RE: EVI's Concept of the Ideal - mirrors

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Sat May 15 2004 - 17:24:02 PDT

You are abnsolutely right Eugene. This thread went off on a bit of a tangent
concerned with how *in*appropriate the mirror metaphor was, but that LSV had
actually used it. ... Andy
Quoting Eugene Matusov <>:
> Dear Andy and everybody-
> My understanding of EVI's notion of the ideal (and his notion of
> reflection)
> is NOT based on a "mirror" metaphor. For me, EVI argued that the
> material
> world is known to us (humans) always and only through our
> socio-cultural-historical activities that are shaped by our various
> social
> relations. What is interesting is that, although the world we know is
> always
> "subjective" ("subjectivity" means here that we are acting on the world
> through our socially constructed needs, goals, and values;
> "subjective"="subject"="actor"="activity"), we actually do not need the
> pure
> "objectivity". The pure objectivity cannot be known and does not need to
> be
> known because of its indifference to a subject: only dead does not have
> biases, subjectivity, needs, goals, and values. The only way to become
> objective and lose all biases is to commit suicide.
> The world is "given" to us (as individuals) through socio-cultural
> activities. For example, some stars are viewed to be formed in a
> castellation that are/were USEFUL for navigation practices. However, for
> an
> (modern) astronomy practice the same stars might not be a castellation
> because they may even belong to different galaxies (or at least to be
> very
> far away). Without a reference to a practice, it is meaningless to ask
> "are
> these stars really in a castellation?" because castellation itself is a
> pattern relative to our, human, practice (i.e.,
> socially-historically-culturally-economically-politically defined
> goals).
> "Objectively" speaking (i.e., outside of human practices with their
> "subjective" goals and values) castellation does not exist. We have been
> "patterning" (from the word "pattern")/"idealizing" the material world
> in
> our activities to make them successful for our goals. Notice that this
> understanding of the ideal is nothing to do with mirror reflections
> (like
> Andy, I dislike Lenin's philosophical primitivism and vulgar
> materialism).
> Thus, actions are primary ideality. Mental representations of the world
> that
> achieved through a special activity of mental representing are secondary
> ideality - patterning the already patterned world.
> As to "mirror reflections", I do not think that this metaphor is very
> useful. What seems to me useful is a form of (secondary) ideality that
> is
> often called "models". Models are involved abstraction of certain
> features
> from the targeted material objects projected to other special material
> objects (e.g., words, clay) that are very relevant for the targeted
> activities. Models allow us acting in a specially constructed ideal plan
> ("symbolic", "figured world") to test consequences of our actions.
> Models
> do not only provide a safe space for experimentation but also to test if
> we
> understand - i.e., whether we can abstract the most relevant relations
> from
> the objects that are important for our goals.
> What do you think?
> Eugene
> _____
> From: Andy Blunden []
> Sent: Saturday, May 15, 2004 9:36 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: EVI's Concept of the Ideal - mirrors
> I think that both Vygotsky and Ilyenkov really loved Lenin, and this
> mirror
> metaphor caused them some problem because Lenin had committed himself to
> it
> so decisively in 1908. Nevertheless, I think Vygotsky is not being true
> to
> himself in repeating it. Perhaps it was not politically possible to
> criticise it, but surely he didn't have to repeat, don't you think?
> For me, it is the fact that the mirror is passive, whereas a human being
> is
> active. (see good old Theses on Feuerbach again). Lenin points out
> (correctly I think) that reflection is a capacity of *all matter* (e.g.
> a
> footprint) and one can even impute an element of "interpretation" in
> nature.
> But what is lacking is the 3-sided process of human activity which
> includes
> an *ideal*.
> What do you think?
> Andy
> At 06:27 AM 15/05/2004 -0700, you wrote:
> I like this point Andy makes below about the subject-object problem:
> Andy said:
> "If a number of different people say "We are all pursuing the same ideal
> ..." what is it that they are pursuing? A phantom? A state of brain
> matter?
> Obviously what they are pursuing is something which exists independently
> of
> "the mind" (in Lenin's sense, ontologically), but not of course
> independently of objective, willful, needy, human practice.
> "The whole issue is the posing of the issue as a mind-matter problem,
> when
> it can be understood only as a subject-object problem."
> As for Vygotsky's mirror image quote, I am with Andy on this, too.
