Why we call parents ‘parents’

Why do we call our parents Mum, Dad and other similar words? Researchers tend to say that those words come from the sounds babies make, but this isn’t a very satisfactory answer. Probably all societies call parents by names and nicknames that mean they are parents. This is very strange when you think about it. Whenever someone is special we give them a proper name. Parents are very special but we give them common names.

In modern society, a father will typically get upset if you, as his child, called him by his personal name. Whereas you will get upset if he did not call your dog Charlie but any other word indicating a dog. ‘I am your father’, he will argue, and draw on his biological knowledge. Whereas you will give a number of cultural reasons why your dog is special.

Traditionally, the relationship between language and reality is viewed from two fundamental perspectives.[i] One sees the mind as a sort of computer that would allow the child to identify her real parents. The other perspective sees it as a sociocultural entity, so that such a reality could not be something the child logically discovers, but something that is created in interaction with others.

This theoretical dichotomy is probably as unhelpful as arguing with your parents over who is special and why. It means that science does not understand words that are central to our sense of reality. Indeed, it is true that parenthood has a biological basis, but it is also true that parenting is a markedly cultural activity. Should we not elucidate this question before attempting to solve any other big mysteries? This has been in my mind ever since I became a parent myself.

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Money is a token of cooperation: the biology of indirect exchanges

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Author: Jose Maanmieli


Abstract: This article proposes a clear definition of money, as opposed to credit, by elaborating on the distinction between cooperation and altruism in biology. It argues that these fundamental concepts have been confused due to a sociocentric perspective on the meaning of cooperation. Money should be primarily seen as a store of value, meaning that it mediates interactions that are more constructive than reciprocal altruism. This situated definition explains the challenges typically encountered by monetary theorists, who emphasise either utility or symbolism. The invention of Bitcoin, the first form of digital money, provides central empirical support. Indeed, the value of bitcoins does not come from any intrinsic utility nor does it come from an institution. It has simply emerged on the internet, a social environment akin to the ecological environment in which trade has evolved. Like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, money emerges naturally to enable indirect exchanges. This cooperative potential is seized by processes of social reproduction that transform money into credit.

 

Keywords: game theory, evolutionary social psychology, economic anthropology, definition of morality, social evolution, Stag Hunt, history of money

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Why science needs to understand language

Today scientists have major disagreements about everything that has to do with human behaviour. They surface, for example, in issues of economics, biology, psychology or psychiatry.1 It is a bit like a chicken and egg question. Some believe that society comes before the individual, while others believe that the individual comes before society; the first believe that biology should be understood culturally, and the second that culture should be understood biologically. It does not take a scientist to perceive that there is something unscientific in this situation. Indeed, what is compelling about science is what seems to be lacking in this case, that is, its ability to sometimes explain, to give you that a-ha moment you get when you solve an ordinary puzzle. This is a pleasant feeling of wholeness, not necessarily certain, but at least lacking in disagreement.2

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Story of an academic article

Let me introduce our project by telling you about our first article. In 2017 the Finnish journal Psykoterapia-lehti published ‘Psykoosi: Sosiaalinen destruktionismi’, which deals with the personal yet abstract nature of mental illness. We were very excited; it was our first academic article. We had originally drafted it in English and were planning a more ambitious version for the international readership, one that would more generally address the theory and practice of psychiatry. The result is now published on this site as well as on the excellent academia.edu, though we first tried the usual publishing route. Here is the cover letter I wrote for it:

Dear Editor:

This article introduces a new, comprehensive view of mental illness as a phenomenon intrinsic to human society. We use first-person accounts to illustrate our case because it is grounded in individual experience, and we address the psychiatric model of Open Dialogue because of the importance of human interactions. The article concludes by proposing a way forward for psychiatry in its relation to the behavioral sciences and philosophy.

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Social destructionism: Psychosis and the limits of dialogue

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Authors: Jose Maanmieli and Karoliina Maanmieli


Abstract: Some words have the power to define what is real. This article introduces a comprehensive view of mental illness as an inner conflict with those words. We suggest that individuals are sometimes unable to assimilate the narratives most human beings live by because the social realities they portray are abstract, incoherent and conflicting. We do this through a constructive criticism of Open Dialogue, an innovative, celebrated approach to mental health care that resembles family therapy. Open Dialogue is important due to its situated focus on human relationships. However, the approach adheres to the metaphysical narrative of social constructionism, which we argue is but another form of rationalism that competes with the rationalism of the biomedical model. Both approaches effectively disregard embodied experience, individual decision-making and the sciences of behaviour because they have a basis in societal norms. We illustrate our case through the psychosis stories gathered in a unique, minimally edited book, which we contrast with case examples of Open Dialogue. Our analysis shows that epistemic and therapeutic value should not be seen as opposites. Questioning our most fundamental assumptions reveals that the person in crisis has a lot to say about life’s biggest questions, and opens the door to a genuinely open dialogue.

