DISCOURSE THINKING ACCOUNTS:
A TRANSACTIONAL MODEL
FOR THE STUDY OF MENTAL LIFE

Part 2 of 3

Dr. Leon James
(c)1973

Contents

Language and Thought
The Social Concept of a Person
Discourse Thinking
The Interpersonal Saorogat

Back to PART 1
Forward to PART 3

'Discourse thinking' is a topic in educational psycholinguistics that relates to a number of traditional issues of which the following are most relevant: (a) such earlier problems in the old psycholinguistics as the relationship between speech and thought (Chomsky, 1968; Lenneberg, 1962), as well as the communication and information model of spcech (Miller, 1951; Cherry, 1957); (b) some classical issues in psychology that deal with the nature of the mental process and "imageless thought" (Boring, 1950); (c) some current literature in "verbal behavior" dealing with imagery (Paivio, 1971); and (d) much current discussion in psycho-therapy involving the use of suggestion, meditation, bio-feedback, and drugs to produce altered states of consciousness for the growth of the individual's psyche (De Ropp, 1968; Gerara, 1972; Toomin 1972; Watts, 1969; Gendlin, 1962; Tart, 1969; Leary, 1968; Masters and Houston, 1972; Lilly, 1972; Castaneda, 1971).

 

One possible account that integrates features of these four academic areas on the mental thought process will be briefly outlined. Some specific deficiencies of this account will then be given, following which I shall suggest some possible solutions in my elaboration of the concept of "discourse thinking."

Language and Thought

The human infant is born with the capacity of acquiring natural languages. A necessary condition for first language acquisition is a universally adequate social environment in which the child exposed to the ordinary use of a language. In all but a few exceptional cases, children spontaneously, and without the necessity of deliberate "teaching", pursue various investigatory, hypothesis- testing, learning strategies to discover the syntactic, semantic and transactional rules that are being practiced by the relevant environmental speech community. Language use and thinking have parallel developmental patterns. In the early years of socialized life, speech and thought appear to be different merely in modality (articulated sound vs. covert verbalization) but in later years, as complexity of process and content increases, relative independence develops due to differences in audience related reinforcement contingencies (e.g. when the individual thinks, he speaks to himself and hence can afford various synoptical and elliptical short cuts without disrupting the integrity of the process). In the socially mature individual, the relationship between private thought and public speech is decoupled by a disruption in time sequence and by editing, permitting the use of various strategies designed to mask the private thought process from "the other" and to manipulate the social image of the thinker- talker. The private thinking process that underlies public speech is "encoded" by a series of transformations some of which are linguistic (syntactic, semantic, phonological) and others of which are psychosocial (interpersonal, transactional, emotional). The listener "decodes" the speech material by a parallel series of reverse transformations into thought process, thus closing the interpersonal "communication" act. The availibility of the mental process for analysis and description is low, so that should the individual attempt to "introspect" as an independent observer, the degree of specificity thus revealed remains highly inadequate. With such methods of investigation (classical introspectionism and current verbal rating techniques) much of the thought process appears to be non- verbalizable for various reasons ("imageless thought", imagery, visualizations, symbolizations).

 

The triangular relationship between thought process, speech, and psychic growth or maturity (the psychodynamics of behavior) is closely related to the issue of "awareness". The individual's "mental health", the quality of his interpersonal relationships, the degree of experienced fulfillment and self- actualization are all functions of the degree of awareness an individual attains about his inner processes. The various growth, liberation and psychotherapeutic techniques investigated by man over decades and centuries all have this feature in common, in that they are essentially strategies for gaining a fuller awareness of intra- body and intra- psychic processes. From these investigations it appears that levels of awareness correspond to levels of consciousness, each succeeding level being "higher" than the immediately preceding one in that it both contains all the "lower" ones while adding a new component to it such that it allows its subsequent reintegration within a higher level. There appears to be no limit to this process of inclusion unless one goes as far as to speculate about a "highest" God- like level which is all- inclusive, containing the totality of the Universe.

