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[Xmca-l] Re: And an awesome autistic artistic savant



Greg:

Actually, it's connected. I mean, it's connected to the thread on dualism,
where Andy is trying to make the case that Descartes wasn't such a bad guy
after all, and that he asked some of the right questions. There IS a real
problem for materialism every time you raise your arm. On the face of it, a
though, which has no mass whatsoever, is making some mass, which has no
thought whatsoever, move. This is a serious violation of the law of
conservation of mass and energy, and Descartes was the first one to worry
about it. If we are going to put up bronze statues to our first worriers,
then Descartes should get one. (I also think he should get one in aluminum
foil for the flimsiest possible theory of language, and that it should show
a pineal gland dangling from a tin hat.)

Of course, our grumpy philosopher is picking on the wrong people again. The
real people he needs to pick a fight with are, more or less in this order,
David Bakhurst, Ewald Ilyenkov, Vygotsky himself, and Spinoza. Bakhurst is
the one who wrote that "Cartesianism is the enemy!" (see "Activity,
Consciousness and Communication" in the Cambridge "Mind Culture and
Activity" volume edited by Cole, Engestrom and Vasquez in 1997). But
Bakhurst doesn't have in mind Descartes idea about the mind being made of
special substance, or even Descartes's dualistic ideas about mind and body,
or object and idea. He has in mind Descartes' "mirror" conception of
consciousness, as a kind of screen or film on which we find reflected the
objects of the world when we think, like one of Stephen Wiltshire's four
meter paper panoramas.

And the "mirror" idea of consciousness is an eidetic notion. It's the kind
of immediate reflection of sensory perception that is so attractive to a
vulgar materialist and so deadening and impossible to anyone who, like
Vygotsky, is trying to describe the semantic structure of consciousness,
anyone who is trying to convey the sense in which the mind is like an
unfinished text or an ongoing discourse. Now, as it happens, the main
people who were arguing for the "eidetic" roots of conceptual thinking in
Vygotsky's time were the Nazis.

Erich Jaensch, in particular, did a vast and almost unreadable study (I
speak feelingly, I have tried to read it) on the eidetic memory, in which
he said, among other things, that the literal, eidetic memory, the kind of
photographic after-image that we all see when we close our eyes after
staring  at a bright light, is the mind's first abstract, the mind's first
generalization, and the origin of conceptual thought.(Jaensch also, by the
way, believed that certain races were unfortunately prone to this kind
eidetic thinking, which made them impermeable to clear and crisp German
rationalism, and so they unfortunately would have to be exterminated for
the good of mankind.)

You take a tachioscope. You flash on it two images (say, a donkey and a
dachshund). You then ask the eidectic to draw what he or she saw, and you
find that you get blurred lines: a dachshund with long legs, or a donkey
with a long body. You can even do this with a long hook and a banana, and
if the eidetic person is hungry enough, you will find that you get the long
hook drawn tantalizingly close to the banana.

Vygotsky was fascinated, because Jaensch's theory seems to offer Vygotsky
the opportunity to keep his own ideas about concept formation from becoming
dualistic, or rather Saussurean. By arguing for the existence of a
"non-verbal concept", which he does in his writing on imagination and
creativity in the adolescent (also in the Vygotsky Reader, Van der Veer and
Valsiner, 1994), he thinks it might be possible to overcome what he sees as
the largest weakness in his own theory--that is, the tendency to construct
the higher psychological functions as a kind of "second story", a
ghost-like, verbalized, and therefore "volitionized" version of each of the
lower psychological functions. The three forms of "non-verbal" concept that
Jaensch discovered in his experiments on eidetics (the "dynamic" one based
on motion, the "fluxion" based on switching back and forth between one
image and another, and a third one he doesn't go into, but which is
obviously embarrassingly close to vulgar associationism) become the
"stairwell" between the lower functions and the higher functions.

I think we always have to keep in mind that Vygotsky was not quite as sure
about whether Vygotsky was right as we are today. When we read Vygotsky's
writings about eidetism, we have to keep checking the calendar. As Vygotsky
says in the beginning of Thinking and Speech (which is, after all, almost
the last word), many of his ideas went nowhere and had to be abandoned. I
think that his work on eidetism was one such. The later Vygotsky was
appalled  by Jaensch's Nazism (he makes his disgust and disappointment with
Jaensch absolutely unambiguous in his essay "Fascism and Psychoneurology",
also in the Vygotsky Reader). And the later Vygotsky also rejects the idea
of a stairwell, and sees the higher psychological functions as essentially
a common room linked by word meanings (with the mind more like a pyramid
than a two story house). Finally, the later Vygotsky sees the function of
forgetting to be an absolutely essential moment in concept formation. You
know the conundrum set by the fifth patriarch of Zen buddhism:

The body is a Bodhi tree
The mind is just a mirror
Dust it daily, keep it clean
And concepts will appear.

