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Re: [xmca] In Defense of Imprecision

Its Darwin's birthday David. Development can NOT mean purity. Evolution
works on variety which I take to be another name for impurity.

If, Andy, there was one meaning for word, Orwell's nightmare would be
everyone's reality.

I take it that polysemy is a design feature of language, not a mistake.
Sure does give people who are professors of communication an endless source
of problems to work on!!

And reminds us, as Durkheim emphasized, that the big issue in studying
communication is not the usually-asked question of why we can't communicate
accurately and precisely, but how we can communicate at all.

In the same vein, the idea that definitions are theory-neutral is common
but wrong for all the reasons given in this thread.

This raises for us all an important question or set of questions. We
struggle to
understand when some like Dewey or Vygotsky uses terms like
situation/activity or experience/perezhivanie. We strive to understand each
other, to apply those understandings to our lives and work; to learn from
each other. And, to some extent, some of the time, it seems as if we

THAT accomplishment, however fleeting, can be an endless source of


On Sun, Feb 15, 2009 at 9:10 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> Very well put David.
> We think that a word "ought" to have a definite meaning, we wished it did
> and struggle to communicate clearly by avoiding ambiguity. But because of
> the nature of the social world, cultural change, history, personality, etc.,
> we are always failing, and the result is the rich cultural life we enjoy.
> Andy
> David Kellogg wrote:
>> Consider this data from a maternal diary study (Callanan and Oakes 1992:
>> 221-222) cited in Nelson, Language in Cognitive Development, p. 255:
>>  Child: Why does Daddy, James (big brother) and me have blue eyes and you
>> have green eyes?
>> (Parent tells child that she got her eyes from Daddy. Child says goodnight
>> and leaves the room. Child re-emerges about five minutes later to continue
>> the conversation.)
>> Child: I like Pee Wee Herman and I have blue yes. Daddy likes Pee Wee
>> Herman and he has blue eyes. James likes Pee Wee Herman and he has blue
>> eyes. If you liked Pee Wee Herman you could get blue eyes too.
>> (Parent suggests that it might take more than liking Pee Wee Herman.
>> Comments in the diary: "I realized that she didn't understand me so I
>> explained that God gave me this color and they couldn't be changed.")
>> Child: Could you try to like Pee Wee Herman so we could see if your eyes
>> turn blue?
>> (Parent says "I said I would think about it but if my eyes stayed green it
>> was OK.")
>>  Now, Nelson's rather severe comment is that "(a)lthough this example
>> indicates creative causal thinking, it violates in the most extreme way the
>> boundary between basic biological and symbolic cultural domains, and does
>> not suggest the possession of systematically organized, causally related
>> knowledge in either domain."
>>  Of course it's really impossible to evaluate whether the example suggests
>> that or not, because it's hard to say how serious the child is. But here's
>> what it really DOES suggest, whether the child is serious or not.  The child
>> is capable of a) reflection, b) induction, c) generalization, d) a critical
>> attitude towards magical explanations (e.g. God) and e) a scientific
>> procedure for testing hypotheses.  All of those things are really
>> considerably MORE important to the creation of scientific concepts than the
>> supposed boundary between basic biological and symbolic cultural domains,
>> which are easily violated in much more extreme ways (e.g. tooth fillings,
>> colored contact lenses, cosmetic surgery). In fact, taken together, these
>> things constitute the very source of organized, causally related knowledge
>> in both domains.
>>  Actually, I think that the imprecision of word-meaning is related. The
>> reason why word meaning is THE unit of analysis that Vygotsky posits for
>> human consciousness is precisely that it is imprecise; it must be and it is
>> accompanied with negotiation procedures for reflection, induction,
>> generalization, critical appropriation, hypothesis formation and hypothesis
>> testing, all of which happen in and through normal conversation. In Jay's
>> terminology, word meaning is meta-stable rather than stable.  What is true
>> for word meaning is even more true of grammar. Chinese, which is one of the
>> "few" languages (according to Nelson) to lack a tense system, happens to be
>> historically the most developed and differentiated one as well (because the
>> early invention of a non-phonologically based writing system held it
>> together when other languages simply flew apart).  After all, development
>> might NOT mean purity; it might mean variety. So tense, like reported
>> speech, is a very imprecise instrument that easily atrophies and withers
>> away. You can easily see examples of this happening logogenetically whenever
>> somebody tries to tell a long story with lots of tense changes and embedded
>> dialogue, even in a young, still developing language like English. But
>> that's okay; imprecision is really just an imprecise term for
>> meta-stability.
>>  David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
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> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy/>+61 3 9380 9435 Skype andy.blunden
> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
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