Re: [xmca] Response to David Kellogg about Volition

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sat Sep 08 2007 - 19:13:30 PDT

At 12:22 PM 8/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>At 10:37 AM 9/8/2007 +1000, you wrote:
>>Steve, could you give a simple, 2 or 3 lines maybe, explanation of what
>>you *mean* by "nature is dialectical"?
>Sure,I can give that a shot. Three aspects initially come to mind
>regarding the claim "nature is dialectical." First, it is a claim that
>nature is always in flux, always changing, constantly developing and
>ever-transforming itself.

This is trivial, isn't it? Who on Earth would deny it, since about 1000 BC?

>Second, it is a claim that nature's motions and their history are
>comprehensible through human practice, science, and the special science of
>dialectical reasoning (which Engels defined as "the science of the laws of

The claim about the intelligibility of Nature is as much a claim about
human thought. While it is a claim of profound significance, it is really
nothing to do with dialectics and the argument over whether Nature is
dialectic or only thought or only history, as has been disputed over the
past century.

> Third, it is a claim that dialectical reasoning - more precisely,
> materialist dialectics - incorporates and has advanced beyond mechanical
> and metaphysical methods of thinking, which offer more limited and less
> robust views of understanding nature.

That is just a sectarian claim, Steve. It will convince no-one who is not
already convinced.


>- Steve
>>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
>>> . 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
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>>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
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>> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
>> identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651
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Received on Sat Sep 8 19:15 PDT 2007

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