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[Xmca-l] Re: Analysis of Gender in early xmca discourse


Thanks for bringing forward Bateson's idea of "Syllogisms in Barbara" (classical logic) and "Syllogisms in Grass" (logic of metaphor). I want to look at these through the lens of cognitive psychology, and also respond to Mike's query about "under what conditions is this [logical] capability realized in practice." 

Earlier I gave the example about Margie the bank teller that illustrates how fallacious reasoning is actually governed by associative processes, not logical processes. I want to follow up with an example from cognitive science that shows that correct reasoning, too, often is governed by associative processes, rather than logic. 

The Wason task is another classical study from the cognitive literature involving--if you've not seen it before, play along and answer the questions before reading on. The set-up is that there are four cards each of which has a number on one side and a letter on the other. Here is what is showing on the face-up sides of the 4 cards:

    E      7       F      4

So, the cards with E and F showing have numbers on the other side, and the cards with 7 and 4 showing have letters on the other side. 

Your task is to select the card(s) you would need to turn over in order to verify that every vowel is paired with an odd number.

Now, of course, we could turn over all of the cards and easily determine whether or not it is the case that every vowel is paired with an odd number. But can we do it more cheaply, without turning over all the cards? The task is to select the minimal set of cards you have to turn over to verify that every vowel is paired with an odd number.
 ...take a moment now to make your selection. 

Next we move to part 2 of the Wason task. Again, there are four cards, each represents a table at a bar. On one side of the card is the customer's drink at that table, and on the other side is the customer's age. 

    Beer     23      Cola     18

Your task is to determine what is the minimal set of cards you would have to turn over to verify that every alcohol drinker is over 20 years of age.
...take a moment now to make your selection.

If you're like most people you will answer these questions differently. Typically for the first task subjects choose E and 7 as the set of cards to turn over, and for the second task they select Beer and 18. In this case, the subject will have gotten the second problem correct, and the first one incorrect. In order to verify that every vowel is paired with an odd number, you have to turn over the vowel to see if it's paired with an odd number and the even number to make sure it's not paired with a vowel. 

The logical structure of the two problems is identical, but people generally only are successful on the contextual problem. What seems to be happening on the non-contextual task is fairly clear. People selecting the vowel and the odd number are guided by the fact that "vowel" and "odd number" are mentioned in the problem statement. Since we have to verify something about vowels and odd numbers, let's select those items to inspect. This is an associative process, not a logical one. 

In the case of the contextual problem, the process is, again, associative. As with Margie, people associate to their experiences in actual bars, with all the attendant drama of under-age drinkers. 

There are several morals to draw from this story. First, associative reasoning in everyday contexts is often successful! Second, in such circumstances, we generally take ourselves to be reasoning logically, but we're not. Third, metaphorical reasoning (e.g., Bateson's "Syllogisms in Grass": Grass die; Men die; therefore, Men are grass) illustrates the mechanism of association, things that share properties in our experience become linked to each other. And this is adaptive! I take it that Bateson's point is that there's a sense in which men ARE grass because they both die, and this is worth hanging on to. Fourth, logic is rooted in language--a process for handling propositions in structural relation to one another--not in material experience. Our remarkable associative propensity seduces us away from logic. So, Mike, logic is realized in practice only when (1) one has mastered the abstract rules of logic, and (2) one's habit of thought includes scrutiny of propositional structure as a cue to when to resist metaphorical and associative linkages. 

If Bruner is correct in his portrayal of Vygotsky's position (quoted in an earlier post, and copied below), then his position is radically at odds with the cognitive perspective presented above. Logic may be a foundation of Western civilization (even if it originated in the East--thanks, Rein), but it is not a prominent or dominant factor in normal, mature development. As Annalisa pointed out, we are struggling now in the U.S. political season with a whole lot of associative, logically-deficient reasoning--truly frightening. 


Bruner (1987) from his prolog to Vygotsky's Collected Works:

"For Vygotsky, becoming human implies the "centralizing" or cerebralization of mental processes -- whether in development, in cultural history, or in phylogenesis. ... Processes go inward, and they are thereby made amenable to interaction with other processes. ... The existence of autonomous processes is a sign of immaturity, of pathology, or phylogenetic primitiveness. Perception operating on its own, for example, yields the symptomatology of mental subnormality. Through interaction, human mental processes become ordered, systemic, logical, and goal oriented. By the achievement of generative order we become free of the immediacy of sensation, free of the chaining of associations, capable of applying logic to practical application"  (p. 15)

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Alfredo Jornet Gil
Sent: Friday, November 4, 2016 11:59 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Analysis of Gender in early xmca discourse

David, all, 

your post just reminds me of one of G. Bateson's arguments concerning logic, and which might be of relevance to this aspect of this thread. It seems that there is some concern in the discussion concerning the status of logic (as more or less defined tool that can be applied differently depending on the objectives, or as some form of reasoning that is in nature (not just objectives) different from others, and the product of Western history. 

Bateson made a distinction between (it was David's syllogism that sparked the connection) "Syllogisms in Barbara" and "Syllogisms in Grass". Syllogisms in Barbara are those one can find in classical logic:

Men die;
Socrates is a man;
Socrates will die. 

"The basic structure of this little monster," Bateson writes, "is built upon classification. The predicate 'will die' is attached to Socrates by identifying him as a member of a class whose members share that predicate" (Bateson & Bateson, 1987, p. 26). 

In contrasts, Syllogism in Grass are the "'logic' o metaphor", and go like this:

Grass die;
Men die;
Men are grass.

This syllogisms, Bateson writes, "are the very stuff of which natural history is made." 

