Basic Orientation
Book1: R-E Living & "Homo Rationalis"
Book2: Mind-Body Problem
Editing Explanation
Causation and Explanation
Physical and Mental Worlds
Subjective Experience
Subjective Model
Objective Model: Linguistics
Objective Model: Agreement
Objective Model: Rationality
Book3: Humanianity
Introduction: Humanianity 2020
Philosophico-Religious Issues
Psycho-Socio-Cultural Issues
The Twelve Articles
Relevant Autobiography




We have seen that humans, and, if one wishes, at least many other animals, can be assumed to have subjective experience and a continuously developing Subjective Model of that subjective experience, a model on the basis of which action is taken moment by moment. I wish to clarify now what we humans have come to be able to do that no other animals (at least on this planet) can do to any comparable extent. This new capability I have referred to elsewhere as the "first exponential change," making our species drastically different from all other species on this planet, and drastically different from the way we were before that change.

(By exponential change, I mean change at first developing so slowly that such change is barely noticeable, but then developing in an accelerating fashion so that the change becomes very easily recognizable and even drastic, such that what has finally developed might even be called an "emergent," that is, something that did not previously exist but now does.)

This "first exponential change" is the development by our species of the essentially infinite capability of the use of symbols and rules for using them (e.g., rules of syntax), the primary and most important example being language.

Although there are other systems of symbols and rules for using them than language (such as algebra), I will for the most part be talking about language, that is, words used in sentences according to the rules of syntax.

And what I am describing is a "tool," something used to accomplish certain tasks.

Now we know that some other animals make use of tools, and we know even that chimpanzees can learn sign language, so we are not talking about something that we humans do that is absolutely not done at all by any other animals. But it is the extent to which we can use language that is so different from all other species. It is only we, on this planet, that can do what I am doing right now. And what I am doing right now is just a small example of what we can do with language, not to mention the other systems of symbols (e.g., algebra) with their rules of usage.

So now let us look at the basic process of the development of symbols, and how this process adds something new to our subjective experience, namely, objective models of it, to be added to (and distinguished from) the subjective models of it that we (and other animals) already have (and will continue to have).

And let me preface this discussion with the recognition that "objective models," whatever they turn out to be, are some things that develop gradually within each of us (and can also be said to be developing gradually within our species) such that they still are in the process of development. We need to understand this developmental process.

The most basic unit in our discussion will be the "symbol."

The most important fact regarding the development of the symbol is that doing so involves two or more people. It is a process of agreement.

(There can be exceptions to this statement, in that an individual can create his or her own symbol for something, perhaps intending to advocate its use to others at a later time, or even perhaps not intending to do so, but this will be a very unusual extension of the basic process that we will be considering. We want to understand the basic process, that which occurs almost always, and that basic process, I maintain, indeed does involve "agreement.")

There are at least four common meanings of "agreement," each having to do with similarity of belief:

(1) "Agreement" can mean the similarity of beliefs between or among people. ("Unbeknownst to them, they agree about this. They have the same beliefs.")

(2) "Agreement" can mean the act of reporting (accurately or inaccurately, honestly or dishonestly) such similarity of belief. ("Yes, I agree with you. I believe the same as you do.")

(3) "Agreement" can mean the decision to do something that someone else wants one to do, this being the intention to cooperate. ("The person apparently agreed to do it, though no one knew that yet.") It thus refers to a similarity of belief between what one believes one intends to do and what someone else believes he or she wants one to do.

(4) "Agreement" can mean the (accurate or inaccurate, honest or dishonest) act of reporting of a decision to do something that someone else wants one to do, this being the reporting of the intention to cooperate. ("Okay, I agree to do what you request.") So it refers to the act of reporting that there is similarity of belief between what one believes one intends to do and what someone else believes he or she wants one to do.

It is the third meaning that I am currently using in describing this process of symbol development. The agreement is simply the going along with the proposed development of the symbol in question. And such agreement is usually, especially at first, automatic.

So, symbol development essentially always begins in infancy. The parenting person repeats a word while the child is paying attention to what the word is to stand for. The association is formed, such that, at least initially, when the word is used, whatever the word stands for automatically comes to mind.

(It should be noted that symbol usage is dependent upon the ability of something to come to mind in the absence of sensory perception of it. We usually refer to this kind of subjective experience as "memory" and "imagination." My understanding is that most other species have much less of this capability than our species does, and this may account, at least in part, for the drastic difference regarding the extent of symbol usage between ourselves and other species. It is indeed true that some other species seem to have an unusual ability to remember certain things, but we humans probably have a much wider range of things that we can remember, and imagine, than is true of other animals.)

In this way, the child automatically agrees to use that word in that way, and indeed soon begins to do so, by using it in his or her developing speech. This is the beginning of this new way of communicating, that makes use of this new tool, namely, agreed-upon "meanings" of words, words that will ultimately be used in sentences.

And indeed the child learns to use words in sentences, constructed with the rules of syntax. ("Mary handed John the book" doesn't mean the same as "John handed Mary the book.") Initially, the child hears the same sentences over and over, and gradually learns their meaning. And soon the child himself or herself begins to be able to use such sentences and even to create new sentences with learned words arranged appropriately according to learned (but of course not verbalized at this point) rules of syntax, which could actually be said to include even inflection and other accompanying non-verbal communicative acts that further clarify how the words are being used in that specific instance of using them.