> Andy said:
> "I really didn't like the way Vygotsky used the "mirror" metaphor so
> beloved
> by Lenin."
> Andy's quote is from Chapter 13 of The Historical Meaning of the Crisis
> in
> Psychology: A Methodological Investigation (1927). It is part of
> several
> paragraphs where Vygotsky rambles around, trying to liken a mirror image
> to
> consciousness. I believe he fails. He even comments on this series of
> paragraphs as being a "protracted argumentation" and seems relieved to
> end
> it. I believe these paragraphs about an object "A" and its mirror image
> "a"
> can be happily skipped over with no loss in an otherwise brilliant work.
> The problem with Vygotsky's analogy is that light beams bouncing off a
> mirror do not form an image unless a reasonably intelligent being
> (perhaps a
> bird, a dog, a human) is seeing it and interpreting it. This is the
> fatal
> flaw in LSV's line of reasoning in creating this mirror analogy for
> consciousness. Without a conscious being involved, mirrors cannot
> produce
> "images." They can just reflect light beams. A mirror is not a form of
> consciousness just because it reflects light. It has no mind or brain
> or
> nervous system or other organic system that responds to stimuli.
> Mirrors
> cannot be a successful analogy for how organisms "reflect" in Marx's or
> Lenin's sense because mirrors have no consciousness. Mirrors do not
> **process** images - only organisms do. It does not help when Vygotsky
> begins to talk of the reflections in mirrors as phantoms - for mirrors
> cannot reflect phantoms at all - because the light beams they can
> reflect
> are certainly never phantoms because they do not exist.
> Anthropomorphizing
> mirrors in order to explain consciousness could only work if we imagine
> the
> mirror as a living being with its own agenda. But then, if we performed
> such a thought experiment, a mirror's capacity to "reflect" in the way
> we
> want to understand would be due to its being a living entity, and not
> due to
> its ability to reflect light beams. It would "reflect" because it was
> responsive. Leontiev as a comparative psychologist (comparing the
> psychologies of different animals) considerably developed this idea by
> analyzing the different levels of responsiveness among different kinds
> of
> animals, and how these levels evolved. Mirrors were not likely among
> the
> objects of his investigation, but spiders were.
> Some of the other points LSV makes in that chapter 13 about ontology and
> epistemology - and about the object/subject relationship - are, however,
> very useful to the materiality/ideality discussion we have been having.
> Perhaps we can return to LSV's thinking on these issues.
> - Steve
> At 02:24 PM 5/15/2004 +1000, you wrote:
> Sorry, I accidentally omitted the first line of that quote. I've added
> it in
> below.
> At 08:32 PM 14/05/2004 -0700, you wrote:
> Andy, can you give the full citation to LSV's use of the mirrror
> metaphor?
> This goes to the question of the use of the term, reflection, in this
> literature.
> mike
> Mike, this is copied from an article Dot Robbins showed me. The source
> is
> shown:
> Let us compare consciousness, as is often done, with a mirror image. Let
> the
> object A be reflected in the mirror as a. Naturally, it would be false
> to
> say that a in itself is as real as A. It is real in another way. A table
> and
> its reflection in the mirror are not equally real, but real in a
> different
> way. The reflection as reflection, as an image of the table, as a second
> table in the mirror is not real, it is a phantom. But the reflection of
> the
> table as the refraction of light beams on the mirror surface - isnt
> that a
> thing which is equally material and real as the table? Everything else
> would
> be a miracle. Then we might say: there exist things (a table) and their
> phantoms (the reflection). But only things exist(the table) and the
> reflection of light upon the surface. The phantoms are just apparent
> relations between the things. That is why no science of mirror phantoms
> is
> possible. But this does not mean that we will never be able to explain
> the
> reflection, the phantom. When we know the thing and the laws of
> reflection
> of light, we can always explain, predict, elicit, and change the
> phantom.
> And this is what persons with mirrors do. They study not mirror
> reflections
> but the movement of light beams, and explain the reflection. A science
> about
> mirror phantoms is impossible, but the theory of light and the things
> which
> cast and reflect it fully explain these phantoms. (Vygotsky, 1997, p.
> 327)
> Vygotsky, L. S. (1997). The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky. Vol. 3.
> Problems of the theory and history of psychology. In R. W. Rieber and
> J.
> Wollock (Eds.). New York: Plenum Press.

Andy Blunden

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