RE: [xmca] Empirical Evidence for ZPD

From: Michael Glassman (MGlassman@ehe.ohio-state.edu)
Date: Mon Dec 04 2006 - 16:07:02 PST


Martin,
 
Except the Logical Positivists prohibition, which I think was also James' prohibition with his radical empiricism, which was also Dewey's prohibition with his instrumental pragmatism has an important upside. If you do not rely on logical inquiry, how do you avoid belief systems. Now there are some who would say belief systems aren't that bad, and at one time I might have agreed, but the last six years has convinced me that belief systems are dangerous. What both the Pragmatists and the Logical Positivists are trying to say is for the critical decisions in our lives we need to depend on logical inquiry and experimental method to guide our actions. If something doesn't work we need to have a way to acknowledge this, and acknowledge this, and move on to another experiment. And we should never base an experiment on what we believe will happen (hey, let's invade a country because I bet you their going to become democratic if they get the chance - I know, I know, that's not what Bush believed, but a lot of people did), but what a well worked out logical inquiry would make us expect to happen. Where the Pragmatists and the Logical Positivists move away from each other I think is on the prospect of realism. Does logical inquiry bring you some objective knowledge - Logical Positivists say yes, Pragmatists say no, that's as dangerous as belief systems - it is a belief system.
 
Ontology reflects being, and to have a theory about ontology is to have a theory about humans as beings. In order to do this I think you need to, in some sense, separate them from the activity, just as with a metaphysics you have to posit some overriding force that drives activity. If you are focused on the process of inquiry then being as being becomes unimportant. More than that, when separate from the activity, being becomes something of a belief system - the way that something is. Again, I don't necessarily see the Logical Positivists as responsible for this idea in the United States, and I don't see this idea having as many difficulties as you do. My point is that there are really good reasons to focus on logical inquiry and attempt to avoid ontologies and metaphysics. You talk about Vygotsky's ontology through activity, and I agree with you that Vygotsky has an ontology that say Dewey does not - but is that a positive (no pun intended)? Or does that force us in to belief systems. Let me ask you a question that is sure to raise a great many hackles - why is ZPD anything more than a belief system? And if it is a belief system, why does it deserve primary over other belief systems.
 
Michael

________________________________

From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of Martin Packer
Sent: Mon 12/4/2006 3:59 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Empirical Evidence for ZPD

Michael,

I'm not sure what you mean by "individual ontology." By ontology I mean
talk, assumptions, beliefs about what kinds of things exist. One ontology
might hold that 'individuals' exist, separate and distinct from one another,
and from the material world. Loosely speaking I'd say this is a Cartesian
(dualist) ontology. Another ontology might say that "individuals" don't
exist, at least as natural entities, and that they are products of social
activities from which they are, ontologically speaking, never completely
distinct. Loosely speaking, I would say this is Vygotsky's ontology.

The role of the logical positivists, as I see it, was to declare any talk
about this issue 'unscientific' because it involved claims, or hypotheses,
that were 'unverifiable.' They believed (or perhaps hoped) that the way
Einstein had improved on Newtonian physics was to eliminate all
'metaphysical' assumptions, and define everything operationally. Psychology,
at least in its hypothesis-testing form, still largely holds to this
position, I think. But Kuhn showed that Einsteinian physics is just as
'metaphysical' as Newtonian physics, in that it too is a scientific
paradigm, and every paradigm includes specific ontological commitments.

For an introduction:
<<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Circle>>

For discussion of some of the complexities:
<<http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/vienna-circle/>>

My point was that if we can't talk about ontology, then we can talk only
about epistemology (only Thinking and not Being, in Sasha's terms). And when
we don't talk about ontology, we tend to unthinkingly adopt the old
Cartesian view of things, focusing on the individual as you say, thinking of
knowledge as inner, cognitive representation of an external, material,
meaningless world. Of course that individualism has a history that goes back
before logical positivism. My point was that to get beyond it we need to
examine and question its unexamined ontological assumptions. And this means
rejecting the positivists' prohibition.

