THE CULTURAL CONSTRUCTION OF REALITY
The theory of the cultural construction of reality is centered within what
is known as the "Anthropology of Knowledge" and is derived from the
theory of the social construction of reality as elaborated by Berger and
Luckmann (1967) and theories of the psychological construction of reality
(Kelly, 1955). The cultural construction of reality is concerned primarily
with the symbolic relativity of cultural knowledge (i.e. symbolic and
collective representations, ethos, folk beliefs, customs and traditions,
common sense, rationalizations, etc.) as this is situated within a specific
socio-environmental context. As such it explicitly brings into critical,
reflexive focus the received presuppositions of "truth" value of our
knowledge. A great deal of cultural knowledge is symbolic and operates at a
very concrete level of action and affect. A great deal of such knowledge is
therefore implicit within the background of the culture bearer's lives.
The basis of the cultural construction of reality is the premised
definitional and biological "world openness" of humankind which
means that people are essentially unconstrained by instinctual drives and
action patterns, and are instead free to mold behavior in a manner which
becomes embodied "as if instinct" but that is in fact man-made or
constructed. Thus definitional world openness of the human species entails
that humans have been able, to an increasing extent, to free themselves from
the constraints of natural selection, through the mediation of cultural
adaptations, and to eventually superimpose an organized form of cultural
selection upon the natural environment. The absence of instinct characteristic
of human beings entails that they are open to conditioning on a very basic
level which becomes biologically automatic in place of, and as if, it were
natural instinct. By and large, this is the cultural level of conditioning
that is achieved through life-long processes of enculturation within man-made
and socially constrained environments.
The processes of the cultural construction (and ethnographic
"re-construction" of constructed realities) comes to full expression
in the critical moment of the reproductive transmission, or transculturation
of cultural knowledge, both through time from generation to generation, and
across space, from one community to another. Cultural knowledge thus is rooted
on the presupposition of the integral holism of patterning of such knowledge,
and on the specific contextuality in which such knowledge is situated.
Berger and Luckmann delineate the dialectical process of the behavioral
rituals which lead to the deposition of a common stock of knowledge and the
objectivation of knowledge in the carpentered environment and social
organization of people. Secondary institutions serve the function of
reinforcing these primary obectivations of knowledge, and symbolization has
the purpose of providing existential reinforcement and unification of
experience, which leads to the reification of such constructions as if these
were not manmade, but natural. Subjectivation complements this process by the
psychological internalization and enculturation of basic values,
symbolizations and identity of the individual, such that these internalized
attitudes and orientations of culture-bearer's are consistent and consonant
with the institutional and objective realities of the cultural orientation.
Language, both as the objective medium of the common stock of knowledge, as
the principle vehicle of symbolic mediation of experience, especially in the
rehabilitation, legitimization, collectivization and annihilation of
knowledge, and as small talk that reinforces subjectivation of cultural
To a large extent, the theory of the cultural construction of reality
serves to explain and analyze the various aspects of how mostly implicit
cultural knowledge, unevenly distributed over a social landscape, coheres to
create a corporate sense of completeness and comprehension to a given cultural
orientation which transcends and orders the biographical experience of the
individual culture-bearer, and that is conservative and resistant to the
relativizing influence of alternative orientations or change.
The cultural construction of reality also serves to reflexively de-center
and deconstruct the presupposition of the ultimate truth value of knowledge,
as this is culturally situated and relative, and which enables us to escape
the straight jacket of our own implicit cultural values and orientation, and
to overcome the invisible ethnocentric biases which stand between us and an
objective comprehension of either our own or other's cultural realities. At
the same time, it enables us to attempt a more objective description of
culturally rooted knowledge as this is mostly implicitly and situated within
specific cultural settings and contexts. This is a necessary precursor to the
achievement of genuinely objective, scientific knowledge of culture--we cannot
claim a genuinely etic approach to ethnographic description and ethnological
explanation as long as we fail to come to terms with the situatedness of our
own and other's knowledge, or as long as we take as given unquestioned primes
or implicit presuppositions of truth value.
The processes of cultural construction of reality refer to the
arbitrariness and human artificiality of our knowledge as essentially
non-absolute and relative in status, and to the ability of humans to
symbolically reify, as if a priori and natural, such knowledge as a given
reality. We normally operate under such presuppositions, and it is this
normality of our unquestioned and implicit presuppositions that it becomes the
goal of existential ethnography to come to terms with. It is the very
basicness and transparency of our own cultural orientations, their received
reification as if natural and universal, which means that, given all its
symbolic reinforcement, the question of its fundamental existentiality needs
never be broached, unless there is confrontation of marginal events or with
alternative symbolic orientations or discrepant realities of others which
leads to existential inconsistency and which relativizes our orientation. We
are then led to repair or reconstruct our orientation in such a way that our
reality again becomes complete and consistent.
The fact that we construct our ethnographic texts in a similar way as we
construct our cultures, entails that we never really escape the relativities
of our knowledge or its existentialities, unless we make ideological leaps of
faith to achieve symbolic closure, or we are able to apply relatively
non-arbitrary standards of etic, objective measurement to our observations
such that we can inductively derive general hypothesis and conclusions from
Because the cultural construction of reality appears empirically to be a
symbolic process that involves the perceptual-cognitive organization of the
mind, and the symbolic behavioral organization of an individual actions and
social relations, it is via systematic means of measurement of symbolic
patterning in the various facets of its expression and at its different levels
of organization, that we can attempt an objective, scientific measurement of
cultural orientation, and a realistic assessment of cultural variation and
In such a systematic manner, the distribution of knowledge (percepts,
responses, values, beliefs, etc.) across a representative sample of cultural
informants can be fairly precisely delineated, and this distribution of
knowledge can be compared across different samples of informants, both
sub-culturally and culturally. At the same time, the symbolic profile and
cultural orientation at the individual, sub-organic level can also be
systematically delineated by the same means. Such a method will never be
complete, but it can be made reliable enough to reproduce systematic patterns
of response at different levels of analysis such that cultural profiles of
knowledge and orientation can be constructed. These profiles can then be
empirically anchored in situ by ethnographic observation and other forms of
The doctrine of cultural relativity has been a cornerstone of cultural
anthropology, and, though heavily criticized, remains an intractable problem
of general anthropological theory. Relativity concerns the objective qualities
of different forms of knowledge in the world--relativism concerns a more
reflexive notion of our doctrines and preconceptions about these qualities of
our knowledge. There are many varieties of relativity and relativism. In
another manuscript I have outlined at least 20 different, distinguishable
forms of relativism or relativity. In general, relativity and relativism
concern the ontological and existential status of human knowledge in a most
basic way--the ability to know with any certainty that something is
The question of relativity enters in when the claim is made that certainty
of knowledge is always relative--we can be more or less certain about
something--but can never be absolute or final. Science in this sense is based
upon a relativistic orientation, and the Popperian doctrine of falsification
is implicitly rooted in the doctrine of the relative uncertainty of our
propositional or observational knowledge. Thus there is nothing intrinsically
inimical between scientific knowledge and the doctrine of relativism or the
relativity of knowledge--in fact and theory they are actually complementary,
even demanding one another. Thus there is little that is rational about
anti-relativistic orientations that themselves claim to be scientific--this
anti-relativism misinterprets the doctrine of relativism in a strong,
deterministic form, one that is in its own absolute character paradoxically
self-contradictory. It is not a question of whether or not culture or our
knowledge of culture is relative, but in delineating precisely how, in what
way, and to what extent, it is so.
Relativism also entails the presupposition that all knowledge is situated
within a context of knowledge, and this context must be taken into account in
our formulations and presuppositions of the certainty of knowledge. This leads
to what Ben Ami Scharfstein refers to as the inherent dilemmas of context.
To understand the dilemmas of cultural relativism, we must see that the
doctrine of cultural relativity depends upon a holistic approach to cultural
knowledge, one that precludes analytical reductionism (but not analysis) as
the exclusive theoretical approach to such knowledge. Knowledge must be
construed within the context of its culture in which it originates and takes
shape. It gains its full value only when comprehended from within the
framework of whole patterning which cultural knowledge takes. The dilemma of a
holistic approach to culture is that such holism is incomplete and
partial--itself relative to the same contexts it attempts to surmount. It is
the relativism of the whole of the cultural orientation in which knowledge is
situated that underlies what Kuhn refers to as the dynamics of scientific
paradigms and the kind of conversion experience that underlies and is a
precursor to seeing the new gestalt of a scientific theory and the abandonment
of old theories. The paradigmatic structure of knowledge, that systems of
knowledge cohere into domains that are internally coherent and that provide a
whole gestalt of understanding and seeing the world which is separate from
other alternative ways of knowing, especially as this knowledge is
symbolically and culturally embedded, is what best accounts for the
anthropological relativism and relativities of such knowledge.
To some extent then, the relativity of culture is rooted to the holism and
internal coherence which a particular cultural orientation provides. It is
beyond the scope of this essay to delineate precisely the relationships of
language and culture and psychological organization of mind to foster the
gestalt and realissum that a cultural orientation provides, except to not that
the nexus of these relationship is in the symbolic organization of cultural
psychological reality. Symbolic functioning and behavior provides the key to
understanding the ways that cultural orientations work and how these might be
relative in relation to alternative or discrepant cultural realities. In
brief, symbol systems as cultural systems of information are semi-determined,
partially closed networks--integrated to such a degree that one such system
cannot easily be merged with another system, unless critical changes in the
internal organization of such systems are affected. In general, such systems
tend to destructive displace or replace one another, as often as they tend to
merge or amalgamate. The end product of such amalgamation appears to be a
relative reduction in the degree of symbolic differentiation, and the
emergence of a syncretic or hybrid version that combines at different levels
symbolic elements from the alternate orientations.
We do not need to suffer a great deal of culture shock, or to review the
history of cargo cult or revitalization movements which occur with radical
acculturation, or to study the development of child acquisition or the
anomalies of feral children, to realize that in a very basic way, culture and
the anthropological realities this term encompasses are relative and we cannot
escape the existentiality that this relativity entails.
Cultural systems consist of partially closed, semi-autonomous systems of
information that are primarily symbolic in its form of integration. These are
rooted in the human capacity for symbolization that is hard wired to the
brain, to which language is integral as a form of mediation, and that involves
and integrates facets of behavior, motivation, perception, imagery, concepts,
rationalizations, social relations in a holistic and coherent manner.
Cultural systems thus are implicitly rule-determined systems, and this
implicit normative structure of cultural orientations entails the possibility
that its order can be propositionally described and represented, especially
through computer simulations. The cultural representation of symbolic
knowledge in terms of a cultural system provides a viable alternative to
artificial intelligence research and cognitive science, one that has not yet
been fully realized, and is aided by the fact that cultural knowledge appears
to be domain specific, and available to systematic forms of response
elicitation and rule formulation.
Computer simulation of such knowledge entails the use of entropic
information functions in the formulation of decision rules which allow the
successful navigation of certain discrimination networks--networks which are
constructed from the elicitations of representative cultural samples. The
culturally defined pathways through these networks are predictable in terms of
the decision rules. There is a certain amount of parametric learning which can
be included in a feedback loop between the searching of alternative pathways
through such networks, the construction of decision trees representing these
pathways and the formulation of rules which lead to the successful navigation
through the networks.
A wide variety of different kinds of cultural knowledge, at different
levels of analysis, are thus able to be represented and simulated within the
shell of a single such computer based cultural system. What is not understood
is the binding problem of the interrelationship of the different domains of
knowledge and symbolization to one another--and it is at this point that
alternative theoretical interpretation enters into play.
It appears, based upon previous research, that an quaternary structure of
analogical association underlies the organization of many different forms of
knowledge, and this network is rendered partially determined through the
superimposition of culturally defined rules of grouping and difference that
direct the relationships between the symbolic associations, rendering the
extension of some symbolic relationships possible, and others culturally
unlikely. The extension and elaboration of these same symbolic association
networks appears to occur in a systematic manner in the cognitive-linguistic
development of small children, and it is in this process of elaboration that
we can locate the theory of the symbolic differentiation of the phenomenal
field. A case in point, involving the study of colors and color terms, and
color-trait associations to a variety of objects and traits, illustrates a
process which can be demonstrated with a variety of domains of cultural
As the result of the analysis of a series of color related tasks which
involved for the most part the use of the same values and sets of colors
across the same basic sets of samples, a general theory of the symbolic use of
color emerged, a theory which is largely consistently with the principles of
marking and differentiation outlined in the introduction. Color is a useful
means of gaining an empirical understanding of the cognitive and perceptual
dimensions of symbolic and affective relationship.
The theory of color is referred to as a set of coordinate and interrelated
principles of grouping and contrast between colors and sets of colors which
span and differentially carve up the otherwise continuous natural spectrum of
Simply put, colors occur in basic dyadic sets that serve to demarcate a
specific region or range of the color continuum. Some sets appear more basic
and stronger than others, and some sets seem not to usually occur. Colors and
dyadic sets of colors also occur in basic sets of contrasts by which different
regions of the continuum become demarcated as different. Thus the conception
and coordination of color demands the complex and frequently implicit
interactions between basic relationships of grouping and contrast, and these
interactions may be partially determined by implicit principles which may in
part be naturally based and in part culturally defined.
It is by these systematic principles of grouping and contrast which appear
in color associations that we can gain a handle onto the psychological
significance of color as it is used, its underlying semantic dimensions.
Furthermore, it allows us to make certain predictions about the nature of
these relationships by which we can search for patterns. Given the paradigm of
all possible dyadic relationships which occur between the 12 basic colors used
in the following tasks, we can expect certain dyadic combinations to recur
with strong correlational strength within correlational matrices across a wide
variety of samples and tasks. At the same time we can expect certain
contrastive correlations to recur as well between basic colors which appear to
not occur in close association. Finally, we can expect the paucity of
significant correlations in those color combinations which do not appear to be
reinforced naturally or culturally and which do not seem to have a strong
The paradigm of dyadic relationships between the twelve colors above gives
66 possibilities--of these possibilities only a certain percentage (25/66 =
37.87%) might be expected to have a strong positive relationship, while the
balance have either a contrastive relationship or no relationship at all,
while of this subset, possibly 16 (16/66= 24.24%) might be expected to have an
especially strong or naturally occurring relationship. This paradigmatic
patterning of the dyadic relationships between colors function something like
a list of "distinctive features" in the sense that either a
relationship holds or it cannot be said to hold.
The problem is that these relationships are not truly dichotomous or
obligatory, but are a question of frequency patterning and percentage of
occurrence. What can be expected is that certain dyadic combinations of colors
should have a repeated significant correlation by some means of statistical
analysis. The resulting matrices and networks of color combination and choice
define discrimination tables which are open and only partially deterministic
and relatively non-hierarchical in structure.
Furthermore, we may speculate that:
1. Some dyadic relations are more basic than others.
2. Sets of dyadic relationship can occur in "complexes" or
clusters of interrelationship.
3. To some extent the strength of the dyadic relationship will determine
the frequency of expected occurrence of the paired colors as paradigmatic
4. Dyadic pairs of colors form "chains" by which different
sets of colors may be indirectly interlinked. We might speculate at a higher
level of analysis triadic complexes with high correlation may frequently occur
5. A number of extrinsic variables may interfere and influence the
resulting correlational matrices of these colors, such as extraneous trait
associations, culturally defined dimensions of contrast, or psychologically
defined patterns of saliency or symbolic significance of certain colors.
6.The sequence of both the developmental and cultural acquisition of color
terms follows the principles of contrast and similarity defined by basic
These patterns of inter color association form an underlying symbolic
structure with both cognitive and affective components and accretions, that
appear to play a part in the framing and construction of other types of
symbolic frameworks, and that become to some extent hard wired in the brain.
