Re: [xmca] Reifications and Amalgams

From: Tony Whitson <twhitson who-is-at UDel.Edu>
Date: Tue May 22 2007 - 10:49:57 PDT

Thanks for sharing your concerns in a timely manner, when it's not too
late for others to take your observations into account. It might not be
such a bad thing to have some discussion of the choices in advance of
making the decision.
   As for the point itself: Peirce noted that "we think only in signs." It
follows that we can understand development of thought as a development of
sign-activity. There's been discussion on this list of how to
differentiate between "signs" and "tools" -- within the constraints of
LSV's conceptions of things as "signs" or "tools."
   Peirce conceived of signs as triadic relations whose essential quality
was their capacity for generating further triadic relations (i.e., further
signs). I think it follows that anything participating in sign-relations
might also participate in tool-relations, whether tool-relations are
conceived as a species of sign-relation, or differentiated from signs in
some way.

On Tue, 22 May 2007 wrote:

> David,
> 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,
> eric
> David Kellogg
> <vaughndogblack@ To: xcma <>
>> cc:
> Sent by: Subject: [xmca] Reifications and Amalgams
> xmca-bounces@web
> 05/22/2007 11:43
> AM
> Please respond
> to "eXtended
> Mind, Culture,
> Activity"
> 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
> "toolforthoughts".
> 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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Tony Whitson
UD School of Education

"those who fail to reread
  are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
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Received on Tue May 22 11:57 PDT 2007

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