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

Dear Annalisa:

Thanks for that--or perhaps I should really say thanks for those, for
I can see that we are very different kinds of masher-togetherer. One
of the reasons why the theme of themes appeals to me is that I like to
have all the different points linked in some ways. It doesn't have to
always be in the same way--I think that complexive thinking, where the
links between bullet points are different and specific to each bullet
point, is essentially the principle that animates most good
conversation. I certainly don't see conversation as a path to my own
experience--why would I need to talk to somebody else about that, and
why would they be interested? So I am willing to accept that all the
turns of talk in a conversation are going to be linked in different
ways, as many different ways as there are talkers. But I need the
links (even when I divide up my posts according to who I am addressing
I find myself mashing them together)!

But let me try to do it your way!


I agree with Vygotsky--science describes in order to explain; it
explains and does not just describe. That's why it can contest
religious explanations (which for the most part explain but do not
describe). But I also agree with Piaget; that the content of causality
develops as children develop (and as civilizations develop). As you
say "Because I say so" is not a very developed form of causality, and
yet it seems to me agnate to "because it is delicious". In the same
way, "light bounces off the mirror because mirrors reflect light"
doesn't seem to me to be as explanatory as a wave or particle theory
of light.

I don't mean to be functionalist about this. The other day I was
listening to a Santa Fe institute lecture on "common sense" and
somebody asked Duncan Watts for the difference between explaining and
predicting. Watts said there wasn't any: explanations predict and
predictions explain, and it's just a matter of whether you are looking
back or forth, because in both cases you are trying to generalize.
Well, first of all, the paucity of common sense comes precisely from
the fact that in a world where there are an infinite number of
determinants but only one possible outcome, it tends to work a lot
better looking back than looking forth. And secondly--I very often
want an explanation but don't want to generalize, e.g. when I read a
novel or when I live a life. So I think the search for causality,
which is such an important factor in a science lesson, is not simply a
functionalist quest for an answer that works. On the one hand, a good
causal explanation explains structure in terms of function, and on the
other it explains function in terms of history.


The other thing about the Santa Fe folks is that they have a really
simplistic definition of what they are studying. Complexity, according
to them, is when you have a minimally simple definition and you find
that it has a lot of words in it. But first of all, that depends
entirely on what language you are using. And secondly, how does such a
definition of complexity deal with polylingualism?

As I said, I don't believe in the myth of Babel; the number of
languages has steadily decreased throughout history, ergo, early man
probably spoke tens or even hundreds of thousands of different
languages instead of the handful of languages spoken today, and I
think that most bands of early men were polylingual, as people are in
Papua New Guinea today. To me this suggests great complexity in the
Vygotskyan sense--in the sense of being multi-partitioned and having
many interdependent, linked but distinct, moving-and-developing parts.
In contrast, it seems to me that modern life is simple. This explains
the monotony of our cuisine, the stupidity of our media, and the
totalitarian sameness of the world market. I note, by the way, that
while pre-modern peoples are materially impoverished with respect to
modern ones, their languages tend to be grammatically much richer.

I don't see anything unmediated about gathering fruit. I keep a very
large fruit bowl of already washed fruit right here on my desk, and
for me eating fruit is a lot simpler than it would be if I was a
hunter-gatherer. It's simply a matter of how we frame the activity.


One aspect of my respect for the past is that I tend to use words in a
rather archaic way. The term "nice distinction" means a fine or
delicate distinction--I meant that Andy makes a key distinction
between, for example, an action and an activity (something Vygotsky
never did). This is why I am always surprised that he is ready to mash
together tools and signs as "artifacts", since this is a purely
genetic category and has nothing to do with either function or
structure. It is true that all explanations are in the final analysis
genetic and not functional or structural. But that is only the final
analysis: in the end the thing that a genetic analysis has to explain
is precisely function and the thing that function has to explain is
precisely structure.

(Looking back, I see that the little lines I have inserted to try to
turn this into a PPT didn't do much good! I'm afraid that my
masher-togetherer-tude is quite incurable.)

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 22 November 2014 at 10:40, Annalisa Aguilar <annalisa@unm.edu> wrote:
> 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,
> Annalisa
> ________________________________________
> 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
> Martin:
> 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.
> Mike:
> 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!
> Annaluisa:
> 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