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[Xmca-l] Re: In Defense of Fuzzy Things
First of all, in defence of Andy, I should point out that he is not really
as pompous as he sounds when he is solemnly informing me of my gross
misunderstanding and my utter confusion, or when he is stating that only
certain works read in a particular order (which miraculously coincides with
the selection of works he has effected and the precise order which he
himself has read them in) can produce genuine clear thinking. Andy and I
are old friends, and in addition we both come from societies where a
certain amount of raillery is a mark of affection and an antidote to
affectation (something that Andy and I are both prone to, alas).
Secondly, in deference to Beth, and Francis and all lurkers who would join
in the discussion if they could only make head or tail of it, let me defend
some of this esoterica and try to link it to the parallel, more exoteric
thread. What appears to be under discussion, for example, is whether a
Russian word which means something like "social contact" should be
translated as "society" or as "contact" (as Mike very perceptively points
out, I do BOTH, translating the same word in two different ways). Or
perhaps what is under discussion is whether "meaning" refers to
consciousness quite generally and therefore includes the way a child who
knows nothing about alcoholism might perceive a drunken mother or only
consciousness as it has been transformed by verbal thinking. In other
words, what appears to be under discussion is precisely what was under
discussion in the other thread: other words, and the extent to which they
really do represent other thoughts.
A lot of the misunderstandings (to use Andy's term) between Helen and the
other Mike (the Mike in Helen's data, not the Grand Old Man of xmca) are of
precisely this nature. But not all of them. Sometimes we use the same word,
e.g. "community of learners" or "meaning" and we actually mean totally
different things, just as the child who hears "Some dinosaurs learned to
swim and other dinosaurs learned to fly" may understand that dinosaurs are
purely imaginary creatures that went to school in order to do these things.
And THAT is what I meant when I said that the mere fact that a child has
not fully internalized a socially, culturally worked out act of thinking
does not make it any the less an act of thinking.
Now, let me make the context of my two quotations a little clearer. They
are both from Chapter One of Thinking and Speech, but the first quotation
has nothing whatsoever to do with Sapir, and in fact my translation is
rather inept. It should really be this:
It has been assumed that the means of contact is the sign:--that is, the
word, the sound."
Vygotsky's attacking Saussure, who holds that the "signifier" and the
"signified" inhabit two different realms, like soul and body: one is made
of meaning and the other is made of meat.
Vygotsky's point is that "wording" actually includes both, but in an
idealized form. Wording (speech) does not directly interface with the
environment: the semantics interfaces with the environment because it is a
representation of human experience and the phonology interfaces with the
environment because it is phonetically realized by going through physical
human organs like the lungs, larynx, and the lips, but lexicogrammar--words
and wordings--must interface with the environment through the semantics and
True, later on in the Chapter he refers to phonemes, which to us, today,
just means sounds. But I have since established that the word meant
"morpheme" to Vygotsky, not phoneme. (His example, in the "Lectures on
Pedology" is actually Russian CASE grammar, which has nothing to do with
pronunciation. So Vygotsky is saying exactly what the good Moorish doctor
Ibn Hakim says in the opera Iolanta (right before the line Vygotsky quotes
about consciousness reflected like sunlight in the drop of water):
"Два мира — плотский и духовный
— Во всех явленьях бытия.
Нами разлучены условно,
Они едины, знаю я."
(Two worlds, thinking and extension
Found in all things that can be
In ourselves, in intension
Their one-ness is known to me.)
Here's a Soviet version from 1963--Ibn Hakim's lesson in monism begins at
Experience (perezhivanie) and sounding are thus united in wording.
BUT...first of all, we have to recognize that they are united in an
idealized form: an abstraction. Secondly, we have to recognize that they
are united in a generalized form--a historico-culturally evolved meaning.
And finally, I think we have to accept that this act of abstraction and
generalization is, ontogenetically, initially social and only in the long
run individual and personal: word meanings develop as children grow up.
