Part III: The Rise of Science: The
Relationship Between Language and World View
HOW WE SPEAK ABOUT THINGS:
THE INFLUENCES OF DIFFERING LANGUAGES
We have referred
to the absence of abstract terms in non-Indo-European languages,
and their abundance in both Sanskrit and the European languages.
The specificity of non-Indo-European
languages has long been a constant source of surprise to the
Westerner who meets it for the first time. It must determine
their thought processes. If it does, it certainly prevents them
from abstraction of the common elements in many situations. Even
so, it is conceivable that their non-abstract world-view could
be a perfectly valid one.
How do world views differ?
A modern Chinese philosopher, Chang
Tung-San, was quoted as having said recently: 26
Take Aristotelian logic, for
example, which is evidently based on Greek grammar. The differences
between Latin, French, English and German grammatical forms do
not result in any difference between Aristotelian logic and their
respective rules of reasoning, because they belong to the same
Indo-European linguistic family.
26. Tung-San, Chang: quoted by Warren Weaver,
" Science and People", Science, vol.122, Dec.,
30, 1955, p.1258.
this logic be applied to Chinese thought, however, it will prove
inappropriate. This fact shows that Aristotelian logic is based
on the Western system of language. Therefore we should not follow
Western logicians in taking for granted that their logic is the
Universal rule in human reasoning.
M. Tomlinson put it very appropriately when he said, "we
see things not as they are, but as WE are."27
I am not acquainted with more than
a few Middle-East languages -- and this only to the extent of
having spent some years in the formal study of them. But I never
learned to think in them -- an essential if one is to claim to
have in any sense mastered a language. Some of those studied
were, however, non-Indo-European, including Hebrew, Aramaic,
and two in the Cuneiform Group. One is therefore forced to depend
largely upon the conclusions of others in this area. However,
there is no lack of authority for the statement that Sumerian,
Egyptian, Chinese, and some at least of the Semitic languages
show a marked specificity and a lack of words for generalized
How vocabularies differ
Thus Cassirer describes many
of the languages of the American Indians, pointing out that they
. . . . an astounding variety
of terms for particular actions, for instance for walking or
striking. [Striking] a blow with the fist cannot be described
with the same term as a blow with the palm, and a blow with a
weapon requires another name than one with a whip or a rod. In
his description of the Becker language, one idiom spoken by an
Indian tribe in Central Brazil, Karl vow den Steiner relates
that each species of parrot and palm tree has its individual
name, whereas there exists no name to express the genus 'parrot'
or 'palm.' "The Bakairi," he asserts. "attach
themselves, so much to the numerous particular notions that they
take no interest in the common characteristics. They are choked
in the abundance of the material and cannot manage it economically.
They have only small coin, but in this they must be said to be
excessively rich rather than poor."
In primitive civilizations the
interest in the concrete and particular aspects of things necessarily
prevails. . . . An interest in mere 'universals' is neither possible
nor necessary in an Indian tribe.
27. Tomlinson, H.M., quoted by Warren Weaver,
28. Cassirer, E., Essay on Man, New Haven, CT, Yale University
Press, 1948, p.135.
It is enough,
and it is more important, to distinguish objects by certain visible
and palpable characteristics. In many languages a round thing
cannot be treated in the same way as a square or oblong thing,
for they belong to different genders. . . . In languages like
the Bennett family, we find no less than twenty gender classes
of nouns. In languages of aboriginal American tribes, as for
instance the Algonquin, some objects belong to an animate gender,
others to an inanimate gender.
The same slow process from concrete
to abstract names can also be studied in the denomination of
the qualities of things. In many language we find an abundance
of colour names. Each individual shade of a given colour has
its special name, whereas our general terms - blue, green, red,
and so on - are missing. Colour names vary according to the nature
of the objects: one word for grey for example may be used in
speaking of wool or geese, another of horses, another of cattle,
and still another in speaking of the hair of men and certain
are used in connection with different classes of objects. Hammer-Purgstall,
according to Cassirer, has written a paper in which he enumerates
the various names for the Camel in Arabic. 29
There are no less than five to six thousand
terms used in describing a camel; yet none of these gives us
a general biological concept. All express concrete details concerning
the shape, the size, the colour, the age, and the gait of the
animal. In Hebrew the same phenomenon often occurs, as in Job
4:10, 11 where the English has the word 'lion' five times, but
the original Hebrew uses a different word every time! The old
lion, the young lion, the roaring lion, and so forth, are not
the same thing at all. . . .