The preceding diagram is an attempt at a three dimensional spherical
representation in which polar opposites represent basic dyads and basic
contrasts between dyads are cross at right angles along an intersecting plane
of the sphere. Stronger, more basic relationships are located on spheres of
greater distance from the origin than weaker or more general relationships and
by the heavier weight of the connecting lines.
The principles of patterning that underlie the organization and meaning of
color are neither complex or of great number, nor are they obligatory. They
summarize decision rule trees defined from alternate pathways of a
discrimination table that describes the pattern of grouping and contrast that
occurs with color. The psychological, cultural and extraneous trait
associations which appear to influence this patterning of color are also not
complicated, and may be described in a fairly specific manner. From these
basic principles of patterning and variables it is possible that an expert
system model of color can be constructed.
Certain principles may be speculated on at the outset.
1. There is a functional and interdependent relationship between the
grouping of colors in basic dyadic sets, their extension in larger groupings,
and the contrast between colors and sets.
2. Principles of basic grouping are relatively more independent variables
than principles of contrast--i.e. dyadic grouping and its extension underlies
and partially determine the contrasting of different colors.
3. Principles of color contrast are relatively dependent variables.
Contrasts tend to occur between groupings of color before they occur between
basic colors, and they tend to occur between non-basic colors and groupings
before more basic colors or groupings
4. We may distinguish between basic and elaborated groupings of colors, as
dyadic, direct associations versus triadic, indirect associations.
5. We may distinguish between neutral, nonspecific contrasts between
colors, and non-neutral, specific contrasts which are direct juxtapositions of
6. Non-neutral contrasts tend to involve basic sets in direct
juxtaposition, and can be considered to be symbolically and projectively
"loaded" and of greater significance.
7. The indirect extension of basic dyadic sets allows the substitution of
paradigmatically alternate colors in contrastive color juxtapositions or
8. Non-basic, complementary relationships may occur between different
colors, either grouped or contrasted, as color primes recur in more than one
basic dyad become "lost" and latent in the complementary
9. The extension of these symbolic color complexes to other non-color
traits is accomplished principally through the means of the quaternary
structure of analogical association, i.e. apple is to banana as red is to
10. The resulting "nonverbal" language of color is structured
analogically in coordinate interrelationship of colors to other colors--i.e.
within a color context.
11 Symbolic associations and accretions to color therefore follow and are
structured by the underlying principles of grouping and contrast in color.
12. Symbolic associations and accretions to colors, whether they are
psychologically idiosyncratic or culturally shared, influence the patterning
of color in fairly specific and determinable ways: i.e., the relative level of
color-terminological differentiation of the color field, patterns of color
preference, coordination and ranking, patterns of color-trait association, and
the order, organization and dimensions of color-dimension associations.
From the analysis of the data and the pattern, certain dyadic relationships
appear in a sequential order of saliency/basicness in the twelve color tasks:
1. red-yellow versus black-white
2. blue-green versus purple-violet
3. gray-pink versus orange-brown
Grey and pink and orange and brown especially for the Chinese sample appear
to be of least contrastive significance or salience, and imply a weaker dyadic
relationship which falls apart more frequently. Thus these colors which are
themselves non-basic appear as the least salient and become more associated
with other basic colors--orange or brown with yellow or red, pink with purple
or violet and gray with blue or green or with black or white.
From this schema we may infer a scale of basicness between colors and
dyads. This scale appears to be for the six dyads: black/white, red/yellow,
purple/violet, blue/green, pink/gray and orange/brown. In the contrasts which
occur between these colors we cannot clearly separate the basic dyads, but it
appears the entire set is being contrasted in the form of the quaternary
structure of analogy in which basic principles of commutation and transition
are being observed:
red is to yellow as blue is
to green as pink is to gray
white is to black as purple is to
violet as orange is to brown
red is to white as blue is to purple as pink is to orange
yellow is to black as green is to violet as gray is to brown
We may then cross between sets in a systematic manner:
3. red is to blue as green is to pink as gray is to red
white is to purple as violet is to orange as brown is to white
4. blue is to white as pink is to violet as red is to brown
red is to purple as green is to orange as gray is to white
Such a structure can be easily elaborated if we imagine the addition of
other intermediate dyadic sets, such as purple-pink, red-orange, red-violet,
black-gray. It appears that culture and psychological variables intervene to
influence this process of elaboration of color associations in definite ways.
Though there are no hard and fast a priori rules of association, and any such
a structure easily breaks down in a non-deterministic manner, we may say that
in such a manner inter-color associations may be easily extended, as long as
they tend not to contradict more basic contrastive sets that occurs--such as
between red-yellow/black-white, and that the entire structure always tends to
be anchored by more enduring sets of basic dyadic primes.
We can extend this quaternary structure to incorporate triadic sets:
red is to yellow is to orange blue is to green is to brown
black is to white is to gray purple is to violet is to pink
red complements orange as blue complements brown
black complements gray as purple complements pink
orange contrasts black as brown contrasts purple
red contrasts gray as blue contrasts pink
Such relationships appear nonsensical from a rational standpoint, but it
must be kept in mind that these associations are essentially non-rational and
therefore non-logical in character. It is the non-logical, analogical
character of the patterning of color that permits black apples and blue
bananas to occur as valid possibilities color-trait associations though no
such associations appear to occur naturally in the world.
It is at this point when we consider the influence of psychology and
culture that the patterning of color really becomes interesting and
problematic. It appears that though almost any possible trait-color
associations can be imagined, some are more basic and anchored to reality than
others, and hence serve to stabilize the structure. The association of green
and brown with trees and grass are a clear and strong example for which we may
imagine the following structure:
green is to foliage is to grass as yellow and orange are to sun and rays
brown is to trunk is to earth as blue is to clouds is to sky is to water
It is interesting that in the color-trait associations of the
House-Tree-Person drawings, both foliage and trunks appear as brown, and
foliage appears as green, but trunks do not appear as green. A slot is created
in the sample which demands "filling" in with an explanation. We
would expect that slot to also occur with high frequency, the fact that it is
absent raises a fundamental question.
brown is to trunk brown is to foliage
green is to foliage green is not to _____???_____
Among Chinese samples, the association of black to eyes, hair and eyebrows
and figure outline is strong, as well as the association of brown to skin,
face, arms, hands, or pink with shirt and pants and purple with shoes:
black is to eyes is to hair is to eyebrows pink is to pants and shirt
brown is to skin is to face is to arms is to legs purple is to dress to
The association of yellow to red permits the frequent possibility of a red
sun, and the apparent association of the sky and clouds to the sun permits the
possibility of a blue sun. The association of the skin to the clothes makes
possible the association of pink with brown, but though we have a frequency
pattern of pink faces and skin, there is no similar association of brown
brown is to face is to skin is to limbs pink is to face and limbs
pink is to shirt and pants. brown is not to _____???___
Again a gap has been created in the structure that we can expect to be
filled in but which for some reason does not. The creation of such gaps
appears to be a normal consequence of the extension of such quaternary
structure, and appears to be a basic process in developmental acquisition.
It is reasonable to assume that affective associations follow similar paths
as do the cognitive-semantic associations in the construction of colors and
color-trait patterns, and that the symbolic construction of color association
involves just such a system of transference of affective as well as semantic
association of meaning from one color to another. In such a way, color is used
to reinforce affectively and symbolically the transference and identity of
symbols, such that:
the purple house is to the purple flower is to the purple face
the black figure is to the black outline of a tree is to the black outline
of the house.
the eye is to the window
the curtains are to the eyebrow
to the center of the flower is to the sun
the rays of the sun are to the petals of the flower
In such a manner we can describe the symbolic construction of complementary
symbolisms which have no clear, valid or logical identity but which achieve a
symbolic isomorphism of identity by means of the associative transference of
meaning. The fact that there are "core" underlying patterns of
inter-color, inter-trait and color-trait associations confers a degree of
consistency and deterministic plausibility to such structures that would
otherwise be lacking.
In the preceding structure, two conjunctive "and" relationships
were introduced in place of the analogical "as", and suggests the
possibility of the systematic substitution of conjunctive-disjunctive
connectors in place of the "as" in the increasing logical
determinacy of the patterning. "As" as a connector is a more general
and less obligatory relationship than either of the logical connectors. But
the substitution of "and/or" relations for the "as" allow
us to group and contrast sets of analogical relationships in a manner which
more gives greater constraint to the resulting pattern when we substitute all
"as" relationships for either an "and", "or" or
a contrastive "versus" to more accurately depict the structure which
actually appears to be most salient in the pile sorts of the 12 colors:
red as yellow as blue as green as pink as grey
white as black as purple as violet as orange as brown
red and yellow or blue and green or pink or gray
versus versus or
white and black or purple and violet or orange or brown
We may refine the model a little further by introducing inferential
"if-then" syntax into the model to define some deterministic rules
of order of the relationships:
if (red versus white) and (blue
versus purple) and (pink or brown) then| (red or brown...)
and and or and
(red and yellow) and (blue and green) and (orange or gray) then|
(yell or gray....)
and and or and
(black and white) and (purple and violet) and (gray or brown) then|
(white or brown....)
(yellow versus black) and (green versus violet) and (orange or pink) then|______?????______
The interesting aspect of such a logical structure is that it may be read
simultaneously either left to right or top down, and along alternate pathways.
There is no prescribed order of reading the structure, and it permits the
accumulation of conclusions at the end of each sequence and in the lower right
hand corner. It may be said that there are a set of logical connectors (as,
versus, or, and) and if-then. It general, and is the most obligatory
relationship and describes a close association. Or describes a weaker
relationship between colors, and versus describes a contrastive relationship.
The "as" implies an open analogical relationship which encompasses
all other possibilities of relation. Parenthetic sets are nested within the
larger framework, and in the reading of the thing more specific operators of
relationship should take precedence before, and hence are nested within, more
Within this structure, any relationship becomes possible, as long as it is
not contradicted by or contradict an initial premise of contrast. Principles
of contrast are thus vital to the order and functional coherence of such a
system, as it prevents the occurrence of circular contradictions which would
render the structure incoherent. It is interesting that this model resembles
somewhat the method of structural analysis developed by Claude Levi-Strauss
for the interpretations of myths.
The structure is descriptive versus "predictive" or prescriptive
in nature, but it permits the possibility of the systematic creation and the
inferential filling in of gaps which may occur within the structure. Such
structures quickly bog down in the tremendous exponential explosion of
possibilities which they encompass--it is fortunate that such symbolic
constructions tend to be neither very deep or broad. Another set of
possibilities exists when we consider that the same basic inference structure
may be written in several alternate ways. The fact that not all possibilities
can occur with equal plausibility confers meaning and a minimal order to its
patterning of relationships Such a structure also suggests the possibility of
the application of non-parametric statistics in its analysis, and in the
association of parallel discrimination tables which express each relationship
as an estimated probability or actual frequency of occurrence, and from which
decision trees and basic functional rules can be systematically deduced.
To summarize the results of these color tasks so far, it appears that it is
not too difficult to imagine a green or an orange or red or blue or purple or
brown or even a black banana, though it may be easier for us to recognize and
eat a yellow banana. An orange may be red or blue or green, but is easier to
distinguish from an apple or a ball or an unripe grapefruit if it is orange.
This suggests that the semantic associations with color are quite variable and
largely analogical in nature--we may imagine the possibility of black or
purple apples quite easily, though there may be some imagined color-object
combinations which may violate certain implicit restrictions of acceptability.
These patterns suggest that a number of principles of contrast may be at
work underlying the differentiation of the color field, and the relationships
between these dimensions may be neither simple nor straight forward. The
following model of the dimensions of possible contrast places along a number
of multi-dimensional axis those most salient sorts of contrastive variables
which may influence the functional differentiation of color, and it suggests
that if we are to find color in the brain, we must look in more the one place.
The theory of color proceeds from the symbolic differentiation of the color
continuum. The pile sort suggests strongly that there are basic groups or
dyads which occur, whether or not these are named, and which carve out
different, overlapping regions of the continuum. It is felt that these basic
sets form complex unities. They are characterized both by their implicitness
and by the lack of a specific reference to a specific region of the color
continuum, and by the plurality of alternate references which point to
different proximate places within this region. What characterizes these sets
are their non-specificity and their generality.
Names for these natural sets might include grue (green/blue), "vurplet"
(violet/purple), "bronge" (brown/orange), "bred"
(brown/red), "grink" (pink/grey), "blite" (black/white),
"rellow" (red/yellow). Other sets may be imagined. These sets are
interlocked and occur on an implicit level of organization.
The differentiation of the continuum may proceed on two levels
simultaneously or in tandem--first top-down with the distinction of basic
color sets, and then bottom up with the selection out of basic color from
these sets. At each subsequent level, the largest complex of chains tends to
be broken at the weakest dyadic relationship which also tends to be the
mid-point separating the continuum into more basic sets or colors. It is
predicted that this splitting point will be the best subsequent
discriminator--that breakage point (or minimal points) which will result in
the most coherent (least noisy) sub-groupings. Thus the color continuum pulls
itself apart by polarization into smaller sub-groupings that come to be
increasingly less implicit and more basic in terminology. The main split at
each level comes to be seen in terms of the differentiation of the most
salient color contrast at that level.
The only exception to this rule in the cluster analysis above appears to be
the early separation of orange and yellow, of yellow from red and orange from
grue. It is difficult to imagine an association between orange and green or
Though the actual patterning of color association at each level of the pile
sort is more complicated than this, there are basic patterns which are
definitive--such as the lack of certain colors at certain subsequent levels of
It is extremely difficult to interpret in a conclusive manner the combined
results of the different tasks. Certain inter-correlations of specific dyads
of colors do appear to be consistently pronounced across different samples and
tasks, but are significantly influenced by variables of sample size, type,
design of the task, and the association of traits to colors.
Several presuppositions behind these analysis must be brought into focus.
The patterns presented in these analysis have been based upon the relative
frequency patterns across samples. Individual variability has therefore been
lost. There is no saying that culture is necessarily only what is shared, or
is what is represented by shared frequency patterns of response to such tasks
as presented above. Culture does appear to have an influence upon such
patterns, but these are difficult to separate from psychological variables
which also influence them. This analysis can only be considered preliminary,
problematic and just scratching the surface of an extremely complex problem of
analysis and interpretation.
A similar type of analogical chaining of associations was found to occur in
the domain of familial terms and relationships for a Chinese sample, in
relation to a number of linguistic framing tasks (grids, dichotomous,
apperception, sentence completion). This chaining appears to be ordered on the
basis of certain elicited rules of relationship which regulate the
associations. The centrality of this kind of familial model to understanding
the dynamics of Chinese culture suggest that the basic mental model is
behaviorally and symbolically extended and elaborated on the organic level of
institutional social patterning of a culture, and that there is dynamic
feedback between the sub-organic, symbolic and organic institutional levels of
information patterning within cultural systems.
There is the strong suggestion of the development of an alternative system
of artificial intelligence which to some extent predicts and models the
patterning of color choice and ranking above, based upon attribute-value
notation, the sample frequencies and the use of a discrimination function
which estimates the level of inter-color association, the probability and
noise factor of each color in each position, and which searches and traces
pathways through the color array, deriving rules based upon relative
probabilities and likelihood of alternative pathways through the array. The
same system could be set up to model and predict patterning in different
tasks, and may derive rules which may otherwise remain implicit in the complex
patterning of frequency distributions. It is suggested that some pathways
through such discrimination networks may be more likely and better predictors
than others, and many pathways are highly unlikely while a few may emerge as
SYMBOLIC DIFFERENTIALS OF PSYCHO-CULTURAL
The symbol as it occur in the cultural context cannot be understood outside
of reference to this context. A symbol is actually a symbolic process, a
process of symbolization, that involves the integration of diverse elements of
experience--perceptive, imaginary, cognitive, affective, linguistic and
behavioral--into a coherent mental representation of some specific external
stimuli or related set of such objective stimuli. Symbolisms are tied to other
symbolisms, and share many elements of experience. Symbolic stimuli are also
evocative of a relatively wide range of ordered responses at several levels.
