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[Xmca-l] Re: Fate, Luck and Chance


We have a little game that we play with the sixth graders. It's part
of a science lesson on light. You put a five-by-five grid of squares
on the whiteboard and you mark the x axis with refracting and
reflecting agents (e.g. "mirror", "water", "lens", "window", etc--we
elicit them from the kids according to Vico's principle of "verum
factum", you only really know what you make). Then you mark the y axis
of the grid with light sources (e.g. "sunbeam", "moonbeam",
"flashlight beam", "candle", etc. The kids tend to like "lasers" but
we don't allow any science fiction stuff).

The object of the game for a team to get three squares in a row. You
get a square by stating an instance, like "a sunbeam bounces off a
mirror". But you can only hold the square if you can survive the
challenge "Why?" by the other team. Now, the most common way of
surviving the challenge is by generalizing: "because mirrors reflect
sunbeams". This way of defending your space we allow, but we don't
allow "because sunbeams bounce off mirrors".

My dad hits the roof when I tell him this. He points out, quite
correctly, that both defenses are perfectly tautological, and neither
one should be allowed, and of course from the point of view of an
87-year-old physicist, he's right. But as Piaget points out, the word
"because" means at least eleven different things (the kids are always
saying things like "I like fresh kimchi because it's delicious").
Vygotsky writes that this is an advantage of Piaget's work over his
own; I am not so sure, because I think there is a kind of cline
between the function of raising a phenomenon to the general, which is
the function we see here, and the function of giving an explanation in
terms of lower units, which is what the kids would have to do if we
required them to explain reflection in terms of a particle or wave
model of light.

In the examples you give, money and water, and above all in speech, I
agree that the key concept is not causality--at least not causality in
this sense, in the sense of what causes reflection and refraction. But
I also don't think that the word "constitution" is well chosen,
because of course the same problem of polysemy arises as with
causality. On the one hand, we say that the USA was (externally)
constituted when the constitution was written. And on the other hand
we say that the constituents of water are not voters, but the elements
of hydrogen and oxygen. I'm rather surprised that you tolerate the
distinction between external constitution and internal constitution,
both because it obscures the difference between a relation between
people and a relation between physical objects and because "external
constitution" suggests the outside of a container just as surely as
"internal constitution" suggests the inside. They are equally
container/vehicle metaphors for meaning (which is itself a
metaphorical relation, so I suppose I should call them

The term Halliday uses (for speech, and for goods and services) is
"realization". What he means by that is simply that when we turn
meaning into wording (even were this wording is merely inner speech)
it moves a step away from the ideal form of the material (that is,
meaning potential, meaning that is thought) to the real form of the
material (when, as Shakespeare says, our eyes are offices of truth and
our words are natural breath). This isn't a form of "causality":
meanings don't cause wordings any more than deliciousness causes
children to like kimchi. But it's not really a form of constituency


Gita Lvovna Vygodskaya once wrote that amongst Vygotsky's papers she
found letters between him and V.K. Arseniev, the man to whom Vygotsky
actually refers to in Chapter Two of HDHMF. Arseniev was the author of
"Dersu the Trapper", out of which Kurosawa's wonderful movie "Dersu
Uzala" was made. On the one hand, he treasures their contributions
towards communism, which he feels are as much moral as modernity's
contributions are material (Arseniev was a Commissar for National
Minorities in the Far Eastern Soviet Republic). On the other hand he
mourns their destruction by the misfits from the West. When the Far
Eastern Republic was absorbed into the Russian Federation, Arseniev
refused to return to the city of his birth, and  died in Vladivostok.
His whole family was immediately arrested and either shot or exiled.

I think that Arseniev's book (which I have a copy of) expresses almost
perfectly Vygotsky's own attitude towards non-modern peoples of the
USSR (which are, as he points out, not at all the same as "primitive
man", a category which Vygotrsky says no longer exists anywhere on
earth). In other words, I think he has a deep respect for the
originality and creativity of their ways of thinking, just as he has
deep respect for the creativity and originality of the ways that
children think. So I guess I can't see anything derogatory at all in
the analogy (which is not, as Vygotsky stresses, a parallel, but only
an analogy made for the purpose of genetic analysis).

By the way, what do you make of p. 33 of Chapter Two?

"Experimentation was introduced into ethnic psychology and general and
experimental psychology and ethnic psychology – each from its own
aspect – were brought by the course of development itself to a certain
rapprochement; true, it was insignificant and external, but
nevertheless it broke the main methodological boundary between them.
However, neither of the two disciplines or branches of psychology has
recognized the principal significance of this rapprochement, the whole
enormity of the methodological reconstruction that it entails for both
sciences. This can be easily seen from the fact that the same
experimental methods that were developed in the psychological
laboratory for use with an adult cultured person were used with a
person growing up in culturally backward conditions."