In the new enlarged edition
of H. G. Well's Outline of History, brought up to date
by Raymond Postgate, there is a useful statement respecting the
difference between the Chinese language, and the English, for
example. Thus, speaking broadly of South-eastern Asia where there
is a group of related languages including Chinese, Burmese, Siamese,
and Tibetan, this statement is made: 30
29. Hammer-Purgstall: quoted by Cassirer,
30. Wells, Herbert, 0, Outline of History, edited by Raymond
Postgate, New York, NY, Doubleday, new enlarged edition, 1949,
between any of these Chinese tongues and more Western languages
is profound.... The relation of words to each other is expressed
by quite different methods from the Aryan methods. Chinese grammar
is a thing different in nature from English grammar; it is a
separate and different invention. Many writers declare there
is no Chinese grammar at all, and that is true if we mean by
grammar anything in the European sense of inflections and concords.
Consequently any such thing as a literal translation from Chinese
into English is an impossibility. The very method of the thought
Their philosophy remains still
largely a sealed book to the European on this account, and vice
versa, because of the different nature of the expressions.
We may give an illustration of this profound difference in method.
The four Chinese characters indicating "affairs," "query,"
"imperative," and "old," placed in that order
for example, represent the sentence 'Why walk in the ancient
ways?" The Chinaman thus gives the bare cores of his meaning:
the Englishman gets to the sense by bold metaphor.
underscores, I think, the observation made by Multhauf in his
review of Joseph Needham's work.
The difference in grammar
and philosophy of non-Indo-European languages has been illustrated
very forcibly by Levy-Bruhl. Without indicating the exact reference
by page number, the following is a summary of his chapter on
"The Mentality of Primitives in Relation to the Languages
They Speak." 31
The Klamath language, which may be taken
to represent a large family of languages in Northern Australia
shows a well marked tendency to delineate pictorially what it
is desired to express. Thus a motion performed in a straight
line is referred to differently from a motion performed sideways
or obliquely or at a distance from the one speaking, circumstances
which it would seldom occur to us to incorporate into the verbal
In the language of the Yahgans,
there are 10,000 words, the number of which is considerably increased
by the use of prefixes and suffixes to indicate where one comes
from or is going to, either north, south, east or west, and from
above, below, outside or inside. According to one of the best
authorities on the Yahgan of Terra del Fuegia, T. Bridges, these
differences are almost inexhaustible. That is to say, they are
31. Levy-Bruhl, Lucien, How Natives Think,
translated by Lilian A. Clare, London, UK, Allen and Unwin,
1926, chapter 4, p.139-173.
to the points of the compass, but are influenced also by other
circumstances surrounding the coming or going of the individual
referred to, such for example as the time of the day.
At the other end of the world in
South Africa, Livingstone found that verbs possessed the same
power of expressing delicate shades of meaning. He is quoted
as having said that it was not the want, but the superabundance
of names that misled travellers. The terms used are so multifarious
that even a good scholar will at times scarcely be able to catch
anything more than the general tenor of the conversation. A score
of words will be used to indicate different varieties of gait.
One may walk leaning forward or backwards, or swaying from side
to side, loungingly or smartly, staggeringly, swinging the arms
or only one arm, head up or down or some other way. For each
of these modes of walking there is a particular verb form, a
clear indication that the people who use these forms of speech
have overlooked what is common to the situation, i.e., 'walking,'
and have been overcome by what is distinctive in each situation.
As Levy-Bruhl says, from these
and many similar facts it is clear that the languages of primitive
people express their ideas of things and actions in the precise
fashion in which these are presented to the eye or the ear. They
have a common tendency to describe, not the impression which
the subject receives, but the shape and contour, the position
and movement, the way of acting of objects in space -- in a word,
all that can be immediately perceived and delineated. They try
to unite the graphic and plastic elements of that which they
desire to express, namely, the unique in each situation.
