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Re: Re :[xmca] Idem per Idem

My dear Christine--
Oh, I don't think of myself as given to excesses, Larry is the one whose posts are long and exubertant and CAPITALIZED, and I certainly don't have his erudition or his stamina. I am more like one of those boring relatives who falls asleep on the couch when everybody else is partying to excess, and who occasionally jumps and rumbles when others burst into song..
Ivan remarks that I have probably misunderstood Leontiev. That is always possible; nay, it is even probable. But if so, I am not the first and will not be the last, and it seems to me that my misunderstanding is as good occasion as any to straighten out what appears to be a very common flaw in the way Leontiev is read and written about. And if not--well, if not, it seems to me that this "misunderstanding" might explain some of what we've been reading in Leontiev's "Michurinist" work from the early sixties.
On the one hand, Leontiev insists that activity is molar, and on the other hand he tells us that it is non-additive. I have never really understand what this means: to me, "molar" refers to fungibility; it suggests that a number of things make up another thing (Avagadro's number of atoms making up a mole). But on  p. 64 of Acitivity, Consciousness and Personality, Leontiev writes:
"If the action that constitute activity are mentally subtracted from it, then absolutely nothing will be left of an activity." 
So this suggests that actions add up to make a kind of mole out of activity. Activity, in turn, is non-additive: we do not add activities together to make some larger unit, the way we add actions together to make an activity, or operations to make up an action.
This is Kozulin's interpretaton (see p. 117 of his article "The concept of activity in Soviet psychology" in the Daniels "Introduction to Vygotsky" [Routledge 2005]), but it is also Andy's, reiterated in his new book. It is what A.A. Leontiev means when he says that actions make up an activity "without remainder", and it's what I object to. 
It turns out that "system of activity" has quite a history even before Vygotsky uses it in "History of the Development of the HIgher Mental Functions". He takes the idea from an American mathematical geneticist called Herbert Spencer Jennings, about whom I was asking Huw (because I wrongly thought they had the same first name for some reason.)
Jennings was a psychologist malgre lui; that is, an involuntary psychologist, in both senses of the word "involuntary". First of all, his real love was asexual reproduction: he believed that protozoa enjoyed eternal life, and he wanted to study it (it was only much later that he grudgingly admitted that sexual reproduction also produced a "rejuvenated" cell). He was the first person to really work the mathematical possibilities that Mendel's law permits, and so single-handedly founded mathematical genetics.
But he was also an outspoken critic of the eugenic craze that swept the USA at the end o the nineteenth century (my grandfather's high school report card, circa 1916, says that he got an A- in eugenics, which was a required course at the time). He criticized the laws that states passed for the sterilization of criminals, poor people and immigrants, and he also spoke out against the anti-Chinese immigration act of 1924, which is in many ways still the basis of US immigration policy (by fixing quotas based on populations that have already gotten into the US, America seeks to avoid changing the precise racial mix that obtained in 1924. Of course, this assumes that people only marry their own race!)
Vygotsky's point, in Chapter One of the History of the Development of the Higher Psychological Functions, is that the "system of activity" CANNOT be used to explain the development of the higher mental functions, because an organism's system of activity develops on the basis of the anatomy of the organism (the organs). In child development, the child's internal organs and the child's system of activity develop at the same time, because the latter is really part of the child's use of "artificial organs", that is, tools.
The fact that the system of activity can actually outstrip the maturation of the organism gives Vygotsky an idea. In some special cases, viz. human beings, it ought to be possible for instructed learning to outstrip development. The area between development, which is snoring on the couch, and learning, which is partying in the rafters, is what he calls the zone of proximal development.
David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
PS: Oh, the opera. It is a personal obsession; I have always been intrigued by  the idea that sociogenetically, music and speech seem to have co-evolved, and that melody is merely an exaggeration and systematization of speech intonation. If that is true, opera, and especially recitative, would hold the key to understanding the sociogenesis of speech in the same way that the Coecolanth held the key to understanding the phylogenesis of lungs. But it is only speculation.

--- On Sun, 1/1/12, christine schweighart <schweighartgate@hotmail.com> wrote:

From: christine schweighart <schweighartgate@hotmail.com>
Subject: Re :[xmca] Idem per Idem
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Date: Sunday, January 1, 2012, 9:58 AM

Dear David,

It's impossible for me to address the content of your message ( two days  of fiestas and still no sleep! ). Though there  are many many issues around 'systems' notions to discuss sometime. 
I thought I would convey that I recieved this response as a 'gesture of generation of excess'  and although I remember your sharing of opera - had the feeling this 'was opera' - a very imaginative image of this 'content' actually being a burst of song has tickled my sense of humour since I set off travelling on the 30th December - and even today I still laugh - I have no idea why this should be the case.
It might flow past without timely response -  so I've sent this in the meantime. happy New year,
Christine                           __________________________________________
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