Re: [xmca] Vygotsky's historicism

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Mon Apr 07 2008 - 21:46:47 PDT

Yes. Yes. That is still another boundary that is easily misplaced.
On the point I was trying to make, while mangling the one you bring
up, these thin skulls between our brains and beyond are surely
"biological" boundaries, but not "psychological" ones - that skull,
says us activityists, is not at all an obstacle to what goes in and
out of that mind, and the next mind, and the next after that. Forget
the skull, these minds are linked and inter-mediated through
artifacts, culture, activity. OK, so far so good - that approach
refutes the false boundary of the Self/Society Divide when considering
not a biological individual, but any psychological process. And you
bring up still another boundary that needs careful consideration and
clear description. This one is harder to describe because this
boundary crossing can only be seen over eons. Humans apparently did
not just become human once they had an upright posture and two free
hands with a large enough brain to think about what to talk about what
to do with those hands - apparently, by needing their nimble hands and
binocular eyes and opposable thumbs and feet they could stand and walk
and run on, and larynxes they could talk or grunt or sing with or
whatever they did in earlier stages, and of course brains they could
do all the above with - whatever any of this actually looked like at
any particular stage - humans actively *created their own biology* by
selecting themselves for these remarkable qualities. A remarkable
thing to do! We became biologically human by trying to be culturally
human. (When you think about it - how else? Intelligent design
perhaps? LOL) We don't know much about the culture and language of
the Homo Erectus and other human species that preceded modern Homo
Sapiens, but we do know that eventually modern Homo Sapiens and its
rich cultural achievements (tribal structures, language, fire,
widespread migration, horticulture, medicine, fishing, hunting,
leatherwork, stonework, woodwork, beadwork, music, painting, etc.
etc.) sprung out of these millions of years of cultural and biological
coevolution. It was indeed a loooooooooong coevolution of phylogeny
and culture, to be sure. At any given moment, or for that matter,
even at any given millennium, the biology of these early humans was
relatively fixed and the culture only slowly changing, except for
those sudden leaps (the punctuations in the equilibrium, whatever they
were, and so difficult to detect in the archeological and
paleoanthropological record). But over the longer arcs of change and
time, the cultural struggles of humans seeking to be more and more
human were also transforming human biology itself, which in turn would
transform the possibilities and eventually facilitate new achievements
of culture. What a story! The title of the book "Man Makes
Himself" (forgiving the masculine language bias of the wording) by
Gordon Childe always captured this notion very nicely for me.

So, absolutely. The psychology/biology "divide" of our paleoancestors
over time wasn't a boundary at all. It was a bridge across which they
forged a new species.

- Steve

On Apr 7, 2008, at 10:41 PM, Mike Cole wrote:

