Re: [xmca] Monism Is Not Reductionist

From: Martin Packer (
Date: Sun Mar 11 2007 - 18:49:37 PST


At first glance, your description of the procedure seems to fit nicely with
Vygotsky's insistence that "generalization becomes possible only with the
development of social interaction." How would you respond to the suggestion
that the child and adult *together* are converging on the appropriate
generalization? It would be fascinating to study a transcript of one of
these sessions. I suspect for example that one could trace changing
interpretations of indexicals: "one of *those* blocks...," "another one of


On 3/11/07 7:00 PM, "Mike Cole" <> wrote:

> Martin et al-
> A variety of overload problems have kept me out of this discussion and next
> week
> will be the worst of the lot, so I cannot properly contribute. However, I am
> pretty sure
> that Martin has not described "the game" correctly when he writes:
> The child picks up a
> block, a big black circle, and the adult says, that¹s a MUR. Can you find
> another?² The child generalizes ­picks another block that appears, to her,
> to be a member of the same group, referred to by the same word. A smaller
> black circle. The adult says, ³No, that¹s a FIK.²
> I refer you to p. 128-129 of the 1987 edition of T&S.
> We spent a long time trying to figure out what, exactly, the procedure
> actually used in an
> individual case might be, and how to standardize along the lines of the
> Bruner, Austin, ^& Goodnow
> concept formation studies which I was brought up on and which appear, at
> first, to be the same
> as the procedure described by Martin.
> We also tried to get Davydov to show us how it was done, and at the time he
> had a grad
> student, Yuri Gromyko, who had done a recent study using the blocks. To the
> best of my
> memory, we never got access to Yuri's thesis (he was in the army at the time
> we inquired)
> and Davydov did solve for us the problem of standarization.
> The crux of the matter is that the adult is more involved than American
> concept formation
> procedures or Martin's description would suggest.
> 1. A bunch of blocks are placed on the table, the adult then shows one to
> the child along with its
> name and puts it in one corner of the table.
> 2. The child is then asked to place all the objects that he believes belong
> with object 1 next to it.
> 3. After each attempt the adult corrects the child and reveals the name of
> an additional object.
> Then what? Which object does the adult choose? Note there are lots of
> options.
> In brief, the adult appears to be an active participant in the process and
> it seems as if the
> experimenter's choices ought to reveal something about the experimenter's
> notion of what the child's concept might be. The adult is trying to figure
> out the kid at the same time that the kid is trying to figure out what the
> adult has set up in a contingent set of interactions.
> Or so it seems.
> Does this matter?
> mike
> On 3/11/07, Martin Packer <> wrote:
>> David,
>> I think you¹re correct to say that generalization is central to concept
>> development. To use a word, Vygotsky says, is to generalize. ³A word does
>> not relate to a single object, but to an entire group of class of objects.
>> Therefore, every word is a concealed generalization.² ŒCat¹ is never this
>> particular animal, but a group or class of animals. The generalization
>> that
>> the use of a word always involves is also ²a verbal act of thought.² But
>> the character of the generalization turns out to change, to develop over
>> time. This, says Vygotsky, is the ³primary result² of his work. As the
>> child
>> moves from heaps to complexes to concepts, she ³moves from primitive forms
>> of generalization to higher and more complex forms.²
>> And this change is also a change in consciousness: Vygotsky writes of ³the
>> transition from sensation to thought² and of the way that ³reality is
>> reflected in consciousness in a qualitatively different way in thinking
>> than
>> it is in immediate sensation.²
>> The block task is certainly all about generalization. The child picks up a
>> block, a big black circle, and the adult says, that¹s a MUR. Can you find
>> another?² The child generalizes ­picks another block that appears, to her,
>> to be a member of the same group, referred to by the same word. A smaller
>> black circle. The adult says, ³No, that¹s a FIK.²
>> To be able to play this game successfully, to pick the blocks the way the
>> adult names them, the child has to begin to notice attributes she hasn¹t
>> noticed before. She has to see each block in a different way. She has to
>> learn to see certain blocks *as* MUR, and others *as* FIK.
