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RE: [xmca] Visual Thinking?
Wonderful to hear from you again! Yes, I have a lot of stuff to ask you about Chapter Five, and I will write you separately, since some of it would qualify as arcania to readers of the list (e.g. why did you use "bik", "cev", "mur", and "lag" instead of "bat", "dek", "rots" and "mup"? Is this also, like the word "spaak", some 17th Century variety of Dutch?)
But there are a lot of other people (Ana, Mike, and now Vera) coming in on this with extremely useful "einsicht" (I think THAT'S the way to translate "intuitive"), so I don't want to take the whole thing off list.
We agree! You say that "visual thinking" is really a form of practical intelligence both in its FUNCTIONAL aspect (because it deals with PERCEPTS in all their concrete splendor rather than with CONCEPTS in all their toothless abstraction) and in its GENETIC (developmental) aspect (because it arises through practical action rather than through simply visual contemplation). Me too. (Or, rather, I wish I'd said that!)
More importantly, though, we also DISAGREE. I think that the use of "system" to describe what the children are learning is a little premature. What seems more likely is that what we have here is a fairly specific example of a task with its own peculiarities. In particular, the fact that the child is limited to referring to things; the implication, which is clearly BELIED in Chapter Six, is that the protypical concept or functional equivalent of a concept is a NOUN rather than a relationship like "because" or "although".
When Vygotsky tries to apply the notion of complexive thinking to actual material from first language learning it's not at all clear why one is an "associative" or a "chain" or a "diffuse" complex. Vygotsky begins on p. 148 by saying that Idelberger's example is an associative complex (although it is spread out over one hundred and eighty two days), but Werner's analysis suggests a diffuse complex ("oblong form and shiny objects"), and then the analysis of the example from Darwin's grandson, on the next page, is said to be a chained complex. Nowhere does Vygotsky suggest that the child might be simply using the words indicatively ("dis", "dat") or expressively ("I like dat") or interpersonally ("Let's you and me look at dat") or mathetically ("What's dat?"), but all of these interpretations are at least equally plausible as the suggestion that the child is using them nominatively.
I think that, as you say, the real key to the whole problem is how the child goes from concrete objects to concrete traits to abstract traits. Actually, that's why I think that "intuitive" is a mistranslation because it suggests "einsicht", or "insight" where in fact the children's attention has NOT penetrated the surface features of the objects.
Nevertheless, the child DOES get from the concrete to the abstract, and actually the child does this well before the child arrives at the level of conceptual thinking. How does this happen?
Vygotsky initially distinguishes between "фазу" (that is, "phase") on the one hand and "ступень" ("step") on the other, using "phase" to indicate the distinction between, say, the associative complex and the complex-collection, and using "step" to refer to the distinction between the syncretic heaps (the random heap, the spatial heap, and the reheaped heap) on the one hand and the complexes (associative, collective, chain, diffuse, and pseudoconceptual) on the other.
He then uses the term "step" for almost everything, and in fact on p. 138 he uses the different terms "phase" and "step" in the SAME paragraph to refer to exactly the SAME thing (to wit, the difference beteen the associative complex and the collection). Perhaps this is because the different functional equivalents of the concept are as much LINKED as they are DISTINCT, or perhaps even more so.
For example! There are (at least) two ways in which the associative complex is already a kind of abstract extension of a single concrete object. First of all, the various members carry "versions" of the prototype's trait rather than the actual concrete trait itself. Secondly, the whole can be seen or thought of as an expanded version of the original prototype.
The collection (knife, fork, spoon, plate) is a NEGATION of both relations. First of all, members are grouped according to the DISSIMILARITY of their traits rather than their visual similarity. Second, the whole is DISSIMILAR to its parts, because it represents the principle of functional complementarity (the whole is made up of the parts that all the members have in common but the members are initially grouped because of the parts that they DON'T have in common; the whole is made of grouping by HANDLE-end of the complementary utensils but the parts are initially grouped by looking at the BLADE-end).
The chain complex sublates the first two forms of complex: on the one hand it is based on concrete similarity, and on the other hand, it is based on constant dissimilarity (because the prototype is constantly changing). On the one hand, it is fractal like the associative complex (a part of the chain has the same structure as the whole) and on the other it is based on a principle rather than a prototype like the collection (the principle is that every member will have its fifteen minutes of protypical fame).
The diffuse complex is in turn a negation of the chain complex (because it is a return to a single prototype but in this case the prototype is a trait rather than an actual object) and at the same time a sublation of it (because the trait changes rather as the prototypical object changed in the chain complex). And of course the pseudoconcept is the most obvious example of sublation, because it retains the abstract trait-based quality of the diffuse complex while setting definite boundaries to the variation of that trait.
So it seems to me that all of these forms of complexive thinking are LINKED and not just DISTINCT. It's no wonder we cannot use a single category to characterize a child's linguistic behavior over a hundred and eighty days. I doubt very much if we can use a single category to characterize a child's behavior during a single administration of the test (as Hanfmann and Kasanin attempted to do). That was what I got out of your CD, anyway.
So what good IS the test? Well, it seems to me it does EXACTLY what is most necessary and EXACTLY what you did with it. It shows that the process of development does NOT consist of synthesizing simple ways of thinking into more complex ones, as commonly thought.
If anything, the child is doing exactly the opposite: ANALYZING undifferentiating ways of thinking into more and more differentiating ones, making the criteria of that differentiation less and less a matter of subjective whim and more and more a matter of objective, but nevertheless abstract, judgement. So--LESS action (less "activity") and MORE apperception (more "visual thinking").
Seoul National University of Education
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