 

Keywords: morality, psychiatry, Open Dialogue, decision-making, family, rationalism, social realities

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The nature of kinship terms: From dad and mum to god and society

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Author: Jose Maanmieli


Abstract: Why do we call our parents mother and father? Why do we call ourselves these general words around children? These personal questions have not sufficiently drawn the attention of linguists and psychologists, yet any account of language and human cognition must be able to provide a good answer. Indeed, our minds have evolved and develop in a social setting that is primarily governed by norms of kinship. This article demonstrates how those norms encapsulate the relationship between language and reality, individual and society. I suggest that the use of kinship terms is characterised by a self-deceptive conflation of address and reference, which corresponds to a cognitive conflation of particular and universal meanings. This analysis requires a distinction between acts of address and reference that is consistent with a biological view of the individual. From this grounded perspective, I argue that 1) Mother and Father are elementary mythical characters, 2) myth has a basis in child-directed speech, and 3) child-directed speech is mainly a means to transmit societal norms, not so much a means to help children learn to speak or relate to others. I also discuss the conceptual issues in developmental linguistics that result from this lack of metalinguistic awareness, issues that go back to the beginnings of philosophy. Because nature is prior to nurture, and the concepts of parents and kin appear first in life, understanding the nature of these concepts elucidates central problems, from those of epistemology to the current questioning of gender and parenting roles.

 

Keywords: child-directed speech, evolutionary psychology, language socialisation, self-deception, definition of morality, origins of language, philosophy

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Children’s pretence: A scientific perspective on social reality

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Author: Jose Maanmieli


Abstract: The nature of reality is an old philosophical question, yet not nearly as old as the myths of different cultures around marriage and kinship. We can assume that these foundational institutions have deeply shaped our perception of reality, since they probably date to the origin of our species. Here we provide an answer that integrates biology, psychology, anthropology and linguistics. Simply put, institutions do not belong in a descriptive, scientific notion of reality, and our ontological confusion around them evolved due to its reproductive function. This argument involves a precise understanding of morality as a deceptive linguistic socialisation device that is distinct from other forms of normativity. More specifically, we argue that what philosopher John Searle has called institutional ‘facts’, such as a piece of paper being money, should instead be regarded as strictly subjective and nonfactual. Central to these considerations is the very definition of human society, and how its moral, tribalistic nature goes unnoticed because it is registered in language itself, limiting our self-understanding. We demonstrate this limitation by closely examining a recent book chapter on the social origins of language which, influenced by Searle, uses the institution of marriage as an example of serious or objective institutional practice and discusses how children learn to participate in it. Searle’s own conceptual framework also proves useful in illustrating how kinship and moral socialisation form the basis of social realities.

 

Keywords: social reality, prescription, kinship system, definition of morality, child psychology, cognitive conflation

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A descriptive explanation of morality

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Author: Jose Maanmieli


Abstract: The phenomenon of morality is difficult to explain because it is itself at the root of language and explanations. Having to arrive at the ‘right’ knowledge that something is morally ‘right’ is a formal ambiguity that reflects an ancient, linguistic conflation of natural and social meanings. In this essay, I aim to illustrate and overcome these ambiguities through the kind of explanation that produces our most reliable theories in science and everyday life. This involves an analysis of human belief that is consistent with biology and makes a clear distinction between description and prescription. It involves making sense of our puzzling, pseudo-cognitive moral judgements by looking at ourselves as animals who self-deceive about the nature of reality. Epistemology is then seen in the light of a false dichotomy between holism and atomism, which are normative attitudes that pervade our everyday life, for example, when we reason about how resources should be allocated. I use this perspective to deal with classic philosophical problems, such as that of induction, realistically and comprehensively. The resulting theoretical framework situates the corresponding ontological, moral and political problems in the wider context of natural science, particularly in relation to recent experiments in moral psychology. Far from banishing value, this suggests a basis for transcending our long-standing social and academic disputes. Finally, I discuss how the theory integrates evidence from a variety of disciplines. All this makes it possible to hypothesise the evolutionary origins of morality as a well-defined phenomenon that is distinct from what I have called ethics. Morality is a deceptive linguistic socialisation device that creates paradoxical ‘social realities’ by conflating social concepts, such as the concept of a particular individual or group, with the natural concepts that we use to explain reality. Morality exists because it maximises the reproductive success of individuals over the generations by exploiting our rational, cooperative nature. 

Keywords: good explanations, animal beliefs, science of philosophy, evolutionary ethics, pseudo-rationality, self-deception, children and families 

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