Re: [xmca] LCA: Transparency continued

From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane (
Date: Sat Jul 02 2005 - 22:45:49 PDT

Michael, Mike, Steve and all,
The discussion too a very interesting turn to the relationship between
an individual and the tools. Let me just say in my own words what I
think I understand is the concept here:
First -- there is a distinction between "outer" and "inner" worlds, and
a boundary between them (skin? or not always skin?).
Second -- "transparency" is achieved when a tool becomes *incorporated*
(sorry for the pun) into the inner world -- as if it was under the skin.
(Bateson's example of a blind person using a cane).
Third -- this process is seen as "rising from the abstract to the
concrete"? -- or am I missing the point?
Forth -- only when something "goes wrong" with the tool (equipment) it
becomes "opaque" again -- i.e. visible as an outside object to which we
can focus our attention.

Does this sketch the thinking here?

OK -- I would like to add a few thoughts:
I think this kind of "transparency" is a necessary condition of an
effective use of tools/signs. But, what I would be interested in is the
further effect of the *incorporation* of the tool/sign into the
individual's inner world. How exactly does the use of particular
language or particular technology change individuals themselves, in
other words -- how such mediation determines development of individuals
and cultures?
Another question: what is the effect of the "incorporation" of a
tool/sign into the inner world -- on the tool/sign itself? Vygotsky
talked about the transformation of voiced speech into the inner speech
-- where a lot of characteristics of speech change in that process (not
just the loudness). In other words, does transformation of actions into
operations -- change the actions themselves? Does such *incorporation"
of a tool refine that tool itself? Can it lead to a transformation of a
tool into a completely different tool or object?

Here are some more concrete question (to rise from the above abstract
ones): In learning a second language -- the tool becomes "opaque" again,
i.e. it is a new kind of an "old" tool, to which an individual has to
adjust, in other words, to learn it. What are the effects on a person in
learning a second language? And can we say that the second language has
been learned to the extent that it is transparent? (I am experiencing a
curious rapid shifting back and forth between talking about this and
asking these questions, and my own awareness of using a foreign language
at the moment). In addition, learning a second language (a process of
focusing on language as an object -- not a tool, making it opaque again)
can inform me about my first language -- and thus change it.
In a way, I think there is this dynamic relationship between using a
tool as a "transparent" part of the action/person, and focusing on the
tool itself as an object which can be changed (improved, or transformed
into something different). There is a constant oscillation between the
focus on the "object" of an activity and the "tool" for the activity.


Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

> Mike,
> I think I am struggling as much as you--perhaps it is the notion of
> "mediation" by tools or signs irrespective of the fact--nobody seems
> to make the distinction--whether we are dealing with consciousness,
> i.e., actions and goals and activities and motives, on the one hand,
> and operations, on the other.
> Are operations "mediated" by tools? But if the tools we use are not
> attended to consciously. . . this is where Bateson asks the question,
> where is the boundary between the blind person and the world, at the
> end of the stick, at the beginning, or somewhere in the middle?
> He continues saying that the question is inappropriate. Heidegger, in
> my reading, is concerned with everyday action where signs and tools
> are ready to hand, not attended to consciously--unless they are
> broken, at which time they become the object of actions, themselves
> operated upon by means of other tools.
> I think that theoretically we need to make a distinction between two
> forms of mediation or need to call one mediation--when we consciously
> use tools, interpret text, etc.--and the other something else. If what
> I do with my hands is not mediated, using a hammer, using a cane as a
> blind person. . . is part of me--just as riding a bicycle is as I
> articulated together with Domenico Masciotra in a chapter in a book
> honoring Ernst von Glasersfeld where we are critical of his ideas.
> As a longtime (expet?) cyclist, I "feel" where there is trouble in the
> bicycle, as if it was part of me, I can feel the joint that hurts,
> whether it is my elbow or somewhere along the line to the "tip" of the
> tire on the road. I can feel the pebble that I hit, literally, as if
> it was a finger that hit it. I am not sure I am making sense, but
> perhaps if I use a language that I don't like but others seem to--in
> "flow experience" of the high performance athlete--I remember my days
> on the German national rowing team--there is no longer a difference
> between you and your equipment, the equipment is you. If there is a
> sense of difference in the me-in-situation, then it is at the other
> end of the equipment. . . the tire, the hull of the skiff, the head of
> the hammer where it hits the nail.
> As a teacher teaching art in southern Labrador, a village of 500
> people isolated for 6 months of the year, I asked students to get into
> the grove, to work with the wood, to feel when it hurts--when you go
> across the grain with sandpaper or rasp. I think it is exactly the
> same, you actually begin to extend into the wood and beyond the tool.
> Domenico Masciotra and I also wrote about karate fighting, and
> Domenico likens his position and possibilities as threads emanating
> from his body, which thereby extends and occupies a space and reaches
> far beyond his physical body.
> We cannot analyze all of these situations in the same way that you
> would analyze me grappling with Being and Time for the past 30 years,
> or grappling with the Il'enkov texts for 5 years before having the
> sense that I am slowly coming to understand. My conscious interpretive
> efforts are different than my engagement with the world in expertise
> or flow experiences.
> And this is what happens when Karen points to a spike in a graph and
> says, "This is a clogged pipe". Just as most of the people on this
> list don't think twice when they see the word "school", they don't
> look and interpret the word, the seem to be transported right into
> school situations.
> Cheers,
> Michael
> On 2-Jul-05, at 4:25 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
>> Thanks, Michael, for a copy of your paper which takes the discussion
>> in a direction I did not anticipate on the basis of your note.
>> Here are some reactions and indications of why I think it relevant
>> to the sign/tool discussion.
>> mike
>> Speaking of seeing "through" a graph to what the graph represents,
>> Michael writes:
>> This has an equivalent in visual perception. Although there are
>> specks on my glasses, I frequently do
>> not experience them in my perception; I have adapted to their
>> presence and see as if they did not exist.
>> This phenomenon applied to signs and referents is referred to as
>> fusion or transparency, and in prior
>> discussion is linked to blind man and his cane or a person using a
>> hammer.
>> The blind man metaphor a la Bateson (from Cole, Cultural Psychology,
>> chapter 5:
>> Gregory Bateson (1972) highlights the way in which mind is
>> constituted through human activity involving cycles of
>> transformations between "inside" and "outside" that are very
>> reminiscent of Pepper's writing. "Obviously," Bateson writes, "there
>> are lots of message pathways outside the skin, and these and the
>> messages which they carry must be included as a part of the mental
>> system whenever they are relevant." (p. 458, emphases added). He then
>> proposed the following thought experiment:
>> Suppose I am a blind man, and I use a stick. I go tap, tap, tap.
>> Where do I start? Is my mental system bounded at the hand of the
>> stick? Is it bounded by my skin? Does it start halfway up the stick?
>> Does it start at the tip of the stick (p. 459)?
>> Michael relates the shift from separation of sign and referent, or
>> non-transparent to transparent to the shift from action to operation.
>> Seems reasonable. But, exactly, is the nature of this process?
>> Bateson would relate it to a "difference that makes a difference." I
>> have been thinking about this problem in a somewhat different context
>> that relates the gradual appearance of transparency or fusion to
>> forms of coordination. I think this might be relevant to thinking
>> about transformations between actions and operations in the way that
>> Michael suggests but I am still gnawing at that bone. Some of the
>> implications I have drawn from this phenomenon, which relate to the
>> fact that our own culture is often invisible to us, e.g. transparent,
>> can be found at
>> in the article by Cole and Levitin.
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