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RE: [xmca] Vygotsky, Saussure, and Wolves with different dreams

Dear David and Martin


Thank you for your questions on wolves large and small - and the interest in
the blocks which reveal them.  I can think of few other forms of technology
that continue to be in use unchanged since the turn of the last century -
yet these humble little blocks continue to engage our attention and our
discussion about subjects much larger than they (puts me in mind of David
and Goliath...).


A.1.  My understanding of the "ontogenesis of concept formation" is that it
is about the processes involved in the development of concepts from earliest
childhood to adulthood.  Vygotsky says that the form and content of a
conceptual (or preconceptual) representation are determined by such elements
as a developmental trend (the age of the subject), the genesis/history of
the concept over time in the subject's mind, the history and situation in
which the concept appears, and the signifying function of language on the
content and form in themselves.  (The attachment may illustrate my
understanding of these points more clearly.)


A.2.  I think that concept formation without the "ontogenesis" refers to the
things in A.1. above, but with less emphasis on the developmental trend:
concept formation without the "ontogenesis" for me refers to the thinking
strategies that adults would be more likely to invoke in coming to
understand something new.  And also when they encounter something beyond
their own field of expertise - nuclear physics or rocket science - and when
they use short-hand to create generalised representations of things
(everyday concepts; concepts-for-ourselves-and-not-for-experts).  In concept
formation without the "ontogenesis", the signifying function of language
would possibly also be augmented because adults (and adolescents) will tend
use one system (like maths or ethics) to understand another. 


A.3.  I don't imagine that Vygotsky's asking us to think about concept
formation without changes in ontogenesis: in fact, quite the opposite.
Changes are obviously par for the course in adults too - but not to the same
degree as changes in the structure and role of the thinking modes of


It seems to me that the thinking strategies and modes which feature in
Chapter 5 are about A.1. and A.2.


B.  I suspect that "lupine behaviour" can't easily be separated from the
"sheep's clothing" because pseudoconcepts superficially resemble "real"
concepts in both role (what the word meaning does) and structure (how it's
put together).  Yet how long the wolf is likely to be kept from the door may
not have been explicitly revealed by the blocks experiment (unless we
conduct follow-ups in some way?) - yet I find that Vygotsky's references
about the experimental procedure and its results to be sufficiently
compelling to prevent me from "deep sixing" Chapter Five altogether.  David
and I do agree that the extent to which we can generalise these findings
outside of the experimental situation is not clearly supported by research
or clear links in Chapter Six and that Vygotsky frequently acknowledged the
need for more investigation, ever cautious about the extent of his studies
and the reality of (genetic forms coexisting as) geological strata.  Yet I
keep coming back to "the key" from page 146, and what I'd like to explore
further about the Chapter Fivers in relation to scientific and everyday
concepts (in more detail hopefully than the measures of generality of
Chapter 6.6).  Perhaps some of the key lies in unmasking pseudoconcepts: we
need to catch a wolf on the move, yet, as you can see from the paper, they
wear different kinds of wool, some thicker than others.  I think the
secret's somewhere in the abstraction, the generalisation, the
juxtapositions, the signifying use of language - and the ability to use
these consistently (for me, the participant in Figure 20 makes it very clear
how easy it is to lose the thread...).  


C.  It seems to me that functional equivalence on the part of a user who
doesn't know any different would be relative and relational and in the eyes
of the beholder not the holder: yet, irrespective of who perceives what and
how, for me what these constructs are about is the movement towards how
particular meanings are constructed.  The blocks may not reveal the all of
the complexities of processes involved in us coming to understand - and
master - a range of concepts (not only nouns and adjectives, including
Martin's analytical and dialectical concepts, and perhaps creative and
imaginative ones too), but they do get us moving in a particular direction.


C.1. David, you and I do agree on this:  Pseudoconcepts and concepts have a
functional equivalence in role - enabling communication - and a functional
equivalence in structure - which most certainly does not equate to a similar
structure, but to a structure which apparently functions in a way which
makes it look like a conceptual structure.  The dreams are very different
indeed - even from heads on the same pillow.  Concepts and pseudoconcepts
deal with similar contents, but in different ways, because pseudoconcepts
put things together according to different rules.  The structures are very
different - and yet, because meanings in the words around children have been
established by the adults around them, the germinating seed of the
concept-for-myself is contained within the concept-for-others and in-itself,
just waiting for it to be grasped and mastered.  In this vein, it seems to
me that Martin's children's analytic and dialectical concepts could well
have their roots, to varying degrees of complexity, in a tendency to link
concrete, factual, and functional attributes rather than logical,
abstract(ed), essential characteristics or principles; in an insensitivity
to inconsistencies and contradictions; and in the functional rather than
conceptual use of a system to compare or juxtapose one's actions against.


So, hunting in packs concrete and factual alongside those which are abstract
and logical reveals so much about differences and similarities in how we go
to places and what we find along the way.  Thank you, as always, David, for
making me think about thinking.