So this bit of esoterica turns out to be pretty exoteric after all. I
was actually, going to mention this earlier, when Huw said that his
translation interests pointed more in the direction of Leontiev than in
trying to recover Vygotsky's original ideas. Leontiev is, as Andy points
out, a recovering Vygotskyan--he is working in a climate where Vygotskyan
ideas must be carefully disguised as vulgar, behaviorist ones. Meaning
making, therefore, has to be disguised as "activity", of which the
paradigmatic form is not speech at all, but rather labor. It is actually
much easier to live lies like this twenty-four seven if you actually try to
believe them, and I think that by the end of his career Leontiev actually
believed that his formulation was more Marxist than the "idealist",
"intellectualist" alternative--the idea that says that the mind is actually
semantic in structure rather than structured by physical or even social
Nevertheless, when we read Chapter One of Thinking and Speech, we see that
semantic structure, not activity structure, is precisely what Vygotsky has
in mind: there is indeed a clear link between feeling and thinking (else
children would never learn to think verbally), but there is also a
dialectical leap (else children would already know how). Children
accomplish this dialectical leap through dialogue. That is, they are
confronted with the finished form of word meaning, and they find there way
to it through all kinds of misunderstandings (just as we do on this list).
This word "day" that they thought they knew so well actually doesn't just
mean the stretch of time between waking and sleeping, and that when you
call your grandmother in Los Angeles on Tuesday, its still Monday over
there, but that doesn't somehow make your grandmother one day younger than
you are. That's what I meant when I said that the mere fact that the child
is not thinking verbally does not make the generalization that we find in
the word any less an act of thinking. It's just an act of cultural, social,
inter-mental thinking, and not yet a act of individual, personal,
intra-mental thought. Grandma and grandchild are not quite on the same
page, but they are getting there.
It's interesting that the precise example that Vygotsky uses in Chapter One
is...the FEELING being cold, which must be generalized into the THOUGHT of
coldness. He points out that you can communicate this feeling perfectly
well by shivering and letting your teeth chatter, and even by simulating
shivering and making your teeth chatter, but what you are communicating is
a feeling...and not the idea of being cold. The idea of being cold is a
generalization, and an act of thinking.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
PS: Huw--the whole of Ganzheitpsychologie--from Wurzburg to Leipzig--was a
"genetic" psychology, and in fact they are the ones who founded the concept
of "microgenesis". The problem was that half of them became Nazis and the
other half became their victims. The victims, like Otto Selz, never had a
chance to complete their work--and their classmates and killer (Narziss
Ach, Felix Krueger, Eduard Spranger) we only read about today because
Vygotsky cites them.
On 17 July 2014 11:24, Andy Blunden <email@example.com> wrote:
> Could you elaborate on this one, David:
> "The fact that the child has not yet fully internalized that act of
> thinking does not make it any less an act of thinking" and how it relates
> to generalization?
> *Andy Blunden*
> David Kellogg wrote:
>> Here's what Vygotsky says in Chapter One of "Thinking and Speech".
>> Общение, основанное на разумном понимании и на намеренной передаче мысли
>> и переживаний, непременно требует известной системы средств, прототипом
>> которой была, есть и всегда останется человеческая речь, возникшая из
>> потребности в общении в процессе труда. Но до самого последнего времени
>> дело представлено сообразно с господствовавшим в психологии взглядом в
>> чрезвычайно упрощенном виде. Полагали, что средством общения является знак,
>> слово, звук. Между тем это заблуждение проистекало только из неправильно
>> применяемого к решению всей проблемы речи анализа, разлагающего на элементы.
>> That is:
>> "Society, based on rational understanding and intentional transfer of
>> thinking and perizhivanie, requires without fail some system of means, the
>> prototype of which is, was, and will always remain that of human speech,
>> which arose of necessity through social conotact in the process of labor.
>> But until now the matter has been presented in conformity with the
>> dominating view in psychology, in an extremely simplified way. It has been
>> assumed that the means of contact is the sign, the word, the sound. This
>> error stems solely from the incorrect use in the solution of the problem of
>> speech an analysis which decomposes speech into elements."