Martin

On 12/4/06 1:10 PM, "Michael Glassman" <MGlassman@ehe.ohio-state.edu> wrote:

>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
> Behalf Of Martin Packer
> Sent: Monday, December 04, 2006 9:53 AM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>
>
> "And here in the US social scientists are only now becoming comfortable
> talking about ontology. The logical positivists' prohibition of this talk as
> 'unscientific' and 'metaphysical' has cast a long shadow. So most people
> assume a dualist ontology, and then Vygotsky is assimilated to Piaget and to
> cognitive science, and it is assumed that he is talking only about the
> construction of knowledge, a genetic epistemology with artifacts involved."
>
> Martin, this statement strikes me as something of a whitewash of how thinking
> about education and "development" developed in the United States and is in
> some ways ahistorical. The argument to not focus on ontology of the
> individual (is that what you mean?) occurred long before the logical
> positivists made it to these shores and is complex and shouldn't be dismissed
> quite so easily. I think it starts with James and his ideas that you want to
> focus on the individual as part of an activity. I think he was fearful that a
> focus on ontology would lead straight back to the belief laden idea that some
> individuals developed in a superior fashion to others, and I think this was
> prescient when you considered what was happening with Galton and his ideas of
> positive eugenics over in England. He also did want our understanding of the
> human condition to be empirically based, but I think a lot of this was to take
> religion and belief laden systems as much out of the equation as possible.
> And of course he wanted to concentrate on human behavior by understanding how
> we dealt with problems - leading to the development of Pragmatism.
>
> I think Dewey also sought to avoid ontology and metaphysics (he would later
> attempt to establish an experiential metaphysics which drives people like
> Rorty crazy), but again this was closely related to his ideas on instrumental
> Pragmatism and the need to focus on development of problem solving through
> development of the community. As I wrote before he wanted to avoid knowledge
> inside the head and discussions of individual ontology because he thought this
> would detract from both his ideas on experience and the need to establish and
> reestablish a democratic community. At the same time G. Stanley Hall was I
> think developing a second theoretical line - and I think it would be hard to
> argue that it was not based on some form of individual ontology. He wanted to
> look at the child as a developing organism more or less free from context and
> immediate problems. I think his ideas were further away from Logical
> Positivism than Dewey's, and it is ironic that those who do research in Hall's
> tradition consider themselves to be Logical Positivists and sometimes show
> disdain for what Dewey had to say. I think that Hall was actually a realist,
> and he was, and especially his students were, intent on objectifying the human
> condition and turning the child in to a reified object. I wonder if that is
> the tradition in the United States that you are more frustrated with - but
> again I don't think the Logical Positivists had much to do with that - it was
> more political than anything else - and was as much about getting his students
> jobs in academia I think as it was about theory.
>
> Anyway, I have to go give a test. But I think the history here of ideas is
> quite a bit more complicated than you are giving it credit for.
>
> Michael
>
> On 12/3/06 9:29 PM, "Alexander Surmava" <monada@netvox.ru> wrote:
>
>> Hi Martin,
>>
>>
>>
>> The fragment of "Crisis" which has attracted your interest is worth to
>> comment cause it contains both deep insights and equally deep
>> contradictions.
>>
>> But before comment - a little preface.
>>
>> Deepening into L.Vygotsky's texts we have to realize what our aim is, what
>> are we looking for?
>>
>> In case of "Crisis..." it is obvious that we can have two motivations: the
>> first is a historical interest. We can examine the text from the point of
>> view of development of Vygotsky's ideas.
>>
>> The alternative motivation takes place if we are seeking the methodological
>> ideas in "Crisis..."
>>
>> Both motivations are looking as equally possible. But actually reading of
>> "Crisis..." with "methodological" motivation can be hardly estimated as an
>> effective investment of your researcher's time. I mean that Vygotsky was one
>> of the pioneers of investigation of Marx' method, of dialectic as a
>> methodology and he left us a couple of deep insights in this domain like say
>> an idea about germ cell, or analysis in units. But...
>>
>> How do you value an investigator say biologist (not historian of biology
>> !!!) who will seek the methods of his current investigations in a monograph
>> issued in 1927? I'm afraid that this researcher will have grate problems
>> with publication of results of his investigations, cause the majority of
>> researchers' community will estimate his methods slightly fossil while the
>> researcher slightly eccentric.
>>
>> If Vygotsky was right in his theoretic reflection, if human's creativity is