The Bantu native, for example, will scarcely
ever be heard to use a vague expression such as "he has
lost an eye." But having noticed which eye it was, and pointing
to one of his own, he will say, "This is the eye he has
Levy-Bruhl quotes one authority as saying
that while it is our aim to speak clearly and precisely, the
American Indian's aim is to speak descriptively. We classify,
he individualizes. For instance, the Delaware word nadholineen
is composed of nad, a derivative of the verb 'to speak,'
of hol, a boat: and ineen, which
is the verbal termination for the
first person plural. It means 'find the boat for us.' It is the imperative
of a verb expressing 'I am finding the boat for you, him, etc.,' which
is conjugated like any other verb but always signifies "find the
boat" and expresses a particular act having no general meaning at
all. It does not mean 'find any boat.' This is quite otherwise in Indo-European
languages. The Latin aedificio does not mean 'I build a special
edifice.' It means simply a liberated concept free of all attachment to
any special situation, simply 'I build.'
Again, while it cannot be denied that
those who speak these languages have a concept of hand or foot,
etc., yet their concepts do not resemble ours. The hand or foot
they imagine is always the hand or foot of the particular person
whose hand or foot it is, and who must be delineated at the same
time. In many Indian languages of North America there is no distinct
word for eye, hand, arm, or any other parts or organs of the
body. If an Indian were to find an arm that had fallen from an
operating table, he would say, 'I have found his arm.' The Baikiri
of Brazil do not say '"tongue," but always add a pronominal
adjective, 'my tongue', 'your tongue', etc. Similarly in the
Marshall Archipelago there is no generic word for 'father', the
word never being used except in conjunction and applied to a
particular person. The concept 'father' unattached, simply does
not exist. This has been found to be true in the north-eastern
provinces of India, and even when the possessive form of the
sentence rendered the attachment of a pronoun unnecessary, the
tendency to specialization was so strong that it would still
Levy-Bruhl points out that this is a
very common feature in primitive societies and helps us to understand
how it is that we find such complicated degrees of relationship
between peoples and possessions. The European tries to conceive
of these and rationalize them in the abstract, but the native
never envisages them in this way.
In Australia there are no generic terms
such as tree, fish, bird, etc., although specific words are applied
to every variety of tree, fish, or bird. The Tasmanians had no
words to represent abstract ideas and though they could denote
by name every variety of gum tree or bush, they had no word for
In the Bismark Archipelago, there
are no names for colours. Colour is always indicated by comparing
two objects together.
South American Indian has particular names for every type of monkey and
palm and such objects as interest them. But it is in vain to seek among
them words for the abstract idea of 'plant' as opposed to 'animal.' In
California, the natives have a separate name for every oak, pine, or grass,
but no word for oak, pine or grass as a species.
The Australian aborigines have
names for almost every minute portion of the human body, but
in asking for the arm, the stranger would get the name for the
upper arm, another for the lower arm, another for the right arm
and another for the left. In this English sentence the word 'arm'
occurs four times and once by implication. It would not occur
more than once in Australian, if it occurred at all.
Turning to the north, the Lapps have
a great many terms to denote various kinds of reindeer according
to their age. There are twenty words for ice, eleven words for
cold, and forty-one words for snow in all its forms!
In Southern Australia every range
of mountains has its name and every hill in the range, so that
the black man can state the precise mountain or hill in an extensive
range. They have names for all the conspicuous stars, for every
feature of the ground, every swamp and every bend of a river,
but no word for 'star' or 'hill' or 'river.'
In all these cases the conclusion
that one must draw seems to be the same. These people are intensely
aware of the individual, the unique, the specific: but they have
not abstracted the general. They have not classified objects
nor categorized experience. Everything known and experienced
is concrete, isolated, uniquely individual. Moreover, it is a
general rule that the more intense their interest, the more profuse
their vocabulary. Thus the Aymara Indians of Peru, to whom the
potato is of great importance, have over 209 words for it!
Miriam Chapin states that in one of the
Australian dialects (the Kamilaroi) there are a dozen words for
kinds of snakes but none for 'snake' as a concept. 32 In fact you Just cannot
ask a man if he has seen a snake. You have to ask him if he saw
a Nurai or black snake, or a Kaleboi or brown snake - and trust
32. Chapin, Miriam, How People Talk, Toronto,
ON, Longmans Green, 1947, p.27.
if it was a green snake he will
think it interesting enough to mention the fact. Moreover, one could not
actually ask about a snake at all, it would have to be THE snake
- i.e., the one you are asking about!
