Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mind = blown

I don't remember what specifically prompted me to order Brian Malley's How the Bible Works:  An Anthropological Study of Evangelical Biblicism, but it arrived late last week and I've spent most of today devouring it. However the book captured my attention, it has so far been well worth the read and I have no doubt but that I'll be quoting it in our Bible as Cultural Genotype manuscript.

Of all the insights it's given me though, the one that stands out most strongly in my mind after a solid day of reading came in the introduction. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it and its implications so for now I'll simply quote a thought provoking paragraph (p. 8):

The presumption of textual meaning, it seems to me, is a specific case of the general principle proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson (1995), that although humans generally transmit only partial and ambiguous representations of the messages they intend to communicate, listeners' presumption of an intended message's relevance enables them to select, from among the possible interpretations, the one intended by the speaker.  On Sperber and Wilson's view, all communicative signals are partial and ambiguous representations of their intended messages.  The recipients of signals are therefore confronted with the task of sorting out which of the possible interpretations is intended by the speaker.  They are aided in this task by the speaker's implicit promise that the signal is as appropriate as possible for the intended message (Grice 1989).  Sperber and Wilson give a cognitive explication of this promise:  the speaker, in attracting the listener's attention and offering an utterance, implicitly guarantees that the informational value of the intended message is greater than the energetic cost of cognitively processing it.  The listener recognizes this implicit guarantee, and selects the first interpretation that meets this standard of relevance.  It may be that further interpretations could be explored with more cognitive effort, but once the promise of relevance is satisfied, interpretation stops.  (Of course, the guarantee of relevance may not be given in good faith, or a speaker may misjudge the conditions of relevance for the listener, or a number of other things might go wrong but in general, the principle of relevance guides the listener to the speaker's intended meaning.)  In ordinary conversations, then, interpretation is both initiated and guided by the expectation of relevant meaning.

In other words, "In a sense, the meaning arises only because it is presumed."  (p. 8)

Food for thought, presuming of course that all this really means something.

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