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[xmca] Cohesion, Coherence, Commognitive Pluralism

I think my attempt to distinguish cohesion and coherence was...well, incoherent. So I want to try again, and then I want to argue that relativism should be relative and not absolute: different aeas of what Anna Sfard has called commognition behave differently, and some are subject to developmental hierarchies while others are not. Roughly coherence (and by extension thinking) is subject to clear developmental hierarchies, while cohesion (and therefore speech) is not.
As I said last time, Jay (Lemke) is a Hallidayan, and I am too, but rather critically so. The reason I am critically so is that my professor, H.G. Widdowson, pointed out to me that the three "metafunctions" (the ideational, the textual, and the interpersonal) are really not on the same ontological level: ideation and interpersonal relations concern, respectively, subject-object and subject-subject relations, while the textual metafunction is entirely concerned with relations between words.
Professor Widdowson illustrates this with an example which, for applied linguists anyway, is at least as famous as "Flying planes can be dangerous" or "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously".
A: There's the phone.
B: I'm in the bath.
A: OK.
Let me make three rather unoriginal remarks about this example (the example is so well discussed that it is hard to say anything new about it, I'm afraid). 
The first is that it deals with PRAGMATICS rather than simply with syntax. This is typically Widdowsonian. Halliday believes that system and function are equal aspects of language, but for Widdowson (and also for Vygotsky) the source of both system and function is pragmatics: words are the way they are because we do what we do, and not vice versa.
The second is that there is almost NO verbal link between the three utterances. Not a single word is repeated (with the possible exceptions of "the" and "to be", and these clearly are entirely different in their reference. And yet we experience this entire exchange as being perfectly coherent: a couple of some sort are at home, the telephone rings, one is in the bath, and so the other has to answer the phone.
And the third is that we experience this coherence WITHOUT cohesion as being utterly unremarkable, just as we experience the completely astonishing fact that there are almost never any spaces between words in speech (even when the speaker changes!) as being so unremarkable (this still unexplained fact of everyday life was not even really suspected until the tape recorder was invented and the spectrograph was applied to human speech). 
This does indeed suggest a dependency, because when there is cohesion without coherence, as in "I had lunch so I was hungry" or "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" we do tend to feel that something is awry. Coherence without cohesion is quite canonical, but cohesion without coherence is perverse. Ergo, cohesion realizes coherence and not the other way around; microgenetically speaking, as in this example; coherence is a thinking function and cohesion is speech.
So what? So we find that there are many many different ways of realizing coherence in many different languages. In general, the ways in which coherence are realized are not developmental; they are just different. Personally, I find English rather poor at realizing coherence; it seems to me that, for example, words like "of" and "because" are ridiculously overgeneralized, the idea that universal concepts are merely plural nouns ("apples") is rather crude and primitive, and the verb system is a risibly brutish way of talking about time ("It is high time we found another way of doing this than tense!"). 
But I am willing to accept that this is really just a personal prejudice: I know that in practice English is actually capable of expressing almost any human experience given enough time and enough turns, and it is pretty good at expressing some things, not least because of the great contributions made to English by generations of linguistic immigrants.
So I am not that surprised to learn that African languages are far more complex and diverse than English, or that early, pre-modern man probably spoke a hundred thousand languages while today we speak barely three or four thousand (depending on how we count). It seems to me that language is one of those things that is just different, and neither better or worse, while mathematics, on the other hand, is much more clearly cumulative and expanding. 
Thinking generally varies in a developmental way: Early, pre-modern man, like most species of animal, barely survived long enough to reproduce, and some of this must be explained by a higher, modern sense of what nature is and our place in it (or, if you prefer, nature's consciousness of itself in us). It is still not very high in any absolute sense, of course. Yet it is high enough for most of us to want to choose it.
David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

--- On Tue, 3/6/12, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com> wrote:

From: Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] further thoughts on the book "Vygotsky in Perspective"
To: lchcmike@gmail.com, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 8:50 AM

Mike and Martin

What an amazingly pregant and fertile perspective  Bruno Latour expresses
[enunciates] in this article exploring the relation between technology and
morality. I do believe Bruno is enunciating a central theme that plays out
within cultural historical and sociocultural concepts of "mediation".
Mike I agree that this article could be put in dialogue with Miller and I
hope we can do this together. However, for now I want to focus on
amplifying Bruno's profound insights into functional ways of viewing
reality and the place of technology in translating time, space, and agency.

