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[Xmca-l] Re: Oliver Sacks/Romantic Science



Thanks for posting this, Andy.

I found Luria's account fascinating, particularly because of his reference to 'the beauty of the art of science' and his observation that 'The eye of science does not probe “a thing,” an event isolated from other things or events. Its real object is to see and understand the way a thing or event relates to other things or events'.

We are able to communicate because we are able to agree (more or less) on ways of organising experience into shareable categories but our communication ranges across a whole spectrum of ways of using these categories. Luria refers to classical and romantic branches of science but he also acknowledges the differences between 'poetic' use of language and more routine, formulaic forms of communication. The romantic focus on an 'individual' can only ever be conducted in the medium of a very un-individual language and no person's life could possibly be understood without reference to relationships with other persons which then spread roots and branches out to a forest of connections, causes and consequences.

David wrote of the impossibility of 'rising' to the level of theory if one were to immerse oneself in the study of an individual case and Luria cites Marx's description of science as 'ascending to the concrete'. As Luria goes on to conclude 'People come and go, but the creative sources of great historical events and the important ideas and deeds remain' so, in this sense, what matters is the contribution individuals make to something bigger and more enduring than themselves but Luria also writes that 'Romantics in science want neither to split living reality into its elementary components nor to represent the wealth of life's concrete events in abstract models that lose the properties of the phenomena themselves'.

I think Luria's account of Sherashevsky's mental experience is particularly interesting because it may reveal something about how all minds work, albeit that Sherashevsky's 'limen' may have been 'set' lower than most people's, allowing him to notice the sensory associations which words bring with them in a way which, for most of us, may occur only at a pre-conscious level. This provides a particularly powerful reminder of the inescapable fact that every person's use of a shared language (whether of words, gestures, behaviours or any other units of meaning) is just the surface of a pool of connections and associations which can never be shared with or known by anyone else. However romantic our focus may be, we can only go so far in understanding another person's understanding and much less far in communicating that to other people (knowing someone is a very different thing from being able to share that knowledge in a  rich and meaningful way). And of course, on the other side of the spectrum, classical scientists who pretend that their knowledge is entirely pure and untainted by the personal associations that swirl beneath the limens of their knowing are just inventing stories!

I apologise for rambling but I am particularly interested in what lies beneath the concrete because of my focus on how very young children are able to make sense of a world which, for adults, is so powerfully dominated by abstractions.

All the best,

Rod

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces+rod.parker-rees=plymouth.ac.uk@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces+rod.parker-rees=plymouth.ac.uk@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: 01 September 2015 05:17
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Oliver Sacks/Romantic Science

