Re: [xmca] Reifications and Amalgams

From: <ERIC.RAMBERG who-is-at>
Date: Tue May 22 2007 - 10:34:06 PDT


I must admit that I find it diengenuous of you to denegrate and opine an
article prior to it being made available to the forum. Please consider
this advice for future reference.

thank you,

                      David Kellogg
                      <vaughndogblack@ To: xcma <>
            > cc:
                      Sent by: Subject: [xmca] Reifications and Amalgams
                      05/22/2007 11:43
                      Please respond
                      to "eXtended
                      Mind, Culture,

I have some thoughts about the Shaffer and Clinton article
"Toolforthoughts: Reexamining Thinking in the Digital Age", which is, so
far, leading the XMCA poll for the free discussion article of the month.

  On p. 291 the authors say:

  "In this ontology (...) there are no tools without thinking and there is
no thinking without tools."

  My first thought was if we cannot distinguish between the tool use
without thought of the bonobo using a grass stem to fish termites out of a
hill or the stick-and-banana tool use of the chimpanzees in Kohler's
experiments on the one hand and the thoughts without tools of Einstein's
Gedankenexperiments on the other, then in this onotology there can be no
development of any kind. So perhaps we'd better distinguish between a
truism like like "there are no tools without thinking and there is no
thinking without tools" and a clear falsehood like "tools and thinking are
inseparable and form an identity" implied by the construct of

  My second thought was that what is really happening here is that the
authors are trying to avoid dualism by creating an imaginary larger whole
to which they assimilate both tools and thoughts on a strictly equal basis.
I see no fundamental difference between this reasoning and that of the
"primitives" who think that they are red parrots because they belong to a
larger kinship structure including red parrots. When you get right down to
it, this is how we form profoundly dualistic reifications like "soul" and
"self" as well.

  My third thought was that there was a good reason why Shaffer and Clinton
bring in chaos/complexity theory at the end. As in 1926, when Vygotsky
wrote "Consciousness as a Problem for the Psychology of Behavior", we are
witnessing attempt to create a form of bottom up psychology which does not
require (and therefore can explain) consciousness. As in 1926, it is doomed
to fail because it lacks a historical perspective of how society creates
the conditions for growth, which in turn creates the raw material for new
culture. But at least in 1926 the underlying model was biological and not
simply mechanical or even mathematical.

  I also had some rather less theoretical thoughts, of a similarly
pessimistic nature. On p. 295 the authors uncritically quote Seymour Papert
in 1980 who apparently enthused that "computers make it possible to learn
mathematics by living in Mathland as one can learn French by moving to
France." It is now possible to NOT learn French while moving to France, for
example by wasting all one's time teaching English (as American students in
their "study abroad" year not infrequently choose to do). It is similarly
possible to avoid Hamlet by playing a Prince of Denmark video game.

  Once again, I protest against the facile phrase "schooling emphasizes the
production and consumption of symbolic texts". Texts are not consumed when
we read them. This is yet another important difference between a tool and a
thought, and it is clear evidence that a text is rather closer to the
latter than the former. It seems to me that the purpose of this particular
"toolforthought" is to avoid thought, once again by appealing to a "higher"
whole, in this case a sloppy, moralizing amalgam of schooling with
capitalist production.

  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Tue May 22 11:37 PDT 2007

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