Talk again soon.


ps: A note in closing is this: what readers of the Wolves paper will notice
is the absence of an explicit explanation of the solution to the problem
posed by the blocks: this omission was quite deliberate.  For those who've
read Minick or Kozulin, for example, the solution appears to be so simple
that it can evoke a "Yawn, yawn, so what?" type of response in the reader's
mind.  It was precisely this reaction that I wanted to avoid because it can
make it easy to dismiss the blocks altogether.  The simplicity of the
solution (the double dichotomy) is a design feature of great genius
(Sakharov's), and it really is seldom stumbled across in the first five
minutes with the blocks.  And then there's also Minick's rather bad press:
in his introduction, he refers more times to Chapter 5 than to any other,
and very little of this reference is flattering.  These two factors taken
together can lead - and perhaps have led - to these astonishing blocks being
overlooked, if not forgotten in recent times.  Because it's not just about
blocks in strange experimental situations - it's about how we are able to
respond to the method of double stimulation and there are as many ways of
going about solving the problem of the blocks as there are people who engage
with them.  But only one (logical, guided) solution, irrespective of the
range of hypotheses advanced by subjects in the course of their engagement
with the blocks (despite the claims of modification studies for "multiple
solution" approaches, eg, Fosberg's 1948 work which missed the point
entirely and which resulted in 149 solutions and more).




-----Original Message-----

From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of David Kellogg

Sent: 02 August 2009 03:35 PM

To: Culture ActivityeXtended Mind

Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky, Saussure, and Wolves


Speaking for myself, my silence had two causes. First of all, like Andy, I
was rather awestruck by Martin's paragraphs on Marx's method, and like
Martin himself I was reflecting on them. But secondly I was reading Paula
and Carol's article, "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing" and reflecting on whether
I should force my grads to read it next quarter. The first part of it
contains the best synopsis of Vygotsky's sprawling, often contradictory
presentation of the taxonomy of syncretic heaps, complexes, and
preconceptual formations that I've ever read.


Before I do that, though, I want to know the answer to the following
questions on the first page of Paula and Carol's piece, which I think are
actually related to Martin's questions about what work has been done to find
out whether children and the researchers who do word meaning research are
not "sleeping on one bed but having different dreams".


a) In the abstract, Paula and Carol refer to the "ontogenesis of concept
formation".  What does the ontogenesis of concept formation mean? Does it
mean the same thing as concept formation or does it mean the way in which
concept formation changes in the ontogenesis of the child?


b) "Lupine behavior" means conceptual FUNCTION. "Sheep's clothing" means
that they are STRUCTURALLY similar to complexes. As Vygotsky says at the end
of Chapter Seven, only the historical, genetic method can really reveal
either. But the experimental method does not really test the history of
concept use at all; Vygotsky saw it as a logical test which gives us the
"essence of a genetic study in abstracted form" (see Minick translation, p.
146). This really gets us back to the "Strange Situation" question I asked
over a year ago (which Vygotsky reverts to at the end of Chapter Six): to
what extent CAN we extrapolate genetic processes from logical tests? This is
what Martin is asking, and I really don't know the answer. I think Vygotsky
changes his mind on this question somewhere between Chapter Five and Chapter


c) In the first paragraph, Paula and Carol discuss functional equivalence of
pseudoconcepts and concepts.  in some places, Vygotsky talks about
EVERYTHING--including syncretic heaps--as the child's functional
equivalent's of concepts, so in places Vygotsky simply means what is IN THE
CHILD'S EYES functionally equivalent. But in other places he suggests that
the pseudoconcept alone is in EVERY WAY functionally equivalent to the
concept (and therefore indistinguishable, even using questions). Obviously,
functional "equivalence" must be relative, relational, and in the eyes of
the beholder.


I think that the key is that pseudoconcepts and concepts are equivalent in
function but they are not equivalent in structure, because the structure
depends on the SYSTEM and of course the SYSTEM is quite different. For
example, self-directed speech can be functionally different from social
speech but structurally very similar at three, and still in the spoken aloud
mode even at seven. Form follows function, but sometimes at quite a
distance; exaptation means that we adopt things functionally first and only
later adapt them structurally. 


d) Finally, I note that the word "pseudoconcept" is a good example of how
adults as well as children have different dreams when they use the same word
(or, to adopt Paula, Carol and Lev Semyonovich's expression, how they wear
different clothing when they hunt in the same pack). It's not actually Lev
Semyonovich's coinage at all; it's from Stern. But Vygotsky is always
hollowing out other people's words, and placing his own candles within.


David Kellogg

Seoul National University of Education


PS: Martin, I'm a little confused by your refs to folk psychology. In T&S
Chapter Four (and also in Mescharyakov 2007, which Paula and Carol
reference) we see that folk psychology and folk physics do NOT refer to the
child's own concepts, but rather to everyday thinking taken from the child's
social situation of development; they are the inter-mental forms of the
functional equivalents of concepts tht we find intra-mentally in the



--- On Sat, 8/1/09, Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu> wrote:



From: Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>

Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Saussure

To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>

Date: Saturday, August 1, 2009, 8:19 AM



I'm going to use the silence as an opportunity to reflect on my own message
- Reading what I wrote about Marx's method again in the context of the
discussion here it occurs to me that Marx, like Vygotsky, was writing about
the changing character of word-meaning. I'd not thought about Capital in
quite that way before. On the other hand, LSV doesn't, to my knowledge, draw
a distinction between children's analytic concepts and their dialectical
concepts. Has anyone out there worked on this? (Paula?)


I'm currently reading the literature on young children's categories
(folkbiology, folkpsychology), and much of this research seems to assume
exactly the equivalence of adult and child word-meaning that LSV called into
question, so the topic is important. For example, the researcher names for
the child a picture of an animal, and then asks a question (Does X have a
heart?) to which the child can reply only yes or no. The characteristics of
the child's 'categories' are inferred on the basis of an assumed equivalence
of word-meaning.




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