To which Hui-neng, the janitor and future sixth patriarch of Zen, wrote.

The body's not a Bodhi tree
The mind is not a mirror
Since meanings are not things at all
Where can the dust appear?

(I like to think of Hui-neng writing this with his finger on the dusty rear
windshield of the fifth patriarch's car, but like my translation that is
rather anachronistic!)

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies


On 7 August 2014 00:16, <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com> wrote:

> Yes David, the documentary for me thinking about vygotskys writings on
> eidetic memory. I remember coming across it in a chapter on adolescence in
> vygotskys collected works, but I had a difficult time making head or tail
> of it since I had been introduced to Vygotsky as a champion of the critical
> importance of language for thought. Maybe you can help me understand better
> about what Vygotsky was talking about with this idea of the importance of
> eidetic memory in adolescence?
> Is language involved at all in this development, or, like Wiltshire, is
> language an impediment to eidetic memory (while at the same time being a
> boon to other forms of memory, not to mention the social communicative
> boon).
> Greg
>
> Sent from my iPhone
>
> > On Aug 6, 2014, at 2:22 AM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > Stephen Wiltshire has a frontispiece and a long footnote in our Korean
> > translation of HDHMF (the chapter on memory, of course--we use him to
> > explain what an eidetic memory is). Because the documentary on Stephen is
> > so relentlessly insistent on Stephen Wiltshire's "unique" gifts, it tends
> > to demphasize the memory component of it (a literal memory IS actually
> > quite common in autistic people). It also tends to play down what are
> > clearly some very serious speech problems (Stephen's apparent inability
> to
> > complete  sentence unless he's heard it before and also his apparent
> > inability to understand abstract concepts like "famous", not to mention
> the
> > terrible moment where he explains to the man who designed the Gherkin
> that
> > this is a famous building which is found in London, even though they are
> > standing in front of a window through which the building is clearly
> > visible.).
> >
> > I think the most touching, and also psychologically perspicacious, moment
> > in the documentary film is where his former teacher says she doesn't
> really
> > know which is most wonderful to her--Stephen's ability to draw or his
> > newfound ability to do things like buy a sandwich and even take the
> subway
> > by himself. After a moment of reflection, his teacher says: "the latter".
> > Of course, that's not the view of the documentary writers, but they are
> in
> > the business of glorifying his marketable skills.
> >
> > When I first went to China, food was priced by the ingredients, not the
> > labour. But art objects were often priced by labour, measured in hours
> put
> > in: the buyer would have to judge these by the amount of detail. I'm not
> > very susceptible to the romantic view of art production (it seems quite
> > close to the documentary's insistence of the uniqueness of art
> potentials,
> > and I really prefer to think of them as ubiquitous, or at least
> universally
> > available). But I do something find something hard and horrible about the
> > gruelling detail of Wiltshire's work. I think it is the lack of
> > abstraction; the inability to "fuzz out". Even the distance of the
> horizon
> > is a rather literal reproduction of what the eye saw.
> >
> > Tomorrow I have to give a half hour speech on the Sewol disaster in
> Korean,
> > and I have given up trying to memorize every word; I think I shall just
> do
> > what normal psychologies do naturally and riff on the slides.
> >
> > David Kellogg
> > Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> >
> > PS:
> >
> > By the way at the end of last month he did a panorama of Singapore that
> is
> > even more impressive, because unlike London, he hasn't lived there all
> his
> > life.
> >
> > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elgsqXIxKCM
> >
> >
> >
> >> On 4 August 2014 03:40, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:
> >>
> >> Yep that is awesome, Greg.
> >> mike
> >>
> >>
> >> On Sun, Aug 3, 2014 at 9:33 AM, Greg Thompson <
> greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>
> >> wrote:
> >>
> >>> Stephen Wiltshire is an autistic artistic savant. He was mute until
> age 5
> >>> and used drawing as a way of communicating before he was able to speak.
> >>>
> >>> Here is a short video (apologies for the commercial nature of it - stop
> >> the
> >>> video at 3:19 to avoid the commercial!)
> >>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsJbApZ5GF0
> >>>
> >>> And here is a longer (35 min)  documentary about when his life:
> >>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xklinT2g6wU
> >>>
> >>> Awesome.
> >>> -greg
> >>>
> >>> --
> >>> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
> >>> Assistant Professor
> >>> Department of Anthropology
> >>> 883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
> >>> Brigham Young University
> >>> Provo, UT 84602
> >>> http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson
> >>
>
>