>> So when Peter wrote ³Probably the action underlying the concept is the
>> action of choosing a block labeled LAG, right?² I completely agree with
>> him.
>> When you stop to think about it, there is no Œconcept¹ as a entity,
>> existing
>> either in the world or in the mind. (In fact I¹m increasingly coming to
>> read
>> Vygotsky as insisting that there is such realm as Œmind.¹ There are
>> physiological processes and physical actions ­ material practices ­ each
>> with varying degrees and qualities of consciousness. Period. To talk of
>> Œmind¹ rather than of mental (read psychological or even psychical)
>> processes is to risk falling back into the dualism that he is so critical
>> of
>> in Crisis.) A concept is a particular process of activity, a practice of
>> grouping and naming objects. As a result of participating in this
>> activity,
>> the child comes to see the world differently. It¹s hard to describe this
>> without sounding dualistic ­ what I mean is that the objects in the world
>> change. To develop the concept of LAG the child has to see the blocks as
>> different kind of objects. The world changes. This can happen because it
>> is
>> a social world ­ a culture. In fact we have no way of naming things (or
>> thinking of them, or being conscious of them) outside culture. When I
>> objected to your statement, David, that ³what is in the block is... wood²
>> my
>> point was that *every* statement about what the block *is* is always
>> already
>> a conceptualization, already a social practice. What we call a concept is
>> a
>> practice of naming by adults that invites the child, or requires the
>> child,
>> to see the world in a new way, to be conscious in a new way.
>> So when Andy writes ³If you mean that concepts do not exist other than in
>> connection with human minds, then I agree,² I think what he *ought* to
>> have
>> said, perhaps what he meant to say, was that concepts do not exist other
>> than in connection with human *practices*. I think we¹d agree that a
>> Œcommodity¹ exists in the social world, not merely in a person¹s head. The
>> Œcommodity form¹ is defined, created, by social practices, not in and by
>> individual minds. As Lukacs once noted, a collapse in the stock market is
>> just as real as being hit by a truck (and sometimes feels very similar).
>> You asked what concerns me. I¹m concerned to avoid what I think are two
>> common misreadings of Vygotsky. The first is the view that internalization
>> is for Vygotsky the *general* mechanism of development, kind of the
>> equivalent for him of assimilation and accommodation for Piaget. The
>> second
>> bolsters the first: it is the assumption that internalization *must* be
>> what
>> occurs in development, because development is a process of gaining
>> knowledge
>> about the world, and the world is full (only) of objects, while the mind
>> is
>> full (only) of knowledge.
>> I believe that Vygotsky refers to internalization relatively sparingly,
>> and
>> I believe that he does so in a nondualistic way. That¹s to say, I¹m
>> *interpreting* it nondualistically; as I¹ve suggested, I think a lot of
>> people read it dualistically, and mistakenly. To be honest I¹m not clear
>> whether your interpretation is dualistic or not. Let¹s assume it¹s
>> not. The
>> change that Vygotsky gives most emphasis to is becoming able to accomplish
>> oneself what originally required the involvement of others. Thus social
>> speech becomes egocentric speech. Once the child is able to accomplish an
>> activity unaided, it can become Œinternal¹ physiologically. Thus
>> egocentric
>> speech can become silent speech. (It¹s not generally noted that the
>> ³general
>> genetic law of cultural development², which most of us are familiar with
>> from Mind in Society, a statement about the change from ³intermental² to
>> ³intramental² functions, is not, in its original location, associated with
>> internalization, but with ³Hegel¹s analysis² of Œin-itself, Œfor-others,¹
>> Œfor-itself.¹)
>> Let me cite a relatively lengthy passage that shows this emphasis, and use
>> of the terms Œexternal¹ and Œinternal¹ not to refer to Œworld¹ and Œmind¹
>> but to Œsocial¹ and Œindividual¹:
>> ³Every higher mental function necessarily passes through an external stage
>> of development because function is primarily social. This is the center of
>> the whole problem of internal and external behavior. Many authors have
>> long
>> since pointed to the problem of interiorization, internalizing behaviorŠ.
