Re: [xmca] Emotion at Work

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Sat Jul 28 2007 - 09:04:53 PDT

Dear (Wolff-)Michael:
  Actually, I was responsible for dragging Damasio in by the ears, and not Andy. As you pointed out, I was tying a bunch of things together (two articles on brain physiology, Damasio's two books, your article and readings on play and creativity from Gunilla Lindquist).
  I didn't mean to imply that your article endorsed Damasio; I simply wanted to point out that Damasio (minds have feelings because the body senses emotions) endorses James-Lange (we feel sad because we sense that we are crying), and that the James-Lange thesis on emotions is NOT endorsed by LSV.
  I'm NOW reading Ribot, because Ribot appears to be the main work behind Vygotsky 2004, the Imagination and Creativity in Childhood. Gillen, Davydov and Radizikhovsky and even van der Veer and Valsiner have variously written that a lot of the ideas we consider so revolutionary in Vygotsky were in the air at the time (Gillen says that Vygotsky did not think up the ZPD, Davydov and Radizikhovsky claim that "Consciousness as a Problem in the Study of Behavior" contains nothing new, and van der Veer and Valsiner suggest that the key principle of inter-mental processes giving rise to intra-mental ones is Janet's).
  "Imagination and Creativity in Childhood" uses some rather dubious, overlapping categories to talk about imagination (fantasy, fantasy plus a kind of reality check that allows us to imagine things that really exist but which we have not witnessed, aesthetic emotions, and the imagination which allows us to bring into being things which do not exist but will). I wanted to know to what extent these categories represented Vygotsky's ideas or a quick synthesis of Ribot's served up so that Vygotsky's students could keep abreast of world literature (something I find MYSELF doing not a little these days).
  So far, I've found (by reading Ribot's "Essai sur l'imagination creatrice" 1908) was that the categories do not match Ribot's at all, and instead parallel what Vygotsky writes about in the Psychology of Art. But what REALLY doesn't match is LSV's theory of emotions, because Ribot simply accepts the whole of the James-Lange theory which as we know Vygotsky comprehensively rejects.
  Here's what Ribot says:
  Ribot, Th. (1905) La psychologie des sentiments. Paris: F&eacute;lix Alcan.
  pp. 254-255: Ą°Quoique ni James ni Lange ne lĄŻaient cite/ parmi leurs cas typiques, lĄŻamour est certainement lĄŻune des e/motions qui expriment le plus clairement lĄŻe/tat de lĄŻorganisme et qui prouvent le plus clairement en faveur de leur the/se. Que le lecteur supprime par la pense/e, lĄŻune apre`s lĄŻautre, toutes les manifestations physiologigues qui lĄŻaccompagnent, que reste-t-il? Pas me^me la conscience dĄŻune attraction vague, car elle suppose un movement re/el ou naissant.Ą± (p. 255)
  (Although neither James nor Lange has cited it among their typical cases, love is certainly one of the emotions which expresses the state of the organism and which proves their thesis most clearly. If the reader mentally suppresses, one by one, all of the physiological manifestations which accompany it, what would be left? Not even the consciousness of a vague attraction, because this suppose a real or at least incipient form of action.)
  It seems to me that throughout my sorry love life I've tried various forms of this experiment (falling in love with a lesbian at sixteen, and currently a virtual relationship with my wife, who is now studying in the USA) and what I get is quite the opposite result from that predicted by Ribot. I suppose Damasio/James/Lange/Ribot would argue that what I am experiencing is an associative chain, and that I am really experiencing the sexual instinct at some distal remove. This doesn't explain the intensifying of the emotion. But even if it did, I am far from convinced that what is true of "love" (by which I think Ribot is rather quaintly referring to the sex instinct) is a good example for other higher emotions. For example, it's rather difficult to perform Ribot's thought experiment of paring away all physical reactions from my love of my little brother, or my father, or my friends, much less my love of my job and my adopted country.
