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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky, Leontiev and Luria

Dear Ivan:
I think that, applying your own method, of establishing the purpose of a particular distinction will work to establish the importance of the distinction between sociogenesis and phylogenesis (and also between sociogenesis and ontogenesis). But I want to make an argument that it is independent of that purpose as well. 
When we want to distinguish between, say, zooplankton and lions, then various distinctions might be relevant (sexual reproduction, live birth, lactation, predation). Here, the stated purpose of the distinction, for Vygotsky and Luria if not for Leontiev, is to be able to distinguish between the specifically human qualities of development and those that we share with animals. And the sociogenesis of the sign really does fit the bill (though not for Leontiev, who cannot accept that it is not simply tools and aims and motives, but signs that create the social organizations that define activity as human labor). 
Today we have to translate part of “Tool and Sign in Child Development” in which Vygotsky and Luria argue that in all animal behavior there is a “primary unity” between perception and motor action, and that perception SEPARATE and even SEPARABLE from action "only" exists in the analysis of the psychologist, and even there the real object of analysis has to be the complex whole created by perception and motor action.
The weird thing is that this “only” is then twice contradicted, once using first experimental evidence and then pathological evidence. In Natalia Morozova’s experiments, the child is told to press a particular key in response to a light and then in response to a word. The child responds with impulsive moments which “externalize” motor action from which the child then selects. But then the child is given pictures: at first obviously connected, like “bread” for the word “knife” and “sleigh” for the word “horse”, but later apparently irrelevant, e.g. “camel” for “death” and “seashell” for “theatre”, from which the child makes his own “sense” connections (usually narrative in nature, as it happens). Vygotsky and Luria describe this as the erection of a functional “dam” which prevents the psychic energy of the child from diffusing aimlessly, like the mouths of the Yellow River, and, restraining all action for
 a time, concentrates and channels it in the direction of a solution. So the “primary unity” of perception and action can be broken up, not just in analytical descriptions, but in actual experiments.
The pathological evidence they give is apparently Sir Henry Head’s experiments with aphasics playing billiards. The aphasics, having “lost” speech revert to a purely reactive, perceptual form of judgment, so for example they can hit a cue ball with a stick but they can’t bounce the ball off the cushion or sink a second ball with the cue ball. It’s not clear why the “functional dam” is so dependent on the immediate presence of speech or why it can’t be built up from other forms of symbolic representation, but here too you can see that what was supposedly merely an artifact of analysis turns out to be much more factual. 
It seems to me that there are two ways of explaining this contradiction. One is the way you point to: at a particular level of generality, perception and motor activity cannot be teased apart (e.g. in looking, through the wrong end of the telescope, at the predation of the lion, to use your example). But at another level of delicacy, they can (looking, microscopically, at experiments and pathological data which are in different ways forms of scientific description and abstraction).
But there is another way, which I think is Vygotsky’s way. It lies in distinguishing between distinctions. Some distinctions in nature are really epiphenomenal and random (so for example for many years dinosaurs were classified according to the presence or absence of a cavity in the thighbone, simply because this is what people remarked in the fossils that were found). But there are other distinctions which are objectively significant for the survival of species (e.g. the distinction between cold blooded dinosaurs and warm-blooded mammals of the time). The objective significance of these distinctions really does not rest in the purpose of our description; it is genuinely objective, in that it touches fundamental issues like the survival of the species rather than ephemeral issues having to do with the particulars of the way we discover phenomena. 
So it seems to me that Vygotsky and Luria are arguing that the previous view, according to which perception and motor phenomena cannot be teased apart, applies ONLY to one kind of perception, viz. the elementary, “natural” and not the higher, sociogenetic function. The laws that govern this higher form of perception are completely different, and that difference is really not dependent on the purpose of our analysis at all: it is perfectly objective, and can be verified both through artificial and natural experiments, as well as by the very persistence of life on earth and the proliferation of its historico-cultural forms.
David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies 
--- On Thu, 9/15/11, Ivan Rosero <irosero@ucsd.edu> wrote:

From: Ivan Rosero <irosero@ucsd.edu>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky, Leontiev and Luria
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Thursday, September 15, 2011, 4:58 PM

Hello David,

I am curious about your own thoughts on this paraphrase of Vygotsky/Luria

>  Vygotsky and Luria, with somewhat different emphases, are all about
> inserting sociogenesis into the middle: development MUST mean that the
> principle which explained change on one timescale cannot be the same as the
> principle which explains change at another.
and what "the principle" might stand for?

In biology, natural selection is proposed as a (one, the) unifying
principle, and it can be used to argue that, for example, "the same"
mechanisms that select for complex predatory behavior in lion prides are
"the same" as those that select predatory behavior in oceanic zooplankton.
I always find myself reacting to this line of reasoning with a yes/no
echo running through my thoughts.  Yes, as long as one grants that DNA and
behavior are linked, and these are linked with an organism's ecology, so
that (informed in this way) one goes about looking for "fitness" and
explanations for differential reproductive success.  But this, while true,
is informative only so much.  Zooplankton and lions exhibit very different
predatory (and a range of other) behavior in complex couplings with their
respective ecologies, a lot of which can even be considered "cultural". So,
no, "the principle" of natural selection doesn't provide much to go on
for lion and zooplankton fans respectively once nuance and specificity is at

Philo, Onto, Zooplankton-o, Lion-o, and many other geneses *can* be thought
of together without any contradictory tension, in many different ways.  For
example, one might look at these as "complex systems" and wonder about
similarities between them in these terms, or perhaps consider them all
different kinds of "living things" and ask about their reproductive,
specialization, and differentiation qualities.  And so on...

But, of course, these geneses obviously, also, *cannot* be thought of
together without experiencing contradictory tension (in my opinion)--the
specific differences are too vast.

So, I guess what I'm asking is whether "development" and a statement like
"the principle which explains" can ever be made to be happy with each other
--"in principle" so to speak?  For me, this can be only if one either
ascends so far above specifics that Paris and Rome "look the same" (which is
a very happy truth, specially for, say, google map algorithms), or one ends
up saying so general a thing (like we're all made of matter) that, while
true, the statement doesn't say much.

Marx had "the principle" of human history, and, as I understand it, Vygotsky
says this one can't be the same as "the principle" for ontogenesis,
since the latter is a complex  articulation of bio and
historical time-scales between which, if I understand your remark correctly,
"sociogenesis" functions in a coupling manner.  But I hear the same echos
running through my thoughts.. yes and no (with a lot of respect for both
instances).  Depends what we're talking about and how much is at stake vis a
vis nuance and specificity.

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