Re: [xmca] Cognition Is Not Volition

From: Vera Steiner (
Date: Fri Feb 09 2007 - 09:14:54 PST

I find the current discussion on consciousness very interesting as we
have just discussed the 1925 essay on this subject by Vygotsky in my
seminar last night. We tried to connect some of his ideas with current
neuroscience work focusing on the difficult and elusive concept of
consciousness. In his early essay, Vygotsky uses the metaphor of a
funnel,that is of all the possible experiences only a subset is
processed and represented through the socially mediated, usually verbal
means, that shape consciousness. While word meaning is a good unit of
verbal thinking, a broader social/verbal process may be involved in
what current researchers highlight as the distinction between
conscious and unconscious processes. They refer to blind sight among
individuals who experienced damage to visual cortical areas --a
registering of a stimulus without conscious, verbal acknowledgment of
its impact. Gazzanaga speaks of a left hemisphere "interpreter" again a
verbal process.

In addition, findings such as the work on the insula and of mirror
neurons emphasize the importance of social (imitative and evaluative
experiences) as relevant to socially scaffolded individual processes.

Vygotsky's work on consciousness is sketchy, tentative, but suggestive,
and he may have been right when he wrote that when you try to push
consciousness out of the door it re-enters through the window. One last
comment, Dennett's use of the concept of meta-awareness, again a process
that requires language, is an important one when we try to understand
how human consciousness is not equivalent to what some have thought of
in terms computer software.

So, I believe, that Vygotsky keeps on challenging us to explore one of
the most difficult notions in the human sciences, and to me, it is a
useful challenge.(And Martin, I sympathize with your discomfort.)

David Kellogg wrote:

> Oh, no! Did I say Vygotsky thought that consciousness was volition? I thought I said something like consciousness EVOLVES out of the exercise of volition.
> I thought I was being clever and paradoxical: most people see will as being the armed wing of consciousness, and find it difficult to imagine will without consciousness. Just as most people think of dictionary definitions as being the core of word-meaning and find it rather difficult to imagine pragmatic use without (dictionary) word-meaning.
> But I admit a weakness for your formulation: volition is a relationship between consciousness and functions that lack consciousness. Not least because it suggests that volition might develop into conciousness from the outside inwards (e.g. PERCEPTION-->VOLITION-->COGNITION-->METACOGNITION [CONSCIOUSNESS]!
> dk
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