The "tyranny of words"
From all this it is clear that
at least in so far as primitive non-Indo-European languages are
concerned word-forms are a barrier to the development of the
kind of mental constructs essential to scientific thinking. We
may be permitted to draw the conclusion perhaps that since the
high civilizations of non-Indo-European origin also took this
same view of Nature and stopped there, that their languages were
similarly structured and a barrier to further development. This
seems certainly to have been the case with the high Middle American
Cultures whose languages are still preserved in large measure
in Mexico and in the Peruvian highlands. At any rate, of all
the Middle East civilizations one generalization can be made,
namely that they did not categorize. On this point, Farrington
has said: 33
It may be remarked . . . that
we have as yet no proof, in all this evidence from technique,
of the attempt to organize even a particular branch of knowledge
in a scientific way. The technical achievement itself is not
proof of the power of conscious abstraction, of the capacity
to detect general laws underlying the variety of phenomena and
to utilize these general conceptions for the organization of
To put the point in another way,
we have no evidence . . . that they were attempting to classify
. . . that they were asking how one thing could apparently change
into another, how bread for instance, which a man ate could turn
into flesh and blood. . . . We have no certain proof . . . of
that kind of curiosity and that gift for speculation which are
necessary for the creation of science in the full sense.
In this statement
Farrington has in mind particularity the Egyptians, but because
the tenour of his remarks shows that he was only using them as
an illustration of the Middle East in general, I have taken
33. Farrington, B., Science in Antiquity,
Oxford, UK, Home University Library, 1947, p.15.
the liberty of omitting their name
in the quotation. In any case Frankfort follows Farrington in this view,
and explicitly extends it to the Mesopotamian plains, as well as to the
In the case of the American Indian
and his differentiation by words between a man walking and a
man running, it is clear that the Indian is noticing the distinct
aspect of the situation, the walking as opposed to the running,
not the fact that a man is involved in both instances. Because
we notice what is common to the two situations, our sentence
would contain (and does contain in the illustration above) the
word 'man' as a common subject. In Cuneiform there is the same
tendency to be concrete; for example, there are at least nine
words which are completely different in form, for the word 'force'
in Assyrian, which are to us readily replaced by the single word.
We note the underlying concept of the word and make it apply
to nine different situations at least, simply because these situations
seem to us to have this concept in common. We speak of using
force (physical), of a forceful personality (will), of the force
of an argument (logic), of a force of men (number), and of the
force of a play (its dramatic impact). And so on. An Assyrian
would evidently not have made this 'mistake.' To him, this would
have seemed hopelessly confusing for evidently he would not have
seen that there really was anything common in these concepts.
Nor would a modern Hopi.
It is because words were so wedded specifically
to situations that belief in word-magic arose. The word is the
thing, the situation, the person. Names are people. It is not
merely that people have names. This is the essential foundation
of libel in a social context, and of blasphemy in a religious
one. To change a name is literally to change the person, and
in many unexpected ways this concept is found all over the world,
even in a psychiatric ward in America where it cannot possibly
have been 'learned' from someone else. 34
According to Cassirer,
Roman slaves had no name, because they were literally nonentities,
a consideration which Roman law took into account. 35 In almost all primitive
societies, a man's real name is known only to a few very close
friends. A man goes by a nickname most of the time - a word,
chosen by his fellows or himself, standing for the whole man
in a unique situation. His real name is kept secret, for whoever
can get hold of it, has obtained power over the possessor just
by speaking it.
34. Bettelheim, Bruno, "Schizophrenic
Art: a Case Study," Scientific American, Apr., 1952,
p.30-34, especially p.32.
35. Cassirer, Ernst, Language and Myth, New York, NY,
Dover Publications, 1946, p.51.
a number of pottery bowls which Egyptian kings of the Middle Kingdom had
inscribed with the names of hostile tribes in Palestine, Libya, and Nubia,
with the names of their rulers, and with the names of certain Egyptian
rebels. These bowls were then smashed at a ritual in the express hope
that, like the vessels, the owners of the names would similarly be destroyed.
This has been one of Cassirer's greatest
concerns -- the wedding of the word to the person or the thing,
or even the whole situation. The bondage, at least among primitive
people, he holds to be absolute. The attention is riveted to
the immediate experience; the sensible present, as he puts it,
is so great that everything else dwindles before it. A person
whose apprehension is under this kind of 'spell,' is as though
the rest of the world were annihilated. Any possibility of noting
things in the present situation as being related or common to
situations elsewhere experienced cannot possibly be recognized
because the other situations no longer exist at all. So Cassirer
The ego is spending all its energy
on this single object, lives in it, loses itself in it. Instead
of widening of intuitive experience, we find here its extreme
limitations; instead of expansion that would lead through greater
and greater spheres of being, we have here an impulse toward
concentration; instead of extensive distribution, intensive compression.
