Functional Organs

2

Ivan and I have been discussing the idea of functional organs. We discovered some intriguing connections to ideas we have come up with in lab meetings in the work of Zinchenko who was influenced by Ukhtomski. This linkage also extends to N. Bernshtein who influenced Luria and some others. Ivan's quick re-covery of this idea, including link to von Uxel (sp?) is here ----------- From a "Theoretical Biology" which I'm returning to the library... "Organization means a unity in which the different parts are combined into a whole through the agency of a common activity. This holds good for the organization of our body as well as of our mind. Now the different activities of the mind are so closely connected with the activities of the various organs of the body (sight with the activity of the eye, hearing with that of the ear, and so forth), that we draw the following conclusion: in some way or other, each organ of the body corresponds to an organ of the mind. Through the manifold experience of every day, we learn that the suppression of an organ leads, as a consequence, to the suppression of an activity of the mind" And from Ukhtomsky (via Zinchenko) "Usually we associate the name 'organ' with the notion of something that has already formed, something static and constant. It is not necessarily so. Any temporary combination of forces which is capable of attaining a definite end can be called an organ" (Ukhtomsky 1978). Make "agency of common activity" in Uexkull interchangeable with "temporary combination of forces which is capable of attaining a definite end" in Ukhtomsky, and out comes organ <-> temporary combination of forces <-> agency of common activity <-> unity of organization <-> organization of (body,mind) Set out to study contrived mesogenetic activity settings as temporary combination of forces, and you're investigating (by the chain above) transitory agencies of common activity as organs, as evanescent (re)organizations of mind/body. Do it for an adequate length of time and maybe (like Skinner was hoping with his box), the evanescent (re)organizations of mind/body relate to the mesogenetic setting as something close to "pure expressions" of that setting's interior life (until such time as it is killed by termination [the poor always loose] or fossilization [the rich always win]). or something like that ------------------ I do not know how to use tags and do not know if this should be a discussion or a symposium mike

 
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Functional Organs
Living artifacts
Mind-Body organization



1

One of the connotations of "function" is the idea that functional organs maintain the stability of the whole. Running counter to this are ideas such as "emergent" properties, and the development associated with pursuit of the object. How would these fit in with the idea of (temnporary) Functional organs?
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0

> One of the connotations of "function" is the idea that
> functional organs maintain the stability of the whole. Running
> counter to this are ideas such as "emergent" properties, and
> the development associated with pursuit of the object. How
> would these fit in with the idea of (temnporary) Functional
> organs?

In what sense does emergence disappear here, Andy? Emergence and death are everpresent in functional orgnaizations;

Seems like Ivan will have to make his ideas more explicit!
:-)
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0

So here i am in respond, when I thought I had responded. Who has the bug spray?

I am signed up for all the notice but only received from katherine.

Sorry you do not like talking about use of the system, Andy. I do not like not being able to use it.

mike
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2

> One of the connotations of "function" is the idea that
> functional organs maintain the stability of the whole. Running
> counter to this are ideas such as "emergent" properties, and
> the development associated with pursuit of the object. How
> would these fit in with the idea of (temnporary) Functional
> organs?

I think it's important to keep in mind that functional organs or even transient functional combinations have a "life cycle". When they are newborn they are rich in emergent structures. They develop with more emergents and a lot of adaptations (if they survive childhood). Eventually they tend to be fairly stabilized during their maturity. But all such systems eventually dis-integrate and pass away (sometimes with their components later becoming re-integrated into new functional structures).
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0


Mike -- I am replying here to see if you get notified. I also replied to Andy on xlchc.org about emergence vs stability in functional organs.

We need to keep posting replies to each other to see how well the notification system is or isn't working. Reply to me, so I can see if I get an email notice or not.

JAY.

> So here i am in respond, when I thought I had responded. Who
> has the bug spray?
>

> I am signed up for all the notice but only received from
> katherine.
>

> Sorry you do not like talking about use of the system, Andy. I
> do not like not being able to use it.
>
> mike
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1

Emergence: I don't think "emergence" disappears in choosing this notion of Functional system. But I have always thought that "emergence" is an unclear notion, indicating the way new things "emerge" without any requirement to explain how or why. I wondered if your suggestion offered any clarity.

Using the system: I'm fine about improving the system, I just think that it is not a topic which will create the motivation to use it. So I a suggesting we get on with it in the meantime. TO get a system going and generate interest, I believe it is important to be extremely vigorous.

On "life-cycle": Yes, I very much support the notion of distinguishing life cycles of projects under any concept, Jay. The world is made up of these projects (aka functional systems) but most of them are ossified at any given moment. But it is always important to realise that such ossified systems of relations are "merely" a phase in the development of a dynamic system, and development can continue. The "life-cycle" idea is key to understanding the inherent dynamism of societal life.

