Interactivist Summer Institute

July 22 - 26, 2003


Test the representational and presentational conceptions of knowledge and memory with describing and retrieving figurative materials by Chinese and French

Author : Miss Tzyy-Jiun Lung. -assisant-professor - departement of Business Adminsitration in Choug Chou Technology Institue – 80, Jenmeishitsun, Chung Li City 320, Tawain-Tel : 886 9 17 76 20 630- E-Mail:

Co-Author : Mr. Andre Demailly- retired from l’Univsersité Montpellier III- E-mail :


In the social sciences, two propositions currently confront each other with regard to knowledge, memory and even human progress:

On the one hand, the computo-symbolic or "representational" theory. (Newell & Simon, 1976; Fodor & Pylyshyn, 1988) which: 1) regards knowledge as structures of symbols (or representations) stored in the memory, easily recalled, modifiable and transmissible; 2) places semantic memory at the top of human cognition; 3) considers that human progress depends on the production and the exchange of explicit information (cf. the 4 great periods proposed by Donald (1991): episodic (close to the apes), mimetic (before speech); mythic (with speech) and theoretic (with ideographic then alphabetic writing).

Other hand, the interactional or "presentational" theory (cf Benny Shanon, 1993) which: 1) regards knowledge as interiorized actions, continually reconstructed by the memory and are expressed with difficulty; 2) places episodic memory at the top of human cognition (Damasio, 1994) 3) considers that the brain is developed around the engagement of mobility (Berthoz, 1997) and constitutes primarily a simulator of actions (in this case, visuo-spatial aspects – as a basis for mechanics and the majority of the inventions – which are more significant than language)

Our objective is to explore these two propositions by experiment. We will compare subjects who use ideographic (Chinese) and alphabetic (French) language with activities of description and recall.

According to the representational theory: 1) Chinese language (characters independent of sounds) should be less effective than an alphabetic language (correspondence of spoken and written words); 2) the written description of a figurative material should produce a stable representation which is stored in the memory and easily recalled (even suddenly).

A preliminary experiment using the description and the incidental recall of a mosaic of geometric symbols shows, however, that: 1) the performance of incidental recall is poor among Chinese and French people; 2) The Chinese are, nevertheless, more successful than the French.

A second experiment uses the written description of a puzzle, with the possibility or not of manipulating the components. The incidental recall is better when the subjects can manipulate the elements of the puzzle (on description and recall by reconstitution of the puzzle); the performance of the Chinese is still better than the French. These results are in line with the presentational theory (stressing the importance of visual, motor-driven and contextual references).

A third experiment focuses on problem-solving (the completion of a puzzle) and the transfer of knowledge (from one puzzle to another) with figurative or textual aids. The superiority of the figurative aids and the Chinese is noticeable.

Our research is currently concerned with the interaction of the subjects: do they describe a figurative material differently, when they are told that their description will be marked by using formal criteria or by the performance of their peer (who did not see the figure and who must reproduce it from the description which is provided by a peer)? Here, the representational theory ignores human interactions, whereas the interactional theory is more concerned with the context, in particular the social one.

Références bibliographiques.

Berthoz, A. (1997). « Préface », pp. I-IV, in : Petit, J.L. (éd.). Les neurosciences et la philosophie de l’action. Paris, Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin.

Damasio, A.R. (1994). Descartes’s Error. Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York, A. Grosset/Putnam Books.

Donald, M. (1991). Origins of the Modern Mind : Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press.

Fodor, J.A. & Pylyshyn, Z. (1988). Connectionism and cognitive architecture : A critical analysis. Cognition, 28, 3-71.

Lung, T.J. (2002). Les conceptions représentationnelle et présentationnelle de la connaissance et de la mémoire à l’épreuve des langues et des tâches. Traitement et rappel de maériels figuratifs par des Chinois et des Français. Thèse de Doctorat de Psychologie. Montpellier, Université Paul-Valéry (France).

Newell, A. & Simon, H.A. (1976). Computer Science as Empirical Inquiry : Symbols and Search (ACM Turing Award Lecture). Communication of the Association for Computing Machinery, 19, 111-126.

Shanon, B. (1993). The Representational and the Presentational. An Essay on Cognition and the Study of Mind. New York, Harvester Wheatsheaf.


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