Re: [xmca] Response to David Kellogg about Volition

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Fri Sep 07 2007 - 09:23:16 PDT

This is a dense but not too long post on this discussion of volition
and complexity theory. I think we bump into the question of whether
"nature is dialectical" in thinking about the question of how
complexity theory can figure into the study of
consciousness. Yesterday I sent David Kellog some links to Ethel
Tobach (integrative levels) and Ken Richardson (levels of
self-regulation), two authors I find to be on the right track. Both
Tobach and Richardson use important ideas from CHAT in their
theorizing, and have a strong leaning toward integrating natural and
social science, in ways I find both dialectical and materialist.

Vygotsky was a strong advocate of Engels' position that nature is
dialectical, as was of course Marx, who I believe contributed two
chapters to the book Anti-Duhring, where Engels develops this
concept. The Dialectics of Nature by Engels, a manuscript never
published in Engels' lifetime, was first published in Russia in the
1920's and is clearly influential on Vygotsky, who quotes it
favorably numerous times in his manuscript "The Meaning of the
Historical Crisis of Psychology" (1927). But this is a minority
viewpoint today, it seems.

I found myself spending some time browsing the book Mike mentioned
earlier this week, Human activity - contributions to the
anthropological sciences from a perspective of activity theory by
Benny Karpatschof, available online at . This book
is a rich and highly worthy exploration of the philosophical
underpinnings of CHAT, one of the best I have seen on that level, but
Benny adopts the position that nature is not dialectical, disagreeing
sharply with Engels - and therefore, Marx, Vygotsky, Leontiev, and
all the classical Marxists on this question. This idea that Engels
was wrong, that nature is not dialectical, that dialectics does not
apply to nature (Karpatschof allies with Sartre on this), is quite
popular among many dialectical thinkers today, all around the world.
The position I lean toward, that nature is dialectical, is a minority
view today.

I think we bump into this question of the dialectics of nature every
time we try to integrate explanations across different domains of
complexity - from the behavior of atoms, to genes, to embryos, to
children learning to speak, for example - so the question "is nature
dialectical?" is both an ontological question (what is the nature of
reality) and epistemological (how do we know anything). I think
Andy's remarks offer an excellent basis for a critique of the
incorrect view that conscious human behavior (volition) can be
reduced to the laws of complexity science. But if we go the route
Benny Karpatschof suggests and reject the thesis that nature is
dialectical altogether, I think we can lose a vital link between the
natural and the social, both ontologically and epistemologically, and
how we can use, as Engels began to, the discoveries of natural
science (laws of mechanics, chemistry in his time, quantum
electrodynamics, complexity theory, etc. in our time) to understand
how the even more complex activities of human society and the still
even more complex and chaotic actions and operations of the human
individual, emerge. In that way, I think complexity theory is very
much a powerful tool in trying to link the explanatory laws of nature
and society, although by no means is it sufficient. That will
require a new level of integrated science and general psychology
along the lines that Vygotsky envisioned.

- Steve

At 04:18 PM 9/7/2007 +1000, you wrote:
>Welcome aboard Steve.
>I have always thought that the proposition that thinking is like
>computation is so barren, so stupid and so obviously an reflected
>projection, that to argue against it is to enter into the stupidity,
>and I would rather not. It's similar to people finding proof of
>neo-liberal economics in Darwinian biology, overlooking the fact
>that Darwin imported liberal economic ideas into his view of Nature
>in the first place. Computers are the latest thing, and information
>scientists develop tools for humans to use by emulating human
>activity, and then other people discover that people think like
>computers. Upside-down. Generates lots of academic salaries and
>popular book sales anyway.
>Although I think complexity theory and the concept of chaos are very
>rich and interesting ideas, I think they are out of place in
>describing the working of such a "well-oiled machine" (he, he) as
>the human mind. One thing about the application of this theory to
>the mind, and this is David's issue I believe, is that it is a
>radically unfree concept of the human condition. Allied with the
>concept of emergence, it is a fig leaf to cover a lacuna in
>positivist knowledge of the mind. We cannot explain how a few bits
>of flesh can be so creative and so clever, so its must be emergence,
>complexity, chaos, etc., etc.,
>I am intrigued also by David's question as to why learners should be
>so in favour of learning theories which give them no power. Perhaps
>it is because those learning theories also give them no responsibility?
>At 09:41 PM 6/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>>First time poster here and this may be from out of
>>left field, I'm not sure. I am not active in the
>>field so forgive me if but:
>>Roger Penrose, a prominent asttrophysicist, (among
>>others) has advanced the case that human
>>thinking/consciousness/cognition is not
>>"computational". Here he follows Kurt Goedel in the
>>use of the term computational. He wrote a book that
>>started with this premise and then further wrote a
>>response to a chorus of influential academics, all of
>>whom issued polemics against his book and especially
>>the "non-computational" thesis.
>>The contents of his reply somewhat step into the
>>middle of the debate but should be perfectly
>>understandable even to someone who hasn't read the
>>book or the scathing reviews. The Contents are
>>numbered and I recommend especiallyr reading #s 3 and
>>4 and then some of the later items at your own
>>discretion, evocatively titled "Free Will", "What Is
>>Consciousness?" and so on.
>>Penrose is not really trying to answer those
>>questions, by the way, only remove them from a
>>reductive, emergent from matter, reducible to physical
>>properties and laws, perspective.
>>Might at least help center your search for how and
>>where volition fits into the puzzle.
>>This is a wonderful list by the way, thanks guys
>> > It's a good read too, but it wasn't what I was
>>looking for. I need
>> some
>> > > way of integrating complexity theory and VOLITION
>> > > language teaching (which is what I do)
>>volition-free approaches are
>> very
>> > > popular (nativism, subconscious acquisition, and
>> chaos-complexity
>>Need a vacation? Get great deals
>>to amazing places on Yahoo! Travel.
>>xmca mailing list
> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380
> 9435, AIM identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651
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Received on Fri Sep 7 09:27 PDT 2007

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