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They sometimes behave so strangely

Dear List

It has been very intriguing to follow the discussion triggered by the
'strange behavior' of Diana's vocalization. To my mind, this beautiful
example points to a very important problem that we should consider

The implicit question is, of course, how can we explain this phenomenon,
which seems to be fairly consistent across a vast population. Shall we
discard it as purely phenomenological? Most of us would hesitate to do so.

There seems to be a switch between two perceptual modes in our cognition, a
music mode and a language mode, prompting us to ask: How can we explain this
switch? and What triggers it? Is it a purely cultural phenomenon, as some
writers have suggested, or does it rest on biological properties as well? We
see how this simple demonstration raises a host of questions that are very
difficult to answer, and it is therefore tempting to ignore them.

Our inability to explain the mode-switch phenomenon may have to do with the
way we conceive of the fundamental categories language and music (which may
not be so far apart, as we have seen a number of examples of these last
days). Seen in this perspective, Diana's 'illusion' becomes a demonstration
of the instability of our basic categories. Not only do they have 'fuzzy
boundaries', but their very definition is human and cultural, thus subject
to change and interpretation. The categories language and music are not
predestined and given by nature, they are part of the semiotic web in which
we perform our investigations. We should therefore not be surprised by the
fact that it is possible to manipulate a demonstration in such a way that
the category boundary becomes blurred.

Ole Kühl