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Re: [xmca] Educational neuroscience
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] Educational neuroscience
- From: Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Tue, 30 Jul 2013 23:42:00 +1000
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You cover such ground, Huw, and so many points of controversy, I cannot
do justice in a brief reply. Let me make just a couple of points.
As a Marxist of 46 years' standing, so far as I know, it is only the
current of thinking initiated by Vygotsky where "unit of analysis" is
explicitly recognised in its central role. This is despite the fact that
Marx used the concept in formulating "Capital" and learnt it from Hegel
and Goethe. In Hegel it was alas too mystified to be widely understood
and was never explicitly elaborated by Marx. There are just some
suggestive passages here and there.
But, restricting ourselves to Marxism as known to Vygotsky, Ilyenkov,
Davydov & Co., I don't believe the distinction you propose stands. It is
true that the subject matter of Marxist study is human activity and
activity constitutes the *substance* of Marx's philosophy, insofar as he
did elaborate a "philosophy." Natural science is based on the assumption
that the object of study exists independently of human activity but can
be known through human activity. But I don't see that the idea of "unit
of analysis" as a really-existing concept of the whole is something
special to either human science or natural science. As a Marxist would
understand it, it must always be a simple (abstract) concept. The idea
did originate with Goethe after all, who saw it as part of the natural
As to Model. You are correct. I did not attempt in that post to deal
with every issue. I am not quite sure about this concept. I think it is
closer to the System Concept than Unit of Analysis. A model sets out the
chief elements of the process and their forms of action and interaction,
with the aim of approximating the system's behaviour. It could be an
analogue. I am not sure, but perhaps "Model" is just not such a
well-defined concept, and it simply lacks the sharp definition which we
have of "system concept" and "unit of analysis"? But model does aim to
describe the whole system and open it to analysis. It is not the idea of
"model" that the Gestalt is a mass of realisations of the model, so far
as I know.
When we are dealing with human life, there are always at least two
levels of analysis, a molecular and a molar level. Analytical science
does have difficulty, in my experience, with the idea of a molar unit
(i.e. an activity), and yet one can never make sense of an action
without knowing the activity which is serves. It is interesting your
observation about "two systems of thought", psychological system and (?)
concept or ideal. I am sure that human life could never be grasped
without such competing concepts. All these ideas have their origin in
Vygotsky and his collaborators, but he just did not live long enough to
see them fully developed.
Only touched on what you have said, Huw.
Huw Lloyd wrote:
As far as I am aware, the Marxian dialectical materialism addresses
dynamics of producing human artifacts and is not concerned with
natural phenomena as an object of study.
You mentioned Model but did not figure this into your formulation.
The model seems necessary to distinguish the study of natural
phenomena (but we can, ofcourse model artificial phenomena too). The
model is such an artifact which is "created" in the process of
studying the natural phenomena.
A Marxian unit of analysis is required to be reducible to a single
basis (Marx, Davydov). But there is no such requirement for natural
phenomena to reduce to a single basis, although I believe attempts
have been made to formulate this (e.g. negentropy).
From the position of the natural scientists (with their models and
experiments) there is no such deep need to identify the unit of
analysis in Marxian terms. Rather, the natural scientist's "unit of
analysis" contributes toward the genetic understanding of the origins
of the natural phenomena studies, which is achieved through an
appreciation of the unfolding, interacting, systemic relations of
natural phenomena. The "unit" under these circumstances is the system
of interest (system to the un-initiated is not easily defined). But
it is also appreciated that a system is not isolated from all other
natural phenomena (which is in basic agreement with the materialist
conception of mind).
This leaves us in the interesting position of having two complementary
systems of thought applicable to two related phenomena.
1. The image-ideal elaborated upon by Ilyenkov, Davydov etc, which
traces the genesis of the (artificial) concept.
2. The psychological system elaborated by Vygotsky, Luria etc, which
traces the changing (genesis) functional relations of the system in
support of these artificial concepts.
The interaction of these two systems of thought yields further
considerations such as:
1. The tentative demarcation of a functional system of interest on the
basis of a dialectical-materialist unit of analysis (e.g. those
changing systems at play in "thought and speech") and the system of
activity that the subject participates in.
2. The genesis (of the concept?) of the model and its social influence
etc, which includes the history of the concept of system.
With respect to your comment "The unit of analysis suggests the
method", I would say, rather, that the awareness of the holistic
nature of the activity system and the conceived of sub-systems
necessary participation in this configuration affords the method. Or,
the problem of modelling this psychological behaviour is facillitated
by the appreciation of object-oriented activity as a holistic system.
I have not had much time to disconfirm the points I have inferred
(e.g. I have some Davydov & Ilyenkov, but not much Marx and less
Hegel), but have yet to find anything that contradicts this.
I look forward to your comments!
On 30 July 2013 04:42, Andy Blunden <email@example.com
So we have 4 distinct but interrelated concepts: system, model,
unit of analysis and method.
I will try to formulate a view on unit of analysis and method.
The idea of "artefact-mediated (collaborative) action" as a unit
of analysis (a generalisation of "word meaning") is the basis for
the "method of dual stimulation," as I see it.
Once you have a concept of that S - X - R triangle, as the unit of
action, then it suggests a method of investigation based on
offering the auxilliary stimulus, the artifact X, to the subject,
S, to assist them to complete the task, R. By varying teh artefact
X and the task R, investigation of S is possible.
Likewise, let us suppose that you see the mind as a psychological
system made up of functional subsystems each of which are
interconnected, irrespective of whether the subsystem in question
itself produces observable phenomena. This could be represented in
a diagram, too, something like S -> Ssys1 ---> Ssys2 -> R, meaning
that every subsystem (Ssys1) is connected with every other
(Ssys2), and disturbance of Ssys1 will cause a disturbance to
Ssys2, which may be manifeted in an observable response, R.
So the implication of this is that the "unit of analysis" of an
entire psychological system is two functional subsystems with an
interconnection. Ssys1 --- Ssys2.
This is not trivial, because much of Ssys1 will not be observable,
and this unit of analysis allows the investigator to study Ssys1
by means of the observable responses via Ssys2.
The unit of analysis suggests the method.