Thursday, December 24, 2015

phatic functions in the brain

The majority of deficits related to the parietal lobe belong to the category of phatic (amnestic aphasia, alexia, agrafia, and acalculia), gnostic and practical deficits.  Deficits in phatic functions develop with damage to the posterior portion of the parietal lobe in the dominant hemisphere and clinical pictures of gnostic functions are not strictly related to the dominant hemisphere. - From "Clinical Rehabilitation" by Pavel Kolar, et al., p. 95
Here the word "phatic" seems to mostly describe linguistic behavior (vocabulary, text understanding, ability to write); the acalculia case seems slightly different from the others.  All of these issues have to do with the parietal lobe, which includes a somatosensory cortex, and which has strong connections to the thalamus.

During maturation of the parietal lobe centers, one's body awareness (somatesthesia) is formed, as well as, its relation to the surroundings.

Even so it is clearly related to language as well, as we see above.  It's interesting to compare the other classes of deficits (pp. 95-96).

Gnostic: autotopagnosia (cannot recognise own body parts), anosognosia (not aware of one's own deficit), asomatognosia (unaware of part of the body), astereognosis (cannot recognize shapes), hemihypesthesia (slight deficit of tactile sensation on one side of the body); pain asymbolia (can distinguish the quality of pain but does not react to it).  Also recognizing color, sound, faces, movement, and other tactile deficits.

Practical: deficit in the performance of a learned task (e.g. plan is preserved but execution is disrupted), movements are clumsy and no plan is formed; the task cannot be understood.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

when phatic communication isn't (... or is it?)

HEY, ANYTIME. No biggie. Don't worry about it. Psycholinguistic research reveals that we choose our gratitude acknowledgements pragmatically, proving that such language isn't phatic (devoid of content) after all. University of Western Ontario psychologist Albert Katz suggests men, in particular, may use "anytime" to convey doiminance by signaling they have sufficient means to do the favor again in the future.  -- Conrad McCallum, Psychology Today, March 1, 2008 (emphasis added)

I'm assuming that we would refute the idea that "phatic communication is devoid of content".  Then again, when I just tried to explain what I'm doing research on to the research librarian at the BL, I immediately put it in almost the same simplistic terms.

1. "How are you doing?"

2. "Oh really badly, actually."

3. "Gosh, what's wrong?"

4. "I just stubbed my toe!"

My claim was that Locutions 1-3 are all "phatic" insofar as they contribute to establishing a channel, and Locution 4 is not, insofar as it is actually content-full.  But maybe my illustration (or analysis) is "wrong"?

Anyway, with that thought in mind, the research by Albert Katz is described in more researchy terms as follows:

Abstract. Two studies examined whether the acknowledgments given to an expressed thanks for performing a favor was merely phatic in nature, that is, does not convey information but just serves a social role in establishing and maintaining relationships. We were especially interested in a non-literal form of acknowledgment, responses such as “anytime,” which, if taken literally, invites unwanted intrusions into one's life. In the reported studies the cost of the favor was manipulated (in terms of effort, resources or time needed to perform the favor) and whether the gender of the person performing the favor was the same or opposite as that for whom the favor was done. Across the two studies, the non-literal acknowledgment was less likely to be employed for high-cost favors, was more likely to be recalled compared to other acknowledgments generated at the same base rate and was used differently by female and male participants. These data demonstrate that people moderate their thanks as a function of the cost of the favor and to whom they are speaking, results indicating that gratitude acknowledgments cannot be considered mere phatic communication. In a more general way, these data indicate the importance of considering social knowledge in nonliteral language usage.

From: Katz, Albert N., Melony Lenhardt, and Kirsten Mitchell. "On acknowledging thanks for performing a favor." Metaphor and Symbol 22.3 (2007): 233-250.

Monday, December 21, 2015

stiegler on simondon and derrida - logos and dialogos, phatic and phasic

Logos is always a dia-logos within which those who enter the dialogue co-individuate themselves -- trans-form themselves, learn something -- by dia-loguing.  This co-individuation can result in discord, in which case each participant is individuated with the other, but against the other -- as occurs, for example, in a game of tennis or chess.  But co-individuation can also result in accord or agreement, in which case it enables the production of a concept that is shared by the interlocutors, who thus together produce a new locution through which they agree on a meaning -- which, in Platonic dialogue, must be produced in the form of a definition corresponding to the question ‘ti esti? ’ -- "What Makes Life Worth Living", p. 18
A bit later on, on page 19, he continues: "It was Jacques Derrida who opened up the question of pharmacology -- within which the hypomnesic appears as that which constitutes the condition of the anamnesic."