>> But we have something else in mind when we speak of the external stage in
>> the history of the cultural development of the child. For us to call a
>> process Œexternal¹ means to call it Œsocial.¹ Every higher mental function
>> was external because it was social before it became an internal, strictly
>> mental function; it was formerly a social relation of two people. The
>> means
>> of acting on oneself is initially a means of acting on others or a means
>> of
>> action of others on the individual.² (1931/1997, p. 105)
>> Actually, as I noted in an earlier message, Vygotsky helps to confuse us
>> by
>> using Œinner¹ in two ways. As he himself noted: ³Speech becomes inner
>> psychologically before it becomes inner physiologically. Egocentric speech
>> is speech that is inner in function. It is speech for oneself, speech that
>> is on the threshold of becoming inner. It is already half incomprehensible
>> to others. At the same time, it is still external in a physiological
>> sense²
>> (T&S 114).
>> The first transition is from social to individual. The second is from
>> spoken
>> aloud to Œspoken silently¹ - ie. an entirely physiological process. I am
>> still digging through the texts to see, when Vygotsky does use the term
>> internalization, whether he refers consistently to one of these
>> transitions.
>> But in *neither* of them is Œmind¹ involved.
>> Martin
>> On 3/9/07 5:38 PM, "David Kellogg" <> wrote:
>>> Dear Martin:
>>> The way I understand Chapter Five, it is almost entirely about
>>> internalization. At every stage of the emergence of the true concept
>> from
>>> heaps and the various types of complexes, the explanatory principle that
>>> Vygotsky posits has something to do with generalization: the child
>> generalizes
>>> one feature of to create a complex out of a heap, and then generalizes
>> to a
>>> more abstract aspect to create a pseudoconcept, and finally situates
>> this
>>> pseudoconcept in a network of abstract (that is, generalized)
>> paradigmatic and
>>> syntagmatic relationships to create a true concept.
>>> When we examine in detail Vygotsky's concept of the word we see that
>> it is
>>> based on Sapir's, not Saussure's. That is, the essence of a word lies in
>>> generalization, not opposition. But this generalization is an aspect of
>> a
>>> word's meaning; it is not an aspect of the pronunciation or the
>> orthography or
>>> the medium in which we find the word.
>>> There isn't anything dualistic in this. Vygotsky's solution to the
>> "dual
>>> nature" of the word is not to reduce words to physical components of the
>>> outside world (the way that, for example, J.J. Gibson does in his theory
>> of
>>> unmediated perception). Nor is it the upward reductionism of those who
>> believe
>>> in conversation without cognition (e.g. Coulter, J. "Language without
>> mind",
>>> in Potter and te Molder, Conversation and Cognition, CUP 2005).
>>> What Vygotsky does is to assimilate both the physical component of the
>> word
>>> (the orthography and the pronunciation, which is what I referred to as
>>> "external") and the mental act of generalization that constitutes its
>> meaning
>>> (which we may refer to as "internal" with some confidence, now that you
>> have
>>> admitted that Vygotsky uses "internalization" in a non-dualistic way) to
>> a
>>> single, larger whole. Pronunciation and meaning are linked, but
>> distinct.
>>> Does Vygotsky ever SAY this? Yes, he does. The word "word" is used
>>> throughout Chapter Five: see Vol. 1, p. 159, p.163, p. 164, and above
>> all on
>>> p. 165, where Vygotsky takes Buhler to task for assuming that concept
>>> formation takes place without internal integration and generalization
>> and is
>>> purely external in its formation:
>>> "If, in fact, the concept arises on the basis of judgment or thinking,
>> we
>>> might ask what distinguishes the concept from the products of concrete
>> or
>>> active thinking practical contexts. Again, Buhler forgest what is
>> central to
>>> concept formation. He forgets the word. He fails to take account of the
>> word
>>> in his analysis of the factors that play a role in concept formation. As
>> a
>>> consequence, he cannot understand how two processes as different as
>> judgement
>>> an the combining of representations can lead to the formation of
>> concepts."
