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Re: [xmca] Incompatibility between phenomenology and CHAT
I'm afraid I'm a slow reader. It was over a year ago that I took up Merleau-Ponty (largely because you spoke so warmly of his work and at such great length) and I think it will be a long time, if ever, before I am able to take up Gadamer in a similar way.
I go to the philosophers the way you go to the hardware store when your toilet is plugged, that is, when I have a very practical problem to solve (e.g. "Is painting a form of verbal thinking too?", to which Merleau-Ponty apparently answers "no", in defiance of everything I know about painting).
Right now my problem is this. We know that a "unit of analysis" has to have the essential characteristics of the "whole" of which it makes up a part (e.g. a word must have sound as well as sense to be a unit of verbal thinking, and an experience must be undergone and understood to be "perizhvanie"). But we also know that a whole is more than the sum o fits parts, and that the real, concrete nature of the whole really emerges in the interaction of those parts and not in their isolation and description (a word is not a dialogue any more than a sound is a word.)
I am reading, in my terrible Russian and with several machine translations at hand, Chapter Three of the manuscript formerly known as the History of the Development of the Higher Psychological Functions (I agree with Anton that Vygotsky probably did not call it that). This is the chapter that Mike and Co. turned into Chapter Five of Mind in Society; it's the "methodological chapter" of that book.
Vygotsky says that all heretofore extant modes of analysis have sat on the backs of three great Russian whales (or maybe Indian elephants, or maybe turtles). The first whale is that the mind can be conceived of as a thing or as a group of things ("faculties", "multiple intelligences", "notions and functions", etc.). The second is that the point of psychology is phenomenal description of the "direct data" of experience. The third is that when we observe (whether we do this experimentally or introspectively) we look at the finished phenomenon.
Of course, Vygotsky flips each whale on its back: he demands that we study processes and not things, he insists on an explanatory psychology and not simply a descriptive one, and he takes as his point of interest precisely those moments of development which clearly mark it off as unfinished and still in motion, sometimes the very moment of origin.
Now, the specific problem he is interested in is something called a "choice reaction". The reason he chooses the choice reaction is that he is interested in the humblest origins of human free will. You take a child. You tell him to raise left hand when he sees a watch and his right hand when he sees a pencil. And then you put him to the test.
Vygotsky points out the obvious: whether we undertake a phenomenological examination or a purely empirical, objectivist one, there is nothing in this test that suggests any free will whatsoever. The child either understands the instructions and obeys or does not and doesn't. Free will is no more part of this "reaction" than it was part of the Moscow trials.
Or is it? Vygotsky puts a piece of paper by the right hand to remind the child of the pencil. He puts a THERMOMETER by the left hand to remind the child of the watch. And then we do have something very much like thinking--not pure thinking, not thinking per se, but thinking of something. But is he thinking of what to choose?
I think the method we get by flipping the three whales (at least one of which is very clearly phenomenlogical in its nature) is kind of cinematic. We divide the developing process into movie-frame moments, each of which is a whole unto itself but a part unto the other frames.
But they also seem to refer to very different frames. Since Vygotsky is using two and a half year old children, the connection between the thermometer and the watch is probably not even dimly understood while the connection between paper and pencil might be.
The connection is clearly NOT with the "next zone of development" or the "proximal zone of development" but instead with some zone of development which is well and truly down the road a ways; like a movie with frames spliced in from much later scenes or even from a sequel!
Is this possible? That is, can a two-and-a-half year old go through life vaguely associating a watch and a thermometer until he or she actually grasps the logical connection? I think it is possible, but only if we see that the nature of this vague association is not some ethereal "social being" but a concrete generalization, something that is there in the meaning potential of the child's language even when the child does not understand it and uses it quite inadvertantly.
But can the child stumble into prolepsis consciously? The other day I watched a lesson on fine arts where a teacher was telling children about the general concept of optical illusions. As a final project, they watched a slick animation (done in pencil, but done almost perfectly) and then they were supposed to produce their own flip book (you know, where you make a very simple drawing on the same spot on the page of a paperback and then make it "move" by flipping through the pages very rapidly).
But because they had spent so much time as consumers of other works, the kids didn't have the time (or interest) to produce their own. They each produced about four frames--and to make it more interesting, they added speech and thinking bubbles!
They had transformed, serendipitously, an animation relying on a perceptual trick, into a comic strip relying on mental and verbal meanings (a clear horitzontal axis of material process but an equally clear vertical axis of psychological processes, because the speech and thought bubbles were all located in the upper part of the frames).
A purely cinematic view was transformed into a narrative one, and huge leaps into prolepsis, such as the one suggested in Vygotsky's experiment, became possible. They had created precisely the kind of painting that Merleau-Ponty rejects in "Eye and Mind" and "Cezanne's Doubt". Sometimes, the mere fact that something is impossible is quite powerless to prevent it from being.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
--- On Fri, 6/8/12, Larry Purss <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Larry Purss <email@example.com>
Subject: [xmca] Incompatability between phenomenology and CHAT
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Friday, June 8, 2012, 10:42 PM
David, I thought I should start a new post as I'm poaching one phrase from
your most recent post. You attached Andy's commentary to Michael Roth in
the MCA article where Andy explores the significant contrasts between the
traditions of phenomenology and scientific psychology. David, the phrase
"shows and reinforces some of Andy's warnings about the incompatibility of
phenomenology with CHAT: I re-read the article [and will read it many more
This is an excellent article that cautions us to carefully navigate
the shoals and rapids we traverse when we attempt translations between the
Phenomenological tradition and the contrasting tradition of scientific
psychology. Andy critiques the weaknesses of introspective phenomenology
[Husserl and Heidegger] and the attempt by Vygotsky to draw a clear
distinction between the two traditions. Scientific psychology posits
social *being* as the root model that determines a persons consciousness.
Phenomenology posits being as dasein [being-there] or Hegel's determinate
Hegel adds further complexity [and possible confusion] to our exploration
of these distinct traditions as he had another notion of *being* which he
confusingly called *pure thought*. Pure thought was not some subjective
introspective process in the head, but rather a whole FORMATION OF
CONSCIOUSNESS [usually interpreted nowadays as *project*] Being, for
Hegel, had the same kind of referent as the other categories of his system,
i.e., whole FORMS OF LIFE, not somehing in the head.
This notion of *forms of consciousness* or *forms of life* therefore has a
legitimate heritage in various traditions such as phenomenology and
In the spirit of this tradition I thought I would add another reflection on
*forms of consciousness* that emerges from Gadamer's engagement with both
Husserl and Heiddeger. My intent is to highlight the continuing historical
development of this notion of *forms of consciousness*
This entire line of reflection may have no place in scientific psychology,
but let's play along and see. I'm poaching David Hoy's translation of
Gadamer's ideas from his book "The Critical Circle"
Gadamer's philosophicalhermeneutical perspective is a dialogical approach
to the I-Thou relation. He approaches this relation as a historical process
of changing forms of consciousness . He is trying to understand the
historical ways the *I-Thou* relationship is brought into form and
articulates 3 distinct formations.
A person is classified according to *type-ideas* about
other people. The other person is subsumed under common psychological
generalizations in which past events are treated not as UNIQUE but as
merely representative of general and typical features of human
behavior. In this formation of I-Thou relations the role of the classifier
is forgotten in the ACT
of classification, the classifier is taking his classification as
In this form the I-Thou relation is more reflective and
recognizes that the I who classifies others would not appreciate finding
one's own self as
adequately described by such categories. The subjectivity of the other, in
this form of consciousness
is NOT captured by the categories. However, the other, in relation to I,
OTHER. This form of I-Thou consciousness has as a correlative experiencing
the distinct radical otherness of the past. This 2nd form of I-Thou
*historical consciousness*. It does not subsume the past under general
laws, as in the 1st form, but recognizes the separate otherness of the
past epoch and treats the past as
historically UNIQUE. This form of consciousness describes much of the
inheritance from Romanticism in the 19th century. Historical
conciousness FORGETS its own historical formation when understanding the
assumes present knowledge is historically unconditioned and absolute.
The past is a closed matter [hermetically SEALED] and its uniqueness
confirmed. The present
has the last word over the past and generates the assumed objectivism of
historians forms of consciousness. This form is referred to as
methodological or theoretical hermeneutics.
This form of I-Thou relations within history has a different form of
hermeneutic experience. Unlike the 1st form it does not treat the other or
the past as an object classifiable into properties [1st form]
as radically other [subjectivity or time] with values no longer shared
with the present. Hermeneutic consciousness lets the tradition [as a form
of consciousness] speak to the present and realizes this speaking is
telling the present something about itself. Gadamer calls this form the
*consciousness of standing within a still operant history* [awkward phrase
but no easy translation].
THIS consciousness [or self-consciousness] is most properly hermeneutical.
As expressed within I-Thou relationships it neither treats the other person
as an object or a means,
tries to master the Other by suspending his right to meaningful statement.
On the contrary, this I-Thou relation is OPEN and Gadamer says without
this OPENNESS there can be no real human contact. He writes,
"To BELONG together [Zueinandergehoren] is always at the same time to be
able to listen to the other [Auf-ein-ander-Horenkonnen]
Understanding for Gadamer is always a form of dialogue. Hermeneutical forms
of consciousness are language phenomenon within a cultural tradition or
form of life.
This approach or practice, when applied, avoids the necessity of finding a
*bridge* for the *gap* between past and present. There is no need to posit
some third term such as psychological empathy to provide a common link
between closed off periods of time [or between two subjectivities]
THIS 3rd form of consciousness [the concretization of hermeneutical
consciousness] is NOT THE OBJECT of hermeneutical understanding, but is
the language, the MEDIUM, the FORM in which the understanding occurs. This
form of consciousness IS to BE in a world [a form of life, a tradition]
[another notion of being]
Gadamer saw his project as a response, through dialogue, to answer the
questions Husserl and Heidegger put in play. Gadamer makes a *linguistic
turn* and turns away from traditional subject-object psychology. It may not
be the same turn as Vygotsky's scientific psychology, but it also is not
phenomenological introspection. Gadamer does not reduce dialogue to an
inner monologue. His project is not to JUSTIFY something already chosen,
decided upon, or evaluated, but to develop a practical wisdom [phronesis]
which, when applied, LEADS TOWARD and makes possible a decision, choice, or
Andy's article is an excellent example of applying Gadamer's approach. Andy
was exploring multiple ways of understanding *forms of consciousness*
within traditions. Scientific psychology may, as a tradition, conclude
that all *forms of consciousness* in the end are phantoms and
illusions. [including hermeneutical consciousness] To question or explore
these multiple *forms of consciousness* may be tilting at windmills.
However, I agree with Andy that we must maintain a dialogue with these
other traditions, if only to critique them and expose them as phantoms.
I continue to question if forms of consciousness are more than mere
phantoms, and if, as phenomena, they can be understood as developing within
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