>> based on his culture and if real theoretic culture of Vygotsky was Marxism,
>> it means that we in our current investigations have to base on the most
>> up-to-date version of dialectical logic instead of classical work written in
>> 1927.
>>
>> Meanwhile between 1927 and 2006 Marxist theory was not dead. In the middle
>> of the last century the great step in the development of Dialectical logic
>> was made by Evald Il'enkov. So if one wants to continue the Vygotsky's
>> theoretic researches, one need to study Marxist method from more up-to-date
>> saucer - the works of Evald Il'enkov first of all Dialectics of the Abstract
>> and Concrete, Dialectical Logic, The Concept of the Ideal, Leninist
>> Dialectics and Metaphysics of Positivism.
>>
>> I repeat, if Vygotsky didn't make a mistake regarding himself as a Marxist,
>> so we to go deeper into Vygotskian (=Marxist, or =Dialectical) psychology
>> have to study dialectic method rather from Il'enkov then from Vygotsky. I am
>> sure that if Vygotsky was alive now he would evidently share this position.
>>
>> To demonstrate both similarities and differences between Vygotsky's and
>> Il'enkov's comprehension of Dialectic one need to realize a special
>> comparative analysis of their texts. And we (I mean a group of Il'enkov's
>> disciples: Lev Naumenko, Alexander Simakin, Alexei Novokhatko, me and some
>> others) are planning to write a multi-author book about this topic. Such an
>> investigation was totally impossible in Soviet days because a tiny hint to
>> Vygotsky criticism could gave a heavy weapon to enemies of CHAT and shift
>> the discussion from academic to ideological soil. On the contrary, now such
>> an analysis is the only way to save the school from degeneration into
>> eclecticism.
>>
>> But let's return to your question about ontological and epistemological
>> aspects of psychophysical problem. I think, that the difficulties you have
>> experienced in comprehension of the fragment is quite objective, because the
>> fragment is really vague. Vygotsky is trying to play an away match
>> discussing the problem in Neo-Kantianist terms - Ontology, Gnoseology
>> (Epistemology) - while dialectic regards all this notions excessive.
>>
>> According to Il'enkov as well as Lenin Dialectic is a Logic and Theory of
>> Knowledge of Marxism so that we haven't need in three words because this
>> three notions are identical. If you like to examine their arguments in
>> detail you can find it in Chapter 9 On the Coincidence of Logic with
>> Dialectics and the Theory of Knowledge of Materialism of "Dialectcal logic"
>> http://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/essays/essay9.htm
>>
>> Now what I think about all of this. Surely the relationship of Geist and
>> matter is the most universal formula of the problem of identity of Thinking
>> and Being. Substantially, dialectically it was discussed in Descartes' and
>> Spinoza's reflections and rethought by Il'enkov in the first two chapters of
>> "Dialectical logic
>> "http://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/essays/essay1.htm
>>
>> http://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/essays/essay2.htm
>>
>> The problem of so called "Ontological" status of subject and object has two
>> simple answers:
>>
>> 1. ascends to Descartes and supposes an existence of two separate
>> substances with opposite ontological status. So Descartes saves the special
>> ontological status for realm of thought, will, reflection etc, etc.
>> 2. ascends to Spinoza and supposes an existence of only one substance.
>> So it insists that there is only one "Ontological status", that assumption
>> of the second bodyless "Ontological status" is a simple return to mythology.
>>
>> Evald Il'enkov in his "Dialectic of Ideality" summarize all this in
>> following words: (s tochki zreniya posledovatel'nogo materializma v mire
>> voobsche net i ne mozhet byt' nichego, krome dvizhuscheisya materii, krome
>> beskonechnoi sovokupnosti material'nyh tel, sobytii, protsessov i
>> sostoyanii...)
>>
>> (from the point of view of consistent materialism there is not actually and
>> can't be anything but moving matter, but unlimited totality of material
>> bodies, events, processes and condition). It is characteristic that Il'enkov
>> did this statement in his classical work concerning the problem of ideality.
>>
>> Thus even hypothetical admission of existence of more than one "ontological"
>> state leads us to strong contradiction with the basics of Spinozism. It
>> (this contradiction) meant nothing for idealist Hoffding but it was awkward
>> for materialist and Spinozist Vygotsky.
>>
>> Vygotsky declares: "Both mind and body are for us objective, but whereas
>> mental objects [geistigen Objekte] are by their nature related to the
>> knowing subject, the body exists only as an object for us."
>>
>> Here in understanding of objects as having by nature nothing to with any
>> subjectivity or cognition Vygotsky against his Spinozian inclinations acts
>> as pure Cartesian.
>>
>> As for subject-object relation it can be understood in different theoretic
>> cultures quite differently. In formal logic and in positivist tradition the
>> subject-object relation is no more than a grammatical definition. As it was
>> clearly described by our colleague David Kellogg:
>>