Don't you think this is an explicit criticism of Luria's Uzbekistan
adventure? Of course, we know that Vygotsky was interested and
enthusiastic when it took place. But we also know that he didn't take
part, and it would be just like him to have some strong misgivings
about the procedure afterwards!


As you noticed, Andy is good at what used to be called nice
distinctions, and I am, like you, something of a masher-together-er.
But I have learned a certain healthy respect for nice distinctions
too; for one thing, it's only when you make the nice distinctions that
you can let the boundaries between areas of knowledge go with a crash.
For another, I really do believe that when we unite different areas of
disciplinary knowledge (e.g. cultural psychology and The Wizard of Oz)
we have to do it thematically and not on the basis of coincidences or
Freudian insights (so for example the point I was making had to do
with the nature of intellectualism--Dorothy, or rather, Toto, "sees
through" adult thinking!)

Koreans, like the far eastern peoples that Arseniev studied, are
traditionally shamanists, and the indigenous religion is vaguely
related to the kind of shamanism that Dersu Uzala believed in (and in
fact Koreans play an important role in Arseniev's book). I'm not one
of those people who believe in pan-diffusionism, e.g. the pyramids of
the New World are somehow directly inspired by those of Egypt. It
seems to me much more plausible that both sets of pyramids were
inspired by nature (i.e. they are artificial mountains). So I think
that a lot of the parallels that we moderns see between shamanistic
religions and Hindu scriptures are simply based on our own modern
biases, and not on any real agnation or affinity.

Halliday separates what he calls "semiohistory" into three distinct
periods: the Forest (that would be the Vedas, and also shamanistic
traditions), the Farm (proverbs, fables, folktales) and the Factory
(modern novels and newspapers), and he does point out that their are
distinct forms of knowledge and even of grammar associated with each
(the Forest emphasizes commonsense forms of knowing, the Farm
emphasizes disciplinary and written knowledge with a strong proverbial
and lexically metaphorical component, while the Factory requires what
he calls "grammatical metaphor", that is, the ability to turn a
process into an "entity). I think that the "unity" of the "Forest" is
really an illusion; the closeness of the semiotic understandings that
forest peoples have to the environment means that there will be far
more variation than meets the modern eye (and also far more variation
than we find in Factory modes of meaning). So for example, I don't
believe that there was ever a single common language; I imagine that
early man spoke literally hundreds of thousands of completely
unrelated tongues, and this is certainly what longitudinal
observations on the number of languages extant would suggest.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 21 November 2014 00:45, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com> wrote:
> Greg, with you I would like to read Martin's paper. The theme of
> constitution and cause but also the theme of constitution and construction.
> The rudimentary forms through constitutive means being "higher"
> Also seems related to the the reflections on "immediate and mediate. Will
> listen in to the next installment of "our" thought
> On Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 7:25 PM, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> Martin,
>> $20K question:
>> Is consciousness (or whatever term you would prefer - btw, what term would
>> you prefer?) "internally constituted" or "externally constituted"?
>> Also, would you be willing to share the paper of which you speak? Or at
>> least the citation?
>> -greg
>> On Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 6:55 PM, Martin John Packer <
>> mpacker@uniandes.edu.co
>> > wrote:
>> > On Nov 19, 2014, at 4:56 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:
>> >
>> > > "objective"
>> > > just means that something is seen as not subject to change by a
>> > > discourse community, even where that discourse community consists of
>> > > just me and my lonely self.
>> >
>> > Perhaps, David. But with time and effort and study we can come to view
>> > that something differently, no?
>> >
>> > There's a small but growing literature on "constitution" - the way that a
>> > water molecule is constituted of, not caused by, hydrogen and oxygen. And
>> > the article I was reading today was making an interesting distinction
>> > between 'internal constitution,' as in the case of water, and 'external
>> > constitution,' as in the case of money. What makes a coin a token of
>> > monetary value is *external* to it: the social institutions of banking
>> and
>> > the practices of buying and selling. These don't cause it, they
>> constitute
>> > it. The coin, taken at face value, is objective. But once we study it as
>> it
>> > circulates through these practice and institutions, we come to see that
>> its
>> > objectivity does not mean it cannot change. On the contrary.
>> >
>> > Although LSV like to talk about the constituents of a meaningful word as
>> > 'internal' to that word, it seems more accurate to see them as external
>> in
>> > the same sense as the constituents of a coin or a bill are necessarily
>> > external to it.
>> >
>> > Martin
>> >
>> --
>> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
>> Assistant Professor
>> Department of Anthropology
>> 880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
>> Brigham Young University
>> Provo, UT 84602
>> http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson