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

Hello all:

 Paula and Carol the paper is fabulous!  Nice summary Steve!  I cannot add 
anything more to your concise summation but want to provide an 
augmentation to the current discussion of concept formation and its 
importance for the formation of consciousness. This post is for hoping 
that this study moves forward by looking back to the contributions of 
Mikhail Basov.  He was a contemporary of LSVs and one who influenced LSV's 
research greatly (i.e. the water molecule example).  Please take a look at 
the following:


and note who the editor is!  Regretfully the spotlighted Basov article is 
not included in the free internet access.


Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
08/03/2009 11:07 PM
Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"

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

- 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 

  [**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 

[**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
> children.
> 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.
> Paula
> 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
> Six.
> 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 
> 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
> children.
> dk
> --- 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.
> Martin
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