The Social Concept of a Person

The previous account is deficient in a number of aspects which will now be discussed. Firstly, the account fails to specify the nature and manner of the decoupling process between thought and speech that occurs as tne individual develops into socialized maturity. It merely refers to it and notes some of its surface properties, i.e. a disruption in time sequence and the act of editing which allows for masking and image manipulation. The communication theory model merely asserts that a decoding- encoding process is involved. In some cases, the structure of the "message" is analyzed, but there is no adequate account of the specific selectional decisions in encoding and decoding, what is the original underlying generative thought process, what is being edited out, how the time sequence between private thought and public speech is disrupted or masked,"who" is doing the thinking and "who" is doing the talking and "who" is doing the transforming of one into the other, and how, and why. Furthermore, there is no adequate treatment given in the account of the necessary continuity in time of a continued "identity" of the person who is the thinker and how he himself maintains the distinction between the thinker and the talker. Second, the account is deficient in its failure to provide a sufficiently adequate description of the psychodynamic triangle implied in the relationship between thought process, speech, and level of awareness or consciousness. Neither does it give a principled distinction between intra- body and intra- psychic processes, on the one hand, nor, on the other, does it clarify the nature of the hierarchical process of inclusion of levels of consclousness and their various properties. What follows is an attempt to remedy these specific inadequacies by pointing to some areas of investigation that offer some possible solutions.

 

I begin by introducing the concept of transaction as the unit of activity that defines what it is that persons do (when they think, talk, or interrelate). I intend to use the concept of transaction in the same sense that one would use the notion of the structure of the molecular bond when talking about what it is that atomic particles do to form "matter" as experienced in daily life or described by a dynamic mathematical or chemical account of pure elements. It can be said that elementary atomic particles interact according to certain laws, principles, rules to produce new entities, shapes, forms, structures (compounds), and the "Universe" is a global time- space continuum that localizes the specific happenings represented by these- interactions. In the same sense, a "person" is an individual time--space continuum (of "a Universe unto himself") that localizes the specific intra- - body and intra- - psychic happenings represented by the creation of transactions within a person, as the elementary components are integrated according to certain laws, principles, and rules of human transactions. Just as we speak of a genetic code that defines the interactions involved in cellular growth, development, and capacities, in that same sense we can speak of a transactional code that defines the possible interactions within and between persons. Intrapersonally, the transactional code defines the elements as well as their possible concatenations, and these represent the stuff of intra- - body and intra- - psychic activity, viz. a living person. The notion of a person is a social construction defined by the transactional code. Nothing is known about the origin of the human transactional code, just as we are ignorant about the origins of the genetic code, or for that matter, the genetic nature of the chemical bond or such "forces" as gravity. In historical terms, wherever persons have gathered together to form a societal enterprise, a transactional code has existed to permit the emergence of a speech community.

A speech community is a group of persons whose joint and separate activities are governed by the specific rules of the transactional code in force there. The process of "socialization" refers to the speech community's efforts at maintaining the structure of activities it defines as "possible" by guiding the developing organization of infant, pre- socialized persons such that they gradually mature into adult persons whose intrapersonal and interpersonal activities are those and only those, specified as possible by the specific transactional code in force in that particular speech commun- ty. Language, speech, the rules of talk, discourse thinking, are various conceptions that are intended to account for the way in which the socialization process is accomplished.

 

The transactional code specifies the possible activities of a person, intrapersonally and interpersonaliy. "Topical organization" refers to the identity of the transactional elements and their structured interrelationships. Thus, a person cannot ordinarily do something that is not specified as possible by the transactional code (e.g. he cannot run for President in a monarchy or become a Millionaire in a communist republic). A person cannot ordinarily say something that is not allowed by the topical organization of the transactional code (e.g. an Australian aborigine cannot talk about the docking operations of a moon buggy, and most Americans today cannot talk about the Bardos of the Tibetan rituals of death). A person cannot ordinarily think something that is not generically contained in the categorical system established by the semantic and syntactic code of the language used, in his relevant speech community(s).