It appears that in both human ontogenetic development--in primary cultural
acquisition of the child, there is increasing symbolic differentiation of the
phenomenal field of experience, as marked by transition of such experience
from those symbolic qualities of "diffuseness, indefiniteness, lability,
syncretism, rigidity" of the part which shares the
"qualities-of-the-whole" toward greater articulation, discreteness,
organicism, objectification, flexibility and stability, in which the part
acquires a clear mental representation as an abstract thing in itself in
clear, functionally organic relationship to other parts and to the whole
(Werner, 1957; Mortensen, 1991).
There appears to be an analogical continuum of cultural development at the
organic level of institutional organization, in which we can refer to a
movement and basic differences of symbolic qualities from those cultures
described as "oral" to those which are described as fully literate
in noetic organization of consciousness (Havelock, Ong, McCluhan, Goody).
I am concerned here with the dilemma of the part/whole--that the whole is
something more than the sum of its parts, or that the whole is nothing but the
sum of its parts, especially as this becomes expressed in terms of social
reality--that social groups and patterns constitute a superorganic whole that
cannot be reduced to a mere analysis of the parts (elements, traits, aspects,
individuals) that make up the whole. Is there a rational way out of this
dilemma, beyond an appeal for a transcendent attitude which incorporates both
the analytic and synthetic points of view simultaneously? An analytical,
reductive approach seems to logically preclude the possibility (indeed demands
the logical impossibility) of a holistic approach rooted in the synergism of
the total pattern, and yet we inevitably run into a theoretical cul-de-sac
when it comes to explaining cosmographical patterns of the whole in terms of
the inter-functioning of the parts. At some point we must make a philosophical
leap of faith about the a priori significance of the whole pattern which comes
before, and dialectically transcends, the part.
I doubt there is any other logical way out of this dilemma, unless we adopt
a systems approach which is based in information theory and which defines the
duality of patterning of the whole as a cybernetic feedback relationship among
the parts. Locked in a feedback system, the concerted inter-functioning of the
parts become "connected" and amplified to achieve a duality of
information patterning at two separate, yet interdependent, levels of process.
This perspective lends itself readily to a phenomenological perspective in
which the many parts constituting the whole are but limited facets of the
whole gestalt. What Heinz Werner refers (1957) to as an "organic"
(holistic) perspective construes the necessity of formal relationships which
predetermines the relationship and meaning of the parts to the whole. Organic
ontogenetic development entails that the stages of progress of growth and
maturation of the individual organism much be comprehended from such a
holistic point of view, as a process leading from less to greater
differentiation, stratification and integration of parts in relationship to
It is in reference to the organic psychological development of human
cognition, especially as this is construed to occur in a graded, scheduled
sequence of stages of acquisition of basic skills, that a general theory
relating psychology and culture, and nature and nurture, and the role of
evolution in human genetic development, is to be found.
From an organic, non-reductionist perspective, this process is seen to be
one primarily of increasing differentiation of a previously undifferentiated
phenomenal field--a process which is primarily symbolic in character. It is
this basic symbolic character of human cognition and culture which accounts
most for the many pieces of the human puzzle and which must be taken into
account in a broader framework of understanding of this puzzle.
The neonatal human being is understood to live in a relatively
undifferentiated phenomenal field in which basic motor-coordinative functions
are the principle modalities of experience. Early human experience is
characterized by synaethesia of sensory modalities, by physiognomic versus
formal-factual (subjective versus objective) perception, by motor-object
activity in association with acquisition, and by personification of object
stimuli. With maturation there occurs systematic inauguration and elaborate
differentiation of the phenomenal field at ever higher levels of symbolic
abstraction and integration--a process which incorporates and eclipses
previous earlier phases which depended upon more basic modalities of
It is my hypothesis that this basic process of the symbolic differentiation
of human experience occurs in a scheduled sequence of stages of acquisition
and growth, each of which can be characterized by heightened activity and
organization of particular sensory modalities. The effective
("vital") environment, which is culturally structured and organized
socially, provides the principal feedback mechanism in the channeling and
modifying the resulting pattern of development in distinct directions. What
occurs as a possibility of the symbolic differentiation of the phenomenal
field is the increasing diversification of psycho-cultural patterning along
alternate directions of development. The basic, genetically defined stages of
this growth and development are natural and pan-human--the socio-cultural
context in which this development occurs is "constructed" and varies
substantially--leading to different consequences of this development.
Language plays a key active role in this process of the symbolic
differentiation of the phenomenal field, and language is held to influence
this process, as well as being a medium of expression for this process. This
leads to several important points about language: 1."Naming" is an
integral part of symbolization which connects the object-sign to the affective
response and the cognized signification--at the same time the named word
serves to precipitate, reify and embody this symbolic relationship between
inner and outer worlds. 2. Language serves in symbolically embedding
experience in a coherent, intelligible manner--names and symbolisms become
associated and networked with other names and associations--such that the
patterning of language production and structure is a naturalistic expression
of the symbolic organization and differentiation of human experience. 3.
Linguistic acquisition and ethnosemantic organization of knowledge mirror the
patterning and organization of the symbolic differentiation of experience, and
can be utilized as an effective means of analyzing and mapping this
The clearest empirical example of the patterning of which exists of such
symbolic acquisition is the Berlin et. al. demonstration of the acquisition of
basic color terms. There is no reason not to presume that similar predictably
ordered patterns of acquisition exist for other modalities of experience and
domains of knowedge.
Preliminary tasks with the Symbolic Framing Battery demonstrate that
analogical chains of associations guided by principles of grouping and
contrast form the early structure of symbolic experience. Within these chains,
gaps of information are created which can be predictably completed by an
understanding of the analogical context of the gap. The analogical extension
of these association chains leads to the creation of gaps which are implicated
in early development. These analogical chains of associations become
increasingly constrained by a number of obligatory relations--principally, a
stratification of more-to-less basic symbolisms reinforced by experience, by
superimposition of exceptional rules of disconformity, and by the
hyper-compartmentalization and subsequent hierarchization of such chains into
specific to general domains, which themselves can be abstractly symbolized and
represented. The result is a semi-determined network of associations,
reflected in the ethno-semantic patterns of the language, which can be
implicitly represented with rules which define the most likely or preferred
Culture appears to be determinative in this process of symbolic elaboration
at a number of levels. Foremost, to the degree that a cultural orientation is
focused and coherent, it serves to orient this schematic elaboration of
associations with a wider world in a constrained manner, based upon certain
primes that are cultural defined. The style of affective reinforcement of
acquisition, and the social agencies of this reinforcement, are also
culturally defined. From a behavioral point of view, oral
gratification/restriction and physical or verbal reinforcement appear to
operate as basic mechanisms of stimulus response which reinforce these
patterns of symbolic acquisition. We may also look to behavioral patterns and
implicit values of the socio-cultural context which serve to structure the
child's symbolic relationship and expectations in relation to the
environment--patterns which are principally expressed through children's
patterning of play. Pre-adolescent patterns appear to involve primarily
"psycho-social" and "psycho-object" relations with a
social and material environment. Post-adolescent stages appear to involve the
inauguration of "psycho-sexual" and "psycho status"
patterns of reinforcement related to patterns of sexual
gratification/restriction and reinforcement.
Symbolic construction appears to involve several analytically discrete
components--naming, an affective response, a percepto-cognitive association or
set of associations, and an externally objective frame of reference. The
symbol must be seen as the whole construct that emerges from the interrelation
of these components--and in a sense is as much a process of symbolization as
it can be seen to be a "thing" in itself. Basic to this process is
one of symbolic identification--apparently in its early stages a form of
primitive personification of objects, that later becomes a more polarized form
of anthropomorphization. In the process of symbolic differentiation,
acquisition appears to occur in an ordered manner in a discrete number of
developmental stages. It leads to the development of a rationally ordered
framework in which the affective aspects of the symbol become normally
constrained and suppressed, often subconsciously projected, via systems of
cognitive rationalization and symbolic abstraction.
We may speak of a broad genetic analogy which amounts to a developmental
parallelism between ontogenetic, cultural and phylogenic levels of
informational patterning--such that the relative levels of achieved symbolic
differentiation of the phenomenal field will vary in similar ways at these
different levels of analysis.
THE SYMBOLIC MEDIATION OF THE PHENOMENAL
Cultural cybernetics constitutes a general theoretical framework for the
understanding of human processes and patterning of reality. It is a paradigm
which is rooted in information theory, cognitive sciences, gestalt psychology,
and an anthropological theory of the symbolic construction of reality. Within
this framework, the arrangements of cultural artifacts in the ground,
language, the ritual arrangement of sacred objects on an altar, all share in
common an underlying cultural paradigm which determines phenomenologically
that these various instances are but particular facets of a larger gestalt of
Natural Systems Theory
From a scientific point of view, we may understand the informational
patterning of a language, or its material expression in an environment, as
manifestations of an underlying cultural codification that is homologous to
the developmental expressions of human genetic information, or to the organic
molecular configurations which may be expressed precisely in bio-chemical
formulas, or on an even finer, subatomic level of discrimination, the
information contained in the electron shells about the nucleus of an atom.
We may speak analytically of different natural levels of informational
patterning with a general hierarchy of determinations. Upon each of these
levels, there exists fairly precise formulaic codifications of information
which control and account for the patterning of natural cosmographic processes
that are largely complex and chaotic. Thus it is the same physics which which
precisely describes the atomic weight of atoms that describes the composition
of stars light years distant, that discovers black holes in other galaxies,
and explores the patterning of galaxies in their waltz across the universe.
But physics alone cannot explain complex chemical reactions or the
crystallization of mineral compounds in precise geometric forms, nor the
processes of the genetic transmission and reproduction that underlies and
drives the processes we call evolution. In a similar way, it is not enough to
invoke the biological theory of evolution in order to understand the
patterning of language and meaning production, in the dialectal divergence of
separate cultural groupings, or in the separate historical development of
human civilization in diverse regions of the earth.
We must understand that explanation and description of events at one level
of analysis cannot be reduced or directly translated into another level--we do
not invoke theories of physics for the understanding of evolutionary
processes, and we do not invoke understanding of organic photosynthesis for
the understanding of cultural phenomena. To do so, especially in an exclusive
sense, is a form of analytical reductionism which destroys the sense of order
and implicitly the denies the patterned order at a higher level of natural
Natural systems theory which seeks to understand in precise forms the
structural principles of patterning of information at various levels of
analysis that occur in nature are all rooted in a structural-functional
presupposition which stipulates that patterned relations are to some extent
deterministically ordered--in effect, patterns of relationship at all levels
of analysis are causally dependent upon specific variables which account for
the resulting pattern and which in part determines the predictable, recurrent
dynamics of the functioning of the system. The order which exists between the
parts of the whole are thus functionally interrelated such that they
constitute a dynamic system of interactions and relations which are minimally
interdependent. A change in one part of the system will result in
reverberations of changes in other parts.
But this functional order of a system is never itself an entirely closed
affair. At all levels of analysis, natural systems, as information systems,
are part of a larger continuum of a universe of relationships at the same and
at lower levels of analysis, relationships which may, however indirectly,
affect the functional pattern of the system. It is this partial openness of
natural systems that render their patterning chaotic and open to random
variation of pattern. It is this systemic openness, or lack of complete
closure of the system that guarantees that any natural system is always
subject to change and modification, and will only be partially deterministic.
The concern of this work is approaching description and general theoretic
explanation of the socio-cultural level of human systems in a naturalistic way
in terms of a central set of systemic propositions which are partially
determinative of the informational processes and patterns which occur at this
level. Furthermore, it constitutes an attempt to empirically demonstrate this
analysis with consistent elicited patterns of data, generally from a
methodology developed around a central theoretical premises and referred to as
Symbolic mediation can be considered to be a form of field theory that has
as its basis the developmental symbolic specialization of the phenomenal field
which is defined as "the entire universe, including oneself, as it is
experienced by the individual at the instant of action."
The precise mechanism of this specialization is held to be the
neurologically programmed apparatus of the human brain to terminologically
recognize, or nominally designate, a set of external/internal relations both
as: 1. a separate subset or whole part; and 2. as a part-whole of a larger
nexus of relations.
The external/internal relations are composed of both cognitive and
affective components. All "symbolizations" of the phenomenal
field are accompanied by some relative level of both components: 1. the
cognitive differentiation of the field; 2. the affective dynamics of relations
within the field.
The central neural mechanism accounting for these processes is regarded as
the symbolic mediation of the phenomenal field in which cognitive and
affective associations of a differentiated sub-field of phenomenal experience
becomes configured and mediated by the lexical naming which gives central
symbolic definition and form to this configuration, and which brings this
fragment of awareness into a gestalt as part of a whole field of possible
The human brain has evolved neural apparatus for speech production and for
human language which has special design features of duality and symbolic
reference of meaning. As such these developments of the brain were part of a
development of the physiological apparatus for speech production and
processing, and in a nonspecific sense its unique evolution can be considered
to be the cerebral specialization for such speech recognition and production.
If the nominal function of the word as the symbolic mediator of human
experience rests as a pivot point in understanding the foundation of human
consciousness and systems of symbolization, we must look beyond the word
itself as an isolated name to the question of language structure itself as the
syntagmatic production of a chain of paradigmatically alternate words.
In this regard, it can be seen that each statement made or sentence, no
matter how short, constitutes an implication of meaning that is always subject
to question. A statement is thus an implicit inference about reality, the
validity of which is always open to demonstration. Validity in this sense is
bound up in the relative context of the symbolic frame of the sentence--the
unstated understanding and knowledge that is required to complete the question
that the statement implicitly asks us.
Sentence construction in language is therefore a form of symbolic framing
that serves to link together spaces, events, or regions of the phenomenal
field, across time as well as space, and that enable us to resynthesize and
reunify the whole in relation to the parts. In this regard, language
construction always implicitly has at least indirect reference to the whole.
That we will unconsciously tend to construct and contextualize our sentences
in terms which are consistent with our other symbolic frames and
preunderstandings of how the world is framed speaks for the close linkage
between language and socio-cultural context, on the one hand, and language and
the subjective phenomenal field of experience on the other.
Sentence construction is therefore bound to and structured by the need to
make symbolic semantic inferences which can be subject to the validation of
phenomenal experience in the world. In this regard, the structuring of
language can be seen to follow the function of language in the construction of
complex spaces or gestalts of differentiated phenomenal regions, and the
transference of significance from one such gestalt to another. The job of a
sentence is to link the subject as a figure to a larger frame that consists of
the implicit background space of the sentence--the phenomenal field itself.
This process of construction is influenced minimally by the aspectual form
that the sentence construction normally takes in a language.
We can refer to a form of relational inference in which the main task of
linking things designated by nominative reference to other things or to
relations or events which occur in a hypothetical space is controlled by a
relatively underdetermined model of plausible multidirectional inference.
Normal direction of inference will be inherent to the syntagmatic, aspectual
and marking of the sentence structure.
Coherence of these semantic linkages is guided by a loose form of
relational or relative inference and relative contextuality of the implicit
frame of the sentence. Relative contextuality can refer to some variable
pattern of differentiation of the part-whole relationship, in which the entire
whole of the universe is always an external and implicit context to the
configuration of a variable set of parts.