In such an attitude
of mind there is no room for other relevancies, no energy for
abstraction, no search for classes, no creation of generalizations,
no perceiving of categories.
In some strange way, Indo-Europeans somehow
broke this bondage, this "tyranny of words",
37 as it has been
called. With us the word or sound or symbol stands for the
object or situation, i.e., m place of it. It stands between us
and the thing as a handle by which we can grasp it and manipulate
it. We hold the situation, rather than being held by it.
In other Cultures, the symbol was (or
is) the thing. This is what largely accounts for the extraordinary
profusion of signs and symbols in the lexicographies of all these
high Cultures of non-Indo-European origin
36. Cassirer, E., ibid. p.33.
37. Chase, Stuart, The Tyranny of Words, New
York, NY, Harcourt, Brace, 1938.
which developed writing. This applies
to the Sumerian cuneiform and its successors the Babylonian and Assyrian,
to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, to the Hittite script, to the Chinese,
quite possibly to the Indus Valley script, and similarly to that of the
Mayas of Central America. They might simplify each character a little
to save labour -- but they did not reduce the number of signs, except
perhaps where some sign was no longer used or required. In fact they became
in China almost unmanageable by reason of their number, one estimate being
around 25,000 to 30,000 ideographs. 38 None of these people reduced their signs to an alphabetical
form, they could only go on adding or multiplying by combination.
It has been said that there is no 'spelling'
in Chinese, and there was no 'spelling' in this sense in Cuneiform
either. Such languages do not become vehicles of Philosophy or
Science, though they are quite adequate for Technology.
Why this language bifurcation?
And so we come finally to the question
of why this linguistic bifurcation of mankind exists. Is it genetically
determined or merely culturally determined? Is there some feature
of the actual brain structure that was acquired and inherited,
in spite of current opinion to the contrary about the possibility
of such things being inherited?
Speech modifications in illnesses
There has, for many years, been a recognition
of the fact that mental illness can result in some strange forms
of modified speech. Douglas G. Campbell and C. R. Congdon, psychiatrists
in Chicago, some twenty years ago began a series of experiments
to see whether some forms of mental illness might not in fact
stem from 'ties' wrongly established between words and things.
According to one report, these experiments
38. Linton, Ralph, The Tree of Culture,
New York, NY, Knopf, 1956, p.113.
proved "astonishingly successful."
By disconnecting such ties, the response of some patients was both sudden
and dramatic. 39
The extent to which such mental
illnesses result from, or are reflected in, speech impediments
is remarkable. On this point, Cassirer has this to say: 40
Recent research in the field of the
psychopathology of language has led to the conclusion that the
loss, or severe impairment of speech caused by brain injury is
never an isolated phenomenon. Such a defect alters the whole
character of human behaviour. Patients suffering from aphasia
or other kindred diseases have not only lost the use of words
but have undergone corresponding changes in personality. Such
changes are scarcely observable in their outward behaviour
But they are at a complete loss as soon
as the solution of the problem requires any specific theoretical
or reflective activity. They are no longer able to think in general
concepts or categories. Having lost their grip on universals
they stick to the immediate facts, to concrete situations. Such
patients are unable to perform any task which can be executed
only by means of a comprehension of the abstract.
Cassirer points out that in cases of aphasia it has often been
found that patients had not only lost the use of special classes
of words, but at the same time exhibited a curious deficiency
in their general intellectual attitude. When such people were
confronted with problems requiring the abstract mode of thinking,
they often experienced great difficulty. They could no longer
think of unreal things.'
He illustrated this with the case
of a patient suffering from hemiplegia, from a paralysis of the
right hand, who could not utter the words "I can write with
my right hand." He even refused to repeat these words when
pronounced for him by the physician. 41
Curiously enough there is a striking
parallel instance of this strict attention to truth in the case
of Laura Bridgman, a blind and deaf and dumb girl, somewhat in
the same situation as Helen Keller.
39. Campbell, Douglas, and C.R. Congdon: reported
by Stuart Chase, The Tyranny of Words, New York, NY,
Harcourt, Brace, 1938, p.86.
40. Cassirer, E., Essay on Man, Yale University Press,
1944, p.40, 41.