Try this, in Word this time.
Andy
------------------------------------------------------------
*Andy Blunden*
http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
On 1/09/2015 1:32 PM, mike cole wrote:
> ​It might be helpful to this discussion if someone would post the
> chapter on Romantic Science from Luria's autobiography which MUST be
> somewhere public in pdf. It appears that I do not have one.
>
> After reading what the person said, then discussion of the ideas seems
> appropriate. Ditto Sacks, who has written a couple of extended essay's
> on his view of Romantic Science.
>
> It is true that the Russian psychologists, erudite as they were, were
> not sociologists. Nor were they anthropologists. The nature of their
> enterprise encompassed those fields and more.
>
> Doing Romantic Science and immersing oneself in the individual case in
> no way excludes inclusion of sociology, anthropology, in their work.
> Nor does Luria argue so.
>
> mike
> ​
>
> On Mon, Aug 31, 2015 at 7:29 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com
> <mailto:dkellogg60@gmail.com>> wrote:
>
>     I think the problem with this view of romantic science
>     is that it
>     completely precludes building a psychology on a
>     sociology. In that sense
>     (and in others), Vygotsky wasn't a romantic scientist
>     at all. Vygotsky
>     certainly did not believe in "total immersion in the
>     individual case"; such
>     an immersion is a refusal to rise to the level of
>     theory. I'm not sure
>     Luria was romantic that way either: "the Man with a
>     Shattered Mind" and
>     "The Memory of Mnemonist" are really exceptions.
>     Remember the main
>     criticism of Luria's book "The Nature of Human
>     Conflicts" was always that
>     it was too quantitative.
>
>     There are, of course, some areas of psychology that
>     are well studied as
>     case histories. Recently, I've been looking into
>     suicidology, and in
>     particular the work of Edwin Shneidman, who pioneered
>     the linguistic
>     analysis of suicide notes (and who appears to have
>     been influenced, as
>     early as the 1970s, by Kasanin and by Vygotsky's work
>     on schizophrinia).
>     Now you would think that if ever there was a field
>     that would benefit from
>     total immersion in the individual case, this is one.
>     But Shneidman says
>     that suicide notes are mostly full of trite, banal
>     phrases, and as a
>     consequence very easy to code--and treat quantiatively
>     (one of his first
>     studies was simply to sort a pile of real and
>     imitation suicide notes and
>     carefully note the criteria he had when he made
>     correct judgements). And of
>     course the whole point of Durkheim's work on suicide
>     is that the individual
>     case can be utterly disregarded, since the great
>     variations are
>     sociological and the psychological variables all seem
>     trivial, transient,
>     or mutually cancelling when we look at suicide at a
>     large scale (as we must
>     these days). Shneidman says he has never read a
>     suicide note he would want
>     to have written.
>
>     David Kellogg
>
>
>
>     On Tue, Sep 1, 2015 at 9:21 AM, Andy Blunden
>     <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>
>     > As little as I understand it, Larry, Oliver Sacks'
>     style of Romantic
>     > Science was his complete immersion in the individual
>     case before him, and
>     > development of a science of complete persons. The
>     paradigm of this type of
>     > science was Luria. A limit case of "Qualitative
>     Science" I suppose. The
>     > opposite is the study of just one aspect of each
>     case, e.g. facial
>     > recognition, and the attempt to formulate a
>     "covering law" for just this
>     > aspect.
>     > Andy
>     >
>     ------------------------------------------------------------
>     > *Andy Blunden*
>     > http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>     <http://home.pacific.net.au/%7Eandy/>
>     > On 1/09/2015 8:40 AM, HENRY SHONERD wrote:
>     >
>     >> Mike,
>     >> I recall in an obituary in the NYTimes that
>     naysayers were cited in
>     >> reviewing Oliver Sacks’ life work. I am wondering
>     if some of that push back
>     >> was related to his practice of romantic science,
>     which, if I understand
>     >> from things Andy has written, involves immersion in
>     the phenomena of
>     >> interest in search of a unit of analysis. Goethe,
>     for example, immersed
>     >> himself in the phenomena of living things. His
>     writing prefigures the cell