The longer quote above seems like it could readily be given a phatic interpretation.  The dia-logos is not just "speech" but "through-speech".  As a turn of phrase this seems to emphasize the idea of speech as both diachronic (unfolding over time) and diaphoric (difference carrying).  It predisposes us to think of communication as a journey or as a passage -- something that gets the interlocutors somewhere.  In other words, thinking of logos as dia-logos gives rise to a "channel".

The idea in the shorter quote suggests that externalized thought and memory (even if just in the form of speech and not writing per se) is required for "actual" thought and memory to take form.

It seems that the "dia" is the precondition of the "phatic" that I was casting about for in yesterday's post.  In the same way that a pressure difference -- as in the hydrolic analogy for electrical dynamics -- is what causes water to flow, a similar "difference" on the social or psychic plane will cause words to flow.

The speculative idea I've been arguing for (based so far only on etymology and a somewhat superficial look at Simondon's ideas...) is that phatic does not just mean speech, but actually means phasic speech -- that it is possible for the participants in the dialogue to "constructively" or "destructively" interfere with each other (for example), and that in the most destructive cases this eliminates the channel, whereas in the most constructive cases this gives rise to a new channel.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

a topical issue: radicalization

The relatively lonely, isolated status of most mass shooters means any community they interact with and any media they consume will have an outsized impact on their psyche. --
This article reminds me of the Bruce Alexander thinking about addiction.  It's interesting because it draws parallels between the people who "self-radicalize" and then act alone, and the people who are coached or goaded into becoming violent either through local connections or via online social media.  Regarding the latter:
... And there's a reason almost every issue of Dabiq includes a fawning story about the actions of some suicide bomber: They want anyone contemplating an attack to know their actions will be remembered and celebrated. You're targeting people with a strong sense of humiliation and no sense of community, and promising them great power and social status -- the two things they've never had. In every circumstance, there was a concerted effort on someone's part to make violence seem cool. - ibid.
This seems to be an extreme case of phatic behavior: promising people acceptance and community within a concrete "afterlife", if not in this life.  There are parallels in the self-radicalized cases discussed in the article.

Naturally, the degree to which people give up their (sense of) self and propriety and so on can change on a case-by-case basis.  Someone who signs up to join the military would not be said to have become "radicalized" -- but he or she does have to give up a lot of aspects of day-to-day life, in exchange for another structure.  The spectrum could continue all the way to normal day-to-day occurrences, where, for example, we might interrupt an in-person conversation to answer an important telephone call.  "Sorry, I've got to take this."

This reminds me of Avital Ronell's conception of telephones in The Telephone Book.

The idea that "mass shooters are not the kind of crazy you think" is interesting, because it suggests that they are still, in a certain sense, "crazy" -- that is, even if just under the influence of a kind of temporary insanity.  Again, this can be relaxed into everyday life -- even into everyday non-human life (wolfs, dolphins, and so forth) -- by which we could give attention to the kind of situations that are particularly "prone" to phatic behavior.  Surveying situations of prone-ness would outline the preconditions of phaticity, and we might find underlying causes of both the overt condition and its preconditions.  A latent tendency to "phase shift" before the phase shift is brought about.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

on the 'evaluation grid' for our literature review, or, a sketch of the simondonian approach

Our current plan for the survey paper revolves around the idea of a "meta-analysis".  There are 35 pages of abstracts -- about 100 abstracts in total ("all papers related to phatics available through EBSCO" - email, 26 Oct 2015).

Part of the plan would be to locate them according to their place in the Malinowski, Jakobson, and La Barre legacies, perhaps developing a "phylogeny" rather than a "taxonomy".  This would show something about how the term evolved.  (Note, the EBSCO papers seem to mostly be recent ones, and we may need to enlarge the corpus to be more accurate as regards earlier dates, but there is certainly plenty there to give us a start.)

The issue on my mind comes from our own latest paper draft (edited 29 October 2015): "Once we acknowledge the immense role of phatic communion [and phatic communication, and other phatic behavior] we are faced with the difficult question of how to study it."  ​ Sorting papers out based on who cites who is a viable basic approach for the literature review, but by itself it isn't telling us much about the future of phatic studies.  One additional question to ask in the literature review is therefor: what methods do the papers we're looking at use to address the questions they are asking?  Perhaps these questions and methods can be asked, and applied, again; with appropriate variations.