41. Cassirer, E., ibid., p.57.
her teachers, according to Cassirer, remarked it "was very difficult
in the beginning to make her understand figures of speech, fables, or
suppositions cases of any kind . . . ." Her teacher then states that
Laura Bridgman could not extract herself from problems in arithmetic proposed
to her. If she had not actually bought two apples for five cents each,
it simply did not 'cost her 10 cents,' and she rejected the hypothetical
problem intended to teach her how to add! One question she rejected because
she never drank the liquid (cider) involved in it. Now this does not mean
that there was anything positively wrong with her brain. It indicates
only that in a certain stage of under-development, even an adult may find
it impossible or very difficult to escape into the abstract and deal with
Abstraction located in the frontal lobe
of the brain?
Now Goldstein and Gelb have done a lot
of research in the field of brain surgery. After some operations
they found that patients can no longer deal successfully with
merely 'possible' situations. Speaking more particularly of lobotomized
patients they report that such subjects are no longer capable
of grasping what is abstract. They explain what they mean thus:
This demands the ability to
live in two spheres, the concrete sphere where real things take
place, and the non-concrete sphere - the merely "possible"
This the patient is unable to do.
He can live and act only in the concrete sphere.
In a subsequent
paper, Goldstein reinforces his statement about the loss of the
power of abstraction in lobotomized subjects. He writes: 43
The assumption that lobotomized patients
suffered no loss of mental capacity was based on their performance
in conventional intelligence tests. Apparently the operation
did not reduce their intelligence quotient.
42. Goldstein and Gelb: quoted by Cassirer,
E., ibid., p.58.
43. Goldstein, Kurt, "Prefrontal Lobotomy: Analysis and
Warning," Scientific American, Feb., 1950, p.44.
has shown that the capacity to assume the abstract attitude, also
known as the "conceptual" attitude, a prerequisite of normal
human behaviour, acting voluntarily, taking the initiative, shifting
voluntarily from one activity to another, making adequate choices,
classifying objects or ideas, grasping the essentials of a complex
situation, synthesizing new ideas, reacting correctly to objects or
situations with which one is not directly concerned, detaching one's
ego from the outer world, and reacting in an objectively correct manner
. . . it is exactly in the problems or tasks which require these abilities
that we find patients with gross frontal lobe lesions defective. Indeed,
such a patient may show some peculiarities even in concrete behaviour
when the latter becomes dependent on abstract considerations.
Much work has been
done in this area which has strongly tended to confirm the theory
that the power of abstraction lies chiefly in the frontal lobes
and that people who do not exercise this faculty are not using
this area of the brain to any great extent.
Confirmation of this assumption has come
unexpectedly from Africa. A few years ago J. C. Carothers was
asked to design a series of tests by which to determine the suitability
of African natives applying for positions as assistants in the
Medical Research Laboratory, Nairobi. These tests were to give
some indication as to the dependability of the native in certain
situations which could be expected to occur in the labs. Carothers
made several discoveries in this undertaking, and published his
conclusions in a paper entitled "The Frontal Lobe Functions
and the African." 44
He reported that "certain facts
emerged which forced his attention to a striking resemblance
between African thinking and that of leucotomized Europeans."
This led him in due course to make certain deductions about the
neurophysiological basis of African thinking and character and
about the functions of the frontal lobes in general.
44. Carothers, J. C., "The Frontal Lobe
Functions and the African" in The Journal of Mental Science,
vol.97, Jan., 1951, p.12 ff.
with, he decided to see in what kind of situations the African native
would "let one down." 45 A questionnaire was sent to three employers of Africans in considerable
numbers, including natives of all levels of education and sophistication.
The results were very interesting as shown by the sample illustrations
Carothers gives. Particular note is made of the absence of any well developed
power of abstraction. One specific failing was in not seeing an event
as an element in a total situation and as having a variety of relevant
relationships. Routine was continually followed unreasoningly.
For example, three native overseers
were in charge of a game being played by number of mentally deficient
patients. While the game was in progress, one of the patients
ran away. All three native overseers took off after him, leaving
those who remained entirely unattended. He also mentions a lack
of interest and attention unless the situation appealed in a
directly personal and emotional fashion.
On the other hand, their quickness
to learn by hearing or sight is referred to with some surprise,
and they have a remarkable ability to grasp, work out and create
intricate relations in the auditory sphere. Carothers sums up
this section of his paper with the observation, "The African
is hardly in fact an individual in one sense of the word, but
a series of reactions."46
then turns to a consideration of the Leucotomized European Personality.
