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Friday, May 29, 2009

Cognition and Language: Eco Still Echoes of Nishida

I am still a long way from finishing "Kant and the Platypus" by Umberto Eco, and the reason behind it is my perverse habit of linking everything Eco writes about to Kitaro Nishida's study of "Pure Experience" in "An Inquiry into the Good." Their theories are linked by the idea that to experience something, whether or not for the first time, one must make sense of language first. At first this seems like a basic idea, until Eco explains the paradox of present tense and all the other goodies of how we construct meaning (cognition) from language. For example, if you've never seen a mouse, and you look up the definition in a dictionary, will you get an accurate appreciation of what a mouse is? The limitations of language notwithstanding, still with the pictures and not a language communicated categorical imperative, you might still be off target. The delicious "chicken-before-the-egg" equation of the entire book convinces me of 1) the importance of this reading, and 2) how enjoyable is to read Umberto Eco's non-fiction. Despite this I have had no time to devote to my reading because my teaching obligations. I will try to make up between June 9th and June 14th all of the time I haven't devoted to my reading list. At any rate, where these two excellent thinkers (Nishida and Eco) meet is where experience links us to the objects around us and how we make sense (cognition) of them. Eco explains the idea of Categorical Types and links everything quite nicely to Kant. Where things get really complicated is Eco's "diagnosis" of Categorical Types and schema. For example, a cat is a cat and that is one category. To the "untrained" eye, the fact that the cat is a Persian, or a Siamese, or a Tabby is irrelevant to how we communicate the idea of what type of cat is is. What Eco explains is how we make sense of language/cognition when talking about Categorical Types and experience. I am going to make a list of Eco's main points and tie them to Nishida (whose book I have been carrying around for this purpose for the last three weeks). I love making these connections.

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