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

Hi David,

I admit I still haven't read the texts in question, as I know I should and I will. But I wanted to respond to your "gameful" (playful) post. I think play is very helpful method in stripping away the labels and providing a pathway to one's own experience.

I wonder however if it is the case that just as kids will generalize from the springboard of "because" we do the same activity. Why? "Because I say so."

With regard to Martin's discussion of internal and external, Martin et al, I wonder if extrinsic and intrinsic are better words for what we are referencing here. If only because these situate differently. By employing internal/external, there is a sense to me of exclusivity. The element is either internal or external. Extrinsic and intrinsic say to me that a single fundamental (if I may use my own made up word...a test drive) could be both internal and external.

I absolutely sanction a meta-metaphor-phor! Talk about extrinsic and intrinsic at once! Gee whiz!!

However, one of the aspects in this phenomenon of meaning-making I see missing in David's example in the notion of [deliciousness causing kids to like kimchi], is that kids have bodies with tastebuds that do cause kids to like kimchi, since notions of deliciousness coincide with liking, it is the tasting as an embodied experience that unites the circle. Thusly, just like 7+4 = 10, we start from where we stand. 

It is my emerging thinking that perhaps "true" or "authentic" education is the co-existence of subjective _with_ objective explanations, not a singling out of one or the other. 


When I consider primitive cultures as discussed in Vygotsky's texts, I wonder if calling them simple cultures is better because there there are more ecological manifestations of being and acting in the world, in contrast to complex cultures.

In a simple culture, the eating of fruit is a direct act with no mediation between me and the tree, but in modern (complex) culture it can be far more confusing, because not only do I have to go to a store, I have to decide from a range of fruit, which I must purchase with something called money, sometimes called plastic (in honor of Mike Nichols, perhaps the future isn't in plastics). And not only fruit! I have other things to choose from as well, like jam, jellies, cookies, sherberts, and many other things we have made from fruit and then packaged. There are even marzipan cookies, which are shaped like fruit, but are not fruit!

Given how Vygotsky was such an empathetic person, I really can't imagine him placing primitive cultures in a pejorative light, so I am inclined to agree with you David that he was being appreciative of their problem solving skills. Well, you said creativity and originality, which to me is problem solving, though perhaps that is a limited phrase. 

It is unfortunate that primitive came to have a pejorative meaning, but I think that comes from colonial sensibilities than anything else; it makes sense that his work would be easily misinterpreted. This says more about moderns than it says about primitives. I would venture that the handling of this word "primitive" is an important word to deconstruct for newcomers to Vygotsky, particularly those who might have sensibilities in alignment with primitive cultures, either because one is a member of such a group, or one desires to abolish elitist thinking from one's mind, or both!

I would add that regarding your chosen quote from p.33 that methods removed from the lab and used in the world? is this not exactly what Hutchins argues in understanding distributed cognition? Laboratory science does remove the world, and the problem of understanding the environment, traveling the path to method construction, so I wonder if there is something there about that too.


Now about distinctions being nice? They are great when they are nice!

What can bother about distinctions is when they don't coincide with personal experience, and in that case they tend not to be very nice. What I like about mashing-up as you call it, is that it is essentially creating a subjectivity for which we invite our fellow discussants to put on the mashup, like a costume, to allow the other a pathway to meaning as we mean it. In artmaking, we call this "construction of a viewer." It is a powerful method and why photography is such a powerful medium. 

This is why I believe that embodied metaphors (rather than cultural metaphors) are so useful when trying to communicate with others who do not share our culture or our language, because as far as I know, and I could be proved wrong I suppose, every human has a body.

Consider for example the use of a mouse as a pointer compared to the use of a finger, your own finger of course! What mice have to do with computers is cultural. A finger is a finger is a finger when you have a body (with fingers).

Perhaps this function of recreating experience for "the other" is not only the purpose of metaphors, but the purpose of stories, with children, but also among ourselves.

I do want to gently defend my interpretation of the Wizard of Oz because there is no intellectualism in the symbolism which I proposed. My Toto, as intuition, is free of rational thought, and so are all the other characters.  I might suggest that rational thought can be quite unethical if it dislocates experience (embodied, personal, etc) and this I believe is the complaint against the Cartesian model of mind. Can we call the Wizard a model for rational thought? Possibly.

If one sees rational thought as an expression of an ego gone astray and requiring a throne in the Emerald City, which is also the color of money, then maybe that's OK to think of the Wizard as the unit for analysis of rational thought in the environment of Oz. (I can't believe I just wrote that, but there it is) 

I prefer a Wizard, who we find supplanting one thing for another and calling it wizardry, to be a mechanical thinker not a rational one. Mechanical thinking has no awareness of self, much less other. It isn't magical exactly, but completes through superimposition, more specifically projection (as the great head of Oz), as egos are prone to do.

I'm apprehensive how to discuss your representation of the Vedas, because it depends upon what you mean by Vedas, which is why I use the term Vedic, as a general reference rather than specific, since this depends upon how one might interpret Vedas (and even what part of them you interpret).  There are many Vedic schools of thought, for example. Not just one. We can look at them as old and tied to a period, or as relevant to something that is perennial within all of us. I am of the latter group, and I don't think it is a matter of my projecting modern anything upon them because they stand on their own, with or without me looking at them with my cultural baggage. I can say this because that is my experience. I don't expect you to accept that.