But what's "appropriate" for this research area is a higher-level question that we'll have to resolve.  From the draft:
Should we code additional dialogues or stories, using our collection of phatic functions (emotional, conative, cognitive, etc.)? Should we make use of other theories about emergent order?  How ​ would we go about understanding and answering these “should” questions?  Can ​ phatics itself help answer these questions?
Personally I do think that the collection of "phatic functions" will be useful as a set of tags that can code the usages of the "phatic" concept in previous papers, as well as other data later on.  To my mind it makes sense to code the literature in this way (if we have some clear standards about how the various functions should be applied) along with the basic goal of sorting the papers by legacy.  The previous research papers could help to "validate" the set of tags: is it complete, accurate, and so on?  I propose that we pick one or two papers from the list and try this out as a "pilot" to see how it goes.

Even before we get to that, I think that an underlying theoretical framework will be needed, both to have some clear criteria about which of the functions apply, and also to draw any conclusions from that.

This is where I thought Simondon's writing about "individuation" could be useful for us.  More or less, what I'm thinking is that what phatics does is individuate.  For example, it carves out a new communication channel where there wasn't one before.  Or it maintains a community that has been in existence for a while.  Importantly, it also applies in the case of "negative phatics", where it severs a previous tie that existed within a community, in order to further individuate the members of that community. 

To simplify my life today, I'm not going to justify this claim with lots of quotes from Simondon (and the secondary literature about him) right now.  Instead, I'll just include ONE quote from "Fifty Key Terms in the Works of Gilbert Simondon" by Jean-Hugues Barthélémy.
Phases and phase-shift

First of all, the term ‘phases’ is always plural, because phases only exist in relation to each other. Thus, they are marked by their relativity. Second, the term also refers to something other than a moment within a temporal succession (see MEOT 159). Simondon highlights the physical origin of this term, which, together with the terms ‘relation’ (see Realism of relations) and ‘orders of magnitude’, lays down a new and difficult logic; if one does not want to misinterpret Simondon’s discussion of a particular regime, one must always keep this in mind when the ontology of ‘regimes of individuation’ – physical, vital and psycho-social – is being constructed. This new logic is made explicit in a foundational passage of ILFI, the one that starts off the conclusion of this work:

"Here, the idea of a discontinuity [discontinu] becomes that of a discontinuity [discontinuité] of phases, which is linked to the hypothesis of the compatibility of successive phases of being: a being, considered as individuated, can in fact exist according to several phases that are present at the same time, and it can change phases in itself; there is a plurality in being that is not the plurality of parts (the plurality of parts would be below the level of the unity of being), but a plurality that is above this unity, because it is that of being as phase, in the relation of one phase of being to another phase of being." (ILFI 317).

The notion of ‘phase-shift’ refers to this process through which the phases are constituted. One finds its most extensive illustration in the ‘phases of culture’ in the third part of MEOT. See Art, Religion and Primitive magical unity.
(Considering Simondon's Nietszchean inspirations, an example of "being as a phase" would be: "Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman.")

With this in mind, I think we are potentially set to create a fourth "legacy" -- possibly unifying the previous ones.  Phatic studies as a study of phase shifts in culture, community, communication, and even being.

(Incidentally, in this way, "phatic speech" would not be "speaking speech" but would be "phasing speech".)

From the point of view of the literature review, the question that we would ask prior to choosing which of the "phatic functions" is being employed is: is a new phase brought into being?  Or is the communication effecting a transition from one phase to another?  Or possibly merging two existing phases?

For example, a classic example of phatic-conative might be "Can you hear me now?" - and the new network that results is what is "individuated".

Since analysing 100 or more papers in detail is going to be a lot of work, I wonder if for our 8-page "warm up" paper we shouldn't just pick a few that we know are really important, in order to demonstrate the approach.  The larger scale analysis of all-existing-papers-that-mention-phatics reminds me of the book-length study The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science, which took a long time to write and an even longer time to publish, but which was extremely thorough.  Picking a handful of the most important papers from our corpus could just be done through citation counts.

To sum up, I propose the following as the "evaluation grid" to use when reviewing earlier papers:
  1. Which legacy does this belong to?  (Which terms are used, who is cited?)
  2. When they say "phatic", which "phatic function" is applied?
  3. What individuation is described?  (What phase shift/creation/merge does the phatic function that is employed bring about?)