>> "I guess for me a subject is a grammatical subject or else a discourse
>> subject (that is, a "speaking subject") and an object is either a
>> grammatical object or a hearer or listener. So that puts me in the semiotic
>> camp rather than the activity theoretic one, though I am willing to accept
>> that the activity theoretic camp probably has a lot more interesting things
>> to say about animals."
>>
>> It is characteristic that some problematic interest from dialectic approach
>> he waits only to understand the nature of ungrammatical animals.
>>
>> The dialectical alternative is in understanding of subject-object relation
>> as relation which arises from spontaneous activity of some special sort of
>> bodies (we mean living or in terms of Il'enkov "thinking bodies") so that as
>> a result of this activity we have a fact of mutual positioning of Subject
>> and its Object (or better Gegenstand or Predmet).
>>
>> I'm afraid that it's impossible to comment the last one as briefly as David
>> did, so for more details I can only address to my text "LIFE, PSYCHE,
>> CONSCIOUSNESS" which is available to download in English from here:
>> http://www.voxnet.ru/~monada/articles.php?lng=eng
>>
>> As for Vygotsky's sophisticated reasoning about reflection in the mirror it
>> gives us one extra prove of his unwilling Cartesianism and a chance to
>> demonstrate the potential of activity approach.
>>
>> But the topic is so tasty and the time in Moscow is so late (or already
>> early :-)) that I will leave my comments for the nest post.
>>
>> Cheers,
>>
>> Sasha
>>
>>
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
>> Behalf Of Martin Packer
>> Sent: Thursday, November 30, 2006 4:55 PM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] Empirical Evidence for ZPD
>>
>>
>>
>> Given the current discussion of the dialectic this seems an excellent time
>>
>> to ask for guidance on some passages from Vygotksy's 'Crisis' that strike me
>>
>> as important, but which I find confusing. Sasha, I'd welcome your
>>
>> interpretation. Vygotsky is arguing for the need, in a truly 'general'
>>
>> psychology, to distinguish the epistemological problem of the relation of
>>
>> subject and object from the ontological problem of the relation between mind
>>
>> and body, and then of course to solve both problems. Then he writes:
>>
>>
>>
>> "│We must not mix up the relation between subject and object with the
>>
>> relation between mind and body, as H°ffding [1908] splendidly explains. The
>>
>> distinction between mind [Geist] and matter is a distinction in [established
>>
>> at the level of] the content of our knowledge. But the distinction between
>>
>> subject and object manifests [establishes] itself independently from the
>>
>> content of our knowledge.▓ (323) [The material in brackets is my
>>
>> modifications to the translations based on the Spanish version; a bit risky,
>>
>> I know]
>>
>>
>>
>> He then quotes Hoffding:
>>
>>
>>
>> │Both mind and body are for us objective, but whereas mental objects
>>
>> [geistigen Objekte] are by their nature related to the knowing subject, the
>>
>> body exists only as an object for us. The relation between subject and
>>
>> object is an epistemological problem [Erkenntnisproblem], the relation
>>
>> between mind and matter is an ontological problem [Daseinsproblem].▓
>>
>>
>>
>> I find it difficult to reconcile these two paragraphs. Is he saying that
>>
>> mind and body are objective for us; we experience them as really existing.
>>
>> But all objects are such only for a knowing subject, so the body, for
>>
>> example, exists as a real object only for us, as subjects. This distinction,
>>
>> between subject and object, arises whether we experience it or not? Or,
>>
>> since OEknowledge╣ is something valued for V, perhaps he's saying that Geist
>>
>> and matter are things we can know. They are real. Their relation is a
>>
>> problem, and it is ontological. Whereas subject and object are how things
>>
>> appear, or how they can appear, in │epistemological consciousness,▓ i.e.
>>
>> introspection. It follows that the subjective (the for-us) must not merely
>>
>> be described but also explained, in terms of real objects and real
>>
>> processes. Mental processes are real processes, not identical with
>>
>> subjectivity. │Empirical, psychological consciousness▓ is, it seems,
>>
>> non-dualistic. My joy is real (and non-dualistic). My introspection of this
>>
>> joy introduces dualism.
>>
>>
>>
>> A few pages later:
>>
>>
>>
>> "│After all, a cornerstone of materialism is the proposition that
>>
>> consciousness and the brain are a product, a part of nature, which reflect
>>
>> the rest of nature▓ (327).
>>
>>
>>
>> The last sentence is not grammatical English, so something has clearly gone
>>
>> wrong with the translation.
>>
>>
>>
>> If anyone has access to the original Russian and could comment,that would be
>>
>> great. (Page numbers are from the version in The Essential Vygotsky.)
>>
>>
>>
>> Martin
>>
>>
>>
>> On 11/30/06 2:43 AM, "monada@netvox.ru" <monada@netvox.ru> wrote:
>>
>>
>>
>>> Hi Mike,
>>
>>>
>>
>>> I mean the text from the volume 6 of Russian collected works of LSV
>>
>>> "Utchenie ob emotziakh" or "Spinoza" as it was titled by LSV himself.
>>
>>>
>>
>>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
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