On Perception I On Practices
PERCEPTION (ASPECT SEEING)
"Wittgenstein means to call to mind ... the intimacy with which seeing is bound up with our embodiment, expectations, natural reactions, forms of life, and facts about our natural and social worlds.” (Affeldt, 2010, 276)
PLEASE NOTE: Visitors will notice that the topic-specific glossaries are not organised alphabetically. In this and the following paragraphs I aim to explain the logic of the On Aspect Seeing Glossary. Aspect Seeing plays an important part in Wittgenstein's later philosophy where Wittgenstein becomes interested in the ways in which our learning comes to shapes how we see, interpret and embody our knowledge. One does not need to look any further than the phenomenon known as literacy to know how our minds are able to learn to see how a certain phenomenon - in this case, squiggly lines - can miraculously be imbued with meaning.
Perhaps the following quote from Philosophical Grammar can go further to illustrate how our learning can lead us to read the world in ways which serve to be meaningful in our form of life, "Does it make sense to point to a clump of trees and ask ‘do you understand what this clump of trees says?’ In normal circumstances, no; but couldn’t one express a sense by an arrangement of trees? Couldn’t it be a code? One would call ‘propositions’ clumps of trees one understood." Of course!! It is quite simple to imagine such a case.
Therefore, the following serves to define aspects and - subsequently - proceed to follow the progression from aspect blindness to seeing aspects as meaningful. Through this process, the definitions allude to the learning process, pointing particularly to the way in which learners are initiated into certain ways of seeing and interpreting phenomenon. To learn is to be transformed. To learn is to adopt ways of interpreting and seeing aspects as meaningful, whether this is in a linguistic sense, a political sense, an economic sense, an ethical sense, an aesthetic sense, a scientific sense and more. We must also bear in mind that for certain forms of interpretation to take root certain (cultural and material) conditions must also be in place.
ASPECTS - Refers to salient features in the environment. By themselves, they are neutral facts or occurrences in the world. However, within a system of knowledge or in a certain way of seeing and/or acting, the aspects obtain a particular significance. Consider - for instance - the words on this page to one who is familiar with literacy in the English language. Or to a construction site under the watchful eye of an experienced engineer or a foreman. Both individuals would notice aspects that the novice would be unable to discern.
ASPECT SEEING - (also known as noticing/seeing aspects) To see and interpret aspects (or phenomena) as meaningful, or as imbued with meaning. To discern aspects (or patterns) in a whole and to organise how these aspects fit into a system.
ASPECT BLINDNESS - Refers to the inability to discern or detect aspects. Arises as a result of two possible circumstances. First, an individual does not see (or notice) aspects as meaningful or does not turns one's attention to certain aspects in one's environment. The person has not been brought into discerning and interpreting the aspects in a particular way. On the other hand, one may be blind to certain aspects in the environment since the individual has become substantially familiar with the aspects being in the surrounding environment that these features are taken for granted and are not treated or considered as novel.
NOTICING ASPECTS - To notice salient features when one is making observations. This requires more than merely seeing. This requires the ability to distinguish features and to see features as significant. For instance, an air traffic controller comes to be able to assess and interpret the instruments before him or her.
SEEING AN ASPECT - Wittgenstein refers to two ways of seeing. The first being "I see x", which refers to the physical act of seeing something. The second being "I see x as (meaning) something". For instance, the written script may appear as either assorted lines on a page or meaningful language with significance. In addition, one may notice a tree in a particular position next to a house. An individual may also see it as fitting into a series of consequences, and so imagine it as possibly falling onto the house. A further example would relate to an artwork's ability to conjure associations with - let's say - peace or freedom. The viewer would need to be able to notice one or more salient features that would move one to interpret or react in a particular way.
SEEING CONNECTIONS - Wittgenstein emphasises that a thinker must piece together elements of experience or of knowledge so as to gain a command of how a system works. In Philosophical Grammar, Wittgenstein writes, "A puzzle picture. What does it amount to to say that after the solution the picture means something to us, whereas it meant nothing before?" And Ray Monk (2005) observes, “An Ubersicht produces the ‘understanding which consists in “seeing connections’” (p 66). In this case, building knowledge and engaging in practices requires an individual to see how the knowledge fits together and how a practice is connected with a form of living.
MEANING-BLINDNESS - Refers to the condition whereby an individual is unable to find meaning in something (e.g. a word or an event) because (a) the person takes the observation for granted, thereby failing to appreciate any significance (does not direct one's attention) or (b) the person has not had the right experiences to be able to see the significance of the word, event, etc.