He notes the same general pattern of behaviour appearing in persons
who were not known to have so behaved previously, and says for
When the leucotomized patient
shows a personality change at all, it is in the direction of
a failure to see an event as an element in a total situation
and as having a variety of relevant relationships.
Under the heading
"Some Deductions," Carothers reports:
Except in so far as the African's
ritual training mitigates some of the more socially flagrant
symptoms (e.g., rudeness, and tactlessness) and except that the
African shows no lack of verbal ability or of fantasy, the resemblance
of the leucotomized European patient to the primitive African
is, in many cases, complete.
45. Carothers, J. C., ibid., p.25ff.
46. Carothers, J. C., ibid., p.33.
adds this little note of an interesting and rather surprising circumstance:
It seems also not without significance
that at least one of the few Europeans leucotomized in Kenya,
has since his operation, consorted much more happily with Africans
than with Europeans, in marked distinction from his previous
behaviour and to the great embarrassment of his relatives.
His final conclusion is
summed up as follows: 47
It is considered, on the evidence
of leucotomy in Europeans, that all the observed African peculiarities
can be explained as due to a relative idleness of his frontal
It seems particularly
desirable at this point to emphasize that there is no justification
for supposing that the European abstractive mentality is superior.
It is different, but it is not necessarily superior; for without
the fruition in Technology, of the much less abstractive but
more practical mentality, of the African (for example in the
working of iron), Europeans would quite probably have created
a society as physically impoverished as India has been in the
past. The emphasis must be on the difference, not on the
superiority of one type of mind as opposed to the other. It may
well be that the human mind is limited in such a way that, except
on rare occasions, the frontal lobes inhibit some other part
of man s mental faculties, and vice versa. Leucotomy in
this case, merely undoes as it were, the cultural impress of
Furthermore, it has been demonstrated
from tests given to soldiers with severe wounds, causing injury
to the frontal lobes, that there is no apparent loss of intelligence
as a result. 48
These tests were administered ten years after the injury, allowing
plenty of time for the defect to become evident. Other kinds
of tests however did show some decrement in intelligence where
the tests involved the use of language, and certain kinds of
brain injury had been sustained.
47. Carothers, J.C., ibid., p.46.
48. Reported in Science News Letter, June 8, 1957, p.360,
under the title, "No Intelligence Loss from Frontal Lobe
one area of the brain might exercise some dominance over another is not
strange. Experience teaches that too much reflection can confuse issues,
both inhibiting action, and preventing insights. Sometimes one has to
forget a problem entirely, in order to solve it. Shakespeare was quite
justified in saying, "And thus the native hue of resolution, is sicklied
o'er with the pale cast of thought," and it is common enough to find
that some people act first and think afterwards, whereas those who think
first often get no further than the thought. The division might well be,
in a very general sense, between the doer and the thinker, even perhaps
- between the extrovert and the introvert.
So strongly was Carothers convinced
that this kind of bifurcation could be justified, that he wrote
a further Paper on the subject which he titled "The African
Mind, In Health and Disease: A Study in Ethnopsychiatry,"
49 which was published
by the World Health Organization, and was reviewed favorably
in the Journal of the Royal Institute of Public Health and
Evidently he succeeds, in the reviewer's
opinion, in sustaining the implication of his title which assumes
the existence of something that may properly be called an African
MIND, in spite of the admitted "diversity of tribes and
races" on that Continent.
Walter Freeman and James Watts
have similarly observed this relationship between the frontal
lobes and behaviour, and they express the opinion that in some
way foresight and insight are affected by the operation of frontal
lobotomy. 51 They
hold that, in the frontal lobes there resides the synthesizing
faculty, the ability to assume an attitude of insight into a
total situation. When Europeans are operated on in this way,
they seem to be able to conclude their thinking processes more
quickly than a normal person, not taking time to "finish
up" thought, as the authors put it. Consequently it is felt
that the frontal lobes operate for the
49. Carothers, J.C., "The African Mind
in Health and Disease: as Study in Ethnopsychiatry," published
by the World Health Organization, Monograph Series No. 17, 1953.
50. Reviewed in Journal of the Royal Institute of Public Health
and Hygiene, Nov., 1953, vol.16, p.307-308.