Relative inference refers to inferences which are guided by posited
semantic primes of relational linkages between the parts or differentiated
spaces and by a relative nonrestrictive form of plausibility of inference that
is constrained mostly by the principle of explicit direct
non-contradiction--in other words, any direction of semantic inference is
permitted in the transference of significance between parts in the
construction of mental space, as long as it is not directly contradicted.
Universal semantic relational primes are given by Hamil (1991: pg. 42) as
the following list:
1. X is a kind of Y. 2. X is a part of Y.
3. X is a place in Y. 4. X is oriented with respect to Y.
5. X is contingent on Y. 6. X is a reason for doing Y.
7. X is a place for doing Y. 8. X is used for Y.
9. X is a means of effecting Y. 10. X is in a sequence including Y.
11. X is a characteristic of Y. 12. X is similar to Y.
13. X is different from Y. 14. X is an example of Y.
15. X is equivalent to Y. 16. X is the opposite of Y.
17. X is the source of Y. 18. X is X.
The relative plausibility of the inference within the context of its
implicit frame that is what is ultimately determinative of its truth
value--there is no final, non-arbitrary truth value of any language, and this
is the flexibility of language for prevarication, and for alternative
The structure which a language takes can thus be understood directly in
terms of this semantic space building function function as a central mechanism
for the symbolic framing of reality and the intermediation of internal and
It is possible to describe the structural syntactic patterning of different
languages in terms of this requirement of language in the construction of
credible mental spaces which map to some extent and have implicit reference to
the external world of relations, without making reference or inferring
universal "deep structures" of language. This process of space
construction in language may be stated symbolically in explicit propositional
form without requiring the adoption of a rigid mathematical model of language
that hasn't room for ambiguity of meaning.
Linguistic articulation thus allows for the building of complex symbolic
spaces, and even of symbolic constructions within symbolic constructions that
can be linked by relational inference to yet other symbolic constructions.
Thus language has the effect of forging chains of complex inter-linkages which
may subsume a variety of different sets of cognitive and affective
associations, and from which a symbolic complex of an internally coherent
system of rationalization or belief system can be created, reiterated and
In reference to the relative contextuality and relative plausibility of the
inference structure of language, it is important to emphasize the relative
contextual dependency of different language constructions and the relative
degrees context-boundness of alternative implicit semantics, and even the
relative levels of contextuality exhibited by different languages and
reflective of the degree of differentiation and symbolic specialization
achieved within the culturally defined language system.
The foundation of symbolic human awareness can be seen to be the hardwiring
of the brain for the function of naming and terminological definition attached
to an articulated and differentiated nexus of cognitive and affective
relations and associations, such that the evocation of the name can lead to an
evocation of the pattern of relations thus designated.
This naming function of the human mind is fairly specific, such that
discrete regions of the mind are neurologically wired to fairly specific
names. But these named regions of phenomenal life-space are not exclusive in
the sense that they stand separate or unconnected to other names. Both names
and the associations they index are interconnected within a context of other
names and patterns of association, and these patterns of interconnection are
organized along several overlapping principles of organization--analogically,
homologically, and functionally.
Thus for instance, perception of color and production of the term for color
become learned separately, until a certain region of the brain links up the
color with the term such that its recognition can lead to its automatic
naming. This does not normally become learned until 3 or 4 years of age, at an
age when the neuronal linkages are being made in a fairly specific location of
the brain between those designating areas of color names and color
perception--before this time the child knows the word "red" and can
perceive red as a color, but cannot clearly recognize and name red as a color
at the same time.
It is also very certain that the order of the acquisition of terminological
recognition and probably the perceptual differentiation of the color continuum
is almost universally predictable and ordered in a fairly definite sequence of
acquisition. Furthermore this developmental sequence is parallel for both the
ontological development of the individual and the phylogenic development of
the culture, such that cultural orientations may be more or less
differentiated in terms of color terminology is concerned. Individuals of
those cultural backgrounds will, like children, be able to recognize by naming
only those colors which are culturally available, though they may be capable
of perceiving a much more highly differentiated spectrum of color differences.
What has been demonstrated to be the case with color terms can be
demonstrated also in many other natural domains of basic terms--for instance
basic forms of flora and fauna, basic shapes or objects, parts of the body,
categories of food, categories of natural things, etc. Furthermore, as will be
demonstrated later in this work, the analysis of the symbolic framing of color
does not end with the demonstration of the acquisition of color terminology,
but involves the analytical elucidation of a plethora of cognitive-affective
associations to colors, patterns of color preference and rank, underlying
ethno-semantic dimensions by which colors are ordered and differentiated. This
becomes the case with many other natural symbolic dimensions.
In general, the following set of propositions are made. It can be said that
in general there is a tendency that:
1. More basic terms underlie and come sequentially before more elaborated,
2. More basic terms designate a region of differentiated field, or
part-whole relation, which is somehow more naturally "prototypical"
and more deeply embedded than more elaborated terms.
3. More basic terms show greater agreement and consensus of sharing within
4. More elaborated terms have less agreement, and more ambiguity associated
with the designated meanings.
5. More basic terms tend to be simply and more efficiently encoded--more
elaborated terms tend to be more expressive and less efficient in code.
6. More basic terms are less likely to have been borrowed from outside, and
are less subject to be "loaned" outside than more elaborated terms.
7. More basic terms are less likely to change morpho-phonologically than
more elaborate terms.
8. Within any category that is constitutive of a natural continuum--for
instance colors, animals, insects, plants, shapes, etc.
a. There will be a sequence of acquisition in which more basic terms will
come before more elaborated forms.
b. The number of available terms will determine the range and level of
differentiation of the resulting spectrum.
9. Basic terms will tend to be more unmarked than elaborated terms.
10. Basic terms will be less symbolically specialized than elaborated
11. Basic terms will be taxonomically higher and more general than
This points up a critical factor of human acquisition and symbolic
functioning. It is tied to an effective cultural environment within which
symbolic acquisition becomes reinforced and structured. Language is inherently
a social phenomena. It is situated and takes its shape in a community of
speakers and cannot occur or be realistically considered in isolation from
this socio-cultural context. We cannot therefore fully account for language in
terms the language apparatus for speech production ontologically centered in
the individual organism.
The locus of socio-cultural phenomena as a natural system of information
is therefore objectively situated in the external environment and is
evolutionarily and inextricably situated within a socio-cultural context.
As such it is out there and takes its shape largely independent of its
subjective character in the mind of the individual culture-bearer.
There is an isomorphism of patterning between ontogenetic, developmental
acquisition and socio-cultural acquisition, just as there is a parallel
isomorphism between the objective patterning of information in the external
socio-cultural context and the subjective patterning of information in the
internalized phenomenal field of the individual. This isomorphism is due
primarily to :1. the evolutionary dependency of human development and
linguistic apparatus upon a socio-cultural context; 2. the developmental
ontogeny of the brain, the hardwiring of symbolic framing of the world being
dependent upon the socio-cultural context.
In general, the ontogeny and cultural phylogeny of developmental
acquisition is in the direction of greater symbolic framing and dynamism of
this phenomenal field along different, successively embedded principles of
organization. It is important to recognize the developmental aspects of the
emergence of the symbolically mediated phenomenal field in the life-world of
the individual and the socio-cultural group.
This emergence of the phenomenal field begins with the embryo, and in early
stages consists of a "multitude of transient mental experiences that are
not linked together and vanish past all recall in a few second. Perhaps such
mental experience are all animals and very young children have, all their
learning processes being subconscious and strictly speaking
unremembered." (Eccles, 1953.). It has been postulated that "The
emergence of a part of the phenomenal field is a cognitive event always
accompanied by some degree of affect." (Turney, 1955: 5)
We speak of the emergence of an increasingly differentiated field from a
cognitive standpoint and of an increasingly dynamic field from the affective
standpoint, and an increasingly specialized field from a symbolic standpoint.
This refers to the analytical separation of a whole and previously
undifferentiated phenomenal field into a mosaic of subspaces which are then
composed into a configuration in relation to the whole. This reconfiguration
is part of symbolic framing of the phenomenal field. In all symbolic frames,
there is always an implicit part-whole relationship. It has been hypothesized
that 1:"The whole field determines the nature of each of its parts."
(Turney, 1955: 9) and 2: "Any part determines in part the nature of the
field and affects its dynamics at any moment of action." (Turney, 1955:
The organization and structure of the patterning of mediation of the
phenomenal field is held to be variable and dynamic, though become more stable
with maturity. Because of the complexity, the polythetic constitution and the
inheritance of both lexical, cognitive and affective associations,
realistically mapping regions of this field for any particular person was held
to be extremely difficult if not impossible, at least before the advent of the
It has been hypothesized that "The potential of parts in the dynamics
of the field is a function of the affect, but is not a constant." (Turney,
1955: 12) and that "The differentiation of the field (or any part) is a
cognitive function, its associated affect changing in direction and intensity
with each stage of differentiation." (Turney, 1955: 15)
The affective component of the symbolic articulation of the field may lead
to the cathectic fixation of feeling within an ossified and static structure
of symbolic relations which to some degree locks up the potency of the field
for adaptive acquisition. It entails that all events are filled with relative
embodied meaning and that we respond to them as "lived" or vital
experience, and all symbolic structures of meaning are inherently
"loaded" from the standpoint of affective associations which
engender some level and kind of dynamic organismic response or reaction.
The affective component of meaning should not be understated, as it
determines that the core structure of a cultural paradigm cannot be merely
comprehended as a cognitive, abstract model, but entails a nexus of values,
feelings and states of subjective being which are integral to the core.
Affective universals of meaning have been empirically documented by Charles
Osgood. et al. Osgood located a universal set of primary dimensions of
semantic meaning which differed cross-culturally. These basic dimensions of
affective meaning are Evaluation, Potency and Activity.
We may refer to relative levels of symbolic mediation of experience, both
externally in the socio-cultural context and internally in the subjective
mapping of the phenomenal field--relative levels which will be reflected in
terms of terminological categories and distinctions, language, and symbolic
specialization of function.
These relative levels of symbolic framing allow us to refer to an
acquisitive/developmental scale which holds isometrically for both ontogenetic
subjective development as well as for wider cultural development, along which
both individuals and different cultures may be relatively ranked in order of
their achieved degree of symbolic articulation of reality. Higher achieved
articulation of reality makes available greater degrees of cognitive
differentiation--higher levels of achieved differentiation allows for a
greater more specialized symbolic articulation of reality.
Two related postulates posit a connection with this proposition to general
neurological activity and functioning: 1. There is some degree of awareness of
each and every differentiation of the field, awareness that may be linked to
the reticular system of the brain stem in both ego-trophic functions of
excitability and tropho-tropic functions of activity inhibition as well as to
involvement of the cerebral cortex in the selection of the content of
experience and to the control of the direction of thought--i.e. attention and
set. These are linked to corresponding levels of consciousness, and to the
general proposition that:
The precision and clearness of the cognitive event and the intensity of the
affect associated with it are both determiners of the degree of awareness.
Awareness with the implications of waking consciousness or some alternate
or relative or dependent state of consciousness does not take into account the
unconscious influence of "parts previously differentiated" that are
completely out of awareness.
It is a central hypothesis of this theory that such unconscious background
processes have a critical influence upon the symbolic articulation, dynamics
and differentiation of the phenomenal field and is constraining, unavoidable,
and empirically available to validation through indirect, circumstantial
evidence. We may state that in every symbolic articulation there is some
degree of unconscious unawareness which influences the event, and that in part
influences the relative level differentiation and dynamics of the event.
It is this extraneous factor, of the influence of the ground on the
perception of the figure, that is the source of noise and ambiguity of
identity of relations within our awareness. It is tied to both the external
context of background associations and relations, as well as to an internal
unconscious process that is largely constituted by potential memory
associations--or trace residual patternings which remain embedded in the
neural connections of the brain.
Thus the symbolic mechanism underlying the articulation of reality is not
entirely deterministic of the patterning of the phenomenal field, but must be
accounted for in terms of a wider, less deterministic and more open role of
the processes of symbolization which allow the symbolic construct to tolerate
some ambiguity, to carry more than one meaning, to be designated by alternate
terms, or to stand for different, even mutually contradictory things at the
same time. Thus, the part-whole relationship stands in some measure of funny
Symbol systems allow for a relative degree of achieved unity of the whole
over and above the parts, or for the part to stand in place of the whole or
the whole to stand in place of the part. Thus a symbolic reunification of a
differentiated phenomenal field can be achieved symbolically, but never
We may account for and define the role of symbolization neurologically on
two levels: 1. in the analytical articulation of the phenomenal field from a
previously undifferentiated whole into part-whole relations, principally by
means of terminological associations of cognitive and affective components
and; 2. a synthetic reunification of the part-whole relationships into a
previously differentiated whole, principally by means of terminological
abstraction, concretization, reification and rationalization--such that the
term comes to designate and stand in place of the region of the phenomenal
field which it articulates.
It is the secondary symbolic function that we find the proclivity of the
human mind to strive to reconfigure an analytically differentiated world to
achieve some form of synthetic gestalt of sense of overall pattern of
part-whole relationship--a drive to find order among parts that may be
neurotically tied to the reduction of ambiguity inherent to its analytical
differentiation, as well as to a normal need for order among the parts. It is
the capacity of symbolizations to achieve effectively this second function
that we speak of the integration of phenomenological reality as a symbolic
achievement which is correlated to some extent with adaptation to a dynamic,
changing world. The ability to achieve conscious awareness in this second form
of a gestalt is determined in part by both conscious and unconscious processes
involving both affective and cognitive dimensions of association.
Psycho-cultural gestalt is the term I have adopted to refer to the second
achievement of a sense of reunification of the part-whole relation, and its
frequency and clarity are relative measures of the adaptive integrity of both
the individual culture-bearer and the socio-cultural context in which the
member of culture is situated.
It points up the dynamic, cybernetic relationship between internal process
of symbolic articulation and external patterns of the socio-cultural contexts.
It suggests that the interdependency between the internal and external orders
for a dual processing system in which feedback can be both resonance
amplifying and resonance dampening and in which long term patterns may lead to
destructive or constructive patterns of interference. Thus cultural gestalt is
a relative measure of the state of patterned interference of relations between
external context and internalized subjective constructs.
This theory can lead to the precise articulation of 1. A systematic
conceptioning of the socio-cultural contexts which define the objective,
external foundation, with the aim of explaining the central, underlying
implicit structure and functioning of this system. 2. A systematic
conceptioning of the internal processes of symbolization and recognition which
parallels and to some extent subjective maps the external order, especially
accounting for the unconscious dynamics of the process. 3. The implementation
of a body of methods which will allow for the empirical and experimental
exploration of these processes, their analysis and graphic representation in a
Cultural Paradigms and Scientific Codifications
Socio-cultural contexts depend upon the establishment and reinforcement of
a minimal level of coherence and order which tends to follow certain
principles: it is simple and focally oriented, based upon the relationship
between a few core variables or values: it tends to appropriate basic forms or
categories, such that it becomes embedded in a level that is largely unmarked
and indirect in its constraining function: it becomes focally elaborated and
symbolically represented in highly stylized codifications which define and
positively sanction the focal orientation; its focal and basic elaborations
are relative conservative and resist change or alteration; a secondary system
of direct negative sanctions may arise which define alternate or relativizing
orientations as antithetical and which may contain symbolic apparatus for
managing marginal events or relativizing orientations when they arise.
This central orientation of a culture will be more or less highly
differentiated, and constitutes the basis of an implicit cultural model of a
focal cultural orientation. Every cultural system, in order to be coherent,
maintains implicitly some core or central paradigm that defines and orients
the world in a focal and coherent model. The capacity for individuals within a
cultural orientation to achieve and maintain an effective sense of cultural
gestalt rests upon their ability to realize and positively reinforce in their
everyday lives and social relations the implicit paradigm which underlies its
patterning and which becomes largely ossified and ritually elaborated in a
conservative sense in the form of core traditional practices, beliefs,
teachings, and texts.
