[xmca] Natural vs. Human Dialectics

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Fri Sep 07 2007 - 18:18:08 PDT

Steve and Andy:
  Here's a puzzle. On p. 120 of "Mind in Society", the Afterword by Vera John-Steiner and Ellen Souberman begins with the following epigraph (pardon the long quote, but it's necessary to explain the puzzle):
  "The great basic idea that the world is not to be viewed as a complex of fully fashioned objects but as a complex of processes in which apparently stable objects, no less thatn the images of them inside our heads (our concepts) are undergoing incessant changes. (...) In the eyes of dialectical philosophy, nothing is established for all time, nothing is absolute or sacred. On everything and in everything it sees the stamp of inevitable decline; nothing can resist it sav the unceasing process of formation and destruction, the unending ascent form lower to higher--a process of which that philosophy itself is only a simple reflection within the thinking brain."
  You can see that this quote, if accurate, answers quite well Andy's question about in what sense nature can be said to be dialectical. It is the same sense in which dialectical philosophy can be said to be dialectical, and for the one and same reason: dialectics is simply a description of how change takes place.
  But IS the quote accurate? Here's the SAME passage from my copy of Marx and Engels' selected works (Moscow: Progress, 1970, Vol. 3, pp. 362-363):
  "The great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things but as a complex of processes, in wich the things apparently stable no less than their mind images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away, in which, in spite of all seeming accidentality and of all temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in the end--this great fundametnal thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so throughly permeated ordinary conscousness that in this generality it is now scarcely ever contradicted. But to acknowledge this fundamental though in words and to apply it in reality in detail to each domain of investigation are two different things. If, however, investigation always proceeds from this standpoint, the demand for final soclutions and eternal truth ceases once and for all; one is always conscious of the necessary limitation of all acquired knowledge, of
 the fact that it is conditioned by the circumstances in which it was acquired."
  NOTHING here about the "reflection of the dialectics of nature" in the thinking brain--only the much weaker idea that the transience of concepts is reflected in the limited nature of human knowledge! That's the puzzle.
  I'm sorry if I sounded flippant in my last post--my position is rather like that in the SECOND version of Engels' quote (not the version in Mind in Society), and it's quite serious. I think that the idea that Jews are a particularly intelligent race (and also the idea that fertility and intelligence are inversely correlated, and this somehow represents a threat to human survival) is a very serious misconception about the relationship between ontogenesis and phylogenesis. Humans "choose"; nature "selects", and for humans to "choose" to select when they cannot even manage to make economic and social relations obey rational will is a little like a lay person trying to cure obesity by vivisection rather than by diet and self-control.
  Right now, I think that the attempt to reduce human creativity to chaos/complexity is flawed in the opposite direction; not too much chutzpah but too little. It reduces learning to a trial-and-error process driven by random variations. Lorenz's wonderful book "The Origins of Chaos" points out that MOST games are not good producers of chaos, either because they are really random (and chaos is only apparently random) or contrariwise, because they are subject to deliberate strategy and skill (he gives the marvelous example of pinball, which was initially banned in his hometown as a game of chance, but then legalized as a game of skill).
  Natural selection really is random and bottom up, at least at first. But it gives rise to humans, and these replace natural selection with human choices, at least in the terrain of ideas. Learning is not usefully described in chaos/complexity terms; the principle of human choice has clearly replaced random variation and natural selection as soon as the process of variation itself is subject to volitional control (as soon as people start to generate particular language strings and not others and then select these).
  Amongst humans, at the level of culture, language, games, and that great cultural language game we call philosophy, the idea of deliberate choice is clearly more powerful than the principle of natural selection. That is why I think nature is dialectical, at least in the weak sense of incompletable (if you will pardon a bit of volitional linguistic creativity) indicated by Engels.But dialectical philosophy is a non-natural selection rather than a natural reflection of the dialectics of nature in the human brain.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
  Steve, could you give a simple, 2 or 3 lines maybe, explanation of what you
*mean* by "nature is dialectical"?
At 09:23 AM 7/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>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 http://informationr.net/ir/12-3/Karpatschof/Karp00.html . 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 : http://home.mira.net/~andy/ tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
>> identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651
>>xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list

Andy Blunden : http://home.mira.net/~andy/ tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651

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Received on Fri Sep 7 18:20 PDT 2007

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