platforms are creating addictive behaviors by appealing to the reward schema in the brain. While applying knowledge from cognitive science helped reveal how social media functions, this probably wouldn’t be the case in other topics. Similarly, applying historical research methods probably won’t be helpful in understanding how social media works. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that there is no one methodology to govern all.

Mediology, however, functions as a meta-tool to understand transmission, and it extensively builds on and methodologically develops the idea that McLuhan proposed first – “the medium is the message.”[2] During research, the relation of the unit of analysis with the bigger media-sphere that it is embedded in should be considered, because mediology characterizes the context in which communication or other forms of cultural transmission take place. The concept of mediology is however new, and lacks its own definitions and poetics.

The question of how and what should mediology analyze still remains a question. If mediology takes a broader take on technology, can we consider the recent fashion of deep V decolettes as visual-textual technology? And if it is, how does the trend of this material form of clothing impact feminism – as it motivates woman to defend their right to wear it, an act that materializes their bodies? Furthermore, is it possible to understand cultural transmission in its own terms? Can we really take a step back and understand relationships between language and transmission by using linguistic tools?

 

[1] Oulasvirta, Antti, Tye Rattenbury, Lingyi Ma, and Eeva Raita. “Habits make smartphone use more pervasive.” Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 16, no. 1 (2012): 105-114.

[2] McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the message. New York123, 126-128.