 

It is necessary, at this point, to amplify on the notion "a person cannot ordinarily do X" (do, say, think). In the history of science, there have occurred events which according to the scientific account of the day were "impossible." When such extraordinary events occur, they are, at first, denied or, at least, questioned as to whether or not the event has "really" occurred (see Kuhn, 1962). Later on, especially if the "impossible" event is repeatedly observed, the scientific account is changed so as to allow for the inclusion of the event, which is then reclassified as now possible. The notion "impossible event" can be seen therefore as reflecting the specific contemporary composition of the global scientific account. Similarly, the notion "a person cannot ordinarily do X" is a reflection of the specific contemporary composition of the transactional code in force in a speech community. Should a person succeed in accomplishing an "impossible" transaction (intrapersonally or interpersonally), he is first seen as aberrant (extraordinary), and historically, such persons were treated in a special, non- ordinary way (e.g. locking them up, treating them with drugs or surgery, or attempting to repair the specific ways in which they are ill- socialized through re- education and psychotherapy). Later, as more and more persons succeed in accomplishing certain specific impossible transactions, the account given for the existing transactional code is altered in specific ways so as to reclassify the impossible transaction into the ordinarily possible category.

I shall now consider some aspects of the organizational structure of intrapersonal and interpersonal transactions. The specific empirical evidence to be considered will relate to the transactional code that pertains to this writer's relevant speech community, although the analysis involved is meant to be extended to other generalized speech communities.

 

I begin with the notion of "identity" which is perhaps the most basic feature relating to the social concept of a person. An individual's name is a global label for the identity of a person. It is given at birth and ordinarily remains fixed for the rest of his social life. Naming an infant is an act of creation perpetrated by the speech community and uniquely establishes forever the social existence of a person. Around this name, there develops a structure of transactional expectations, interpersonally and intrapersonally, as the infant grows into a socially mature adult. The concepts of "personality" and "conversational identity" refer to this set of transaceional expectations such that a person's selective activities, within the possible ones defined by the transactional codc, are seen by himself and others as being "in character"- - when expectations are confirmed, or "out of character"- - when expectations are disconfirmed. Thus, within the restrictions imposed by the speech community's transactional code, persons will differ from other persons in the specific and habitual choices they regularly exhibit in their transactional activities. It is ordinarily the case that these individual choices are variously rewarded or punished by the speech community according to its peculiar systems, and these reinforcement contingencies act to influence further the individual's selectional choices in subsequent transactional activities.

A person is thus a socially created entity, uniquely identified by a name, and deriving its stability through the continuity established by the habitual consistency of his transactional choices such that it more or less conforms to a perceptibly coherent set of transactional expectations, called "personality," "character" or "conversational identity."

 

The concept of "conversational identity" involves an elaboration of the concept of "name identity" in such a way as to extend the property of uniqueness of interpersonal intimacy. To put it another way, while a name bestows upon the person certain public legal and officious statuses (rights, privileges, responsibilities, expectations), conversational identity uniquely locates a person within a smaller and more intimate network of particularized other persons. The way in which conversational identity is established and its practical importance for interpersonal transactions are topics of great interest and importance, though I shall deal with them here only cursorily, only with enough sufficiency to show that they are indeed problems of great interest.

 

One way of showing this might be to observe the effort persons expend in interpersonal work whose direct purpose is to maintain a particular standing claim with regard to the existence of a conversational relationsllip of a particular sort that one person may have vis- a- vis another. One method which persons use in such "face work" has to do with providing evidence to the other that evidences the fact that the two parties are still involved in a particular conversational relationship that is of a particular sort. Consider the following telephone exchange:

1. A: Hello.

2. B: Peter!

3. A: Yeah.

4. B: Hi. I was worried I might not find you in. I just heard about the blow- up at the office this afternoon and I want you to know that you can count upon my support.

5. A: Thanks, Harvey. I appreciate it. At the moment I'm still considering alternatives open to me . . . but it's nice to know I can count on friends. How is Jane?

