[xmca] Harried instructor seeks words of wisdom

From: Martin Packer (packer@duq.edu)
Date: Thu Feb 08 2007 - 18:00:44 PST

Trying to get the worms out of one can I seem to have opened another, but I
think David may have rescued me before I started to ask. Trying to explain
why studying consciousness was important to Vygotsky, I started with the
assertion that for him (and me too) consciousness is in our interaction with
the world. I suppose that all animals have consciousness, perhaps even
plants in some sense, since they respond to changes in the environment (day
& night; the movement of the sun) and so must sense these in some way. But
human consciousness is, one supposes, much more complex, and it develops.

If consciousness is in our interactions, not in our heads, that is helpful
when we are trying to avoid dualistic thinking. And, yes, Vygotsky was
trying to give a materialistic account of consciousness, which at first
seems pretty contradictory.

Psychology today generally doesnıt consider consciousness: in one class one
might study memory, in another perception, in a third language, and so on.
>From Vygotskyıs point of view this has divided up something unitary ­ after
all, in my conscious existence I am thinking at one moment, remembering
something the next, then imagining something, talking, ... and even this
account divides consciousness up too much. So the proper study of
consciousness is the study of all these functions in their
interrelationship. It is, I said, only to keep things simple that Vygotsky
focuses mainly on thinking and talking in the book we are reading.

I said some more. I said it in (bad) Spanish and now I canıt remember it in

And they said, okay, very good, but what was Vygotskyıs definition of
Œconsciousnessı? Give us a definition of consciousness, and keep it concise
and formal. They said this with a (collective) smile, so I know they werenıt
expecting a dictionary definition, even before reading Davidıs message. But
I wasnıt able to give a (good) answer.

David, for me, too, consciousness is not cognition. I completely agree with
you that volition is crucial for Vygotsky. (For example, I think Vygotskyıs
position on scientific concepts is misunderstood when people say that such
concepts enable self-control; V is clear that itıs the other way round:
self-control, mastery of oneıs own psychological functions, makes such
concepts possible.) But Iım not entirely comfortable *equating*
consciousness with volition. I guess for a first shot Iıd say that volition
is a relation between consciousness and functions that lack consciousness.
One thing I like about this formulation is that it includes the possibility
that consciousness is social, intersubjective, and that self-control has its
roots in control-by-others. And I do believe that this was Vygotskyıs
position (in-itself; for-others; for-itself). But ­ having put it this way ­
one has to distinguish carefully between consciousness and
self-consciousness, no?

Enough for one day. Iım off for enchiladas. More words of wisdom from XMCAıs
collective consciousness will be much appreciated!


p.s I think Osimbologia may be a Nahuatl word. ;) I saw a wonderful
Spanish-Nahuatl dictionary the other day. Any takers?
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