> Steve--
> You write in part: One thing that makes the Hegel/Marx/Vygotsky etc.
> intellectual lineage so different from the plain materialist/idealist
> mainstream is it recognizes the biological, but flatly denies the
> psychological existence of this boundary
> I would like to contest the biological/(cultural!!)/psychological
> boundary.
> The loooooooooooooooong
> coevolution of phylogeny and culture really argue against a clear
> boundary
> between the psychological and the biological.
> No?
> mike
> On Mon, Apr 7, 2008 at 3:20 PM, Andy Blunden <>
> wrote:
>> All well said Steve.
>> I too have difficulty with how to consistently use scientific,
>> dialectical
>> concepts while living with the fact of socially dominant Cartesian
>> concepts.
>> The idea of millions of private mental worlds located inside
>> people's heads,
>> made up of thought-objects called abstract ideals counterposed to an
>> objective reality of things is not just "wrong" and something we
>> should
>> oppose, but also a social fact (i.e., most believe believe in this
>> and act
>> accordingly) which we have to describe, analyse and transform.
>> Andy
>> At 05:37 PM 7/04/2008 -0400, you wrote:
>>> Andy, your comments on three very central theoretical but very
>>> difficult concept pairs, ideal/material, subjective/objective, and
>>> abstract/concrete are interesting, and thought-provoking as always.
>>> Your point about what people generally take to be "ideal," and also,
>>> may I add, "subjective" and "abstract," is a good one, and
>>> triggers a
>>> little comment here from me.
>>> Ilyenkov emphasizes this point in his essay The Concept of the
>>> Ideal:
>>> plain, everyday (he says vulgar) versions of materialism AND
>>> idealism
>>> both agree that there is a universal boundary between what is
>>> "inside"
>>> and "outside" the individual human head. I find that to be a very
>>> helpful insight. It helps me to see how many contentious, winner-
>>> take-
>>> all-style debates between these plain versions of materialism and
>>> idealism over questions like what causes what (e.g. when does being
>>> determine consciousness and vice versa), how do the natural and the
>>> supernatural (if such exists) are at the same time NOT about the
>>> existence of this universal boundary, which is taken for granted.
>>> One
>>> thing that makes the Hegel/Marx/Vygotsky etc. intellectual lineage
>>> so
>>> different from the plain materialist/idealist mainstream is it
>>> recognizes the biological, but flatly denies the psychological
>>> existence of this boundary, relating and locating the ideal and
>>> material, subjective and objective, and abstract and concrete very
>>> differently, stretching the meanings of these concepts well past
>>> what
>>> they normally refer to. I find it takes concentration and
>>> deliberation to think this way, constantly having to reapply it anew
>>> and figure it out all over again as I go. In everyday usage
>>> especially I find it hard to not use these words in the "vulgar" way
>>> to refer to one side or the other of this plainspeak Ultimate
>>> Divide.
>>> I find myself contrasting, for example, an ideal job with a real
>>> one,
>>> talking about one opinion being more "subjective" while another more
>>> "objective," speaking of "abstract" thoughts versus "concrete"
>>> actions, etc. I think that a close look at these kinds of everyday
>>> uses reveals a straightforward, mechanical reference to that
>>> Ultimate
>>> Divide, the one DesCartes codified so well. It is almost as though
>>> our grammar, number system, logic and vocabulary - nearly every
>>> everyday tool we have to think with - are collectively based on a
>>> coordinate system that zeroes out at that Ultimate Divide,
>>> referencing
>>> to that place where our "head" ends and the "world" begins, to that
>>> great dividing line that figures in so ubiquitously in so many
>>> modern
>>> cultures and ideologies. To flip that reference system entirely
>>> over
>>> and make our starting point something radically different - our
>>> interpenetrating social relationships - and the zig-zaggy historical
>>> development of those relationships - in short, activity - is an
>>> enormous paradigm shift, and one that seems to take constant,
>>> rigorous
>>> theoretical focus in order to to speak clearly in terms of. In
>>> trying
>>> to be rigorous, in making the point you make below that it is the
>>> existence of the ideal that distinguishes an artifact from raw
>>> nature,
>>> I might say that the "ideal" is *necessarily always* material, as in
>>> inseparable from it, not just something that can "also be" material.
>>> But I am always walking on eggshells a little when I try to speak at
>>> that level. I enjoy trying, and do so here on xmca from time to
>>> time,
>>> but by no means do I always get it right.
>>> - Steve
>>> On Apr 6, 2008, at 6:30 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>> I think part of the difficulty with getting people to accept that
>>>> unity of material and ideal is that people generally take ideal to
>>>> be almost synonymous with "subjective" or "in consciousness"
>>>> whereas
>>>> "material" simply means "outside of and independent of
>>>> consciousness". For us, however, "ideal" can also be material,
>>>> distinguishing what is artifact from what is nature.
>>> On Apr 6, 2008, at 10:07 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>> <snip>
>>>> 1. The contrast of ideal to material is simply a mistaken one. It
>>>> does not help at all.
>>>> <snip>
>>>> 3. The abstract/concrete relation is a different contrast again, a
>>>> very important one but a different issue altogether from the
>>>> problem
>>>> of the ideal.
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
>> Andy Blunden :<
>> >tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, mobile 0409 358 651
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