>>> Does Vygotsky every EXPLICITLY link concept formation with the actual
>> word
>>> internalization? Yes, he does; in his discussion of verbal thought and
>> above
>>> all in his discussion of the adolescent's formation of a concept of
>> self. In
>>> Volume Two, for example (p. 197) we find:
>>> "A game of rules serves as an example of (the formation of
>> self-direction).
>>> Later, these forms of cooperation, which led to the the subordination of
>>> behavior to a given game's rules, become internalized forms of a child's
>>> activity, voluntary processes."
>>> In Volume Five, on p. 174, we find "The third direction in the
>> development
>>> of self-consciousness is its internalization. The adolescent begins to
>>> recognize himself more and more asa single whole." This needs to be read
>> in
>>> conjunction with his earlier discussion of the development of thinking
>> and the
>>> formation of concepts in the adolescent, esp. p. 75, where he talks
>> about how
>>> the metaphors of the adolescent differ from those of a schoolchild.
>>> In Volume Six, the translators have chosen the term "interiorization"
>> rather
>>> than internalization, but the concept and the Russian original is
>> clearly the
>>> same. Here the results of Chapter Five of Thought and Speech are
>> referred to
>>> using "interiorization" and "exteriorization" quite explicitly. See p.
>> 54:
>>> "Thus we come to the conclusion that every higher mental function
>> inevitably
>>> initially has the character of an external activity. As a rule, at first
>> th
>>> esign represents an external auxiliary stimulus, an external means of
>>> autostimulation. (...) The fact of "interiorizing" sign operations was
>>> experimentally trackedi ntwo situations: in group experiments with
>> children of
>>> various ages and in individual experiments in long term experimentation
>> with
>>> one child." (This is where he introduces the famous "parallelogram of
>>> development" that explains his forbidden colors results.)
>>> But I don't really fully understand why all this makes you
>> uncomfortable,
>>> Matin. After all, if what you say is true, and Vygotsky uses the term
>>> internalization in a non-dualistic way, then why CAN'T he apply it to
>> concept
>>> formation? We are not suggesting that internalization involves the
>> creation of
>>> a Popperian World Three (which I've always thought of as a kind of Third
>>> World, a place of uneven and combined development where permanent
>> revolutions
>>> invariably spill over into the first and second worlds!).
>>> Concepts (scientific concepts, for example) are created and shared
>> (and
>>> accessed by the child) through language. Language is part of the world.
>> But I
>>> don't see why we have to say that language is part of the world in
>> exactly the
>>> same way as lions or death (by which I mean living, breathing lions and
>>> tangible, physical death, not the English word "lion" or the abstract
>> concept
>>> of "death"). I'm not sure what such a statement would mean, since I
>> don't
>>> think that meaning is part of the world in exactly the same way as
>>> pronunciation is. They are linked, but distinct, or at least
>> distinguishable.
>>> The world is an extremely big place, and includes phenomena that are,
>> for
>>> example, physical but not biological, or biological but not social, and
>> even
>>> social and not linguistic. Linguistic phenomena seem to me to be a
>> subset of a
>>> larger category of social phenomena, in much the same way as social
>> phenomena
>>> are a subset of a larger category of biological ones and biological
>> phenomena
>>> are part of a larger subset of physical ones. To say that they are all
>> the
>>> same type of phenomena is not monism; it's just reductionism.
>>> Yes, I've read Bakhurst, and I applaud him; he was one of the first to
>> stand
>>> up for Volosinov. I certainly agree that minds do confront reality
>> directly.
>>> But that is not all they know how to do.
>>> David Kellogg
>>> Seoul National University of Education
>>> ---------------------------------
>>> Don't pick lemons.
>>> See all the new 2007 cars at Yahoo! Autos.
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