Re: [xmca] The Chinese Room

From: <ERIC.RAMBERG who-is-at>
Date: Wed May 16 2007 - 08:26:46 PDT

Very well put David. As a person who works with people who face difficulty
in organizing the external world into internal speech it is this avenue of
Vygotsky's theory of thinking and speech that is so intriguing. Romantic
science is not about the biological structure but rather that beautiful
space where human behavior meets societal boundaries.


                      David Kellogg
                      <vaughndogblack@ To: xcma <>
            > cc:
                      Sent by: Subject: [xmca] The Chinese Room
                      05/14/2007 09:35
                      Please respond
                      to "eXtended
                      Mind, Culture,

There's a beautiful moment in Chapter Four of Thinking and Speech when
Vygotsky tries to say exactly what it is that separates human communication
from animal communication.

  The usual (and persistent) answer to this question is grammar. Even Wray
argues that it's the ability to deconstrue formulaic expressions (which
have no internal structure) and reconstrue them as novel utterances that
sets us apart. (She argues that this not only sets children apart from
animals, it sets them apart from adults, because adults really LOSE the
ability to ask in what sense "running a business" is about running.)

  Now why should GRAMMAR be the dividing line? There's certainly no Chinese
wall (if you'll pardon the expression) between vocabulary and grammar, any
more than there is a Rubicon between gesture and vocabulary. Some languages
don't even recognize the distinction between a big word and a small
sentence (including English: "Look! Listen!")

  Besides, grammar is more easily recoverable from the physical environment
than vocabulary. A gesture has a natural, VISUAL, Subject-Verb-Object
structure ("I threw spear", "Spear killed auroch").

  So what about stories? Neppur! A narrative has a natural
Subject-Object-Verb structure, and even a natural Speaker-Spoken structure.
When Chinese parents are pestered for stories by their children, they

  "Once upon a time there was a mountain.
  On the mountain was a temple.
  In the temple was a monk.
  The monk was telling a story.
  The story went:
  '''Once upon a time there was a mountain...."'

  So many grammatical structures, unlike lexical ones, have a structure
that is directly recoverable from material experience. As soon as we accept
that, there's no reason to think that grammar is uniquely human.

  Sure enough, Savage-Rumbaugh et al. show that chimpanzees raised in
tandem with humans can easily do this, and even understand and obey complex
and counter-intuitive phrases like "give the potato a shot with a syringe
and then take it outside and put it in the potty".

  So what is human about human language? Vygotsky's answer (lifted from
Stern) is that kids go around ASKING for the names of things and ASKING for
words. That is what actually causes the vocabulary spurt around 24 months
of age, and it's from this point on that children begin to organize
vocabularies around grammatical lines (as parts of speech).

  That means that what sets children apart from animals (and what sets the
man in the Chinese room apart from the computer) is, as you say, volition.
What Stern does NOT tell us is where the volition comes from.

  Bruner claims that Vygotsky doesn't answer this one either, but I think
he does; Bruner just doesn't like the answer.

  "A basic, indisputable, and decisive fact emerges here: thinking depends
on speech, on the means of thinking, and on the child's sociocultural
experience. The development of inner speech is defined from the outside."
(Thinking and Speech, p. 120).

  To a non-Marxist mind, this suggests a negation of free will. But once
the development of inner speech IS defined from the outside, the child is
perfectly free to go around asking...and asking...and asking.....

  "Once upon a time there was a mountain..."

  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

Moody friends. Drama queens. Your life? Nope! - their life, your story.
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Received on Wed May 16 09:27 PDT 2007

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