51. Freeman, Walter, and James Watt, "Behaviour and the
Frontal Lobes," in the Transactions of the New York Academy
of Sciences, May 15, 1944, p.284-310.
"consummation of thinking."
Patients are "quite adequate at the concrete social level" but
lack a certain attitude towards the future that is characteristic of the
mature individual. They tend to be improvident, having little regret for
the past or concern for the future. They live very much in the here and
now. This is quite similar to the attitude towards life of primitive people
as a whole, in whom there is otherwise no evidence of mental ill-health.
Ralph W. Gerard has done
a great deal of experimental work in this area, especially with
animals. He has taught white rats to run a maze and then subjected
them to considerable surgery of the brain which apparently had
little effect upon the power of memory. He concludes that any
part of the brain seems able to take over the duty of any other
part, and as he puts it: 52
It remains sadly true that most
of our present understanding of mind would remain as valid and
useful, if for all we knew, the cranium were stuffed with cotton
wadding. In time the detailed correlation of psychic phenomena
and neural processes will surely come, but today we are hardly
beyond the stage of unequivocal evidence that the correlation
does exist. . . .
This caution is necessary,
because there may be quite other reasons why pre-frontal lobotomy
or leucotomy results in the kind of personality changes which
have been noted. Moreover it is not essential to my thesis to
establish this connection in any case. But certainly this is
a remarkable parallelism between non-Indo-European thought patterns
as reflected in their language, and those of leucotomized European
As Gerard admits: 53
Halsted has found a striking defect,
in patients whose frontal lobes have been partly removed, in
the ability to make categories. A normal adult, given a miscellaneous
collection of familiar objects and asked to group them in as
many ways as possible, can set up dozens of categories for grouping,
by colour, shape, material, and so on. The operated patient can
make few if any groups.
52. Gerard Ralph W.,"The Biological Basis
of Imagination," Scientific Monthly, June 1946, p.487.
53. Gerard, Ralph W., ibid., p.489.
evidence of the correctness of this association is given by Frank I. Otenasek,
in an issue of the Bulletin of the Isaac Ray Medical Library. He
warns that "reports on the results of lobotomy as found in the literature
are confusing." 54 But he feels that certain things can
be stated with a fair degree of assurance. Two lobotomized patients will
be more similar to each other after the operation than before: interest
and initiative are reduced: lack of personal restraint (a kind of childishness)
is evident: matters worthy of earnest attention are joked about instead:
persistence is reduced and prolonged attention becomes very difficult:
etc. He also notes the following, which is directly relevant to this thesis:
In other instances description
has been made of substitution of the concrete and immediate,
for the abstract or real meaning. . . . There is a tendency for
thinking to be concerned with the factual rather than the abstract.
Decisions are made along practical lines . . . introspection
no longer interests the patient.
The relationship of language and awareness
I do not suggest that there is
any more than a very tentative clue here. It could be that the
adoption of a European language by a native would effectively
change his awareness also. It seems, in fact, most probable.
And it could be that a European by birth who had been brought
up to speak no other language than some African dialect, would
share their particular form of awareness and would thus
appear to be not unlike the European leucotomized patient. There
must surely be plenty of cases where this has happened which
would go a long way towards settling whether the native thinks
as he does because of a form of mental 'deficiency,' or merely
because his thought patterns have been predetermined for him
by the language he inherited as a child, and that he therefore
has little or no need to use the frontal lobes.
54. Otenasek, Frank J., "Some Considerations
of the Total Personality in Prefrontal Brain Surgery," Bulletin
of the Isaac Ray Medical Library, published by Butler Hospital,
Providence, R. I., vol. 1, Oct., 1953, p.83ff.
55. Otenasek, Frank J., ibid, p.94.
a pattern of thinking had been established in the childhood of any Culture
and the language had become structured more or less firmly, this would
guarantee the preservation to a large extent of the form of world-view.
Benjamin Lee Whorf puts the question
this way: 56
How does such a network of language,
culture, and behaviour come about historically? Which was first,
the language patterns or the cultural norms? In the main they
have grown up together constantly influencing each other. But
in this Partnership, the nature of the language is the factor
that limits free plasticity and rigidifies channels of development
in the more autocratic way, This is because language is a system,
not just an assemblage of norms.
56. Whorf, Benjamin Lee, Language, Thought,
and Reality, Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, edited
by John B. Carrol, Boston, MA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Press, 1956, p.156.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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