In Bateson (and I believe this would be in agreement with much of what a Marxist psychology would argue for), there is not one grand, exclusive logic that belongs to the human brain (cognition). He goes on to argue that biological forms have historically evolved in terms of syllogisms in grass. "Biological data make sense-are connected-by syllogisms in grass."
In Bateson, thus, logic is a form of organisation; and a form of organisation not of things, but of processes of growth (and it is here where I think Bateson and Vygotsky make a good match). 

I think Bateson's distinction is interesting here because it allows nuancing the discussion on logic and gender. I believe that gendered facts exist and come to affect our lives both in terms of syllogisms of Barbara (formal logic), and in terms of syllogisms of grass (metaphor). However, I think that the former, which entails work of classification, need to be enforced and sustained by external means (e.g., institutions), as (feminist) researchers such as S. L. Star so convincingly showed in their research. They offer a frame for asking: what are the external measures being taken so that the classification system in which men get listed under some privileged categories,  is being made effective? Most interesting, how are the two logics connected in developmental processes so that we sometime are able to draw syllogisms of the form: 

- women are human,
- men are human,
- women and men are equal.

but still fall so often into perceptions, feelings, behaviours, etc ... that seem to mess all this up? It seems that changing our epistemology at the deeper level takes more than classical logic. 


From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of David H Kirshner <dkirsh@lsu.edu>
Sent: 04 November 2016 16:29
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Analysis of Gender in early xmca discourse


Recognizing that Jacob and others may see it differently, I agree with you that logic is not gendered.
I do disagree, though, with your final statement that "Logic isn't a Western invention, by the way. It's very much part of human cognition."

What I think is sustainable is the position that reasoning is very much a part of human cognition. But one of the results that cognitive scientists have clearly established is that human reasoning, in general, is associative, not logical. Our conceptual structures are associatively linked, meaning that concepts conjure up other, related concepts. Our reasoning is a kind of juggling of these linked concepts.

One of the classical studies that established this perspective concerns Margie the bank teller:

Margie is bright, single, 31 year old, outspoken, and concerned with issues of social justice.
What is more likely

A) Margie is a bank teller, or
B) Margie is a bank teller and Margie is a feminist.

(If you're not familiar with this problem, take a moment to answer it.) ...

The logical analysis holds that Margie is more likely to be a bank teller than both a bank teller and a feminist because choice A includes the possibility that Margie is a bank teller and a feminist as well as the possibility that Margie is a bank teller and not a feminist, but choice B includes only one of those possibilities.

But the vast majority of subjects tested select choice B, which the cognitive psychologists take as indicating that we are guided by our associations to people like Margie rather than by the logical conditions of the problem.

In my view, logic as a discursive form--a technology of thought--is a Western invention. Whether it is identified as "male" because of historical association or biological predisposition, I don't know, and I should add, I don't care. (Jacob, the science of biologically based sex differences in cognition has not been "debunked." Rather, feminist scholars have rightly pointed out that the data are inconclusive, and that prior assertions of biologically based sex differences in cognition over-interpret the scientific results.) Neither history nor biology is determinative, and logic is too important a part of our cultural legacy to deny any individual or group the opportunity to master it.


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Annalisa Aguilar
Sent: Friday, November 4, 2016 12:28 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>; Vera John-Steiner <vygotsky@unm.edu>
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Analysis of Gender in early xmca discourse


About logic: to Greg M., Actually, I thought it was Jacob who discussed logic in gendered discourse. Unless you brought it up a long time ago in the group he references. I was under the impression that he had attempted to bring it up a few times in the past. Or am I mistaken?

In his reply on timestamped Nov 03, 08:30:41 he stated:

"Not to beat the proverbial dead horse, but several listserv members--including me--have tried to introduce this position re: logic in prior xmca threads. The position has mostly either been ignored or loudly rejected out of hand by more vocal participants on this listserv."

So I was responding to that paragraph.

I am not clear about Jacob's position but my position is that logic is an intellectual tool, just like intuition can be an emotional tool. Insight might be a combination of both logic and intuition. But nothing about logic makes it male, as I see it, no matter how much men might assert that to be the case.

Logic is reasoning in a particular way with the mind, and any human can partake in it if one wants. You can't perform logic with your elbows and knees. Counting has a logic. So does self-preservation.

What one does with logic has to do with one's values. If your values are for a pure race, for example, you can certainly use logic to rationalize activities that purify race however you might want to define it. Does that make logic a tool to create meaning that is essentially determined by power? Or is it just abuse of logic to assert one's power (over others, which is actually being powerless, since one who is truly powerful does not require power over others), which at its basis, is meaningless?

Also, I don't think that Rein was saying gender is fluid. He said it is constructed:

"... in other words, what cultures have "naturalized" as divisions into genders are more often than not constructions erected by a gender group in order to dominate others. Such construction, I would argue, can only be taken down with arguments that follow a logic which itself is not gendered, because if it were, it would be a contestant in the field, not the referee."

I believe if I read him as he wanted to be read, I think he's saying that logic is not gendered, which I agree with. The fact that we can say "a logic" means the application of that logic has a boundary, but it doesn't mean that this logic is different than that logic. It means if I use a hammer on a house, I can also use it to bash in skulls. The tool is the same, the application is different, as are the values motivating its use. The boundaries are the objectives for using the logic, not the logic itself. Of course we can bicker over the forms of mallets, claw hammers, or rocks for hitting things and their differences, but the activity of hammering is the same. The values, motivations, and objectives are different, which offer the boundary, however the activity remains the same despite those boundaries.

Logic isn't a Western invention, by the way. It's very much part of human cognition. Rationalism I suppose could be Western, but I reserve the right to be wrong about that.

Kind regards,


Status: O