The paradigm of a cultural orientation is meant in a generic sense of
"a basic set of beliefs that guides actions". This paradigm is
usually implicit as a guide, and its integration is largely invisible on the
surface of everyday behavior. A paradigm is rooted in a socio-cultural context
of interaction. It is this context which largely, conventionally defines it as
received and normal and that reinforces it in everyday life.
So basic and transparent is it in our everyday judgments and decisions and
actions that it informs our understanding of the world as pragmatic common
sense. Its function of sanctioning and constraining behavior are largely
indirect. Paradigms are, in a structural, and largely ideal sense, rule-bound
and this deeper sense of order can be propositionally represented in a
The central thesis of this work is that for any cultural orientation to be
minimally coherent, like any language to which it is largely attached and
expressed, a cultural orientation must exhibit in terms of patterning of
behavior and social relations a centrally oriented paradigm against which the
entire world becomes ordered and understood. It is this paradigm by which we
come to recognize and understand culture and cultural differences, and by
which we come to understand that cultural differences are largely relative to
the orientation in which they are situated.
To say that this paradigm is largely symbolic and behavioral should go
without saying--as such it provides unity not only within the culture, but to
the entire universe which becomes oriented around it. It functions
symbolically in our lives, and is constituted symbolically in our own being,
even at an organic level of our perceptions, feelings and bodily reactions to
This paradigm is from a culture historical standpoint not unlike the
Hegelian geist, but it does not stand as the hub around which all action
depends. People may or may not act in relation to it. People may choose and
often do so act independently of it or in its contradiction, but it remains
there, embedded in the background of the action, to give it social
significance and symbolic form, and whether we go with the grain or against
it, we all at least implicitly know what it is.
The paradigm itself is not a changeless or static structure. It changes as
well, and its changing often entails major disruptions on the surface flow of
events in our shared lives the origin or reasons for which we may not clearly
understand. When our paradigm changes, our world changes with it.
When we refer to a paradigm shift, we refer to a socio-cultural revolution
in which conversion from one symbolic orientation to another is at the heart
of the process, and in which the symbolic orientation of the paradigm becomes
subjectively embodied in not only the way we do things, act and think about
the world, but even in the way we talk about it and perceive it. Thus, a
conversion experience that accompanies a paradigm switch, something referred
to as alternation of subjective identity, is in a sense total, leading to a
new way of seeing, talking about and behaving in relation to the world, as
well as a new way in which the world itself becomes related to us.
The effectiveness of the cultural paradigm is measurable in terms of its
consequences for symbolic framing, and in terms of its effectiveness in the
achievement of cultural gestalt in the relations and lives of its
culture-bearers. It is the contention of this paper and this work that the
implicit structural patterning and function of the underlying cultural
paradigm which is based upon focal cultural models as indirect sanctions for
belief and behavior, can be expressed in terms of which are propositionally
explicit and lend themselves to naturalistic, scientific codification which
are independent of the cultural expressions or codifications found within the
It is an outcome of this line of thought that this theory of human
socio-cultural realities as natural systems theory of informational patterning
is scientific because it is by definition and demonstration effectively
independent of any particular socio-cultural context of interpretation, and
hence can be considered non-ethnocentric and objectively unbiased, though it
is equally amenable to virtually any different cultural orientation.
Symbolic framing is a term coined for a very basic perceptual and cognitive
process of filling in the ambiguous gaps of a figure-ground relationship such
that a gestalt configuration is achieved in the comprehension of an external
stimuli. It is referred to as symbolic because it is held to be the
fundamental neural mechanism underlying our capacity for symbolization and the
construction of symbolic meaning in reality. A series of symbolic frame tasks
were devised and administered in the course of an extensive ethnographic study
with the intention of analyzing in greater detail the hypothetical process of
symbolic framing and its variations in a number of different tasks.
It may be said at the outset that symbolic framing is a form of pattern
recognition in which the achievement of a "gestalt" or comprehension
of a unified configuration is tied to our capacity for processing and
organizing the figure-frame or figure-ground or figure-field relationships
both perceptually and conceptually. Reference to a phenomenal field as the
ground of both perception and cognition refers to a basic neural unity of
mental activations which are rooted in the base nervous sensory perception of
the world, and works its way up to the level of abstract conceptualization and
In this regard, we cannot consider the abstract thought of some ideal
notion to be fundamentally, in essence, any different or separate from the
perception of, say an apple or the feeling of a slimy fish in our hands. We
may speak then of a presupposed psychic-phenomenal unity of experience which
states not that all of us sees things necessarily in the same way, but that
the things we see tend to see also to be the things that we think. A mental
disorder like schizophrenia may be the rudimentary disunification of this
relatively continuous field of psychic integration. Perceptions and
conceptions no longer stand in any necessary one-to-one correspondence or in
homologous or even analogous relationship.
Behind this psychic-phenomenal unity of experience exists an innate
predisposition of the mind to superimpose a sense of order, or, to put it
another way, to prefer and select for a sense of field coherence such that
there is continuity and consistency of experience. Perceptual constancy is but
one fairly well studied aspect of this general mental tendency. This is a very
basic proclivity of the mind, and occurs on a level which is automatic and
usually, normally, well out of our conscious awareness. It may be argued that
this predisposition is so fundamental to human mentation that it actually
frees our conscious mind the problematics of attending to details to attend to
more focal and adaptively significant tasks.
To a large extent, symbolic framing shares a very similar and, it is
argued, derivative function of both smoothing the ripples of the phenomenal
and psychic field, and of maintaining the coherence and unity of experience.
As it often happens, disruptions and disunities of experience frequently
occur at many levels of our experience. These threaten and tend to undermine
our sense of unity of experience. They result in confusion, disorientation,
cognitive errors of mistaken identity, tricks of the mind, and cognitive
dissonance are the result of such states of disrepair. Thus it largely becomes
the psychological function of the mind in our recognition and relation to the
field of experience to be able to repair in a sufficient manner these
disruptions of our field in order that they do not pose a threat to our sense
of order any longer, and a sense of unity and gestalt experience can be
Cognitive repair occurs continuously on very unconscious and even in very
fundamental perceptual ways. The famous blank spot in the corner of our field
of vision at which the optic nerve connects to the inner surface of the eye,
is almost always filled in by information from surrounding rod and cone cells
such that a spot never comes to our awareness. The mind has a tremendous
facility in filling in the gaps of the perceptual field such that we perceive
as continuous what may in fact be discontinuous signals. The net effect is the
generation of an illusion of animated consciousness or of a continuous stream
of experience. The point by point focal awareness of our focal awareness or
consciousness is another case in point. The fact that awareness is rarely if
ever steadily focused, but continuously networks a configuration of focal
points in our field of awareness, demonstrates that even at a higher level of
consciousness our experience is rarely if ever a steady state though it
It is this proclivity and inherent organizational facility of the human
mind that, it is the claim of this paper, constitutes the foundation of
symbolic awareness as a distinctively human form of mentation and that
underlies the constructive and productive processes of allow our systems of
symbolic representation of reality. To dismiss this process as merely
"pattern-recognition" misses the point of the complexity of the
process as an innate patterning of both the brain and human mentation. It is a
form of pattern-recognition which may be like the frog's visual recognition of
a fly in motion or of a shadow. But it is a form of recognition with a
difference as the frog instinctively responds to the fly's motion or the
presence of a shadow, but the human must think about it, symbolize it, even
name it, and then decide on a course of action, whether this is reflexive or
not. In fact, human's cannot but help think about it even in the basic sense
that much of the filling in of gaps of lower-order sensory fields may actually
be accomplished at a higher level or from a higher level source. Thus, human
brains are thinking machines in a very basic and fundamental ways, and have
probably evolved as such. We are thinking all of the time--even when we are
asleep or when we are dreaming, our brains our thinking. And the basic way
that we think is by definition and function symbolic.
In the process of elicitation of symbolic frame tasks, several patterns of
response became quite evident:
1. Memory material stored deeply in the mind is frequently used for filling
in the gaps of the phenomenal field in order to achieve a gestalt.
2. Such memory material, itself symbolic, is often times incorrect or
erroneous in that it does not "fit" the field.
3. Memory material seems to come from different, and probably stratified
levels and these levels reflect the working of thoughts from perceptual
substance to full blown abstract rationalizations. Memory material that comes
deeply from the mind tends to be more abstractly symbolic than surface
content. Thus the filling in of perceptual gaps may require only the material
available from short-term memory--the color of the surrounding background of
the object, for instance. If unavailable, or if the gaps are of a more complex
sequential or arrangement pattern in a figure field relations, then the memory
information may be drawn from a deeper source of a working or a medium term
memory. Finally, if the gaps represent a basic figure-frame ambiguity or
inherent thematic ambiguity of the figure itself, then memory information
relied upon to disambiguate the figure-frame relation or to make thematic
sense of the figure may be drawn more deeply from within the memory, drawing
upon psychic content or material which may be more symbolic as well as
rationalistic in the conventional sense.
4. It is evident that these processes of "psychic repair" of the
phenomenal field are largely unconscious and, furthermore, compulsive. We
cannot but help but do these things, because we are driving in a fundamental,
perhaps "squamous" way to configure pattern and structure in our
5. The process of disruption and repair are fairly continuous background
processes, and normally this can be considered a subconscious form of basic
learning. It can be expected that the mind will come to habitually rely upon
similar or the same memory materials that it successfully applied to previous
6. But there results a certain potential for negative or degenerative
feedback such that greater disruption generates greater repair which generates
a greater likelihood of disrepair or mistakes, which leads to greater
disruption or the process of disrupted information as if it were normal.
Uncorrected problems of vision or hearing, or problems of visual or auditory
integration, may lead to deeper seated problems of cognitive disrepair, or the
creation and filling in of gaps deeper within the processes of consciousness.
I refer to this as basically psychically pathological processes of secondary
7.It appears that there are within the mind basic forms which are good to
think and that the mind uses to fill in and on which to construct more
elaborated forms albeit in a stereotypical, analogous or simplified manner.
There is a marked tendency to rely upon such basic forms at very early stages
of the process of symbolic disambiguation.
8. Furthermore, it appears that with the deeper, more expressive, processes
of symbolic repair, there are certain basic, paradigmatically alternate
directions of stylization, as well as mixed, inbetween, hybrids, that such
reconstructive repair can take, and these basic symbolic directions appear to
be affectively and symbolically tied to the psycho-social identity of the self
in relation to the other, as well as to the juxtapositioning of the ideal in
relation to the base or vulgar.
9. These tendencies appear to take on a pattern similar to that elucidated
by Claude Levi-Strauss in the dialectical interplay and synthesis of
opposites, and elicited forms of thematic rationalization can be referred to
as forms of ego-defense mechanisms in the conceptual definition of the
boundary and symbolic mediation between these dialectically contraposed
symbolic forms. These structural patterns appear to be deeply rooted in the
psyche and in a sense predetermine our symbolic recognition and interpretation
of the world. They are mostly unconscious processes which shape our conscious
10. At all levels, these forms of consciousness tend to take two or three
basic modalities--a normal mode, a neurotic mode, and a psychically or
organically disturbed mode that can be distinguished on the ability to achieve
a clear gestalt or relative level of psychic integration of the figure-ground
relationship, and by the noticeable absence or presence of latent processes of
secondary psychic disrepair.
11. Furthermore, these forms of conscious process can also be said to be
distinguished on the basis of their relative level organic articulation
between internal and external realities and relative level of achieved
symbolic differentiation and sophistication of elaborated forms. In this
regard, there appears to be an acquired form of disordered characteriological
dependency in gross relation to the environment which can be thought to be a
kind of passive responsiveness to the environment versus an active
participation with it. This form of phenomenal dependency upon the whole to
frame the part can be considered as an overall and nearly exclusive over
reliance on the external cues of the context of psychic perception, to the
ignorance or inability to effectively separate or disambiguate as definitively
distinct the object of focus from the framework
Symbolic framing procedures offer a productive new methodology. Not only
are a wide variety of symbolic frame devices able to be designed and
administered in a controlled and reliable manner, but different procedures
allow for multiple or similar forms of analysis and representation of the
response patterns which enable a systematic mapping of these patterns and an
exploration of the symbolic spaces which they open up for us. Furthermore,
symbolic framing methodology readily lends itself to the construction of
alternative computer systems which allow for the complex modeling of
We may refer to the ability of the same symbolic framing devices to
approach the analysis of symbolic framing in its several respects
First, it allows elicitation of knowledge, domains, terms and their
relations which are indicative indirectly of the external patterning of
information in the socio-cultural contexts, especially as such knowledge is a
Secondly, it allows the detailed analytical means of indirectly
demonstrating the internal processes and patterning of the cognitive
differentiation and affective dynamics of the phenomenal field, as well as the
basic symbolic processes which allow the intermediation between internal and
Third, they allow us a form of control over the process which enable us to
situate the administration and pattern of response within the socio-cultural
milieu which is a naturalistic context of their normal occurrence. We can then
speak of experimentally manipulating the cultural context or of
observationally analyzing it in order to more fully investigate the patterning
of influence this may have upon symbolic framing.
THEORY AND METHOD OF SYMBOLIC FRAMING
The Science of Anthropology has yet to define itself paradigmatically,
though some would claim that it is essentially a non-paradigmatic humanity,
while many others, especially in the United States, have attempted to fit it
into a biological model of Evolution--which from the standpoint of culture is
a little like trying to fit the model of biological evolution into the
physical model of Einstein's theory of relativity.
Socio-biological and bio-cultural studies that attempt to explain social
behavior and patterning on the basis of genetic and evolutionary causes while
at the same time explaining away or euphemistically redefining human culture
as biology represents a kind of persistent folk biology which is deeply rooted
in nature/nurture dichotomy and in the belief that "blood is thicker than
water." These orientations indirectly serve to legitimate very
conservative and essentially racist "do nothing" attitudes and
structural relations which continue domestically to discriminate and victimize
by "benign neglect" certain minority groups--largely blacks,
homosexuals, and poor women and children, and internationally to promote
"coca cola" policies of aiding the elite while starving the poor.
Not only have no clear cut genetic linkages ever been found to explain
complex individual behaviors, but no genetic linkages have ever been clearly
proven to underlie complex social patterning. These attempts when applied to
cultural explanations of reality represent a kind of pseudo-science which,
because they ignore the problem of human history and conflate and fail to
clearly discriminate at several levels (early socialization, development,
secondary socialization and social sanctioning) the influence of environment
and culture in the patterning of individual behavior.
There have been five cornerstones in cultural anthropological
research--relativism, cross-cultural comparison, a strong inductivist
empiricism, participant observation and a quest for universal's of human
nature. It has been upon these cornerstones that a genuine science of
anthropology must be built.
The concept and study of human ethno-culture has been posed as a viable
alternative to implicitly racist biological approaches to the study of human
society and culture. Ethnoculture outlines not only an attitude towards the
importance of historical relations and events in influencing the patterning of
culture, and of the resulting relativities of culture history, but also the
intrinsic and unavoidable historicity of our hermeneutical and critical
interpretations of the evidence, both from a standpoint of internal and
external validity, that renders all our models of the other largely reified
"constructions" of our own making.
The science of anthropology can move beyond these limitations, but only
slowly and carefully and not by committing the majority of its funding to
genetic short-cuts or grand leaps of evolutionary faith.
Cultural gestalt is the distinctive pattern of
characteristics--including mental attitudes, affective dispositions,
perceptions, language, systems of belief, value, knowledge, technology,
customs, arts, styles of social interaction, sanctions, roles, behavior,
habits of dress, tastes and eating habits, material and symbolic artifacts and
relations with an environmental context--shared by an ethnoculture,
a corporate community of people existing in a common time and place, that is
defined both internally by shared cognitive structures of mind and externally
in social relations and reference with other people and groups.
