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Re: [xmca] Fwd: Here is the tanner searchable pdf

This PDF is indeed a tasty nugget.  A few things caught my eye. One is the way the other participants seemed to be working together to convince Piaget to rethink his conception of stages. Kessen notes that they much preferred "steady state of an open system" to "equilibrium," with von Bertalanffy - of systems theory fame - leading the charge, while others (Tanner and Mead) seem set to do away with stages altogether.

Piaget seems almost willing to concede the point, but then Inhelder focuses on the key Piagetian criterion of a stage change: that what was a empirical judgment for the child becomes a matter of logic. This phenomenon is very clear in the short videos I show in class: in the putative preoperational stage the child carefully examines the liquid that has been poured into a new beaker. The child at the stage of concrete operations barely glances; it *must* be the same quantity of liquid. There has been a shift from trial and error to self-evidence, and here we see, as Inhelder puts it, "a new form of thought qualitatively different from the previous form," a "metamorphosis of thought."

Of course, "equilibrium" itself does refer to a steady state, as when, for example, as much liquid permeates one way though a membrane as does in the opposite direction, or when a reversible chemical reaction is proceeding equally rapidly in both directions. The Nash equilibrium in game theory is a condition in which each participant is fully informed about the other participants' strategies (and they all know that they know). Again, stability is the (likely) outcome. 

Writing together in "The Growth of Logical Thinking," Piaget & Inhelder  distinguished two "distinct and complementary" ways of looking at cognitive development. One looks at the formation of structures, the other at "equilibrium conditions." What they saw, using the second view point, was a tendency towards increasingly stable equilibrium states. Their definition of equilibrium in this book is not that of stability in a closed system, but a dynamic process in which perturbation is "compensated" by the child's behavior. 

I think the way to think about this is that when a system is stable, or in equilibrium, new information will not change its state, beyond small perturbations. The operational child learns nothing from inspecting the liquid. The operations of their thinking are now sufficient to handle the new situation: in particular, they can represent and so mentally act on the transformations and not just the states, as was the case for the preoperational child.

But what does this sufficiency amount to? P & I write of a field of application within which the operations of thought may, or may not, achieve equilibrium. Even when there is equilibrium within the field, thinking may be unstable at the boundaries. But they also insist that physical and psychological equilibrium are not identical. The latter has two aspects, equilibrium in terms of reality and equilibrium in terms of possibility. The first, which P&I call "instrumental possibility," refers to the child's thoughts and actions about the object in front of them, *including* those actions it would be *possible* for the child to perform on the object. The second kind of equilibrium refers to "structural possibilities," those thoughts and actions the child "does not perform, but could perform" (262).

Here we see very clearly Piaget the structuralist. "Thus, instrumental possibility depends on structural possibility, but the first is more impoverished than the second. For this reason, even if the former derives from the latter at each instant, the two varieties must be carefully distinguished, for the second is both theoretically and practically of a much greater importance." In short, structural possibility is competence, while instrumental possibility is performance. P&I insist that structural possibility is not a concept that refers only "to the psychologist who attempts to analyze and explain the subject's behavior" and that "we must exclude the notion of not attributing the structurally possible to the subject as such (263).

Sleight of hand? Every structuralist does this: they reconstruct an abstract competence which they then attribute to the person they are studying, and claim that it has the power to "condition" actual performance.  P&I grant that this "causality of the possible" is "paradoxical" and "mysterious," and then add in a rather striking footnote, "this is equivalent to saying that a subject should be evaluated not only by what he actually does but also by what he could do in other situations - i.e., by his 'potential' or his aptitudes."

I can't think of a clearer illustration of the similarities and the yawning differences between Piaget and Vygotsky. Both insist that to understand children's development we must consider both the actual and the potential. But for Piaget this potential is a kind of ghostly system of possible operations, a Platonic space in which the child somehow floats. For Vygotsky the potential exists actually and materially in the performances of other people. 


On Nov 12, 2010, at 7:15 PM, mike cole wrote:

> Martin asked for a ref to the source of the Piaget quote. It is attached
> along with the few pages of the pdf
> pages just in front of it.
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Brenda Macevicz <bmacevicz@ucsd.edu>
> Date: Wed, Nov 10, 2010 at 3:24 PM
> Subject: Here is the tanner searchable pdf
> To: Mike Cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
> This is also saved on the tclearninglounge website.
> Brenda
> [The attachment Tanner-Disc on Child Development.pdf has been manually removed]
> [The attachment discussion.pdf has been manually removed]
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