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

I agree with David Kg, the passages in Paula and Carol's paper on preconceptual formations are well worth careful study. I also find the .doc file that Paula attached in her post below, where she discusses quotes from Vygotsky on what concepts are, to be very helpful in understanding his work on concept formation. Thank you for that, Paula!

In this spirit, I've taken the liberty of lifting a major passage on preconceptual thinking and pseudoconcepts from the Wolves in Sheep's Clothing paper for a closer reading. I went even further and broke some paragraphs into smaller chunks, and added some headlines - to try to help focus on the rich content in these passages. Apologies if what I did gets more in the way than helps.

Part of my reason for doing this is I have some questions I've been asking myself (and sometimes Paula and David Kg) about some of Vygotsky's ideas on concept formation, which have been so neatly articulated by Paula and Carol.

What did LSV mean by a "concept-for-myself," (a phrase, I understand, is derived from Hegel)?

When do modern adults possibly employ syncretic representations besides perhaps when they dream?

When do modern adults use complexes versus true concepts in their everyday thinking and activities, and what are some examples of that?

Well, those are some of my questions.

Here are some relevant passages from the paper regarding preconceptual thinking.

- Steve


[The passages below are from page 235-236 of the July 2009 MCA paper by Paula Towsey and Carol Macdonald, Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing. Some of the paragraph breaks, and all the headings in brackets, are my additions (Steve Gabosch)].


[**Vygotsky theorized three major categories of preconceptual thinking:** -sg]

Vygotsky presented his descriptions of the types of preconceptual thinking that he and his colleagues found by using this instrument—the Vygotsky/Sakharov Blocks—in three major categories: syncretic representations, complexes, and potential concepts.

 [**1) syncretic thinking;** -sg]
Syncretic thinking is arbitrary and subjective, almost solipsistic, where the bonds established between things was most aptly described at the time as incoherent coherence.

 [**2) complexes;** -sg]
However, thinking in complexes establishes bonds between things based on real concrete attributes, but where this assignment is yet to become consistently applied, and where there is a “confusion between functional and essential characteristics” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 268, note 7): complexitive thinking is the arena for learning how to generalise.

 [**3) and potential concepts.** -sg]
The thinking involved in establishing potential concepts is in learning how to abstract certain characteristics and not to lose sight of these once they have been abstracted.

[**Potential concepts and complexes develop toward concepts.** -sg]

Hand in hand, potential concepts—involving abstractions—and complexes of functional equivalence to concepts—involving generalisations— develop toward building a system that becomes increasingly logical and abstract, one that grows out of its postsyncretic, concrete, and factual roots.

[**There are five types of complex formations:

1) associations;** -sg]

The various stages which complex formations pass through, as found in the blocks studies of Vygotsky and his colleagues, commence with associations. These associative, one-to-one connections are based on a fluid notion of “same”: Now, it could be colour, now shape, and now colour once again. These connections are usually made back to the sample block, which is turned over to reveal its name at the beginning of the task.

[**2) collections;** - sg]

Associative connections are sometimes used in conjunction with the next type of complex, that of collections, which employ the notion of grouping things together because they are different and therefore complementary: This one is a circle and it has a square with it because the square is different; here, red ones are in the middle, and different colours are on the outside.

[**3) the chain;** - sg]

The next level of complex is the chain, where early abstraction abilities open up more possibilities for things to be grouped together, but where the decisive attribute keeps moving from one connection to the next because it is yet to be logically and consistently applied.

[**4) the diffuse complex;** -sg]

Chains establish the groundwork for diffuse complexes, where, in becoming increasingly adept at abstracting and generalising, more and more sophisticated attributes can be advanced as possible links or reasons for blocks to be grouped together.

[**5) and the pseudoconcept.** -sg]

And then there is the pseudoconcept, the last of the complexes, which operates as a bridge, a connecting link, between thinking in complexes and the final stage before true conceptual thinking becomes possible. Because of the way the pseudoconcept functions and the way it is structured, and because of what it makes possible between developing children and their culturally structured environments, and because of the implications it has for the construction of human consciousness, the pseudoconcept will be discussed in more detail than the other preconceptual constructs advanced by Vygotsky.

[**A pseudoconcept is fundamentally different from a true concept, not in its external social function, but in its internal genesis.** –sg]

This type of complex was labelled a pseudoconcept by Vygotsky because it very closely resembles a true concept, and because it is frequently difficult to distinguish between the two. Pseudoconcepts have a phenotypical resemblance to true concepts because the content of both can be identical: However, the crucial difference is to be found in the method of selecting these contents. In pseudoconceptual thinking, the method of selection consists in establishing or creating complexitive links, that is, links that are concrete and factual. In true conceptual thinking, by contrast, the method of selection consists in establishing or creating abstracted links and generalisations which go beyond the immediacy of the perceptually obvious, that is, links based on abstracted and generalised qualities.

So, the participant who selects all the circles would seem to be doing so because she has a conceptual grasp of circles as geometric shapes. But not necessarily because the preadolescent participant is more likely to be making merely an associative link based on the perceptually immediate and obvious attributes, on a “concrete, visible likeness” that is “limited to a certain kind of perceptual bond” (p. 119). What Vygotsky is implying is that real concepts depend on particular kinds of characteristics or features that are abstract, abstracted, and system-related.

[**Children and adults understand meanings at different levels.** –sg]

This would result in meanings that children attach to words, and those of adults, being at different levels: “concrete features versus abstract definitions” (Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991, p. 265). The example of a child assigning concrete actions to abstract concepts illustrates this most clearly: “‘Reasonable means when I am hot and don’t stand in a draft’” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 138).

[**The coincidence of mutual **functional** understandings of word and other sign meanings between children and adults is crucial to a child’s developing abilities in meaning creation and concept formation.** –sg]

In this respect, in learning to acquire the meaning that adults have put to socially and culturally constructed language, it is the coincidences of functional understanding (correct contextual usage) that encourage children to develop and elaborate on their “shadow” concepts (p. 122). These functional moments of understanding are crucial to enabling sounds to carry meaning, to enabling concepts to evolve.

[**Pseudoconcepts have a double-barreled nature in the way they act as links between complexes and concepts.** – sg]

Pseudoconcepts act as links, then, between thinking in complexes and thinking in concepts in a double-barrelled fashion because of the nature of predetermined meanings and because the use of pseudoconceptual generalisation is endorsed in coincidences of mutual understanding with adults. Together, these allow a child to participate in the language of the adults around her long before she is fully aware of the implications of the concepts she is using. This fortuitous set of events also contains “the germinating seed of a concept” (p. 123), which results in the transition to true conceptual thinking not being noticed by the child because she begins to operate with word meanings and to practise conceptual thinking long before she is clear about what these true operations actually are.

[**The pseudoconcept prepares the child to develop the “concept-for- myself.”** –sg]

It is in this respect that Vygotsky notes that the genetic preconditions of the “concept-for-myself” are already present in the pseudoconcept in the form of the “concept-in-itself” and the “concept- for-others”, because these occur earlier in the child than the “concept-for-myself”: he further asserts that this sequence is not restricted to conceptual development because it occurs as a “rule rather than the exception in the intellectual development of the child” (p. 124).


On Aug 3, 2009, at 9:00 AM, Paula M Towsey wrote:

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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