The emphasis upon ethnoculture as a viable theoretical alternative provides
a critical emphasis upon the reality of culture--not as an end-product
or by-product of other theoretical explanations (as something to be explained
away), but as itself a viable social and historical phenomena which causes
things to happen to people in the world.
The study of ethnoculture has become particularly important in the
post-colonial world where new asymmetrical nationalisms have encompassed
diverse cultures and have served to highlight ethnic differences and
identities in the struggle for resources and power in the world, even to the
point of ethnic schismogenesis.
Symbolic framing constitutes a general theory about human cultural
phenomena. Culture from this standpoint is the whole gestalt
of symbolic connections between external social-environmental relations and
internalized mental representations of these relations, and the consequent
behavioral, emotional and social patterning which represent responses to these
relations. Culture takes shape, has reference to and is always 'situated'
within a larger nexus of historical, social and environmental relations. We
cannot consider human identity or social phenomena outside of or apart from
this cultural context which serves to relativize cultural orientations and
differences between groups.
Socially, culture comes to define itself through processes of interpersonal
objectification at several possible levels (familially, locally, ethnically,
regionally, nationally) in terms of a shared corporate sense of community that
is larger than life and to some extent has a superorganic life of its own. At
the same time, culture comes to express itself psychologically in terms of
individual identity and personality, through processes of subjectification
involving internalization and identification with group values and norms, a
distinctive profile of shared traits or range of behaviors and symbolic
orientations, rationalizations, attitudes and motivations. The collective
sharing of a suit of traits, and its sanctioning, reinforcement and
reification as if natural and given, both socially and psychologically,
constitutes the basis of cultural reality.
The general 'Symbolic framing theory' informing this study can be outlined
by seven main principles and their corollaries:
1. Culture is causally effective and thus functionally real. Maintaining
cultural gestalt is vital both to the functioning of human society as well as
to the ordering of human consciousness, and is an expression of the natural
cybernetics of culture.
a: Cultural reality is holistically integrated.
Cultural Gestalt can be best understood at the level of cultural phenomena
itself, within the context of its historical occurrence, and analytical
reduction of such patterning is inadequate to the representation of culture,
though acceptable and demanded from the standpoint of cross-cultural analysis.
b: Cultural reality is symbolically mediated and
subjectively embodied. The implicit cultural gestalt becomes internalized
through processes of enculturation and socialization, and humans have evolved
explicitly for this process of internalization which is accomplished through
the symbolic mediation of language.
b: Human reality is culturally and psychologically
relative. The cultural gestalts of different peoples follows different
patterning, and these differences are in many ways incommensurable and
incompatible with one another.
2. Cultural reality is always ethnoculturally situated in an
historical context of asymmetrical acculturation. Cultural Gestalts
are the historical consequence of ethnocultural groupings maintaining their
distinctive cultural orientation in background relation to other ethnocultural
a: Ethno-culture is an enduring, corporate institutional
form of symbolic expression that is characterized by: 1. a shared sense of
identity; 2. a shared sense of community; 3. a shared implicit patterning of
b: Ethno-cultural realities are embedded within larger
social historical realities and is but one level of human reality which is
itself integrated with other kinds of social, historical and biographical
3. Cultural change due to historical influence is inevitable.
Cultural realities are always changing historically and are part consequence
of inter-cultural contacts or patterns of acculturation from alternative
cultural realities which become the primary source of discordance and change
for a cultural grouping.
a: For a variety of different reasons, cultures may change
at different and variable rates.
b: Acculturation is the primary source of cultural change.
Though cultural change may be both endogenous and exogenous, extraneous
acculturative influences have been historically preponderant and are usually
the independent variable while endogenous changes remain the dependent
c: Cultural reality is contextualized and relativized
within a multicultural continuum. All cultures exist within a larger
socio-historical continuum which serves to contextualize inter-cultural
relations. We can speak of an historically defined, multi-cultural continuum
which constitutes the larger social realities of humankind and which always
serve to contextualize and relativize the realities of any single culture.
4: All cultural groupings face a common and chronic
existential challenge of adaptive integration in relation to change.
Because of the inevitability of cultural change, groups always face the
existential problem of adaptive integration. The problem of cultural
integration is the chronic consequence of change, of always being only
partially and incompletely integrated.
a: Cultural Gestalt is cybernetically structured on
the basis of the functional need to always maximize cultural coherence and
minimize cultural chaos.
b: All cultural groupings are preoccupied with the problem
of reconstruction, defined as the reciprocal problems of primary production
and secondary reproduction of the predominant cultural patterning. Production
concerns the utilization of basic resources vital to the survival of the
population. Reproduction concerns the replacement of the population and the
symbolic continuation of the cultural gestalt. In order for a culture to
adapt in the long run, reproductive strategies must be consonant with
c: All cultures are inherently conservative, some more
than others. The conservativeness of cultural orientations, usually
expressed as tradition and the resistance to innovation, is a natural and
normal predisposition of all cultural orientations, and is the principle
expression of the cultural interests in the priority of cultural reproduction.
d: All cultures are minimally shared. Culture is
mostly a social phenomena, and cultural integration is mostly achieved through
sharing of cultural traits and the minimal achievement of cultural consensus.
e: Cultural reproduction depends upon primary
enculturation and socialization, i.e. direct and indirect sanctioning of
appropriate traits, ideals, patterns, habits, tastes, models, roles,
interpersonal relations and symbolic and institutional forms of culture.
Cultures are transmitted through time and conserved principally by the means
of enculturation and subsequent sanctioning of appropriate behavior by adults.
f: Cultural reconstruction is reinforced by its positive
valuation, its social sanctioning, symbolic reification and its focal
elaboration in patterns of secondary socialization and enculturation.
5 The challenge of cultural integration results in the construction
of cultural reality structured in terms of the gestalt patterning of human
symbolization. Cultural reality is symbolic and the symbolic
organization of cultural reality forms a "gestalt" patterning. Symbolization
is a pattern-matching process in which externally framed figure-ground
relationships are perceived as isomorphic or discordant with internalized
information about such relationships. The cultural construction of human
reality is primarily symbolic, and this symbolic basis of human culture
underlies the mental, emotional, linguistic, relational, behavioral and even
material organization of human existence.
a: Cultural reproduction involves the dialectical
processes of social externalization and psycho-social internalization of
symbolic forms. Humans have externalized as a part of their objective
environments elements which are both natural and cultural in origin, and have
simultaneously internalized the same elements, and there is a constant
feedback between these internal and external realities. The results of this
dialectical process can be referred to as the cultural construction of
b: The human capacity and evolutionary possibility of
cultural reality is cognitively embedded in the organization of the brain and
has its origins in human evolution. The cognitive foundation of
cultural organization is primarily symbolic, built upon the gestalt
pattern-matching competence of the human brain, and we can properly speak of
the symbolic organization of cultural realities and of its many aspects--its
language, art, religion, technology and practical or "reality
culture" as well.
The symbolic organization of human reality has its foundation in the neuro-physiological
organization of the human brain, and in the developmental ontogeny of the
individual as a culture-bearer.
6. The reconstruction of cultural reality becomes symbolically
reified as a unique and distinctive "gestalt" of adaptive
integration and expression of individual and cultural identity. The
human reconstruction of cultural reality is an adaptive response that becomes
symbolically reified. Human nature and culture are dialectically intertwined,
such that culture defines and is defined by human nature. The symbolic
reification of the cultural construction of reality depends upon the perceived
and recognized isomorphism between internalized and externalized versions
of that reality.
a: The principle consequences of cultural integration and
reproduction become expressed primarily in symbolic forms of contradiction and
consonance affecting the organization of everyday life. These
contradictions and consonances are manifest upon several levels of cultural
reality, in the dialectical problems of symbolic boundary maintenance both
within and outside of the cultural grouping of people, and in terms of
status-role identification of the individual within the group, and in the
existential dilemmas which are commonly shared in the life-worlds of its
b: Culture is socially externalized in interpersonal
relations and institutional organization and psychologically internalized in
the status-role identity of the individual. The realities of
culture are mostly subjective and socially expressed by its members via their
values, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, knowledge, language, behavior, external
and material representations, and social institutional forms, in relation with
one another. The internalization and externalization processes are mutually
and dialectically reinforcing, and are necessary in the reification of
cultural reconstructions of reality.
c: Inconsistencies in social-psychological identification,
interpersonal relations and boundary maintenance are the principle forms of
symbolic expression of the contradictions and discordance of cultural
realties. This proposition is more of an hypothesis that some forms of
illness and social pathology will be symbolic expressions symptomatic of
deeper and broader psycho-cultural dilemmas and conflicts.
d: Language is the principle means of the symbolic
mediation, communication and expression of cultural reification. Language
is the central symbolic mechanism mediating between external patterns of
culture and internalized maps of culture. Linguistic analysis must ultimately
be framed in terms of this symbolic function--i.e. language is symbolically
The difficulty in approaching the problem of cultural reality is its
'non-reflexive transparency'--an inherent invisibility of the facets of one's
own culture that is the consequence of its deep internalization and
contextualizing in the background of everyday life, and thus its tendency to
become 'naturalized' as a taken-for-granted aspect of human nature that is
usually out of awareness.
The theory of symbolic framing in the formation of cultural gestalt brings
us to the central problem of the integration of human reality simultaneously
at several levels of its psychological articulation and differentiation.
Symbolisms allow the integration of diverse and eclectic elements into a
coherent and otherwise unnatural order. This is the power of symbolization to
merge and fill in gaps and to overcome the contrasts represented by
contradictory or incompatible elements.
Cultural gestalt, moreover, is more than just a predominant patterning of a
culture as defined by the average or modal personality. It is a set of
consistent relationships between variables which is both externalized in the
cultural landscape and internalized as a cognitive map in the brain of the
Cultural Gestalt is a mosaic of traits and affinities, except that
individual patterning varies markedly--more like a variable cultural moire.
Though the individual components and relationships of the gestalt may vary,
there are consistent patterns within these relationships--frequencies of
occurrence, marked salience of certain objects, remarkable lack of salience
for others that remains unvaried and which give a distinctive form to the
gestalt. Though individual components of the mosaic may be continuously
juxtaposed with one another, these broader relationships remain stable.
The external stimuli of a symbol can be thought of as only a single tile of
the cultural mosaic, but it should not be construed as just an artifact or
objective entity. A symbol is more of an expression of a relationship and a
process of interaction between the external and internal worlds, and can be
thought of rather as a mediator or "interface" between these worlds.
It is more precise to speak of symbolization than of symbols per se.
Symbolizations as human percepto-cognitive constructs "fill" in
and "repair" gaps in the cognized field of environmental relations,
thus smoothing out and rendering this field coherent and apparently
All symbolizations share a number of common features rooted to the symbolic
psychology of the mind, one that underlies the psychology of culture. Anything
can be symbolic and most things have a symbolic aspect. Symbols are composite
constructs. All symbols have an external reference--a perceptual stimuli
configured against an expected context of relations with other stimuli. All
symbols have a multifaceted, emblematic structure composed of multiple signs,
multi-modal percepts and alternative associations. All symbols also have an
internal reference--a set of semantic, affective, linguistic and evaluative
relations or associations which define the internal locus that is rooted in
the memory. Symbols thus chunk the landscape of cultural knowledge in distinct
There are several important characteristics of cultural knowledge:
1. Cultural knowledge is historically influenced, principally by processes
2. Cultural knowledge is materially embedded in or 'situated' in a local
social and environmental context.
3. Cultural knowledge is psychologically embodied within the mental and
behavioral constructions and response of the individual as a culture bearer.
4. Cultural knowledge is primarily symbolic, comprising both internal and
external components of symbolization.
5. Symbolic functioning of the human mind is organized on the basis of
gestalt pattern recognition, therefore cultural knowledge is deposited in the
human mind as such gestalt patterning.
6. Cultural knowledge is linguistically encoded and is linguistically
relative to the group in which it is situated.
7. Cultural knowledge is unevenly distributed across a group, hence we may
speak of different levels and orientations of cultural competence within any
8. The patterning, function and organization of cultural knowledge is
mostly implicit, unconscious and contextual to human awareness, both
psychologically in the mind of the cultural informant and culturally in the
arrangement and patterning of the socio-cultural context.
9. The patterning of cultural knowledge is therefore normally transparent
and invisible to the cultural informant.
Gestalt symbolization thus describes a complex cultural psychology--an
understanding of how cultural knowledge becomes embedded in the mind of the
culture bearer as a distinct set of psychological affinities and processes
that are shared within a community.
Gestalt symbolization represents a simple extension of the principles of
gestalt perception to the process of symbolization, or the human cognition of
symbols, which is held to be primarily a perceptual process and secondarily a
cognitive process. The symbolic
'chunking' of human experience defines those gestalt patterns that are
culturally appropriate and which are perceived in a relatively unambiguous
Symbolization may occur in a fairly discrete number of steps--each
representing a distinct psychological process. These steps are ordered along a
single continuum ranging from gestalt perception to conception and, though
discrete, seem to share in many of the same fundamental cognitive processes of
It is evident that language intrudes upon and is implicated in these
processes as early as the stage of focal attention. But language
identification is clearly present in the process of objectification and all
subsequent processes, and language can be seen as inherent to the indexical
functioning of the cognitive mapping of the external world. The internal
cognitive 'map' of reality is mediated by language and linked to the function
of the memory as well as to the development of passive 'pattern recognition'
of an internalized semantic field.
Memory is stratified on at least four or five levels of functions:
short-term memory, working memory, daily memory, medium-term memory, weekly,
long-term memory--life-long. Memory is symbolically structured and mediated
via linguistic indexing. Memory provides a mental map of symbolic reality.
This map is constantly being tested against the perception and interaction
with the external world.
It is also evident that there may be clearly divergent alternative
cognitive styles of problem solving and cognitive task performance as well as
of personality orientation, that may be adequately encompassed within any
single cultural orientation. Any cultural orientation is inherently flexible
enough, and the processes of human symbolization so complex, as to allow for
the coexistence and mutual functioning of a virtual infinity of alternate
psychological orientations and profiles to coexist.
The cybernetics of culture are that the internal patterning of the map and
the external construction of the cultural environment are mutually reinforcing
but not entirely symmetrical or exactly isomorphic. The mind is not the
perfect mirror of the world. It is more an anagraphicl distortion of the
stimuli received from the world in different ways. Culture is, therefore, the
overall gestalt which results from this cybernetic interaction and integration
of a shared symbolic field.
The cultural landscape is nothing other than the embedded field of symbols
situated in time and place--in the effective cultural environment within a
specific ethnocultural community. The relative coherence and integration of
this field is a measure and product of the degree of fit between external and
There are a set of centrally important hypothesis to be tested by this
research. These are:
1. All human symbolization depends upon and involves basic processes of
human perception and cognition that are fundamentally gestalt in structure and
organization, therefore all human symbolization is also gestalt in design and
2. Basic cognitive processes of memory, cognitive mapping, reason, are
indexically organized by linguistic symbols, therefore language is also
symbolically structured in both the mind and as spoken discourse.
3. Cultural and psychological realities are integrated principally by means
of gestalt symbolization, therefore cultural reality is also symbolically
organized and its patterning follows the gestalt of human symbolization.
4. Cultural symbolization is minimally shared and this sharing constitutes
the basis of predominant cultural patterning, therefore, for any given
community or sample, we may hypothesize an 'average level of cultural
competence' defined by the degree of sharing manifest.
