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Re: [xmca] Bateson's distinction between digital and analog
In History of the Development of the Higher Mental Functions (Chapter Two), Vygotsky is talking about the difference between counting "by eye" (на глаз) and counting on your fingers. He points out that herdsmen and hunter-gatherers are far better than city dwellers at the former; they can actually compare groups of tens or even hundreds of dogs, livestock or birds "на глаз" with remarkable precision. By comparing a single group with an imaginary one, they find it quite easy to guesstimate exact numbers.
Now you might think that counting digitally is also a natural function. I think the early Vygotsky would have called it a "primitive". After all, fingers are also part of the body. If anything, it is rather more intellectually sophisticated, and closer to the real digital system, to estimate numbers by fitting the dogs, livestock or birds into groups and seeing if one or more are missing.
But the key problem is exactly what you suggest. There is a graphic-visual SIMILARITY between a dog in one grop and a dog in another. There is no such graphic-visual similarity betwween a dog and a finger. So guesstimating на глаз is an analog operation, while counting on your fingers is, quite literally, digital.
I think people sometimes misread this part of the book as suggesting that Vygotsky was racist. First of all, he does use the derogatory term "Kaffir" to refer to South African black people.
But in fact when he uses the term "Kaffir" he is actually quoting Levy-Bruhl, or rather quoting Levy-Bruhl quoting a missionary called Wangemann, and he edits out the most racist parts of the quote. So I think it is actually more likely that he just thinks "Kaffir" is the name of the particular group of people being talked about.
In the second place, the whole argument seems to suggest that somehow sociogeny recapitulates ontogeny--that the ways of thinking of "primitive peoples" are essentially identical with those of children, i.e. analog rather than digital.
I think not so. First of all, he has already rejected the idea that the physical type of man alters during sociogenesis; any "primitive" human and even a cave man, if we could clone him, could learn any cultural function. Secondly, and more generally, he has already rejected any idea that sociogenesis recapitulates or lies parallel to phylogenesis (he calls the process an "analogue" though). So he also rejects the idea that ontogenesis could recapitulate either.
Thirdly, though, Vygotsky is quite scathing about both Levy-Bruhl and the missionary: he points out, for example, that it takes far more intellection to reconstruct a Sunday sermon by notching the shoulder-blade of a baboon than it does to memorize it verbally, contrary to what the missionary supposed. In other words, the "Kaffir's" way of recording speech is actually digital while the missionary's is analogue!
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
--- On Fri, 2/17/12, Larry Purss <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Larry Purss <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [xmca] Bateson's distinction between digital and analog
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Friday, February 17, 2012, 6:52 AM
I want to reflect on the distinction that Bateson discusses in his
communication theory that seems to be pointing in the same direction as
phenomenology's central notion of "expression"
[Bateson's notions of proto, & deutero, as levels of knowing and how this
connects to David Kellogg's focus on "reversibility" as central to
"self-mastery" also are interesting departures. Also historically situating
the development of his ideas was fascinating]
Back to the analog/digital distinction. Bateson is attempting to move from
monads to dyads. This may be a limiting factor from a cultural-historical
perspective but in his exploration of dyadic communication he
proposes that communicative action has both digital [language] and analog
[the non-verbal] qualities. What is interesting is his premise that ALL
linguistic practices are always "composing" analog situations "within" [NOT
"in"] linguistic communication. In other words, with every speech ACT
analogical "context" is re-composing or re-configuring. The "analog
context" [within dyadic interactions] is always emerging as background FOR
the digital speech act as figure. I read this distinction and wonder about
how this distinction reflects the phenomenological notion of "expression"
at multiple levels of "intentionality" Is Bateson's notion of analog share
something in common with phenomenology's notion of "performative
intentionality" as the EXPRESSIVE GROUND [the WITHin of linguistic acts?]
To bring the "abstract" to the "concrete". In my personal relations, if I
"notice" or am "aware" that the analog context is EXPRESSED and FORMED
within each unique act of speaking I will be aware of "movement" as
ground. From within this perspective the "analog context" is every bit as
dynamic and temporal as the linguistic digital speech act. There is no
"in" or "container" in which to "put" the speech act. There is only
gestalten as the "ground" [analog] is as dynamic as the
"figure". Communicative action therefore is as fundamentally EXPRESSIVE as
it is PREDICATIVE. The reasons and justifications of speech acts are
ALWAYS EXPRESSIONS forming contexts and all "epistemological knowing" is
intersubjective and relationally configuring both analog and digital
As a counsellor I can "bracket" [but never reduce] and attempt to make
"explicit" [to my awareness] the "expressive ground" of all speech acts. I
can also RESPOND or ANSWER to the analog message rather than the digital
message. This form of responding "brackets" the linguistic in order to be
more sensitive to the analog. In this sense, shifting the figure and
ground of communicative action illuminates [visual metaphor or mind as
seeing] the EXPRESSIVE or ERFORMATIVE intentionality which is usually the
implicit analogical BACKground to our explicit linguistic utterances.
I'm not sure if I'm operating within my own "private" language" and
loosing "common ground" but it is my attempt to express my sense that
EXPRESSIVE intersubjective dialogical movement is a fundamental aspect or
"part" of the cultural historical gestalten. "Part" as metaphor for "cell"
that expresses the gestalten.
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