>     >> as a unit of analysis, but the technology of
>     microscopes could not confirm
>     >> such a unit until later on. Your contrasting Bruner
>     and Sacks makes me
>     >> wonder if the subject, not just the object, is at
>     issue. Different styles
>     >> of research bring different construals. This may be
>     the bane of
>     >> objectivist, empiricist science but does it really
>     make Sacks less of a
>     >> researcher and just a lowly clinician?
>     >> Henry
>     >>
>     >>
>     >>
>     >>> On Aug 30, 2015, at 7:02 PM, mike cole
>     <mcole@ucsd.edu <mailto:mcole@ucsd.edu>> wrote:
>     >>>
>     >>> Hi Laura-- I knew Oliver primarily through our
>     connections with Luria and
>     >>> the fact that we
>     >>> independently came to embrace the idea of a
>     romantic science. He was a
>     >>> shy
>     >>> and diffident person. You can get that feeling,
>     and the difference
>     >>> between
>     >>> him and Jerry Bruner in this regard in the
>     interview with them that
>     >>> someone
>     >>> pirated on
>     >>> to youtube.
>     >>>
>     >>> Jerry is very old but last heard from by me,
>     engaging intellectually all
>     >>> the while.
>     >>>
>     >>> mike
>     >>>
>     >>> On Sun, Aug 30, 2015 at 5:18 PM, Laura Martin
>     <martinl@azscience.org <mailto:martinl@azscience.org>>
>     >>> wrote:
>     >>>
>     >>> Thanks, Mike. A number of years ago I had the
>     privilege of spending an
>     >>>> evening with Sacks when Lena Luria was visiting
>     Jerry Bruner and Carol
>     >>>> Feldman in NY.  I stood in for Sylvia who
>     couldn't make the dinner - it
>     >>>> was
>     >>>> an extraordinary evening in many ways. Do you
>     ever hear from Bruner? I
>     >>>> wonder if he's still active.
>     >>>>
>     >>>> Laura
>     >>>>
>     >>>>
>     >>>> Sent from my iPad
>     >>>>
>     >>>> On Aug 30, 2015, at 3:29 PM, mike cole
>     <mcole@ucsd.edu <mailto:mcole@ucsd.edu>> wrote:
>     >>>>
>     >>>> Dear Colleagues ---
>     >>>>
>     >>>> I am forwarding, with personal sadness, the news
>     that Oliver Sacks has
>     >>>> succumbed to cancer.
>     >>>> Its not a surprise, but a sad passing indeed.
>     >>>> mike
>     >>>> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
>     >>>>
>     >>>> Date: Sun, Aug 30, 2015 at 3:07 PM
>     >>>> Subject: NYTimes.com: Oliver Sacks Dies at 82;
>     Neurologist and Author
>     >>>> Explored the Brain’s Quirks
>     >>>> To: lchcmike@gmail.com <mailto:lchcmike@gmail.com>
>     >>>>
>     >>>>
>     >>>>   Sent by sashacole510@gmail.com
>     <mailto:sashacole510@gmail.com>: Oliver Sacks Dies at
>     82; Neurologist
>     >>>> and Author Explored the Brain’s Quirks
>     >>>> <
>     >>>>
>     http://p.nytimes.com/email/re?location=InCMR7g4BCKC2wiZPkcVUieQKbejxL4a&user_id=bd31502e6eb851a9261827fdfbbcdf6d&email_type=eta&task_id=1440972441657668&regi_id=0>
>     >>>> By
>     >>>> GREGORY COWLES
>     >>>>
>     >>>> Dr. Sacks explored some of the brain’s strangest
>     pathways in
>     >>>> best-selling
>     >>>> case histories like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife
>     for a Hat,” achieving
>     >>>> a
>     >>>> level of renown rare among scientists.
>     >>>> Or, copy and paste this URL into your browser:
>     http://nyti.ms/1LL040D
>     >>>> <
>     >>>>
>     http://p.nytimes.com/email/re?location=InCMR7g4BCKC2wiZPkcVUieQKbejxL4a&user_id=bd31502e6eb851a9261827fdfbbcdf6d&email_type=eta&task_id=1440972441657668&regi_id=0>
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>     >>>> get unlimited access to all New York Times
>     articles, subscribe today.
>     >>>> See
>     >>>> Subscription Options.
>     >>>> <
>     >>>>
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>     >>>> ensure delivery to your inbox, please add
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>     >>>>
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>     >>>>
>     >>>>
>     >>>>
>     >>>>
>     >>>>
>     >>>> --
>     >>>>
>     >>>> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal as a
>     natural science with an
>     >>>> object that creates history. Ernst Boesch
>     >>>>
>     >>>>
>     >>>>
>     >>>>
>     >>> --
>     >>>
>     >>> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal as a
>     natural science with an
>     >>> object that creates history. Ernst Boesch
>     >>>
>     >>
>     >>
>     >>
>     >
>
>
>
>
> --
>
> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal as a natural science with an
> object that creates history. Ernst Boesch
>
>
>

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