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[Xmca-l] Re: FW: Re: Chomsky, Vygotsky, and phenomenology


See comments below. 

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu
[mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Annalisa Aguilar
Sent: Monday, December 22, 2014 3:52 PM
To: 'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: FW: Re: Chomsky, Vygotsky, and phenomenology

Hi Aria!

Thanks for the next link in this chain of discourse! I'm afraid this post
may be 2.5 screens, so I hope by non-conforming I'm not placed in the
cemetery in Moscow. 

I wondered, Aria, if your reference to theories unique or not, true or
false, had anything to do with my posts on Muybridge and stop-action
photography?  :)


Our search for knowledge is not in question (even if it is a quest)! Then,
it depends upon what we mean by knowledge! Do we mean knowledge in terms of
convention? or in reaction to convention? or of knowledge of the world as it
is? or something else?

To address your complication of the question, "If it isn't all biology or
genetics, what is it?" And the definition of what is biology and what is

I think the matter is that we are more than matter. We are matter+! So do we
have a biology? yes. Do we have genes? yes. It is impossible to fully
understand what the biology is at this point in history! The key words there
are "fully understand." 

[Please explain what 'more than matter' means. No one is claiming 'full
understanding' of anything. We can only move toward a better understanding
with science being a tool with its accepted limitations. Are suggesting
non-matter or metaphysics?]

We can't sit around and wait to determine what that biology is, how the
genes interact. etc. This is not to say biology does not exist or is not
important. It means it is a very hard problem to understand and in the
meantime the world keeps spinning and problems must be solved. So what can
we do about it now at this juncture? Let the biologists and the geneticists
keep going, but we must keep going too.

[The fact that we cannot "fully" understand how all of this work is
precisely the nativist position. Biologists and geneticists, and there is
quite a bit of variation within are attempting to solve problems and make
sense. They are doing interpretive work.]

With regard to Koko, I believe Koko was not trained, she was taught. There
is something of a consciousness there that suggests her agency. For example,
how to explain her sadness when she learned that Robin Williams died? He was
not in the room when she learned this news. She asked questions about why
others were crying, I seem to recall, so she may not have remembered
Williams, but she certainly detected emotion in others present (see:

[Interesting, but how do we know she was 'sad'? How do you make the link to
consciousness and agency? On a side note there is no way to replicate what
Patterson has done with regard to Koko's development. Patterson has refused
to make the protocols public. This is a problem for strict empiricists.] 

I have no urgency to be fooled by appearances just so I can say apes are
like us, because we already know that they are like us in many ways!  :) 

Sure, humans and apes are different too, by about 2%! There is biology that
shows that we are who we are because of our ability to redirect with gesture
in a more advanced manner than apes, that not only do we use tools like
apes, but we go past that, making tools with other tools for example. One
could argue that necessity did not require apes to do more than we do
because the food they can eat was easily available in their environment.
Apes possess two less proteins to digest carbs than we do, and perhaps
because we have more digestive power we were able to move away from the
equator and eat roots that were in the ground, and having an opposable thumb
we could collect grains, all of which of course requires an ability to
identify plants and to dig and eventually to farm these plants (and also
pass this know-how on to the next generation). Moving away from the equator
means different life challenges, like keeping warm, so it isn't just
biology, it is also environmental *and*
  the help of your friends to make sure you can all dig up and safely store
enough potatoes for winter solstice feasting! So there's a union of
environment, society, and biology. 

[Interesting information, but how does this help us understand the nature of
language differences?]

When it comes to the differences between Chomsky and Vygotsky, I'd suggest
the "incompatibility" that Vygotskians sense with Chomskians is the silence
pertaining to the society, the culture, and the environment, and the tools
(language being one tool of many). We don't dispute the importance of
biology. We say biology *and* other important factors. We are interested in
how these entities relate to one another.

[Silence would not constitute incompatibility. It could be 'incomplete' as
Elinor Ochs argued years ago. To be fair, I have not seen this in any of
Chomsky's writings nor am I aware of any nativist suggesting the
non-importance of society, culture, and environment.  If so, can you point
me to some sources where the importance of society, culture, and environment
is dismissed. In fact, Chomsky cites the existence of many languages as
proof of the importance of the environment, society, and culture.]
I have heard however, that Chomsky views Vygotsky as just another flavor of
behaviorist, and this would be quite antagonistic to Camp Vygotsky. So there
are two issues of incompatibility. Silence and superimposition. So we wait
to hear something pertaining to that gap and to that overlap, both which
sometimes feel like mistaken identity. 

[There is no evidence of this anywhere in the writings. If so, please
provide a citation for further discussion.]

Science after all is not a biological endeavor, it is a sociocultural
endeavor, we use tools, we talk, we may do ideological battle, but I hope
that in doing science we are attempting to find the meaning of ourselves in
the world we find ourselves. Why? Because knowledge sets us free.

[The nativists would agree that science is interpretive grounded in
principles with many unanswerable mysteries, including the nature, function,
and purpose of language. They restrict their claims to that which can be
publicly scrutinized and evaluated.]  

As you so aptly point out, science as we know it, owes much to
nonconformists, including Descartes, who dissembled conformity, which is
likely the best nonconformist one can be if only to keep one's enemies
close! :)

The act of dividing the mind from the body was a trick against the Church.
The problem is we have taken it too literally and have subsequently used
this paradigm as a tool of oppression. 

Descartes was something like an older sibling protecting his younger
brothers and sisters from an abusive parent. Mind/body split was a stopgap
(emphasis upon the gap) to provide the space for intellectual freedom when
there was none. If not for him, all of our brilliant non-conformists would
be ash and we would never know much about them except that they were "pour
encourager les autres." 

[Interesting take on Descartes and non-conformists. Any sources on this?]

Well, Descartes was a master of language, which he used as a tool to
obfuscate when it was urgently necessary to obfuscate. But you see, this was
about 450 years ago! The time has come for us to find a means to unite the
mind with the body and the body with other bodies and all these bodies with
the world in which we live.

[Not sure how this is known.]

In this quote, from the preface of his Meditations:

"I doubt not, if you but condescend to pay so much regard to this Treatise
as to be willing, in the first place, to correct it (for mindful not only of
my humanity, but chiefly also of my ignorance, I do not affirm that it is
free from errors); in the second place, to supply what is wanting in it, to
perfect what is incomplete, and to give more ample illustration where it is
demanded, or at least to indicate these defects to myself that I may
endeavor to remedy them. (Descartes, 1641)"

I cannot help but see this quote dripping in irony, in which I believe he
was complicit. Thinking wrong thoughts were not only sinful back then, it
was a capital offense. (Apparently, there is still this question of thinking
wrong thoughts, but this has been answered by blanketing us all as sinners.
Go figure.)

This is to say, we needed him for our liberation from a powerful agent of
conformity, however the division no longer serves us, we must unite the mind
with the body and with everything else here. 

This is my view of the Vygotskian enterprise and it's a great one to
participate in because no one has to do science alone hidden in a tower in
threat of execution anymore, but out in the light in community with others.

So this begs the answer to my original question, if Chomsky is not a
Cartesian, then how does he unite mind with the body and then how does that
unite with culture? with society? with tools? with history? 

[If you reject Cartesian duality (at least in the literal form) then this
isn't a problem, because it is all an integrated whole. Hence, the search
for universals and 'whole language.' The mind is already united within the
body (brain) and integrated with the environment. The separation is only

This isn't clear to Camp Vygotsky.

[Maybe Camp Vygotsky and Camp Chomsky should go camping together.]

Kind regards,