On "Functional". Mike may recall that in his review of "An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity," Morten Nissen solidarised with the accusation of Functionalism I directed at AN Leontyev's theory and identified this as a possible axis of collaboration. So I think there are aspects of the embrace of a Functional approach which need to be clarified. I think Ivan should make a critique of Functionalism and determine what can be appropriated and what needs to be weeded out and how.
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I am definitely not getting email notifications when people respond; maybe it only works now if you respond directly to a prior post. Right now I am using the big Respond box, which is for the whole conversation.

Meanwhile, to Andy's comments. Emergence is too often used in the vague way you note, Andy, but it has a more precise meaning in complex systems theories. There are limits to explanation in such theories compared to more traditional causal models, for sure, but the argument is that this is just the way such systems are, they are not determined by specific causes as such, but by configurations of possibilities of combinations and interactions (coming "up" from below), selected out by constraints coming from larger, slower-scale processes and contexts "above". The results are qualitatively unpredictable, as say with long-term evolution, or the appearance of creative new ideas or historically new cultures.

On functionalism. It seems there are traditionally two different notions called functionalism. The original one comes from biology and refers to a notion of adaptation of structures that results from functional needs or the advantage of functional affordances. Function here is the way that biology avoids teleology. When broadened to semiotic or material social-semiotic systems, it is a way to avoid too much reliance on a notion of intentions, which cannot be ascertained by outside observers. But in sociology, functionalism came to mean the assumption that whatever cultural practices exist must be functionally adaptive, and so to be a kind of apologetics for the status quo (e.g. Parsons, or uses made of his work).

Leontiev I think in some ways tries to move between a notion of mental functions as in LSV and a notion of the functions of an activity, or of an action in relation to the goal of an activity. These meet in the notion of goal or object/objective, which can be read either as intention or as social function. The notion of a functional organ seems to shift the emphasis to the principle of integration of the constituent processes of the functional organ system. But there still remains the issue of what that principle really is: a goal, an intention, an output, an affordance, a sustainability? some combination of these??
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Likewise I got nbo notice of your response Jay. I knew because I knew, that there had previously been only 6 replies, now there were 7.

Thanks for those points of clarification, further differentiation of these ideas. Actually, it is the way you describe the use of the term "emergence" in "complex systems theory" which is what I fund unsatisfactory. For example, people who take CST seriously have no need to explain the basis for the emergence of conscious awareness and language in humn beings, because human beings are "complex systems" and language use "emerged" - end of story.

I wonder if Ivan could give us an example to ruminate over and see what insights he hopes to gain with the idea of "functional system" - btw, for all my habitual scepticism, I have no doubt at all that "functional system" is an invaluable concept which ought to yield some new insights.
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Some additional aspects worth thinking about include: Esther Thelen and complex coordination of activities like walking from the neuro-muscular timescale to the whole walking level; reculer pour mieux sauter -- how you may need to destabilize and backtrack on a fossilized functional organ in order to either understand how it works better or to allow it to re-adapt to changed circumstances.

This comes from our lab discussion of today, Tuesday July 17.
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This is a test of notification from this conversation.
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-1

> This is a test of notification from this conversation.

I've gotten the notifications. Note that you won't get notifications that a conversation has been added to if you are the one who has added to it.
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Etienne -- thanks for your input and changes.

Seems to be an emerging consensus that a preference should exist to receive notification of new conversations and symposia, even if not subscribed. (Subscribe is needed for notice of additions to a conversation.)

You should be able to opt in or opt out of the notices of new conversations and symposia.

JAY.
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0

> Seems to be an emerging consensus that a preference should
> exist to receive notification of new conversations and
> symposia, even if not subscribed. (Subscribe is needed for
> notice of additions to a conversation.)

Does this mean people want to nix the "digest" option where you opt-in to receiving, every 24 hours, notification of new conversations and symposia?
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I think the Digest Option will have attractions for some at times, Etienne, so keep it as an option. But it will be less important when you have the page listing the conversations showing when they were last updated and by whom, and if it were possible, how many new turns since I last logged in? Then you can see at a glance at that one page what conversations you need to look into. And then, if the conversation is listed last first, you can get oriented instantly.
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Why are digest options etc inside of Functional sysetems??
I want to respond to Jay's comments. I am thinking the same way about
functional organs with respect to emerge, developmental dynamics, and
eventual demise, after which the carcas decays and goes back into the ecosystem.

