RE: [xmca] Vygotsky ?s historicism

From: Michael Glassman <MGlassman who-is-at>
Date: Wed Apr 09 2008 - 17:06:04 PDT

I didn't mean for this to become a discussion about the learning paradox, more about idealism. But I think the learning paradox only makes sense within an idealist worldview of knowledge generation, but the argument within that worldview is pretty damned good. Chomsky's explanation resonated with me as I said. To explain, let me recount a drunken conversation I had more than two decades ago. I was going to City University at the time and this fellow, Dine I think his name was, was teaching phsyics there. He was a leading proponent of string theory and students came from all over the world to study with him. Sometimes they humored me by talkig about it with me.
Me: So the universe is made up of these vibrating strings.
Patrick: Yes, the degree to which strings vibrate determine your reality.
Me: And there are other dimensions?
Patrick: At least three I think.
Me: But I can't experience this?
Patrick: Not unless the strings vibrate in a distinctly different way.
Me: So how do you know this?
Patrick: We don't know this, we are figuring it out.
Me: Well why do you think this and work on it if you don't know it.
Patrick: We use mathematical formulations to develop a theory of how the world is.
Me: But can you test it?
Patrick: No, we are not at that place yet, we are nowhere near that place. We are just developing the possibility.
Me: But what could make you think of that in the first place?
Patrick: It is the formulas we use to help us figure it out, then when we get to a certain place we try and use methodologies to prove it. Figuring it out always comes first.
Okay, here is the question. How exactly did Dine and Patrick and the other theoretical physicists come up with string theory in the first place. It was not based on anything they experienced. It was not based on anything they told. They were taking extraordinary metaphysical leaps. If you are an idealist and believe that this was driven by thought games and processes the only logical answer is that you already knew.
Now of course somebody like Russell would say Bosh. This is simply taking logic from your experience with objects and how they work to their absolute extreme, and then putting a litttle fanciful dust on it.


From: on behalf of David Kellogg
Sent: Wed 4/9/2008 7:39 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Vygotsky ?s historicism

Here's what I've never understood about the "learning paradox". In Fodor's version, the problem arises when we attempt to explain how a more powerful conceptual system arises from a less powerful one.
  For example, if we accept that "grammar" and "vocabulary" are two separate entities (which I don't), then we have to say that grammar is a more powerful system for meaning-making than vocabulary is. Vocabulary grows item by item, while grammar grows exponentially, generating a potentially infinite number of sentences from a very small number of abstract relationships.
  Since grammar is the more powerful conceptual system, it should be possible to derive vocabulary from grammar but not grammar from vocabulary. But how is it possible to imagine a 'grammar' without any vocabulary? What would such a thing look like?
  Of course, the developmental evidence is the other way around; a surprising amount of the language I hear on the subway has vocabulary but not grammar, and that's just the adults. I've never heard of babies speaking grammar without any vocabulary, or of languages developing the former before the latter. This has to be one of the least thinkable ideas I've ever tried to think up.
  Traditional Tibetan Buddhist developmental thought is highly speculative, and so rather odd in a lot of ways (they are fervant recapitulationists, for one thing: a woman's pregnancy recapitulates man's descent from the apes). But they are pretty good on the origins of language: they consider that "acting", "thinking" and "speaking" must have co-evolved during the course of many kalpas (eons). Besides, like all profoundly evolutionary thinkers, Tibetans have no problem with the idea of a higher level system arising from a lower level one!
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Wed Apr 9 17:07 PDT 2008

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