6. B: Much better. The doctor said she can come home tomorrow. The kids are all excited. It's been so long . . .

7. A: Great. If she feels up to it, you can come over for dinner Friday night.

8. B: Splendid idea. I'll call you tomorrow or the day after.

9. A: Right. Thanks for calling. I appreciate it.

10. B: Right. See you.

11. A: Bye.

 

Notice that B comes to the 'point' of his call the first chance he gets (in the fourth place of the talking turn exchange, cf.4), which is a marked event since he rejects an alternative that was open to him, namely embedding his offer of support among various other topical things (see the discussion in Sacks, 1971, Lecture 1). By this doing, B is seen as laying effective claim to the existence of a relationship with A, that is of the sort whereby A can count upon B to support him when finding himself in the kind of trouble he in effect is. A then makes it a point (in 5) to legitimize this claim even though he has at the moment no particular plans to use B's help. A then inquires about the health of B's wife, which has the effect of allowing A to lay successful claim that a particular intimate relationship exists between them such that A is the sort of person who falls in the category of people known to B who possess intimate knowledge about him and have the right to treat it as a topic of conversation between them. Furthering this claim, A then extends a dinner invitation to B (cf.7), which is accepted (in 8).

Conversational identity is based upon and maintained by mutual sets of such 'expectations claims' that participants lay upon each other and it is this kind of relationship work (laying claims, accepting or rejecting them) that a conversational identity depends upon for its development, maintenance, and change.

 

The perceived coherence and consistency involved in the day- - to- - day ordinary activities of a person is insured by a commonly accepted and adhered to "account" of what a person is. This commonly held account is continually protected and fostered by specific techniques of socialization, including the reinforcement contingencies which members of the speech community jointly uphold through an adversary relationship set up by the enforced conceptual dichotomy of "the individual" vs. "the community." I shall now elaborate on some of the features of this account, which I shall call the "defining account."

 

Though there exists various specific versions of the defining account in my speech community, they all have the same essential underlying structure, one form of which is the following (cf. De Ropp,1968). A person is a social construction uniquely identified by a name and is made up of sets of transactional expectations. These sets of expectations can be subdivided into three categories on the basis of such criteria as sequence of development, stability over time, and centrality. The first is the "essence type" and it is at once the earliest in etiology, the least changeable over time, and most fundamental in its overall effects. The transactional expectations governed by essence type are related to general activity level of the organism (cf. the driving, extroverted, outerdirected, physically athletic "somatotomic" in Sheldon's (quoted in De Ropp, 1968). type classification system vs. the passive, contemplating, physically heavy and slow aura of the "viscerotonic" personality). The second is the "persona" which governs those sets of transactional expectations that are minimally essential for the person to carry out the practical day-to- day duties assigned to him by the role definitions incumbent upon the social status that his unique (name) identity entails. The third is the "ego" or set of ego's that governs those transactional expectations that are at the surface and most visible, and imbue a person with the peculiar stylistic variations characteristic of "individual character." The ego transactions serve primarily to build, maintain, protect and repair a person's various "images," both private and public. These image manipulations take the following form: "I shall always act (do, say, think) so as to give the impression that I am the sort of person who..."- - with various possible completions of the sort "who doesn't loose his temper unless provoked in the extreme," "who performs well in love making," "who is conscientious about his duties," and so on to a very large set whose size and complexity and dynamism varies with what might be referred to as "personality polish."

 

Historically, more primitive societies allowed less freedom in the , image management activities of the person's various egos. Modern urban technological communities introduced a hitherto unknown degree of freedom for the person in amassing sets of interrelated ego images around the persona, leading to the development of overlapping sets of transactional expectations that may be either congruent with each other or contradictory. Interpersonally, the incongruous transactional expectations (sometimes referred to in the literature as "role conflict") could be maintained by selectivity of contact with other persons such that expectation- set X could be protected with persons in group A while the contradictory expectation set - X could be protected with persons in group B. Interpersonally, however, the need to protect conflicting sets of expectations can produce psychic and organismic stress leading to a third "reactive" set of expectations that are seen by others as character aberrations, the so- called "neuroses" and "psychoses" of behavior (anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, hysteria, compulsion, depression, schizophrenia, delusions).

