[xmca] Concepts In Heads

From: David Kellogg (vaughndogblack@yahoo.com)
Date: Thu Mar 08 2007 - 14:45:14 PST

Dear Andy and Martin:
  Janet writes about a man in a mysterious room who suddenly notices in the wall a face staring at him. He is horrified, then intrigued, and at last relieved to discover it is only a mirror. But it is the relief which is an illusion, for the face reflected is not his own.
  Actually, Janet hated the word "reflection". For him it is the ultimate weasel word. When people say that consciousness is a "reflection" of the outside world, they have merely blamed consciousness on something outside the mind, not explained it.
  Yet we find that "reflection" is precisely the word that Engels uses to describe how concepts of (not "in" but "of") the outside world are formed in the human mind (the concept he uses is dialectics). The quotation from Engels that ends "Mind in Society" (which I think is a mistranslation) is an example of this.
  One of the good things that came out of the dispute with Wertsch over "internalization" and "appropriation" (and why not "acquisition", if we want a property metaphor) of concepts is a very clear realization that there is no way to use words to overcome dualism, because any word can be used in a dualistic way. Whether we use the word "reflection" or "internalization" or "interiorization" or "in" or "of") is not in the end very important, because ALL of these words can be used in a dualistic way (as products opposed to other products).
  But these words can also be used in a monist way (as processes which connect a state that is more one thing with a state that is more the other). I think that's what Engels was doing with "reflection" and I think that is what Vygotsky's doing with "internalization".
  "Wood" is neither a material reality nor a concept. It's an English word. When I said that what is in the block is not a concept but wood, I was using this word to refer to the matter of which Martin is going to construct his Ach blocks as opposed to an abstract concept. Yes, it is possible for one to become interiorized as the other, but no it is not a matter of internalizing matter, or even DIRECTLY internalizing a word. It is, nevertheless, a process that Vygotsky described as internalization.
  In contrast, if I were to say something like "I prefer wood coffee tables to glass ones", then I am referring to an abstract concept, and if somebody heard me say this and offered me a choice between a beer-stained piece of rec-room furniture and an expensive Danish coffee table made of Venetian glass I might well take the latter.
  Andy suggests that if I use the word "internalization" I MUST be using it in a dualistic way, and that is more or less how I understand Wertsch's criticism of LSV in "Vygotsky and the Social Construction of Mind". I don't see why that's so.
  In fact, when LSV argues that BEFORE the process of internalization there essentially IS no mind, that internalization is what actually CREATES the mental plane, it seems to me this is a clearly NON-dualistic use of "internalization". Of course, he uses words to express it, and words can and inevitably ARE interpreted dualistically by those who are so inclined. But I'm actually grateful that he uses words I can (mis)understand; it's bad enough that they're in Russian.
  There is an undoubtedly apocryphal story about a very loud discussion in a New York cafe between Rothko, Pollock, de Kooning and a few other of the greats of abstract expressionism back in the fifties. The discussion was about whether one should sign one's paintings or not. Some argued that it was vain and egocentric to sign paintings, and others argued that it was merely unnecessary, since every brush stroke screamed your name anyway. Still others argued, doubtless correctly, that this last thought was vain.
  The dealer (who doubtless had a vested interest here) cut in at the end and said something like "Cut it out, guys. If you are a vain person, then it is vain to sign your paintings and it is vain to not sign your painting, but if you are not a vain person then it is not vain to not sign your paintings and it is not vain to sign them either."
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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