Notice that there is an initial process by which words become associated with elements of subjective experience. Someone, say a parent, essentially "tells" a child the equivalent of, "What you are now experiencing is…" (warmth, pain, cold, fear, anger, red, loud, itching, darkness, kitty, milk, snuggle, sneeze, teddy bear, shoe, etc.). The child does not choose his or her own words, usually, to label his elements of subjective experience, but instead adopts the usage agreed upon within his or her culture. This happens by virtue of the parent or other representative of the culture guessing, usually correctly, that the child is currently experiencing something that the child can recognize in the future as being approximately the same thing, and adding to that experience the hearing of a particular word, phrase, or sentence, which then will automatically become associated with that experience. The child therefore now begins to acquire a language with which to model his or her subjective experience.

Theoretically, one could assume that it would be possible for a child to make up his or her own language with words to stand for his or her various subjective experiences, simply for his or her own use, but we know this relatively seldomly happens. There is too much to do just to learn what others seem to be meaning by what they are saying, such that making up one's own words would be a needless waste of time and would not result in tools effective for communication and therefore cooperation. And usually idiosyncratic words that the small child comes up with tend to fade away, unless others agree with the usage (because of, perhaps, regarding it as "cute").

(Note that the primary function of this "teaching and learning" process is cooperation. We are a group animal, and mutual influence is essential to our survival. There are many identifiable patterns of mutual influence, such as crying/soothing, asking/giving, dominating/submitting, teaching/learning, mutual giving of affection, mutual stimulation, shared humor, etc. By virtue of our cooperation, our role-taking behavior, we are able to accomplish as a group what an individual cannot accomplish. So our symbol-using behavior enormously enhances our ability to cooperate, and therefore to accomplish things. We can tell each other what things to do and how to do them, ultimately in extreme detail, with extreme precision. And of course we also become able to influence how others feel by the sentences we use, and therefore what they want. Such induction of feelings, or motivational states, becomes an important part of the production of cooperative behavior, through positive and negative reinforcement, and of course therefore is an important part of the production of social relationships, including social hierarchies.)

Now, as the child becomes able to create sentences, he or she becomes able to do something really amazing. He or she becomes able to linguistically model his or her own beliefs. It is one thing to believe something, but it is another to put that belief into words. Some of the sentences the child uses are models of what the child believes. They are linguistic models of the child's subjective models of that child's subjective experience. ("Where is your coat?" "[I believe that:] It's in the living room.")

In doing so, humans now become able to share and compare beliefs, by sharing their linguistic models of those beliefs. This is an enormously significant development in the history of our species, the first exponential change, making us drastically different from all other species and drastically different from the way we were before we developed this capability.

What the child is learning to model linguistically is not just the entities of his or her subjective experience, such as "chair," "doll," "milk," etc., but also his or her beliefs about those entities and about what has happened to them, is happening to them, or will happen to them, including what will happen with regard to them if he or she, or even someone else, does certain things.

So we have now considered how the child, or human, develops linguistic models of his or her subjective models of (beliefs about) his or her subjective experience, that subjective experience assumed in turn to be models of things-in-the-world, such models most likely being associated with sets of connections among neurons in the brain that become models of things-in-the-world, or "reality" (that which exists independently of any experiencing of it or thinking about it).

For instance, let's assume there is a chair in a room that no one has entered yet. We will call that a part of "reality." Now, a person goes into the room and sees the chair. The person's subjective experience of that chair is a model of it. We assume that that model corresponds to a particular network of synaptic connections or something like that, this network being the model of that chair. We are assuming for the moment that that network of synaptic connections is what corresponds to the subjective experience of the chair, and that both the network and the subjective experience are somehow going to turn out to be the same thing, just considered from two different frames of reference, though such consideration remains to be discussed.

The main point here, however, is that there is (1) the chair in "reality" with whatever properties it has; and then (2) a model of it, consisting of (2a) perception of the chair within subjective experience and (2b) belief about the properties of the chair, e.g., that it will hold me if I sit in it, and then (3) a linguistic model of that perception and belief, namely, the perception and belief "put into words" (one or more sentences). Perhaps the above can be better understood with the following table:

Part of reality

Model of part of reality

Model of a model of part of reality


Perception of the chair

Verbal description of the chair

Chair's properties

Belief(s) about the chair

Belief(s) about the chair put into words

In the above table, perception of the chair is part of subjective experience. Beliefs about the chair are part of the Subjective Model (which may of course be said to include also the perception itself, depending on how we want to use our words). The third column refers to linguistic models of subjective experience and of beliefs about that subjective experience (part of the Subjective Model). So there is "reality," then the Subjective Model of that reality, and then the Linguistic Model of that Subjective Model. (I am capitalizing "Linguistic Model" simply because it is referring to a vast set of linguistic models of the vast set of models that are a part of the Subjective Model, as the terms are being used in this presentation.)

And note that when we speak of "perception" and "belief" we can be speaking either of subjective experience or of the neurological processes that are associated with that subjective experience. This equivalence has been mentioned above but has yet to be discussed.

The main point of this section has been that subjective experience and subjective models of (beliefs about) that experience can be in turn modeled linguistically, through a procedure developed among humans involving agreement (with regard to symbols and the rules of syntax). It is this development that has enabled us humans to go beyond our subjective experience (and the Subjective Model) toward what we will be calling "objectivity." What we have just considered is the first step in that process, which becomes quite complex, as we will see.