5. Cultural symbolisms are emically salient and subjectively available to
the average member of a culture, therefore patterns of cultural symbolization,
cultural sharing and cultural-based cognition are etically available by the
elicitation of shared patterns of response to similar symbolic stimuli.
6. While anything may be symbolic, at any one time some symbols are more
salient than others, and different cultures pick and choose focal and
peripheral symbols from among a wider field, therefore, generally speaking,
the more salient a symbol from among a field of alternative objects; 1. the
more focal is that symbol to the cultural orientation; 2. the greater number
of psychological processes are involved in the definition of the symbol.
The objective of this study has been nothing less than a systematic
description of Malaysian Chinese cultural gestalts in terms of the
correlations and relationships manifest between a number of discrete
variables--colors, objects, words, phrases, symbols, shapes, values-- as
indicated by response patterns to a series of symbolic frame tests. The
patterning of interrelationships defined between these kinds of variables can
be said to characterize the community upon a distinctive cultural symbolic
The basic design of symbolic frame tasks is rooted in the empirical
efficacy of several basic principles of gestalt perception. Human perception
is held to be consistent with the psychological integration of information as
well as behavioral or symbolic response associated with such perception.
Problems with perception are held to be primarily a problem of the interaction
of the figure-ground or part-whole relationship, and are indirect indications
of deeper seated problems tied to the percepto-cognitive pathway of the
integration of perceptual information.
The central principles of gestalt perception are:
1. The principle of inhomogeneity--the figure must be in some way
incongruent with the ground in order to be readily recognized as such.
2. The principle of interaction of figure-ground--different backgrounds
influence the perception of the figure. The more congruent are figure and
ground, the more stable is perceptioin--the more incongruent, the less stable
3. The principle of the laws of grouping--each figure has its own separate
properties aside from those of its ground such that when certain conditions
are achieved between the parts, namely proximity, similarity or common fate
(i.e. same rotation or relative position to the frame) the more cohesive and
unitary the figure appears to be. The less the proximity, similarity or fate
are acheived, the greater the internal ambiguity and less stable is the
perception of the figure.
4. the principle of the law of Pragnanz--the tendency to get a decisive
structuration of the perceived object with true orientation, such that a
perceived "gestalt" tends to become sharply, correctly defined, more
precise and stable as conditions permit.
According to these principles, there is a greater cohesiveness and
stability of the figure-ground relationship as these principles hold, and
inversely, greater ambiguity and instability of the figure-ground relationship
as these principles fail to pertain to the perception. Between these there is
a continuum of more to less ordered or integrated gestalt perception. The
failure to achieve gestalt or to achieve only a poor gestalt in perception may
be credited to the application, or lack of realization, of these principles.
"Psychologically, an organizing process occurs in perception which
involves both internalization of objects and externalization of a subject's
differentiation in this regard. Thus, adaptive behavior depends upon the
quality and direction of a person's response to perceived objects in terms of
inner needs and outer realities." (Fuller, 1982: 85)
Other gestalt principles also play in the operation of perceptual response
to symbolic frame tasks. It became evident that there is a constancy of
perceptual field that may be carried over from one gestalt to another and that
may influence the perception of gestalt. The need to control the local,
immediate ground in the elicitation of the tasks points out the influence of
this tendency towards perceptual constancy.
Another principle that appears to hold across samples is that certain basic
forms are inherently "good to think" and are implicated at the early
stages of perception and influence the ability to achieve gestalt recognition.
To the extent that the perceived figure-ground relationship appears to
resemble such basic forms, the prestructuring of such forms may facilitate the
gestalt perception. Related to such basic forms are also what appear to be
culturally defined 'stereotypical' forms which are "cartoonish" and
that prefigure in the perception of the gestalt. An extension of this
principle is to hypothesize that more basic and regular shapes, forms, figures
and things will tend to be preferred over more elaborated, irregular forms,
and that to some unknown extent, culture will dictate the preference for and
selection of some kinds of things over others.
Another principle which emerged strongly in at least one pattern
recognition task was that in at least visual stimuli, asymmetrical objects are
perceived earlier, more correctly and more easily than symmetrical objects.
The rational is that asymmetrical objects show greater incongruence with the
ground, and provide a handle for the laws of grouping and pragnanz to be
achieved in the gestalt perception of the figure. We might hypothetically
extend this hypothesis to conclude that intrinsically imbalanced forms are
more readily perceived than balanced forms.
Finally, and most importantly for the understanding of symbolic frame
tasks, it can be said that the context of the ground has a significant
influence over the perception of the gestalt of the figure or of the
figure-ground relationship, such that the greater the complexity, ambiguity
and interference of the ground, the less stable and more imprecise is the
perception and configuration of the figure in relation to the ground.
Within symbolic frame tasks, it is possible to distinguish several distinct
types of part-whole relationships--a figure-ground, a figure-frame and a
A figure ground relationship is a simple figure against a neutral or
unconfigured background--usually a white or blank piece of paper or the
neutral tan of a task elicitation board.
A figure frame relationship is a more complex presentation of a central
figure oriented around either an explicit or implicit frame, both of which
appear against a background--thus figure-frame relationship by design are
inherently more complex and tend to be more interesting and provocative than
simpler figure-ground relationships. A rod and frame relationship is a typical
figure-frame relationship--the perception of a figure through a window, or in
relation to the implicit frame of the edge of the paper or outline of a card,
are forms of such figure-frame relationships.
A figure-field relationship consists of a presentation of a central figure
in relation to a surrounding field of other similar or different figures, or
an array or arrangement of figures, as a "+" in an array of
We may also specify a specific form of a part-whole relationship which
consists of a marked part of some structure against a shared background, as an
alternative form of such relationship.
All or some combination of these relationships may pertain and be
controlled for in the construction and elicitation of different types of
tasks. We can thus manipulate these constraints to systematically vary the
degree to which they interfere with or intrude upon the perception of the
figure or part-whole relationship, with significant consequences for patterns
of response. In general, the greater the complexity of the figure-ground/frame
or field relationship, the greater the interference of the background to the
perception of the gestalt, and the greater the likelihood of error and
ambiguity in the perceptual integration of the figure background relationship.
Tasks also vary along a continuum to the extent to which they response can
be evaluated by some criteria of "correct" performance, or the
achievement of a "true" gestalt, versus tasks which lack a
"correct" or even a normal standard, but aim at eliciting a variety
of different responses. In general, a more "performance" type tasks
is one in which the individual learns through systematic error, and will, over
time, "improve" performance upon repeated elicitations. The
distinctions between these types of tasks may not always be as clear-cut as we
may think them to be. Standards of what is correct or "better" or
preferable may be culturally implicit in the context of the elicitation of the
Since the central set of hypothesis of this methodology depends critically
upon establishing such significant patterns, the empirical efficacy, validity,
reliability and inductive interpretability of the symbolic frame task remains
the methodological cinch pin of this entire study.
In general, the design of the various symbolic frame tasks share the
1. A general, controlled local background defining the frame, field or
ground of perception.
2. A partial, incomplete or otherwise ambiguous focal
"structure", stimuli or object of attention defining the figure of
3. A standard protocol of instructions and an instrument for the
"filling" in of the frame in a more or less constrained manner.
The symbolic frame can be regarded as an incomplete visual or oral stimuli
to which the interviewee must respond by completion of the frame. Such frames
vary considerably in the amount to which they are both internally
constrained--the degree of completeness of the inherent structure of the
frame--and externally constrained by the degree to which specific protocols or
instructions inform the completion of the task. The resulting elicitations and
patterns of response to such tasks have semantic, cultural and projective
content. The completion of the frame, whether partial or total, minimal or
exhaustive, is sought and is regarded as leading to the full contextualization
of the frame.
All frames share a basic, hypothetical attribute, in that they are:
1. somehow minimally constrained in terms of the figure-ground perception
of the symbolic frame and the manner of elicitation.
2. somehow have a minimally controlled local context and ground.
3. a somehow incomplete in the part-whole relations, creating a
"gap" in the phenomenal field which becomes the task of the subject
to fill in to complete the frame.
4. are provocative of some kind or level of ambiguity of part-whole
relationship and alternative response which creates room for variability of
response pattern and for incorrect type responses--i.e. controlled error of
The boundary where one kind of task ends and another kind begins is often
unclear, as many of the perceptual and ethno-symbolic tasks certainly involve
an amount of apperceptive and projective response, while many of the
originally projective types of techniques also involved definite perceptual
and cognitive and symbolic identification. Rather than obfuscating the
linkages and distinctions between these types of tasks, the considerable
overlap between them is an important source of information and reinforcement
for the response patterns that emerged from them.
In general, a distinction can be made between linguistic type tasks or
linguistic components of task design, and non-linguistic components. It is
hypothesized that the linguistic components of tasks primarily elicit
information which is conscious, which functions at the level of conscious
awareness, and thus secondarily and only indirectly at the level of
unconscious awareness. On the other hand, non-linguistic components of tasks,
for instance, the selection of colors, drawing, recognition of form and
pattern in inkblots, function largely and more directly on the unconscious
level, which, while rendering them perhaps more directly insightful of the
background of cultural knowledge, at the same time render their analysis
interpretation inherently more problematic.
The types of symbolic and cognitive processes the informant is using to
perform the tasks are the same that the informant will use everyday within a
cultural context, thus the consistent patterns of response to these types of
tests and the correlations between them will provide insight into the cultural
gestalt of the informants--insights which will yield understanding to be
confirmed by more emic forms of analysis and description of the ethnocultural
However personally idiosyncratic the overall patterning of response by any
one informant, there is hypothesized a minimum amount of overlap which
constitutes the basis of culture in context--the sharing of cultural traits
and attitudes. Sharing is rooted in consensus theory and hypothetical
agreement--the greater the agreement the greater the level of sharing that can
be hypothesized, while the greater the level of sharing hypothesized, the
greater the degree of agreement can be expected. Those traits which are most
shared should also be those which are more salient, more central and more
contextual, and are also those traits which are more consistently reinforced
and valued within the cultural context.
Primary symbolizations which are more basic in the cultural context and
more fundamental in human personality are reinforced by secondary systems of
symbolization which modify, reinforce, manipulate primary symbolizations and
which annihilate or rehabilitate alternate symbolizations. These secondary
symbolizations involve ego-defense mechanisms and culturally shared
rationalizations which are highly schematized, formalized, and stylized.
All significant, intentional behavior has symbolic components, and many of
these symbolic components are culturally organized. It is in terms of both the
psychological and cultural organization of these components that they have
significance--within the context in which they occur.
Though no single test or technique is adequate or sufficient for either the
diagnosis of personality or the analysis of the internalization of cultural
symbolisms, all tasks together elicit to some degree two kinds of
"psycho-cultural" information at two levels of analysis:
Direct, manifest symbolisms are externalized and projected onto the stimuli
of the technique. These are usually culturally sanctioned and defined, even if
anti-structural in character, and they are primarily indicated by content of
response: "what" it is, and by marked "positive" or
"negative" valuations or judgments as to the basic
"goodness" or "badness" or a stimuli--whether
"pretty" or "ugly", nice or bad, etc.
Indirect, latent symbolisms which are repressed and internalized and which
constitute the motivational basis for: 1. the strength of response as
indicated by salience and attention; 2. the direction of response as indicated
by choice and focus of attention; 3. avoidance or blocking of stimuli which
evokes threatening feelings, or by rationalization, in the explanation of
"why," 4. what can be referred to as apperceptive or
The challenge in such task construction is the effective combination of
ethnosemantic elicitations of indigenous cultural knowledge with the use of
"contextualized" projective stimuli that enable the elicitation and
clear demarcation of response patterns at both levels of analysis:
The stimuli of any symbolic frame tasks must minimally:
1. be symbolically effective--they must be evocative if not provocative of
response; 2. be culturally relevant--available to the normal, everyday
awareness and perceptions of the average informant;
3. have some kind of 'contextual incompleteness' either in terms of a
figure-ground relation or in terms of the internal design of the object;
4. provide space for the filling in of the frame in a non-leading manner;
5. be constructed with as little structure as possible to allow a
distinguishing between alternative response patterns.
In terms of the symbolic response expected to be elicited by all such
symbolic frame tasks, we may hypothesize that all such tasks are more or less
symbolic, according to the extent to which they are internally ordered,
consistent and culturally shared. As such, all responses contain some minimal
manifestation of cognitive and affective associations and content--and as such
can be evaluated both in terms of cognitive dimensions and affective
components. Response patterns will also likely contain some level of
terminological definition and secondary rationalization--both of which are
critical to the full understanding of the pattern of response a frame elicits.
Analysis, Representation and Interpretation
Symbolic frame tasks can serve a number of purposes simultaneously--to get
at different levels and units of analysis in the symbolic stratification of
meaning, to assess the individual in depth, the individual and group
nomothetically in cross-reference to other individuals, to assess the small
group or family unit, and to get at broader shared cultural or national
meanings and associations.
A system of classification of symbolisms can be constructed according to
the following dimensions--basic versus elaborated symbols, and simple versus
complex symbolisms. We may refer to the location of any particular symbolic
response to a simple two-by-two matrix according to the features which it
shares--simple/basic, complex/basic, simple/elaborate, complex elaborate.
simple simple-basic simple-elaborated
complex complex-basic complex-elaborated
According to this correlational table, we may categorize and analyze
symbolic response patterns according to a variety of criteria into one or
another of the designated classes. We may also non-parametrically analysis the
statistical pattern of the occurrence of different kinds of symbolisms within
frame tasks and across samples.
We might hypothesize the following criteria for the classification and
analysis of patterns of response according to the above table:
1. Simple-basic symbolisms consist of simple single associations which,
when terminologically recognized, elicit linguistic codifications which are
short and prototypical. They are recognized by their generality and lack of
specificity of detail--a vagueness that nevertheless is belied by their
concreteness. In a drawing task, a example of simple basic symbolism is the
drawing of a circle, or a heart shape, or a simple smiling face.
2. A complex-basic symbolism consists of a set of associations which are in
themselves single and simply aggregated, or which form a larger gestalt which
is itself basic and general or nonspecific in nature. The drawing of an
unadorned, simple figure with only the rudimentary components of limbs, torso,
minimal indications of clothes or features, etc. is an example of a
3. Simple-elaborated symbolisms consist of derivative single associations
which elicit non-basic terminological designations and which are subject to a
wider variety of paradigmatic alternation, or, in terms of consensus, a lack
of agreement or variability. The overt aspectual marking of the symbolism in
terms of specific dimensions or characteristics is also greater. Hair that is
braided, with zigzag bangs and a ribbon, is an example of an elaborated but
simple symbolisms that may be brought into association with an otherwise
unadorned happy face.
4. Complex-elaborated symbolisms consist of a concatenation of elaborated
or elaborated-basic symbolisms into some larger configuration which are never
merely an aggregation but form some larger gestalt. The figure of a girl with
bangs, ribbons, pony tails in a dress that has pockets, buttons, frills,
elaborated patterns, and a simple face with dimples and eyelashes is a clear
cut example of an complexly elaborated symbolism that may be readily compared
to more "primitive" drawings that lack such elaborate marking of
specific details or characteristics.
We may say that the principle difference between the two sets of dimensions
is that between the iconographic function of a symbol that is composed of
objective signs, and the emblematic function of the symbolism that is composed
of subjective associations. The iconograpic function of the symbol is that it
points referentially to something, or to a category of things. The emblematic
function of a symbolism is that it integrates diverse internalized
significations into a coherent and holistic unity of meaning. All symbolisms
are emblematic in that they integrate more than a single kind of sign into a
coherent unity that is synergistically more than the signs which compose it
and thus incorporates them.