 

Discourse Thinking

A person's day- to- day behavior in a speech community can be seen to consist largely in the maintenance - activities required to protect the sets of transactional expectations governed by the predispositions of his essence type, by the practical solutions demanded of his persona, by the image building requirements of his egos, and by the reactive dynamics that results from the instability of the person's successes and failures in carring out these various tasks within the social interpersonal environment. All of this complex transactional activity needs to be supervised and coordinated. This administrative task is handled by the person's various "managers." A manager is an intrapersonal psychic construction, an entity that is redintegrated in experience as the "I," "you" and "(s)he" of internal discourse thinking. When persons give reports, descriptions, accounts, of intrapsychic conscious activity, they ordinarily reproduce what appears to be conversational transactions (cf. "I told myself not to worry about it," "I thought , you mustn't catastrophise, Leon, buddy boy," "I saw myself doing it and thought, he is uncontrollably in rage, stop it, for God's sakes, I mustn't let myself,..." and so on); or alternately, long stretches of monologue describing events as if doing public reporting.

These various pronominal intrapersonal entities are experiential redintegrations of the person's managers. A manager's level of control or awareness corresponds to the level of consciousness at which he operates at particular times. As indicated earlier, these levels of consciousness are structured into a hierarchy of inclusion. At the lowest level, there is to be found the manager of the deep sleep state. His level of control and awareness is restricted to intra- body autonomic processes, usually called "involuntary" because it is unavailable to the control of the manager at the third level of consciousness (the ordinary waking state, see below). The manager at the second level is "in charge" of the dream state of ordinary sleep. This knowledge is partially available to the manager at the third level, the ordinary waking state usually associated with conscious, ego maintaining activities and their reactive consequences. The fourth level manager oversees the intrapsychic activities of the person associated with altered ("higher") states of consciousness. Since I have no personal knowledge and hence, no empirical evidence of managers at the fifth and subsequent states, I shall not discuss any speculations I may have about them (but see, for example, Lilly, 1972; Castaneda, 1971; Watts, 1969; and Masters and Houston, 1972).

 

In my speech community, the manager at the third level is given public, official, and legal status as the keeper responsible for the person uniquely idntified by a name. The presence of the other managers is not directly acknowledged interpersonally except in so far as their existence is mediated by the third manager. Public accounts of intrapsychic life, such as this one, must be reported in a register proper to the third manager, which is the register in which the commonly held and known transactional code is ordinarily explicated. This peculiar restriction introduces grave problems in the communicability of the intrapsychic events that relate to the activities of the other managers, both because these activities are not readily encoded by the person in the interpersonal register of the third manager and because they are not understandable to the third manager of the listener who is doing the decoding. It is for this reason that accounts of events pertaining to activities of the person in the higher, altered states of consciousness remain obscure in meaning to persons whose third manager is not knowledgeable about the activities of the other managers.

 

Discourse thinking is, thus, the peculiar proper intrapersonal register of the third manager and is closely patterned upon the conversational structure of interpersonal speech. This is the locus of intersection between the speech community's transactional code and the person's ego maintaining transactional expectations. It is at this point that we shall look for the nature of the decoupling process whereby private thought process (discourse thinking at the third level) becomes independent of public speech and thereby makes possible the adversary dialectic between intrapersonal and interpersonal life and the day- to- day practical psychodynamics of the person. Because discourse thinking is patterned in a derivative way upon the interpersonal transactional register, and given that many of our present investigatory techniques are geared towards the analysis of overtly observable empirical data, I shall begin by a brief elaboration of the interpersonal register later to be followed by attempts to explicate in more specific terms the transformation process that converts it into discourse thinking.

The Interpersonal Saorogat

Only a cursory overview of the saorogat technique will be given here in as much as a more detailed account has already been presented elsewhere (See BOTEC). Saorogat is an acronym that stands for self- analytic objective reporting of on- going authentic transactions. It is a technique of analysis practiced in TEC Workshops designed to give participants an increased awareness of interpersonal transactional activities. In other terms, it increases the validity and degree of explicitness of accounts prepared by the third manager and dealing with on- going interpersonal transactional activities. This increased awareness gives added control capacities to the third manager so that the person is more capable of "engineering" transactions that are in the practical service of the ego maintaining activities including such interpersonal goals involved in teaching, psychotherapy, and interpersonal competition.

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