from Imanuel Kant,  Critique of Pure Reason (A 51/B 75) p. 107 (Hackett Publishing Co., 1996):
Thoughts without intuitions are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind.

Reading and Modernity
Martyn Lyons, A History of Reading and Writing In the Western World (2010)

 9. The Reading Fever, 1750-1830 ("Everyone in Paris is reading . . .  People read while riding in carriages  or taking walks . . . Women, children, journeymen and apprentices read in shops.  On Sundays people read while seated at the front of their houses; lackeys read on their back seats, coachmen up on their boxes, and soldiers keeping guard."

10. The Age of the Mass Reading Public (“Between the 1830s and the First World War . . . a mass reading public came into existence.”)


11. New Readers and Reading Cultures ("The half century between the 1880s and the 1930s was the golden age of the book in the West.")

Figure 0.  From the Origins of Language to the End of Print Literacy in the United States

This site is a rhizome

Its  principle of production is transcendental empiricism.

It uses figurative elements, including  graphs, tables, charts, and maps, originally to advance an analysis of the historical trajectory: the New Deal to Donald Trump, but the events of the second and third decades of the 21st century, when viewed through the lens provided by The Social Origins of Language, forced me to see that there was a bigger picture.  This bigger picture is represented by Figure 0.
From the Origins of Language to the End of Print Literacy in the United States.

Figure 0 developed as a result of my encounter with The Social Origins of Language (Oxford, 2014). This work is of singular importance, so much so that I have assembled three sets of excerpts: a compressed summary; brief excerpts; and extended excerpts.  Its key concept--biocultural niche--is fundamental to this site.1

Even before the 2016 election evidence abounded in the public arena of a widespread dissolution of language and cognition.  Because the media performs this cognitive decline, the decay of the cognitive-discursive performativities of modernity is invisible within the cognitively decaying media sphere.  Trump's Meeting with the Joint Chiefs in the Tank on July 20, 2017 provides us with a spectacular example--a performative tour-de-force--of this accelerating disintegration of discursive and cognitive performativity.  We have a detailed description of this meeting in A Very Stable Genius, chapter 9, "Shocking the Conscience."2 A close reading of that chapter can be found here.  The chapter in its entirety can be found here.  The most striking aspects of the Tank meeting, as reported in A Very Stable Genius, are the primitive cognitive performativity of president Trump, his brutish behavior toward the Joint Chiefs, and the degree to which the Joint Chiefs were flabergasted by this brutish stupidity.  "He's a fucking moron", said Rex Tillerson. (Slate, "Trump's Nuclear Meltdown", October 11, 2017.)

The footnotes to Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development should be read in conjunction with “Shocking the Conscience."  The generartive matrix of Trumptalk is preoperational (note 1).  The Mattis quote (note 2)  needs unpacking.  Mattis’ comment on reading implies books relevant to the tasks of elite policy-making (e.g., these excerpts from works on Putin).  These books require a reader possessed of formal operational competence.

I refer the reader to Orton and Genovese regarding the continuing viability of Piaget's description of cognitive-discursive performativities at different level of development.  Following Ceci, I emphasize a pragmatic-hermeneutical account of actual cognitive-discursive behavior over the positivist notion of general inteligence, or “g.”  I also, with Ceci, I emphasize the context dependency of cognitive-discursive performativities.

 (For reporting on the tank meeting see the FDR-The Great Leader page.)

The historicity of language and cognition, their biocultural embeddedness, and their contemporary disintegration, is one of the fundamental questions posed by this site.  This is the nihilism that Nietzsche anticipated.  To understand this requires deployment of a variety of relevant texts.

The three graphic elements at the right--Four Stages (Piaget), Bronfenbrenner's Bioecological Model, and Cognitive Modalities--are taken from my assemblage of sources in the page titled Language-Thinking-Education (Biocultural niche).  One region of this site consists of such assemblages of sources.

1. Sinha, C. (2021). Artefacts, symbols, and the socio-cultural dynamics of niche construction, in The Oxford Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution (Oxford, 202, and Shilton, D; Bre ski, M; Dor, D; Jablonka, E (February 14, 2020). "Human Social Evolution: Self-Domestication or Self-Control?". Frontiers in Psychology. 11: 134.

2. Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America (Penguin Press, 2020)

Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development
from The Development of Children by Cynthia Lightfoot, Michael Cole, and Sheila R. Cole (Sixth Edition, 2009)
Birth to 2
Infants' achievements consist largely of coordinating their sensory perceptions and simple motor behaviors.  As they move through the six substages of this period, infants come to recognize the existence of a world outside themselves and begin to interact with it in deliberate ways.
2 to 6
Young children can represent reality to themselves through the use of symbols, including mental images, words,  and gestures.  Still, children often fail to distinguish their point of view from that of others, become easily captured by surface appearances, and are often confused about causal relations.
6 to 12
Concrete operational
As they enter middle childhood, children become capable of mental operations, internalized actions that fit into a logical system.  Operational thinking allows children to mentally combine, separate, order and transform objects and actions.  Such operations are considered concrete because they are carried out in the presence of the objects and events being thought about.
12 to 19
Formal operational2
In adolescence, the developing person acquires the ability to think systematically about all logical relationswithin a problem.  Adolescents display keen interest  in abstract ideas and in the process of thinking itself.


1. In a separate conversation recounted by Woodward, Mattis told Coats, “The president has no moral compass,” to which the director of national intelligence replied: “True. To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”

2. “If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you,” Jim Mattis writes in his new memoir, which came out yesterday. “Any commander who claims he is ‘too busy to read’ is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way.”

Joe Dunford, chmn J chfs, covers up the facts (july 20, 2017), schmoozes Andrea Mitchell -- re. Warren Commission Report

Jeremy Bruner on Piaget and Vygotsky

Tong P, An IS. Review of studies applying Bronfenbrenner's bioecological theory in international and intercultural education research. Front Psychol. 2024 Jan 8;14:1233925. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1233925. PMID: 38259539; PMCID: PMC10801006.

Bronfenbrenner U, Ceci SJ. Nature-nurture reconceptualized in developmental perspective: a bioecological model. Psychol Rev. 1994 Oct;101(4):568-86. doi: 10.1037/0033-295x.101.4.568. PMID: 7984707.

Educational Policy and Country Outcomes in International Cognitive Competence Studies Author(s): Heiner Rindermann and Stephen J. Ceci
Source: Perspectives on Psychological Science , November 2009, Vol. 4, No. 6 (November 2009), pp. 551-577s


Modernity as a Mode of Cognitive-Discursive Performativity
(Reminder: It is the intention of this site to incorporate discussions of “intelligence” within
the broader framework of SOOL.  Here intelligence means cognitive-discursive performatiity.)

By modernity I mean the biocultural niche of modernity: modernity as a mode of cognitive-discursive performativity. 

Stephen J. Ceci, On Intelligence: A Bioecological Treatise on Intellectual Development (Harvard, 1996):

The possibility that there exists a more restless relationship between intelligence and context, in which thinking changes both its nature and its course as one moves from one situation to another, is enough to cause shudders in some research quarters.  It represents a move toward a psychology of situations . . . xvi

The term intelligence is often used synonymously with "IQ", "g", or "general intelligence", especially in some of the psychometric literature. . .  however, the ability to engage in cognitively complex behaviors will be shown to be independent of IQ, g, or general intelligence . . . cognitive complexity will be seen to be the more general of the two notions and the one most theoretically important to keep in mind when referring to intelligent behavior. 22

Longer excerpt from Ceci

Britannica on modernity:

modernity was associated with individual subjectivity, scientific explanation and rationalization; with the emergence of bureaucracy; The rationalization of processes (TS); and scientific methods.  some scholars will even go so far as to locate modernity with the advent of the printing press and the mass circulation of print information that brought about expanded literacy in a middle class during the 15th century.

Reading and Brain Plasticity

Merlin Donald on modernity, A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness

(2001) (Ong, Paper)
Literacy skills change the functional organization of the brain and deeply influence how individuals and communities of literate individuals perform cognitive work.

To become fully literate, the individual must acquire a host of neural demons that are completely absent from anyone who lacks literacy training.  This involves massive restructuring.  There is no equivalent in the preliterate mind to the circuits that hold the complex neural components of a reading vocabulary or the elaborate procedural habits of formal thinking.  These are unnatural.  They have to be hammered in by decades of intensive schooling, which changes the functional uses of certain brain circuits and rewire the functional architecture of thought.

