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Re: [xmca] When does an unbroken action begin and end?

Quietly jetlagged in my study.

Thanks, Tony, for the Peirce. How well aware he is of the loose nature of our use of "consciousness" as concept or word, and how thoughtful about the different aspects or levels, according to his first- second- third- nesses.

I tend to take his primisense as the felt-being-becoming, the still- here, the animal-aliveness; a sort of phenomenological primitive. It survives in altered states of consciousness, where the self-other opposition (as felt) disappears, and certainly where the process-means- medium awareness is gone.

This primary sense is I think the ground of our construction of continuity of being (starting with our own), and of subjective duree (Bergson's sophisticated version of subjective time sense). It lapses in true "unconsciousness", e.g. under anesthesia. What happens in sleep seems messier (some mixing of near-consciousness and physical non-conscious continuity registering in the brain?).

But I am guessing that in the present discussion of actions beginning and ending, it is Peirce's second two aspects of consciousness, building on the first, that are relevant. Altersense insofar as any notion of passing control requires a self-other consciousness. And mediatedness insofar as the joint construction of activity in which control passes requires, at least from time to time (e.g. when corrections or clarifications are needed, as pointed out famously by the Conversation Analysis people, and I guess deriving from Sacks -- and they were originally in ethnomethodology taking about all action and not just speech or conversation), awareness of the process and how it's working or not working.

I do like the idea that the unit of action should be defined by more than just subserving a common goal or function in an activity. I am not sure how well a CA-like definition (or Bakhtinian one, though I think B. borrows his definition from Voloshinov and does not always stick to it) of exchange of control, seeing activity unfold as A-B-A-B- A-B works. As I wrote before, real activity, and conversation, is messier. Not all cultures have rules that require one speaker at a time. As Mike just noted, our own utterances are often completed by others, and we may not have quite got to a fully specific meaning of what we were the in process of saying until we or someone else manages to get to a point that we can consider a completion of that utterance or meaning. Many utterances, at the level of meaning-units, are jointly produced (and not just for children by caregivers!).

A lot of co-action among participants in an activity is simultaneous, rather than sequentially exchanged or dialogical. It's not as often "your turn" as it "help me do it now". My favorite prototype of joint activity is two people try to carry a sofa down a staircase. Control is more shared and coordinated than passed back and forth. At least it seems to work better if it is. You can get some exchange layered on top of the share simultaneity, but without the latter, you're courting trouble! :-)

This is why I prefer a notion of action defined as a functional unit, including multi-functional, rather than as an "intentional" unit. It is not what I do in order to achieve goal X. It is all that is done which does help achieve outcome X. But outcome X is then always part of, moving us toward, some longer-term further outcomes, including emergent, not yet well determined ones. The role of consciousness here is mediational, an aspect of the way we participate in these actions and larger activities, that enables the cumulation, i.e. that enables us to have the sense of how the action contributes to the activity, and enables us to act in such a way that it in fact does do so. It thus also enables us to sense when it is not doing so and to try something else!

This seems pretty close to what Peirce is talking about as the consciousness of thirdness (Medisense, mediational-process-awareness).


Jay Lemke
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

On Aug 20, 2009, at 7:12 PM, Mike Cole wrote:

Its often not clear to me, either, tony. "Influence" (to site a related
discussion) may appear to be linear but i think that idea hides the
underlying dynamic processes. Jay's comments are relevant here. So is
Dewey's critique of the reflex concept. You have an active,
living organism, "doing something." a "stimulus" smacks her/him in the mouth/eye/skin. That "SEEMS" to be the influence that gets the eye to blink or the mouth to water or......, but what "the" stimulus" is depends a whole
lot on what the person is doing. "The" stimulus
is not entirely specifiable beyond the ongoing action/activity of individual
Andy refers to.

These issues touch on one that I think about often: ""I forgot the word I
wanted to say, and thought, unembodied, returns,to the hall of
shadows."--e.g. the thought is completed in the word. ----- I keep thinking that the word/reduced-thought enters the world and is or isnot taken up, and either way, the "meaning" keeps changes and when it "comes back" to you, and you think about "it" , "it" is no longer the same thing. "The tought" is
notne's own, control has changed.

family calls.

On Thu, Aug 20, 2009 at 6:17 PM, Tony Whitson <twhitson@udel.edu> wrote:

On Fri, 21 Aug 2009, Andy Blunden wrote:

Mike Cole wrote:

Don't speeches and texts "pass control to and from an individual"??

Yes, it's obvious when you're talking about discourse, but
what about the more general domain of social action? I am
thinking that the idea applies in just the same way, even if
not quite so clearly. So "action" begins and ends when you
get/lose control of the action from/to another person.

On consciousness, let me think now ...

"control" seems not so clear to me. What about the dialogic character of my own <sic> train of thought? What about when a novelist or screenwriter pens a line of dialogue for a character, but the fictitious character herself fights back and, ultimately, refuses to say that line? Who's in control?

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