Another dimension of symbolic constructs is the presupposition
percept-concept isomorphism such that a symbol is simultaneously an object
situated in an effective external context in meaningful relation to other
objects, and also an affective, linguistic, behavioral, noetic or
visual-auditory association, or set of associations or combination of such
associations, which psychologically represents or stands cognitively in place
of the object itself. It is important to reaffirm that the necessary
connection between the external object and its internal associations are
fundamentally, and critically, culturally arbitrary, except for some basic
patterns which maybe more-or-less pan-human. It is the cultural arbitrariness
of symbolisms which allows for their great productivity, creation and
Analysis and interpretation of symbolic frame tasks rests upon certain
presuppositions of inferable levels of cultural competence in domains of
knowledge or cultural understanding, in consensus patterns in the sharing of
cultural knowledge, values, and symbolisms as represented by nonrandom
frequencies of consistency of response to the same task, and in the finite
distribution of cultural competence and knowledge as elicited by a frame task
across a sample. Any given task can be expected, if it is effective in its
design and implementation, to elicit for any given sample a limited range of
alternate response patterns, within which a nonrandom pattern of frequency
saliency will emerge which confers on this range a central foci. Consensus
theory that allows us to presuppose an average level of cultural competency
upon which we can presume sharing to occur, entails that sample sizes do not
have to be very large in order for significant patterns to emerge. These
patterns will reemerge and remain consistent over a number of small
There are a plethora of ways of analyzing the data from various symbolic
frame tasks, but no single "correct" way for approaching such
analysis. Data may be analyzed both across a sample of the same task, and
across different tasks of the same individual, and across the different tasks
for the same or different samples, and across the samples for the different
tasks. Analysis of each task can proceed on the in-depth interpretation of the
individual pattern of response, or the statistical analysis of the average or
conflated patterns of response for different individuals within or between
samples. Analysis of each task can also proceed at several levels and in
several ways, with different consequences.
There is some debate as to whether the consensus theoretic approach to the
analysis of the data does not effectively conflate important individual
differences of patterning, and, in effect, construct a reified and
hypostatized structure that does not in fact exist. The alternative has been
to investigate and compare the patternings of individuals within the sample,
and to find common or alternate pathways. But from a statistical standpoint,
there is a law of averages which states that, whatever the individual
variation, the average does not lie, even if no single individual is
represented by the average. Thus, the comparison of average scores between
tasks or between samples or sub-samples serves to precipitate and concretize
basic underlying dimensions of difference between individuals and samples.
This statistical description of response patterning among and between
populations cannot be ignored.
The fact that symbolic frame tasks are united under the aegis of a common
theory, allows us to hypothesize some degree of relationship and comparability
of response pattern between different types of tasks, and that when we find
such relationship, especially if it is found to be highly significant, then we
may posit this as at least circumstantial evidence in the partial validation
of the theory.
The type of analysis involved in these tasks was largely correlational and
what I have referred to as "inter-correlational"--involving the
construction of derivative correlation matrices from primary correlations, and
the emergence of basic underlying dimensions of inter-correlation. Whether or
not correlation matrices can be correlated is a moot point, but it appears to
be the case that comparable correlation matrices appear to move in ways which
are frequently similar or markedly different. It may be impossible to figure
out the statistical significances of these inter-correlations, but the
resulting composite correlations are often significant and suggestive.
We might only speculate as to the meaning or appropriate labels of the
underlying inter-correlational dimensions which allow us to link together
different samples and different tasks in complex space, but they permit a form
of scatter-plot and tree representation that enables us to recognize and
possibly interpret such dimensions in a non-relative way. The problem with a
direct approach in inter-correlational representation is that the inherent
relative structure or dimensionality of the correlational matrices become
squashed into the principle axis along which the inter-correlational structure
is plotted--hence the inherent relative structure of these matrices becomes
lost in the process of their transpositioning in inter-correlational space.
Nevertheless, such inter-correlation graphing appears to bring out a
certain kind of multi-dimensional structure which pertains grossly between the
matrices and their categories. Furthermore, these representations are ordered
in an absolute sense about the origin and permit a variety of statistical
manipulations--in terms of non-parametric, rank order and ordinal data--of the
resulting plotted points. It is possible to see at a glance of such graphs the
extent to which the correlational matrices themselves are strong or
significant according to their relative proximity to the origin. Furthermore,
regression relationships become apparent in these representations, and it
allows us to postulate that a high inter-correlation score at one level is
indicative of some form of regression functional relationship at the lower
level between correlational matrices. The extent to which these aspects of
this form of representation are useful or productive remains to be determined,
but they are definitely apparent and suggestive.
The inter-positioning of multidimensional scaling of the correlational
matrices and the inter-correlational graphing of the transformed MDS scores
along contraposed axis may allow us to plot the underlying "relative
structure" of the correlations in a manner which enables us to preserve
this structure in its transposition and inter-dimensional comparison of
different matrices, or even of derivative matrices. One way of doing this
would be to inter-correlation the dimensional scores of the different
matrices--the number of rows or columns being equal and the same, and then
either directly plotting these inter-correlations of the different MDS
matrices, or correlating them and then running a multidimensional scaling of
this composite matrix.
There is a sense that different matrices of variables and relationships in
the response patterns of scores can be plotted in the same hypothetical space
that is absolutely oriented around the same origin. The orientation and
rotation of dimensions around the origin in two or three dimensional space may
not be fixed, but the coexistence of different matrices within the same space
is suggestive of the representation of implicit dimensions of the symbolically
mediated phenomenal field itself--dimensions that may be in a fundamental
sense basic and even universal to human symbolization and the organization of
This manner of graphically representing the latent structure of
correlations of symbolic response patterns may only go so far in resolving the
problematics of comparing and usefully analyzing such patterns for their
underlying structures and unities, but they and the symbolic framing
techniques on which the correlational matrices are based open a door upon an
alternative mode of analysis which may offer many productive techniques toward
the resolution of the theoretical problematics of symbolic framing.
Beyond the problematics of analysis and representation of the patterns with
the aim of elucidating the underlying patterns within the data, exists the
problem of interpreting the data in a manner which lends itself to a
propositionally explicit explanation of the pattern, without a priori
presuppositions of universal dimensions or categories of significance which
frequently accompany and bias such interpretations.
Interpretation of the symbolic frame tasks is made problematic not only by
the inherently inferential and implicit nature of the patterning of response
to the tasks, but by the fact that such response patterns themselves are not
occurring within a locally, immediate natural context, but in a contrived
local context which is rigidly controlled. This control permits the comparison
of scores between individuals and across samples to the same and different
tasks, but they leave unaddressed either the question of the larger
relationship and relevance of these elicited patterns to the cultural context
or life-world of the individual, or possibly other important but unelicited
forms of response patterning which may be critical to the understanding of the
Part of this problematic is resolved in the development of normative,
controlled samples among clinical populations with known characteristics--or
alternatively the anchoring and cross-references of such tasks with comparable
related tasks that do have such norms empirically established. The other
partial resolution of this problematic stems from the inferential
interpretability of the tasks on a number of levels, and from a premise that
at least a part of these tasks are in fact eliciting underlying patterns of
response which are in some sense basic, primary and possibly even universal in
the structure of their symbolic patterning. Inkblots do seem to consistently
elicit patterns of response which seem to be drawn symbolically deeply from
the psyche, and this appears to be more or less the case with almost any
individual or population sample.
Related to this problem is the related dilemma of the reliability of any
particular symbolic frame task to actually do the job, consistently and
repeatedly, for which it is designed, and whether the response pattern itself
is a reliable response. There appears to be a great amount of variability of
both individual and inter-individual patterns of response to the same
tasks--this free play within the task elicitation and response process opens
the door to a variety of problematics inherent to symbolic framing. Related to
this is the weakness of any single symbolic frame to decisively point to or
indicate any definite pattern of response or underlying inference. Thus, high
scores on an MPDT task may or may not be related to organic dysfunction of the
brain, though within a sample and average high scores is within a norm
definitive of such a condition. In other words, an individual who is
organically impaired is bound to score highly on the task, but these high
scores alone will fail to differentiate between this organic response and the
response pattern of an individual who scores abnormally high due to extreme
"task anxiety" or to having "a bad day."
Again, a partial resolution to these problematics of interpretation lies in
the "triangulation" between different scores, tasks and types of
tasks which appear by definite indicators to point in the same direction. But
this is also only a partial solution, because the same nervousness which led a
normal person to score highly upon the MPDT task might lead the same
individual to prefer dark colors over the primaries, or to block or see
pathognomic responses in the inkblots--though it can be expected that an
individual over a variety of tasks will tend towards an average, individually
But the triangulation and implicit comparison of tasks--itself a
problematic project--does allow us to make plausible inferences about
relationships and patterns of response which may otherwise be absent from a
superficial analysis of separate scores of individual tasks, and many of these
inferences may allow us to partially and predictively fill in gaps between the
tasks which may be filled in by subsequent tasks or by extensive reference to
ethnographic or other forms of data.
Related to the empirical efficacy and possibility of linguistic frame tasks
is a theoretical understanding of human language as an "oral-aural"
symbolic codification of reality. Symbolic linguistics has as its principle
object of understanding the function and processes of language in this
symbolic codification of reality, both psychologically and socially in terms
of the collective objectification of knowledge and understanding. It also
seeks to understand how these functions and processes influence the
"structure" and patterning which language and language changes take
on several levels of analysis, especially when expressed and reiterated in
"key" terms which may be symbolically central to the understanding
of the cultural patterning. Linguistic frame devices, the normal cultural use
of such devices in naturalistic socio-linguistic settings, and their analysis
have yet to be fully explored.
The inferable coherence of cultural gestalt as an inherent sense of
nonrandom order and "structure" implies to some extent a
semi-hierarchical and non-random, constrained network of relations at several
levels of analysis which may implicitly embody a "rule system" the
explicit representation of which would allow a summary, concise understanding
of the cultural gestalt. This possibility exists in the translation of the
frequency patterns of responses to frame tasks into probabilistic
"discrimination networks" from which decision trees and
"rule-based" knowledge systems can be inferred. Such a rule system
would serve as a means of representing and modeling the cultural gestalt.
To claim that implicit rule structures may underlie cultural gestalt, and
by deduction, linguistic and cognitive patterning, is to insert a claim that
cultural systems may, in their integration, be ultimately semi-structured
"rule-based" systems of knowledge and interaction that guide and
make predictable behavior and response. Such rules that underlie cultural
gestalt must be considered as relational linking devices in the integration of
reality--they stipulate a given direction and order of relation in this
pattern of integration. Such rule systems may be more directly worked out and
elaborated in some areas of cultural patterning than others. While some such
rules may actually be explicitly, formally codified within institutions or
records of a culture, they are mostly latent, a posteriori and implicit in the
patterning itself, and function as indirect constraints upon behavior. Thus we
come to know and learn about these rules not so much from bringing them into
clear direct awareness, but from the history of their violations and
contradiction which temporarily make them visible until the condition of their
violation is somehow reversed.
We may also learn these rules not so much from their codification or being
made explicit or taught, but from their repeated performance by which we
become adept in their practice. We may never be able to clearly explain why or
even what it is we are doing in objective, anthropological terms, but we can
clearly demonstrate their efficacy through their reiteration. Explaining them
objectively in anthropological terms does not necessarily mean that we
understand them or have acquired them in any implicit sense. The task of the
objective anthropologist is therefore to be distinguished from the interests
of the participant.
To acknowledge the reality of the way culture works in constituting social,
psychological and even biological differences between people in the world, is
to confer upon the notion of culture a certain theoretical legitimacy it
otherwise lacks in the contemporary political state of academia. To
acknowledge the continuing vitality and importance of ethnocultural realities
in separating peoples of the world and to recognize the cultural factors and
patterning which make people different, and often socially unequal, is to
point to the empirical foundations of ethnocultural studies and cultural
To emphasize the ethnocultural foundations of complex social realities as
prevalent in radically plural societies and to play down racial categories and
terms and ethnobiological attributions, as well as to refer to the symbolic
organization of cultural life- in behavior, thought, feelings, belief and even
in language itself, is to advance a new claim for a cultural relativism.
To say yes to relativism is itself an entirely different can of worms.
There are more and less obvious differences between many distinguishable kinds
of relativism which become largely lumped under at worst a single and
sometimes a mutilated handful of different headings. Issues concerning
linguistic relativity are not the same issues which concern social, cultural,
psychological or ethical relativity. Likewise, issues of scientific relativity
are not the same as issues of historical relativity. All of which leads back
to the central question of what is relativity of knowledge in general, if
there is even a common denominator for its conceptioning.
To ply the relativistic road is not to acknowledge what amount to absolute
boundaries and absolutely irreconciliable differences separating peoples and
realities in the world, nor is it to deny the reality of common and universal
laws of nature which influence human behavior as much or more than the
behavior of subatomic particles, nor is it to implicitly legitimate fascist
regimes such as Nazi Germany, nor deny the necessity and possibility of a
pan-human meta-ethical foundation for normative behavior in the world, nor is
it merely a 'delight in diversity' or a 'celebration of difference' to the
ignorance of the common foundations of human experience.
It requires a deliberate and concentrated effort to pay attention to the
details, the differences, the inescapable contexts and the inherent and
irresolvable complexities which invariably intrude upon the scientific
question of what is human reality, but to do so is also a basic requirement of
an empirical human science, especially of the anthropological science of
culture. To systematically address the question of relativity in human reality
is to push to its utmost logical limit the question "relative in relation
to what," and the systematic attempt to answer this question adequately
constitutes the scientific foundations of an authentic anthropology.
A strong emphasis upon cultural relativism does not entail a non-ethical
stance for the researcher and theoretician alike nor the impossibility of a
commonly shared meta-ethical norm. Recent political history in the 20th
century, World War II and its aftermath, led to the formulation of certain
international legal paradigms which define the rights of nations and peoples,
which outline a common valuation of a foundation of human political order in
the notion of human and state's rights.
We usually know the reality of human rights mostly by its massive and
extreme violations, and the common repulsion we feel in such violation.
Indeed, the moral and cultural legitimization of human rights lies in our own
human capacities to empathize and sympathize with the plight of others, in the
creative imagination to put ourselves in other peoples moccasins and to see
ourselves in their tragic circumstances, and is, paradoxically, the direct
outcome of the cultural relativist stance which urges tolerance and empathetic
understanding of such differences and the suspension of cultural blinders and
Thus, cultural relativism and the ethics of fieldwork puts the
ethnographer, especially one from a rights-based cultural background, squarely
upon the horns of an insoluble dilemma. On the one hand there is a universal
call for human tolerance of human difference, and on the other are the
paradoxes of morally tolerating cultural orientations in which the violation
of human rights may be everyday and commonplace.
Somewhere between these two extremes lies a further dilemma which concerns
the gray area where one society's definition of absolute, inalienable and
universal human rights and freedoms becomes another society's definition of a
threat to national security and gross social irresponsibility.
Thus, account must be made of significant variations in the patterns of
different societies in definition and reinforcing different conceptions and
kinds of human rights, and in differential emphasis between responsibilities
and rights. Rights-based societies such as America are often short on the
problem of cultivating a strong sense of responsibility in the individual,
whereas in responsibility-based societies which are more historically
hierarchical in orientation, the call for responsibility can often become the
true-believers call for blind and unquestioning conformity and unfreedom of
state control and censorship.
Gross or extreme violations of the doctrine of human rights--the
propagation of violence--can be generally clearly recognized and such
instances are almost uniformly condemned for the revulsion they cause in the
human community. No society, no matter how non-violent, can tolerate mad dogs,
homicidal maniacs, mass murderers or psycho-killers.
About the only pat formula one can reasonably offer is for each individual,
anthropologist or else, to define for oneself the acceptable moral limits of
one's own behavior in everyday contexts, and the principle of historical
precedence in deciding the moral legitimacy of individual cases as they arise.