>> Vygotsky then points out that this analysis is incorrect because it does
>> not take into account that each word is a generalization--an act of
>> thinking. He quotes a passage of Edward Sapir which has been cut from the
>> Soviet version int the Collected Works (but which Kozulin has included in
>> his update of the Hanfmann-Vakar translation).
>> В сфере инстинктивного сознания, в котором господствует восприятие и
>> аффект, возможно только заражение, но не понимание и не общение в
>> собственном смысле этого слова. Эдвард Сэпир прекрасно выяснил это в своих
>> работах по психологии речи. ≪Элементарный язык, . говорит он, . должен быть
>> связан с целой группой, с определенным классом нашего опыта. Мир опыта
>> должен быть чрезвычайно упрощен и обобщен, чтобы возможно было
>> символизировать его. Только так становится возможной коммуникация, ибо
>> единичный опыт живет в единичном сознании и, строго говоря, не сообщаем.
>> Для того чтобы стать сообщаемым, он должен быть отнесен к известному
>> классу, который, по молчаливому соглашению, рассматривается обществом как
>> "In the sphere of instinctive consciousness, in which rules perception
>> and passion, only infection and contagion is possible, not understanding
>> and social contact in the true sense of the word. Edward Sapir has
>> wonderfully explained this in his work on the psychology of speech.
>> Elements of language,” he says must be connected to an entire group, to a
>> defined class of our experience. “The world of our experiences must be
>> enormously simplified and generalized before it is possible to make a
>> symbolic inventory of all our experiences of things and relations; and this
>> inventory is imperative before we can convey ideas. The elements of
>> language, the symbols that ticket off experience, must therefore be
>> associated with whole groups, delimited classes, of experience rather than
>> with the single experiences themselves. Only so is communication possible,
>> for the single experience lodges in an individual consciousness and is,
>> strictly speaking, incommunicable. To be communicated it needs to be
>> referred to a class which is tacitly accepted by the community as an
>> Vygotsky concludes that a word meaning is a generalization, and that a
>> generalization is an act of thinking. Ergo, the rational and intentional
>> transfer of thinking and of perizhivanie requires an act of thinking. The
>> fact that the child has not yet fully internalized that act of thinking
>> does not make it any less an act of thinking.
>> Nor does the fact that this view was criticized by Stalinists make it any
>> less true for me. Stalinists criticized Darwinism, you know!
>> David Kellogg
>> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
>> On 16 July 2014 14:34, Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:
>> email@example.com>> wrote:
>> David, it may seem picky, but I can't agree with this formulation
>> below, in particular the use of "thinking". To interpret Vyotsky's
>> observation in terms of "thinking" is to *intellectualise*
>> Vygotsky, or to put it another way, to impute to Vygotsky an
>> intellectualisation of human life. This move was a principal line
>> of attack of Vygotsky during the Stalinist years after his death,
>> so it is important not to repeat it now. You correctly analysed
>> the difference for a child of having a drunk for a mother, rather
>> than for a father or a neighbour. But this was not a question of
>> what the child *thought* about these relations, but the real
>> significance of each relation for the child having its vital needs
>> met, within the horizon of consciousness of the child. And I use
>> "consciousness" here as a Marxist, to indicate the entirety of
>> subjective processes of the child which mediate between their
>> physiology and their behaviour, not as a synonym for the
>> intellect. The child will perceive their situation (and threats to
>> it) in the only way they can, that is, in an age-appropriate way.
>> And they will change their own activity in response to the
>> perceived threat also in an age- and circumstances-appropriate way
>> too. All of this - significance, perception, needs - are not to be
>> interpreted as categories of thinking, but categories of the
>> life-activity of living beings, that's all, not necessarily
>> thinking. But of course, the capacity for thinking - the use of
>> symbolic actions - and the capacity for extended reflection on an
>> experience, are additional resources and points of vulnerability,
>> over and above vital relations which do not imply intellectual
>> *Andy Blunden*
>> David Kellogg wrote: ...
>> It's not that nothing is real until thinking makes it so; it
>> is only that
>> meaning is made by thinking and not simply by experiencing. ...