These processes of acting while learning to act and knowing before one knows very much need to be studied, and especially studied in their relationship to shaping the field of promoted action. We know very little about them, and yet it is arguable that they play a major role in the development and growth of fully socialized, thinking human beings.
What is learned varies significantly across cultures. Some children will learn to collect kindling, whereas others will learn to draw; some will learn to carry water on their heads, whereas others will learn to ride bicycles; some will learn to collect shellfish, others will learn to stay out of the kitchen. Despite this variety, there are important commonalties: caregivers in all cultures promote the acquisition of competence in everyday skills. This is done by organizing the places of the environment and the daily routines of children in ways that promote a gradual process of comprehension and accomplishment. Despite many real cross-cultural differences, there thus appear to be some important similarities in cognitive development: the understanding of causal relationships and sequential dependencies, the learning of task-specific relationships of affordances, and of the specific interrelationships among tasks that constitute a daily routine.
There also appears to be a universal tendency for human children to engage in actions with "unfilled" meanings. I have speculated that this tends to act as a trigger for intense and task-specific scaffolding of the relevant tasks by caregivers. This appears to be a major and relatively unappreciated source of change and reorganization in human cognitive development.
These concepts--of the field of promoted action, of precocious action and understanding--help resolve a deep problem in the human sciences, as well. For more than a century, social scientists have been polarized over cultural relativism. There are many who would argue that it is impossible for those in one culture to grasp the meanings and values of other cultures (e.g., Geertz, 1973, for a classic statement). Many of those who oppose such relativism argue that human cultural universals are universal because they are not really cultural but genetic, or hormonal, or both ( Barkow et al., 1992).
Both of these positions are untenable, as the present account should make clear. The idea that people from one culture are barred from understanding people in another culture stems from ignoring the role that unfilled meanings play in much of human learning, especially human learning about cultural practices. If I cannot understand that your words and gestures carry some meaning without already knowing what the meaning is, then I can never come to learn what it is you mean. But if I can realize that you are doing something meaningful, then I can put myself in the position of a child and encourage you to promote both my action and my understanding. Obviously, this is not always an easy matter, but it is not impossible. Nor must the explanation of this cross-cultural communication rest in biology as distinct from psychology or sociality. If two people from different cultures can communicate, it is not because they share an innate lan-