> I think the Digest Option will have attractions for some at
> times, Etienne, so keep it as an option. But it will be less
> important when you have the page listing the conversations
> showing when they were last updated and by whom, and if it
> were possible, how many new turns since I last logged in? Then
> you can see at a glance at that one page what conversations
> you need to look into. And then, if the conversation is listed
> last first, you can get oriented instantly.
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0

OK, now i see that I can respond individual, but am i supposed to do it after the comments that are there, not before? I responded to this as respond to the whole list.

Luria via Anokhin like to talk about the "function of breathing" being in fact a complex functional system. Anokhin did some interesting experiments with dogs, getting them to reorganize the function massively. Not human, and not nice for dogs, but interesting as a kind of template.

>> One of the connotations of "function" is the idea that
>> functional organs maintain the stability of the whole. Running
>> counter to this are ideas such as "emergent" properties, and
>> the development associated with pursuit of the object. How
>> would these fit in with the idea of (temnporary) Functional
>> organs?
>

> I think it's important to keep in mind that functional organs
> or even transient functional combinations have a "life cycle".
> When they are newborn they are rich in emergent structures.
> They develop with more emergents and a lot of adaptations (if
> they survive childhood). Eventually they tend to be fairly
> stabilized during their maturity. But all such systems
> eventually dis-integrate and pass away (sometimes with their
> components later becoming re-integrated into new functional
> structures).
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3

It is useful for me to recall where I began with all of this, to retrace some of the struggle to find a "lens" for what I and others were doing together in the latest of LCHC's collaborative research projects. The setting is a low-income community center, in a predominantly African American community. Mike early on said to me that it had been more than 25 years since he last attempted to collaborate with an African American community, because the complexity and potential for misunderstanding, and for unwitting recapitulation of asymmetric (dis)empowerment, were very high! This was 2007. It wasn't until about last year, 2011, that I realized (as my connections and relations grew with local community organizers and long-time residents of southeastern San Diego) how deeply shared was this concern "on the other side" (within the living memory of hard working people whose contact with UCSD has historically amounted to drive-by demos and promises, with nothing on their end to show for the articles published "over there", at UCSD). So, from the beginning, what "functions" might shared activity realize in this setting can be roughly divided into those that recapitulate what we don't want (a lot of what we do together certainly does this) and those that --- what? Unclear!!! Our problem, on both sides of these kinds of partnerships, is that *we don't really know what we want* to happen, because we have no sense (no olfactory organ) for those combinations that will lead us eventually to what we'd like to be real over the longue duree. But something, some feel-for, and also a vague, visceral, compulsion to keep trying out possibilities is palpable and observable in the length of the partnership and the growing sense of "something special" communicated obliquely in various ways. My critique of functionalism would be worked out in a fuller description of the vagaries of this type of research (but I won't go there now).

Against this backdrop, my first thoughts on "functional organs" came via Mike, after I had been reading some Latour and awkwardly mashing those ideas up with Engestrom and what I had understood (late 2009) about the foundations of CHAT. Mike suggested Ukhtomsky, and pointed out similarities with Bernstein's "living motion". As Andy notes, there is a bit of tension in defining "functional organ" as a "temporary combination of forces which is capable of attaining a definite end" (but only if function is understood as a deterministic trajectory whose "definite end" is structurally specified in advance). Look at one of Bernstein's cyclograms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cyclogram_Gastev_TSIT.jpg) describing the motion of a swinging hammer (in the hands of a factory worker), and "definite end" does indeed smell of status quo. But the "living" part of this motion, in maintaing the "status quo" of a swing-trajectory, can be recovered as a kind of sustained "meaning" (line of action/movment) of the swinging motion --like that of a gyroscope resisting the pull of gravity (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H98BgRzpOM).

"It is instructive that the concept of 'meaning' for the physiologist and biomechanics expert N.A. Bernstein was key to his creation of a theory of the construction of movements. Meaning hovers over tasks such as motor, perceptual, mnemic, mental, and others. Apparently, this is why his theory became significantly more popular among psychologists than among physiologists—especially since he, unlike the latter, did not avoid the concept of 'image,' either." (Vladimir Zinchenko, Boris Pruzhinin, and Tat'Iana Shchedrina (2011). Problems of the Individual's Functional Organs. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol. 49, no. 4,July–August 2011, pp. 47–65)

In "semiotic or material social-semiotic systems" (as Jay says), meaning doesn't have to be put in quotes, and is just what we're used to invoking when discussing socio-culturally situated practice. Anyway, attempting to ride a bicycle certainly did not feel like a "definite end" for us!

But I'm trying to squeeze in too much here! Getting back to the LCHC collaboration with the Town and Country Learning Center (TCLC), the question arises (emerges): what to make of the odd activities that don't recapitulate status quo? There are a number of these: one of which is about to birth a thesis for Robert Lecusay, and another (in due course) for me. They are traces of something anomalous (from the point of view of hegemonic functions), something that passes momentarily through the setting created in the meeting of LCHC and TCLC. This setting, home to projects and anomalous ways of being together, in-forms the activities and the people that move about within it. We can say, but never exactly, never with anything like "objective precision", that the inner-forms (the "life") of this setting becomes threaded into the life of its members and of the activities that unfold within it. In this way, the latter are pulled into specific forms of meaning making which rely for their efficacy on a shared (but still vague and largely inarticulable) feel/sense for the former (for the life of the setting). Ask Robert Lecusay about the enormous efforts required to pull out of objective video data an adequate articulation of what this sense is about.

To end inadequately --the functional organs that emerge in activity at TCLC are about acquiring sense (a "nose" for), which is really, more about sensing latent possibilities which become momentarily realizable in very rare moments as if the world had always been disposed to host such possibilities. But these are realized inside activity that quickly (relatively speaking) evaporates (almost never to be scene again) --they are just too contrary to the usual flow of things. Upon reflection then, it becomes a mystery how such moments came about and how meaning-making became sensible, and thus the need to find a way to talk about such things. To grant settings such as TCLC the properties of "functional organs" is to talk more about the "function" of opening up possibilities, of creativity, and is to say that such settings invite the people that make them up (in both sense of this expression) to learn to sense things they never felt before. Or, more metaphorically, such settings create their own mechanisms of proprioception by capturing their participants' imagination and meaning-making faculties by, in a sense, having them "function" as sensory organs of the inner life of such settings.
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Thanks, ivan, for this take from the middle of the flow! Another way of talking about this, I think, is to foreground the way in which participation in a functional organ system of activities is FELT by us. And since it's an ongoing, changing system, not yet fossilized or stabilized, the feelings are also changing, but they are also more than just proprioceptive: they are anticipatory, they feel forward into possible and in some cases actual futures. They are not just a passive sense responding to an outside world; they are an active feeling-ahead that contributes (ala prolepsis) to the making of these futures.

So when we get to the later portions of the arc where you or Robert or any of us are trying to give a meaning-centered account of what's been going on, as called for by our "Reason, yes; Emotion, no" scientific tradition, then even if we name emotions and feelings in our accounts (as Robert does at various points in chapter 4), the feelings themselves, including the feelings we are experiencing NOW, somehow get left out. And so our accounts, however elegant they seem to those who weren't there, don't feel adequate to US. Is there a solution? I think it's called art.

JAY.
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Yes, art!

In terms of proprioception, I find it stimulating to equate proprioception and prolepsis for the kinds of activity-systems we're foregrounding here --in that sensing possibilities inside such systems is always-already an active (anticipatory) feeling-out (with both positive and negative feedback in terms of future actualization). Proprioception in this view is active, and is about the interior life of unstable collaborative settings, not primarily about what's "outside".

On a more general note, the idea of proprioception as passive reception is pretty alien to me. I take it for granted that proprioception is itself a highly mediated process, and thus anticipatory from the start.
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How do I vote thumbs up for this observation.

>> One of the connotations of "function" is the idea that
>> functional organs maintain the stability of the whole. Running
>> counter to this are ideas such as "emergent" properties, and
>> the development associated with pursuit of the object. How
>> would these fit in with the idea of (temnporary) Functional
>> organs?
>

> I think it's important to keep in mind that functional organs
> or even transient functional combinations have a "life cycle".
> When they are newborn they are rich in emergent structures.
> They develop with more emergents and a lot of adaptations (if
> they survive childhood). Eventually they tend to be fairly
> stabilized during their maturity. But all such systems
> eventually dis-integrate and pass away (sometimes with their
> components later becoming re-integrated into new functional
> structures).
reply


0

> How do I vote thumbs up for this observation.

Click the little upwards triangle above the number to the left of the top line of the comment.


>
>>> One of the connotations of "function" is the idea that
>>> functional organs maintain the stability of the whole. Running
>>> counter to this are ideas such as "emergent" properties, and
>>> the development associated with pursuit of the object. How
>>> would these fit in with the idea of (temnporary) Functional
>>> organs?
>>
>
>> I think it's important to keep in mind that functional organs
>> or even transient functional combinations have a "life cycle".
>> When they are newborn they are rich in emergent structures.
>> They develop with more emergents and a lot of adaptations (if
>> they survive childhood). Eventually they tend to be fairly
>> stabilized during their maturity. But all such systems
>> eventually dis-integrate and pass away (sometimes with their
>> components later becoming re-integrated into new functional
>> structures).
reply

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