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RE: [xmca] Meltzoff, More Wolves, and Leontiev Erratum

Dear David

Dare I add "handmaidens of thought" to the subject line?  Oh, I think it is
more than just a catchy title: I think you are absolutely on the button when
you suggest that these handmaidens of thought do service to more than just
nouns and perception in activities and conversations with the blocks.

The conversation is really what it is about.  In fact, for those researchers
who over the years have used the blocks activity for investigation, I am
convinced this is what makes them so intrigued by the blocks too (Ana, we
have heard nothing from you this summer...?).  I don't want to start waxing
lyrical about the blocks as I tend to do quite often, but Carol has always
been of the opinion that there is a PhD hiding somewhere in a linguistic
analysis of the data from studies like this...

I've presented three "gems" here in the light of your point, David, about
conversations and handmaidens of thought.

Would there be anything of interest to linguists in the conversation with
the five-year-old from Figure 10 (particularly the last sentence)?  I've cut
& pasted the paragraph from p. 245 of the Wolves paper:

"The moments of correction to this collection (Figure 10) were revealed by
an orange lag, a
white cev, and a green bik (in the corners, names revealed), which this
participant reasoned as meaning, 

?. . .just one name for the same colour . . . like all the other names
aren?t the same colour. . . . So, all the names are actually the colours and
[pause] there aren?t any colours [left] in the middle.?

When asked about the newly turned blue bik that flatly contradicted this
observation, he said,

?. . . [the] same names can go in the?what?the places the one?s called
[i.e., the bik corner]?

(which he placed at top left), demonstrating a fluid move in association
from colours as names to the area or place as names. Further fluid logic
reasoned that

?What I?m doing . . . I?m turning over the one and if it?s the same then I
put it next to them [of the same label]?.

And ?So . . . if it?s not the same group then you put it in another group
that?s called the
group? (see Figure 10)."

There is clearly more going on here than nouns and perception - quite
astonishing that 22 little wooden blocks could elicit this kind of response
(the genius of their design, methinks).  This young subject was very intent,
sincere, and totally involved in his activity with the blocks.  Shortly
after this reasoning, he introduced more and more rules for his own game
(along the lines of "What I'm doing..." above) which became increasingly
complicated and left me as the bewildered outsider.  Perhaps I should have
made a DVD of him to present in San Diego instead!

And then, for me, another gem (linguistically interesting?) came from the
eight-year-old in Figure 13 (the colour solution which he couldn't move
beyond):  At the end of his session, he told me that the game was 

?It?s not easy but it?s quite hard?.

And from one of the eight-year-olds who was not featured in Wolves (he was
very timid and took refuge in blocks being "different": once he had hit on
this reason, it became the panacea for him).  However, at the end of his
session, I reported this:

"In the transference exercise, this subject (S807M) described the largest
glass as being able to have the most water, and the smallest glass as 

?You can put more less water in here, an?? an? it?s more smaller than all
the others?.  

The bik glass, the last to be discussed, was described as 

?And this one?s thick and you can get more water in?  like water like this
much [pointing to the lag glass]? the same much water as this and [the same
amount of water] can go in here [in both the lag and bik glasses]?."

I think Piaget would have smiled at this apparently preoperational
discussion: it certainly kept me on my toes, though, because he was so
sincere!  I'd really be interested in hearing what XMCAers think about these
three examples...

Ps - next time you meet a friend who has lost weight, try saying "There's
more less of you every time I see you!"

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: 20 August 2009 04:23 AM
To: mcole@weber.ucsd.edu; Culture ActivityeXtended Mind
Subject: Re: [xmca] Meltzoff, More Wolves, and Leontiev Erratum

Dear Mike:
Yes, that's it. I'm sorry if I sounded upset; I guess I am a delicate soul,
and I am easily annoyed by titles that include the word "new" followed by
articles which do not include any actual new content. But that is
irascibility rather sensitivity; everything out there is new somewhere. 
This morning I had a not particularly new idea about Paula and Carol's
paper, which still seems underdiscussed to me. One of the very few
outstanding xmca lacunae is that readers don't always write and (I speak as
one of the most obstreperous writers) let it be said that writers sometimes
don't always read.
It's this: if we treat the blocks test as a kind of IQ test or even as a
"schizophrenia" test or if we focus purely on the product, we come up with a
concept of the concept as NOUN: the  archetypical concept is a BLOCK, and
consequently the prototypical thought is really a PERCEPTION. 
If you think a little bit about Leontiev's problems describing the act of
reading you will see that many of them stem from his desire to reduce
reading to an act of unconscious perception. As I said, I think at the very
least one needs to treat reading as an act of focal (that is, volitional)
attention, and volitional attention is not at all the same thing as
awareness, particularly not if we have Vygotsky's idea of the mind as a
system of psychological systems in mind.
But this view of the static, noun-filled world of the concept ENTIRELY
changes when we treat the blocks test the way that Paula and Carol have
chosen to treat it; as a dynamic form of guided interview which center on
the question "why?", as in "Why did you put that there?" I think this is the
way Vygotsky actually DID do his research; it explains why he's not that
interested in the actual results and never bothers at all with scoring his
As soon as we treat the blocks test as a "conversation piece" (like the
paintings which eighteenth century gentlemen commissioned to focus the
flagging conversations at their dinner parties) or a "bonne a penser" (a
"handmaiden of thought", as Levi-Strauss liked to say of his myths), the fit
between Chapter Five of T&S and Chapter Six becomes a lot closer. 
After all, the kids must justify their sortings with "because" and
"although". And the artificial concepts ("lag", "mur", "cev", and "bik")
really are similar to the academic concepts of the new social science
curriculum ("exploitation", "socialism", "proletarian", and "revolution") as
far as the child's hands on experience is concerned. 
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
PS: Andy has pointed out that some of the page numbers I gave Monica do not
really match up with the versions he has. I just got back to Seoul and
checked my library: the ref to Problems of Development of Mind matches the
1981 Progress Publishers edition, but the pp 66-65 ref which I just gave is
actually from:
Leontiev, A.N. (1979, 1981) The problem of activity in psychology. In J.V.
Wertsch (ed.) The Concept of Activity in Soviet Psychology. Armonk, NY: M.E.
Sharpe, pp. 37-71. 
Sorry, Monica!

--- On Tue, 8/18/09, Mike Cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: [xmca] Fwd: Meltzoff Science paper
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Tuesday, August 18, 2009, 7:03 PM

David-- Is this the piece that upset you?


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