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

Random Jumping In! (Like an asteroid.)
In the movie "Three Kings" the people who were all in it chance for various
reasons were led by Archie Gates (George Clooney) who was instructing
Private Vig (Spike Jonze) how to get what it takes. He said, "That's how it
Which seems to cue in an improvised kibitzing move in this amazing important
conversation on the fly.
Vandy (A General Systems Theorist)

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu
[mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Annalisa Aguilar
Sent: Saturday, November 22, 2014 10:41
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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 meta-metaphor-phors).

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 either.


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
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


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