UNSURVEYABLE WHOLES - It is Hans Sluga (2011) - not Wittgenstein - who uses this term, though it is consistent with Wittgenstein's philosophy. Sluga emphasises that phenomena - such as language, the environment, history - are by nature complicated, immense and unsurveyable. Humankind, nevertheless, develops systems of analysis, fields of knowledge, and ways of seeing that act as tools to make sense and to "survey" or organise what would otherwise be unsurveyable. William Gaddis provides an illustration of this in his novel JR. A history teacher stops a Year 7 lesson to inform his class that history is a lot more complex than the neat historical narratives seem to indicate. He stresses that generations of historians work to preserve order in history so that events do not eventuate as tangled and insignificant.
SURVEYABLE REPRESENTATIONS - A surveyable representation involves an attempt to develop a way of looking at a set of phenomena that allows an individual and /or community to make sense of and - in many cases - to manipulate particular phenomena. Similarly, a system (of culture, of language, of life) may be substantially complex, which would require one to develop a method of analysis, a way of thinking, or a manner of living that would make the 'unsuveyable whole' increasingly 'surveyable'. Consider - for instance - the principles of a religion, or the rules of grammar, or a Marxist explanation of socio-political relationships. Each are ways of representing phenomena. It is important to remember that the representation is a way of perceiving the phenomena, rather than being the only possible description (or rendering) of the phenomena.
WAYS OF SEEING - Wittgenstein uses two metaphorical examples to illustrates how perceptions are subject to the way that an individual arranges experiences into meaningful patterns. The most famous metaphor applies to the rabbit-duck image. From one perspective, the drawing appears as a duck. From another perspective it is rabbit. Regardless of the interpretation, the actual image does not change. The only thing that changes is how one comes to see it. The second metaphor applies to the image of a cube. One arrangement presents the cube as jutting out of the page and at the reader. The other sees the cube recede into the depths of the page. To be able to see both images, one needs to shift one's gaze and reconceptualise that which is under investigation. However, one who is aspect blind may be unaware or resistant to any alternative manner of arranging and interpreting the facts of the case. One who continuously sees in a certain manner may be unaware of other possibilities. One must - then - ask, “how does one come into a certain way of seeing?”
STAGE SETTING - Stage setting refers to all the preliminary activities that prepare one to make meaning or to establish a practice. For instance, Wittgenstein is quick to remind his audience that a substantial amount of preliminary experiences must be in place for one to acquire language, or make sense of algebra, or to become a mechanic. We must ask ourselves, "what are the prerequisite experiences, expectations, role models and understandings that will lay down the tracks on which the learning will occur?" And "do we have the resources, models and opportunities to carry on with the learning so it becomes practiced and relevant and useful?"
SCAFFOLDING - We come to learn methods of activity and systems of knowledge. These methods and systems become reinforced as they are shaped through our interactions with the notion of learning presented to us in a circle of influence. Deep grooves are set in our thinking and our behaviour. In this sense, education proceeded first as a form of training in ways of doing and seeing, which become prototypes for our thinking and decision in future events. Our methods, our experiences, our expectations, our schemas are initially scaffolded for us in the learning process. In turn, these habits, beliefs, rituals and methods become the scaffolding for our engagement with the world in the future. When one is brought into knowledge, one should be brought into content and method at the same time.
COGNITIVE APPRENTICESHIP - A cognitive apprenticeship brings people into different ways of thinking, problem solving and processing. Cognitive apprenticeship is a model of instruction that works to make thinking visible. The practices of problem solving, reading comprehension, and writing are not at all obvious- they are not necessarily observable to the student. In apprenticeship, the processes of the activities are made visible as the processes of thinking are modelled, jointly constructed and guided.
SEEING AS - Refers to a later stage of perception when an individual regularly sees and/or interprets salient features in a particular way. In other words, a certain way of seeing and interpreting becomes fluent, automatic and/or familiar. It is striking that the individual may be aware and fascinated by the impact the new way of seeing is having on one's life, even if the transformation is gradual. The transformation can be more rapid in a case - for instance - of religious conversion where the newfound religious perspective can give sense, order or meaning to what previously seemed senseless. This can be qualitatively different from one who has adopted a perspective gradually over time and for whom the view is more normative and less transformational.
INTERPRETATIONS - We interpret gestures. We interpret looks. We interpret tones of voice. We interpret an animal's demeanour. We interpret poetry. We interpret a piece of music. We try to "get at" the intention and meaning by drawing judgements based upon what appears to be the case. We observe, but meaning-making occurs when one is moved by an observation to conclude. And certain conclusions (or interpretations) are drawn so quickly that one fails to remember that it may be only one possible interpretation of the signs. "But it is also possible that the hostile glance and the words later prove to have been pretence, … so that he really does guess at a possible interpretation. -- But then the main thing he guesses at is a context." (PI 652)
BOOTSTRAPPING - Bootstrapping occurs when an individual becomes aware of the patterns and rules governing a phenomenon, such as in language or in a practice. The learner develops an appreciation of and a template for meaningful/permittable combinations or actions. By becoming aware of allowable patterns, one can direct one's attention more efficiently since one is better able to anticipate what to expect or how to act. For instance, the first encounter of a new social situation may give one trepidation. However, regular practice allows one to accumulate the experience to be more confident in what to expect and how to act (to play the game). On the other hand, the experience may also limit creativity since one may develop a familiarity that limits (bootstraps) one's ability to imagine other possible ways of seeing or acting. In relation to language, experience teaches one the patterns of spelling, grammar, and discourse. Therefore, one becomes more efficient at predicting or discriminating correct form and use.
(NOTICING A) CHANGE OF ASPECT - An aspect is a salient feature that has a meaning within a system or way of seeing. What if there are multiple ways of seeing (or interpreting) that aspect (or set of aspects)? What if one suddenly finds a new interpretation as valid? Is one willing to change, and will this change his or her view of the whole system or state of affairs? On the other hand, what happens when the external signs (or aspects) change upon which a certain way of seeing rested? Do we accommodate the changes into a way of seeing? Or is there a need to change one's outlook? For instance, what occurs when one finds he or she can no longer trust someone? Is it possible to regain that trust? What would need to occur?
CONTINUOUSLY SEEING AS - Refers to the penultimate stage of the learning process (if we take critical reflection as the final stage). At this stage, one does not struggle to notice aspects or to interpret observations. At this stage, the individual has acquired a way of seeing or of interpreting that becomes automatic. To "continually see as" is to commit to or to acquire a certain way of seeing, whether we are referring to perceiving language, to moral practices, to aesthetic judgement or to spiritual beliefs. In all such cases, a certain way of seeing has been incorporated into one's world picture.
STRUCTURING STRUCTURES WHICH STRUCTURE STRUCTURE - Refers to those aspects within one's environment that gives shape to practices, influences what practices one is part of, and comes to sustain practices. The concept is closely related to Bourdieu's concept of habitus, and it refers to the background to practices and knowledge which is often taken for granted or assumed. For instance, an actor must be aware that the ability to attain a career in acting is built on the premise that a culture values the concept of acting and drama, and the culture can allow/afford for members of its community to embody the role of actors. It can be the case that one feels entitled to a form of living without admitting that this form of life is reliant on certain capital, practices, methods of production and division of labour to be in place for the practice to be sustained.
HABITUS - This is a concept used by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who cites Wittgenstein as a key contributor to his thinking. Habitus refers to the lived conditions (or context) that serve as the foundation for certain practices, knowledge, tastes and values. It most closely aligns with Wittgenstein's use of the "form of life" concept. Bourdieu would argue that whilst habitus is key to understanding a practice or a way of thinking, it is often poorly analysed or entirely ignored when people consider social, cultural or learning event.
CULTURE - Stanley Cavell claimed that Wittgenstein was a philosopher of culture. That is, Cacell asserts that Wittgenstein claims that our knowledge, our practices and our values are derived from the interactions of a community. There is considerable evidence to suggest that this is the case. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein stipulates that meaning is derived from the form of life to which our language and practices occur. In addition, On Certainty emphasises how one's knowledge and world pictures are arrived at through one's "upbringing".
COMMUNITY PLANE - Any learning occurs on the personal, interpersonal and community planes. All three planes interact. How an individual or groups thinks, acts, sees and deliberates (the personal plane) is impacted by the broader institutional, community and political spheres. Forces outside of the individual and of the group can determine which practices are fostered/encouraged or which ones are marginalised. The community or institutional plane involves shared history, languages, rules, values, beliefs, and identities.This is sometimes addressed in studies of entire schools, districts, professions, neighbourhoods, tribes, or cultures, and the ways that these “common sociocultural inheritances” interact with other levels of development. If a particular practice is reinforced on the community and cultural stage - such as success in sport - then this will have an impact upon other levels of engagement.
INTERPERSONAL PLANE - Any learning occurs on the personal, interpersonal and community planes. All three planes interact. How one thinks, acts, sees and deliberates (the personal plane) is impacted by previous interpersonal interactions with others (such as parents, community members, friends, etc). The interpersonal or social plane includes communication, role performances, dialogue, cooperation, conflict, assistance, and assessment. In educational research, this is often addressed in studies of teaching/learning interactions between teachers and students or parents and children. Vygotsky (1978) would remind us 'Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals' (p.57)
PERSONAL PLANE - Any learning occurs on the personal, interpersonal and community planes. All three planes interact. How one thinks, acts, sees and deliberates (the personal plane) is impacted by previous interpersonal interactions with others (such as parents, community members, friends, etc). The personal plane involves individual cognition, emotion, behaviour, values, and beliefs. In educational research, this might correspond to studies of individual student or teacher actions, psychological characteristics, or competence. Vygotsky (1978) would remind us 'Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals' (p.57)