I don't think it makes sense to unite Vedic traditions with shamanic traditions, but I suppose I can see why that grouping would occur, but this grouping comes from outside not from inside the tradition, so that's a bit like calling primitives with an intended meaning of being "underdeveloped" people. I don't think it reveals the value inherent in these traditions, it actually obfuscates. 

We should be careful when trying to call anything primitive without understanding what it is. Saying the Vedas are of the forest-meaning in relation to what is civilized and modern shows me that Halliday doesn't understand. But I grant I may not understand what he is attempting to achieve with such categories, and I'm happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. Ignorance does not imply stupidity. Still it is a bit reductionist to say such a thing without having spent time understanding what such traditions have to say in the environments in which they were said, which I suppose could have been a forest, but they could be saying what they say in any environment and are not tied to forests. But this can't be known by telling, but by experiencing for oneself, in the same way I cannot describe with words what is sweet. I can only experience sweetness and then share it with you and say, "This is sweet."

With regard to pyramids, I think what is lacking in our consideration of them is that we suffer to misunderstand the meaning of these structures because they have been reduced of meaning. I say this because we have no one alive as descendents from their time of use, to explain to us what they actually meant to the people who built them. Everything we do as moderns is interpretive with our modern baggage projected upon them, largely because we have no choice when contexts are ripped apart. It is like attempting to imagine what a dinosaur was like by its bones, or worse from a fossilized egg.

However, one essential ingredient for meaning in the quest for understanding antiquities is to attempt to place oneself into the viewpoint of the people who used these structures, as subjects of experience. Just as we have bodies, the ancients also had bodies. They looked to the heavens, as we do today. 

Embodied experience is perhaps the only thing which positively assists in our reconstruction of meaning of ancients –disconnected from us– despite there being no tradition handed down from teacher to student (orally or written) (or generation to generation) to the present day. As such, no one can fully explain to us contemporary meanings of the ruins of Ancient Greeks, Ancient Romans, Ancient Mayans, Ancient Aztecs, Ancient Incans, Ancient Druids, Ancient Egyptians and any other ancient culture who built stone structures and wrote texts (this is not to say that buildings are requirements of ancient cultures, but it's all we've got to go on in terms of traces left behind). I mean "fully explain" loosely of course, because we do have a better idea, for example, of the Greeks and the Romans than we do of the others, and this is largely because not only do some buildings still stand, we possess the texts and the language in which they were written as well. The Vedic tradition is singular, in that it is the only ancient culture that does have an unbroken line, in which the buildings are still used, the texts are intact, the language is actively kept alive and these together (language and texts) are passed on to anyone who wants to know what they have to say. Because of this, it's not necessary to use the buildings, of course. 

The modern act of projection of our own culture upon others is a position I do not believe Vygotsky would not have adopted had he known about Vedic culture, but this is certainly entertaining speculation on my part. I believe he would feel this way for the same way you say he appreciates the creativity and originality of children and primitives. I suggest he recognized subjective experience, not only objective experience, and this subjective experience is something alive in the person, as a relevant expression of freedom, not a mechanized, prefabricated construct forced upon them from the outside, even if it generates from the outside, from the environment.

This is why I'm not sure I can fully follow without some discomfort what you describe by Halliday as forest-people thinking. It doesn't make sense to me. We have never given up common sense forms of thinking, nor metaphorical forms of thinking, nor storytelling. These are as much a part of modern life as the Ancients. I'm not sure I can follow what you mean by grammar metaphors of factory thinking. It seems that the environments themselves are being used as categories that suggest a full and irreversible transformation of the manner in which humans think, and I don't see that to be the case. 

I do see how this metaphor removes humans from natural settings as an historical development, and I can agree with that. I suppose what I witness in the modern world is how "factory thinking" eliminates a notion of a free self, situated in the world. Beingness in a factory ≠ beingness in the natural world. "Factory thinking" does stunt experience in the same way a captive lion will likely not survive as well on the African Savannah as the wild lion can. 

I don't think this disconnect is irreversible, because we do have experience, for example, that elephant babies taken from their families, say because of poaching, can be raised by humans if humans can mimic the learning that would happen in the wild by older elephants, and in society with other baby elephants. They can return to the wild. I'm not so confident of rogue teenager male bull elephants who have no elder males to show them (through experience) not to be bullies.

All this says to me that with thoughtful interventions we can plan our escape to return to subjective experience if we can understand how to mimic its simple form, regardless of what setting we are in, though it would be better just to remove unnatural settings from our experience (in terms of those deemed toxic) and create or foster settings that are the best of breed of the natural and modern worlds. We reach for these experiences when we carve out parks in cities, or when we want to live by the sea or mountains. This doesn't mean modern experience, nor modern thought stands apart from, but alongside in unity with natural environments.

I don't know anyone who doesn't sense something powerful about nature that also assists deeply in our being in ourselves. That is why I cannot give up on my quest to understand the "problem" of the environment, especially with regard to technology design. I find hope in this approach.

Thanks for allowing me an attempt to express something I've been thinking about for a while.

Kind regards,


From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2014 4:03 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [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