Flynn on modernity

Piaget on modernity: formal operational performativity (re. Flynn)

I refer the reader to Orton and Genovese regarding the continuing viability of Piaget's description of cognitive-discursive performativities at different level of development.  Following Ceci, I emphasize a pragmatic-hermeneutical account of actual cognitive-discursive behavior over the positivist notion of general inteligence, or “g.”  I also, with Ceci, I emphasize the context dependency of cognitive-discursive performativities.  Thus the abstract question of The Great Leader’s intelligence becomes the concrete theory-informed descriptions of The Great Leader's performances in a variety of contexts.  How, for example, did The Great Leader perform in the critical national security meeting with the Joint Chiefs, the infamous meeting in the tank?.  (For reporting on the tank meeting see the FDR-The Great Leader page.)

Ponder the bar chart at the right (American Exceptionalism) in the context of


Cognitive Modalities: a summary of sources

Psychometrics ("Q"): Flynn, Nisbett, Ceci; Hernstein and Murray
•IQ tests
Evolutionary: Donald, Mind: cognitive evolution Table 7.1 p. 260
•episodic (primate)
•mimetic (homo erectus, h. sapients)
•oral-mythic (h. sapiens sapiens)
•theoretic (required by modern capitalism*)
•post-theoretic (Foucault, Sellars, Deleuze)
Developmental: Piaget et. al.
•concrete operrational
•formal operational
•post-formal thought (Commons)
Psychoanalytic: Freud-Klein: mechanisms of defense
•reaction formation

Cultural-historical: Vygotsky, Luria, Ong, Bruner, Flynn, Tomasello.  The Social Origins of Language (Oxford, 2014)
• zone of proximal development
• joint intentionality
• intersubjectivity
• niche construction


American Exceptionalism
Source.  "How Other Nations Pay for Childcare. The U.S. is an Outlier" (New York Times, October 6, 2021)

Sarah Maza on modernity: NETWORKS discursive-cognitive: Schiller in Barnow; Vivian Gornick

Maza describes the biocultural niche of modernity as networks of power-discourse central to what has become known as the French Revolution.

Schiller Hall in Detroit in the 1930s should be viewed as a radical salon,LINK
a node in the discursive field/biocultural niche of modernity

republicanism (Stanford) and modernity: Mah on civic republicanism

Bildung and modernity (Alcorn, Berman, Brooke)

the hidden dimension of the biocultural niche of modernity is Bildung
1. civic republicanism is pro-Bildung
2. commercial republicanism (liberalism/consumerism) is in the long run anti-Bildung

The republican ethos out of which the ideas of "free speech" emerged presupposed the existence of the biocultural niche of modernity (the hidden dimension of which is Bildung).  The massive restructuring that Merlin Donald describes is at the heart of the making of modernity.  Donald is describing the formal operational mode of cognitive discursive performativity.  (see figure Piaget's 4 stages at the right)

from Sarah Maza, "The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution" in
Peter McPhee, A Companion to the French Revolution (Wiley 2013), pp. 45-47

Religion is another case in point.  In the traditional view, eighteenth-century progressive ideologies were anti-religious; few of the philosophes were outright atheists but most of them were harshly critical of the church as an instititution and eager to relegate religion to the margins of human affairs.  The Revolution, in this older view, was the outcome of secularizing forces.  More recent work has shown, however, that religion was a central component of oppositional activity and ideas in the pre-revolutionary decades.  In the early eighteenth century, the groups most conspicuously persecuted by the French monarchy were Protestants (whose right to worship was outlawed by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685), and followers of Jansenism, a Catholic heresy with Augustinian roots which became popular among some segments of the French noble and commoner elites and eventually among broad segments of the urban population in the first half of the eighteenth century.  While exile and brutal repression mostly silenced the Huguenot community, recent research has shown that Jansenists and their supporters played a pivotal role in undermining the ideological alliance of church and throne, and indeed the very justification for traditional monarchy.

As Dale Van Kley has argued in a series of classic studies, the church, the First Estate of the realm, had less to fear from Voltaire  and company’s rather traditional caricatures of lascivious monks, debauched nuns, and power hungry popes than from a high-minded Catholic movement with powerful supporters which proposed a coherent alternative view of the nature of both religious and secular power (Van Kley 1996).  Jansenism, a movement resembling Protestantism but which professed loyalty to the Catholic Church, took shape in the mid-seventeenth century, and by the reign of Louis XIV the heresy had a committed following among the magistrates of the Parlement of Paris and the capital’s parish clergy. . . .  The Parlement of Paris, home to a number of prominent Jansenist magistrates and smarting from Louis XIV attack on its traditional “right of remonstrance,” took it upon itself to defend Jansenist priests from persecution, thereby setting the stage  for some fifty years of conflict between itself and the monarchy over religious affairs. . . .  In sum, it now seems that religion was a far more powerful force than Voltairean skepticism in undermining the ideological status quo.  It was, for instance, not the philosophes but a phalanx of determined Jansenist magistrates in the Paris Parlement who engineered the expulsion of the Jesusit order from France in 1764.

Most of the central political concepts of the Revolution were first articulated, then, not in the writings of canonical philosophes but in the fractious zone, primarily centered on the Parlement of Paris, where religion met politics.    (Rousseau’s overly radical and abstract Social Contract was virtually ignored before the 1790s.)   The most serious political crisis of the pre-revolutionary decades unfolded from 1771 to 1774 when Louis XV’s minister Chancellor René de Maupeou forcibly “reformed” the Parlement of Paris, radically curtailing its jurisdiction, severely restricting its right to to opine on national affairs, and summarily dismissing those many magistrates who refused to go along with his project.  The so-called “Maupeou crisis” touched off an avalanche of political commentary, with hundreds of pamphlets hammering out concepts and slogans that would become ubiquitous again in the late 1780s.

the English Revolution and the Biocultural Niche of Modernity
from Trevor Burnard, Britain in the Wider World: 1603–1800 (Routledge, 2020)

Certainly, empirical research does not support a class-based interpretation of the conflict that emerged in England in the 1640s.  If there was a difference between which side to support in the first English Civil War from 1642 to 1647, it was less based on class or even region but on religion.  The king's firm supporters were generally committed to the form of Anglicanism that Charles I supported while his opponents tended to be Puritans of some sort." p.49

the Civil War and the Biocultural Niche of Modernity

Jennifer A. Herdt, Forming Humanity: Redeeming the German Bildung Tradition (Chicago, 2019).  Esp. re. the role of Pietists in American Civil War (pp. 21, 59-60) england, netherlands, germany

also: Thee is a north
Flint Fisher Body Roscoe Van Zandt

We are now engulfed in is the implosion of neo-liberal "society." The term "society" is bracketed because, in the conventional use of the term, an ontological stability is implied, whereas in reality this society is in the process of blowing its brains out, and that along four axes of ontological catastrophe.

•First, the disintegration of the cognitive performativities of modernity itself: the "human" side of "capital." (decognification, disindividuation; Trump's rhetorical performances seen not as idiosyncratic but as representative, from the standpoint of literacy and cognition as contingent not normative).

•Second, the explosion of fascist performativities within the orbit of the GOP (Robert O. Paxton, Anatomy of Fascism: "The legitimation of violence against a demonized internal enemy brings us close to the heart of fascism.").

•Third, the patrimonial assault on rational-bureaucratic institutions, an assault on the very idea of science-based professionalism and public service.

•Fourth, the triumph of nihilism (or as it is known today, neoliberal subjectivity).


This site is organized around the empiricities, and is steeped in the post-Kantian revolution in thought.  Excerpts from key works in that revolution, from the Critique of Pure Reason to contemporary thinkers like Förster, Žižek, and Emden, are to be found in the Philosophical Notebook and in Philohistory page. 

On Hegel (philohist)

On transcendental empiricism

Biocultural Niche: Language, Thinking, Education (Reading as transformative process)

the hidden dimension of the biocultural niche of modernity is Bildung

 our primate heritage (and its corrolary, patrimonialism)

 key texts dealing with fascism.

Fascism Reconsidered: Chimpanzee Politics

escaping from our Cartesian prison

Modernity as a Mode of Cognitive-Discursive Performativity