Where to begin?? There are so many openings he invites us as we enter the
labyrinth. I want to jump in on page 251 where he talks about technology as
the art of the "curve" [the DETOUR] and contrasts that with epistemology,
the pursuit of the straight line. However, I'll resist and go back to page
248 where he is exploring "borders" and boundaries" [I imaginally add the
metaphor of "hinges"  to borders and boundaries]  Bruno is pointing out it
is becoming more difficult to trace the BORDER between "the empire of the
human and the ealm of technologies. He writes,

In any case, the IMAGE of a human being at the helm manipulating INERT
objects, to achieve ends, through the INTERmediary OF 'efficient action ON
matter' appears increasingly muddled. Technologies belong to the HUMAN
WORLD in a modality other than that of instrumentality, efficiency, or
MATERIALITY.... Technologies and moralities happen to be indissolubly
mingled because, in both cases, the question of the RELATION OF ends and
means is profoundly problematized."

Bruno wants to give tecnology the dignity EQUAL to morality that challenges
the common sense relation of tool TO intention.  Bruno wants to redine the
"technical" FROM a SUBSTANTIVE to an ADJECTIVE. He writes,

"It is pointless to want to define some entities and some situations as
technical in OPPOSITION to others called scientific or moral, political or

Bruno then goes on to use the word "enunciation" in a sentence which I
believe points to Merleau-Ponty's notion of "expression". He writes,

Technology is everywhere, since the TERM applies applies to a regime of
ENUNCIATION, or, to put it another way, to a MODE OF EXISTENCE, a
PARTICULAR FORM of exploring existence, a particular form of the
exploration of BEING - in the midst of many others.  If we are UNABLE to
distinguish BETWEEN a technical object and a non-technical one, we should
nevertheless be able to locate the dimension pertaining to technology in
some entity. The regime of technology, if you wish, is DIFFERENT from
another standpoint (scientific, rtistic, or moral) NOT in the way that a
REGION of reality would differ from another, but in the way PREPOSITIONS
differ amongst themselves, in much the same way as *in* is clearly
distinguishable from *by*, although there is no particular domain of *in*
that we cn separate from the territiory *by*."" [page 248]

Bruno's term "enunciation" seems to express a relation similar to
Merleau-Ponty's KEY concept of "expression" as modes of existence and
being. This similarity invites further reflection. The above excerpt seems
to be pregnant with new meaning.

The next critical insight in the article I want to elaborate is how Bruno
explores the relation of means and ends in functional enunciations.  He is
describing the concept of "folding" and uses the example of a hammer.  He

"It is impossible to proceed AS IF the hammer *fulfilled a function* for it
overflows the strict limits of THIS CONTAINER on all sides... With it [the
hammer] in hand the possibilities are ENDLESS, providing whoever holds it
with schemes of action that DO NOT PRECEDE the moment it is grasped...
thanks to the hammer, I BECOME literally another man, a man who has BECOME
*other*, since from that point in time I pass theough *alterity, the
ALTERATION of that folding [Gibson's idea expressed via Bruno]... Thise who
believe that tools are simple utensils have never held a hammer in their
hand, have never allowed themselves to recognize the FLUX OF POSSIBILITIES,
that they are suddenly able to ENVISAGE.... Far from PRIMARILY fulfilling a
PURPOSE, they [humans] start by exploring heterogeneous universes that
nothing, UP TO THAT POINT, could have FORSEEN and BEHIND WHICH trail new
functions" [page 250]

In other words functions are DERIVED FROM emerging technologies and
technologies are NOT RESPONDING to functions.
Seems to be an important distinction which challenges common sense. Bruno
then commnts on the term "mediation" when he writes,

"The term mediation always runs the risk that its message could be INVERTED
and one could turn whatever makes it impossible to transfer a meaning, a
cause, or a force INTO precisely what MERELY carries a force, a cause, or a
meaning. If we are not careful, we could REDUCE technologies to the role of
INSTRUMENTS that MERELY give a more durable shape TO schemes, forms, and
relations WHICH ARE ALREADY PRESENT in another form and in other MATERIALS."

Bruno is pointing to the awareness that *devices* are not simply

"What they [devices] exactly DO, what they suggest, NO ONE KNOWS" [page 250]

Bruno then adds "the mediation of technology experiments with what must be
called BEING -AS - ANOTHER" [page 250]

This brings me to the last term that I found fascinating as Bruno explores
*detour*. He writes,

"It seems to me that it is more adequate to speak ABOUT technologies in the
mode of the *detour* than in that of *instrumentality*. Technology is the
art of the curve, or what, following Serres, I have called *translation*.
If we go in a straight line, AS EPISTEMOLOGY DOES, we do not need it...
Ingenuity begins with Deedalus, prince of the labyrinth, that is, with the
UNEXPECTED branching-out which at first DISTANCES from the goal [Bruno
references Frontist-Ducroux for this idea]"

Bruno is exploring technical problems as *detours*, entering the labyrinth,
NOT as instruments fulfilling functions.  Technology PREVENTS us from
having DIRECT access to goals.

This ends my brief summary of Bruno's enchanting opening up of the notion
of *mediation* as the curving path of detours. He challenges functional
*enunciations* with an alternative exploration of mediation and technology
as modes of *expression* that detour from the straight and narrow path and
plunge us into labyrinths.

If interested I can post an article that explores the "Medussa Myth" as
also exploring DIRECT and INDIRECT modes of expression. .

I hope that others put these ideas in play with Miller and activity theory.


On Mon, Mar 5, 2012 at 8:01 PM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

> With respect to the concept of mediation, Martin Packer was kind enough to
> send along the attached article by Bruno Latour on Moralilty and
> Technology.
> A key idea is that mediation cannot be reduced to instrumentalism. I think
> it could interestingly be put in dialogue with Miller.
> mike
> On Mon, Mar 5, 2012 at 7:18 PM, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com> wrote:
> > Martin reminded me of the discussion on xmca [July 13 2011] when the book
> > "Vygotsky in Perspective" was discussed.
> > The aggressive tone and stance Ronald takes towards CHAT positions is
> > extremely rude and provocative.
> >
> >  He attacks Mike, Wertsch, Anna Stetsenko, and others who explore
> Leontiev
> > and Luria as complementary to Vygotsky. Ronald labels these authors as
> > creating an "alternative" theory so removed from Vygotsky that they are
> no
> > longer true believers.
> > For this reason alone I was tempted to not read further.
> >
> > But I was curious from reflecting on "book collections" as material
> "media
> > objects"  how the interplay of Ronald's perspective would engage Activity
> > theory.
> >
> > I was reading through the introduction on Google books and on page 17
> > of Ronald's introduction I became intrigued by Roland's understanding of
> > mediation.  He is offering a bipolar or "duplex" conception of
> subjectivity
> > in which of-ness [awareness] ANCHORS the present and consciousness
> > history and destiny. He argues that mediation is often associated with
> > DIRECT overt forms of instruction. Roland suggests a 2nd order of
> mediation
> > in which tools [as the products of human action] REFLECT [in their design
> > and structure] the conscious awareness of their makers.  A 3rd level of
> > mediation is elaborated in the social structures CONSTITUTED by the
> > relations between people and the relations between people and their
> > products.
> >
> > So far so good. This is all straight forward but it was the the next
> > section of his argument I found interesting.
> >
> > Roland suggests mediation is the antithesis of "agency"
>  MIS-understanding
> > is a KIND of understanding but the persons are UNAWARE that their
> > understandings are mis-perceived [and therefore cannot make the necessary
> > changes for understanding] Roland then states,
> >
> > "In order for mediation efforts to produce new understanding - it is
> > necessary to alter the way a person EXPERIENCES a situation by
> facilitating
> > new actions - including mental actions  or ways of thinking that provide
> a
> > NEW FOCUS of conscious awareness.
> >
> > All forms of mediation operate according to the same fundamental
> > psychological principles that entail,
> >
> >
> >
> > It is this "dual" process of BOTH "leading" and "being lead" that I found
> > interesting as a reciprocal movement of both breathing in and breathing
> out
> > in mediational processes. Both agency and loosing agency.  [Both
> "passive"
> > and "active"??]
> > What Ronald is exploring may be "common sense" to many others on this
> list
> > serve but I read this as a possible link to Gadamer's notion of all true
> > understanding as beginning with a  willingness to be unsettled  in the
> > dialogical process of not understanding [letting go of pre-judices] and
> > being open to the perspective of the other which opens a space for "fused
> > horizons" of understanding. Ronald, interpreting Vygotsky from his
> > perspective seems to be circling around similar themes of leading and
> being
> > lead.
> >
> > Ronald, though writing ABOUT this reciprocal process, obviously does not
> in
> > practice actualize this openness. How he dismisses others [especially
> > CHAT]  in this book is proof of his prejudices but he may still have some
> > valid points to contribute from his close eading of Vygotsky.
> >
> > I hope its ok to return and pick up a previous thread from last July even
> > from an author without good manners:-))
> >
> > Larry
> > __________________________________________
> > _____
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> > xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> > http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
> >
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