  Here the problem seems to be a whole set of emotions which are CALLED INTO BEING through language, not through perception. That was what I really wanted to call attention to, and that brings us back to the problem of elements and units. I don't actually see that there is a problem taking "activity" as a unit and "rules", "division of labor", "subject" etc. as elements. A unit is always reducible to elements: a water molecule may be reduced to hydrogen and water, and a word-meaning to a thought and a phonological or graphological word. But when we undertake this reduction, the thing we are discussing disappears: we are no longer talking of water, or of word meanings.
  Kozulin's criticism of activity theory (which I think I subscribe to, and more importantly, I think that Volosinov and Vygotsky himself wold have subscribed to) is that it doesn't deal with this problem: first Leontiev reduces activity to action and then operation, but each of these is really just "activity" on a different scale. Then Engestrom decomposes "activity" into the elements you pointed out; these can explain the make-up of an activity but the make-up of the activity does not explain its genesis and its development (I have always felt that the bits we really want to understand in Engestrom's triangle are the ARROWS, not the various words).
  Instead I find myself going back to the formulations in "Thinking and Speech" and 'The Role of Play in the Development of the Child". Thinking and speech MUST have different roots if they are to explain each other; if they are the same, if they BOTH spring from "activity", then the problem you point to arises; there is no cause and no effect at all, much less mutual causing and effecting. I think where I differ from you is that I think Vygotsky DID believe in cause and effect; he knew that they sometimes change places (especially in the course of development) but thinking and speech do transform each other, and this is what "causes" speech to become intellectual and thinking rational.
  The problem for me is that this formulation is LIMITED to the intellectual side of things: with its reference to "intellectual" speech and "rational" thought, it inevitably suggests cold cognition. So it seems to me that Vygotsky must have meant for us to work out a similar argument for mediated emotions: these DO begin with the contemplation of physical sensations but they cannot be limited to them. There must be higher emotions, language mediated ones, where speech transforms feeling and feeling transforms speech. It seems to me, actually, when I look back at the vicissitudes of my own love life, that this is more or less what has happened to me. More importantly, when I look at your data, it seems to me that this is what is actually happening to Jack: his response to his condition (which I am very willing to admit has a physical component) is a response to his understanding of verbal interactions that impinge on his social status, not a response to an associative chain
 that would impinge on his physical well-being.
  How is this possible? In "The Role of Play in the Development of the Child" LSV suggests that play has two different roots; object-oriented action and meaning. At first, the causality is entirely one way; the child's gesture precedes meaning and in some important sense creates it (viz. "causes" it). But meaning does not stay put; it moves decisively to precede the gesture (the child PLANS to draw or play) and seizes the causal role, transforming itself from "meaning" to "motive". It's only in this way that role play is born. There is still cause and effect, but now it is meaning which is causing object-oriented action.
  The same kind of reversal of roles takes place again, WITHIN play itself, which LSV divides into two new elements, each containing both action AND meaning). He says these two new elements (of games, not of play) are imaginary situations and abstract rules. Once again they fuse with and transform each other.
  Rules emerge in role play, which is a way of saying that a game is not reducible to roles and roles are elements rather than units of games. In a role play there are restrictions on what characters can do and say in particular situations. But as the child grows up, the causal relationship is again reversed, and we now find that abstract rules are what generate imaginary situations (for example, the rules of soccer generate the imaginary situations of attack, defense, and running around like a lunatic pretending that you have no arms to pick up the ball).
  The real problem with Damasio (and I think this is NOT a problem with "Emotion at Work") is that he does not recognize that what holds true for the mind's contemplation of the physical states of the body (that is, that physical emotional states precede and are in some sense causative of feelings) may not be true of the mind's contemplation of the social, language mediated, condition of the body. On the contrary, it seems to me, the arrow of causation (for I think that is what it is) must be reversed: it is the contemplation of our social status which gives rise to bodily states. As Andy says, material culture (a banana skin, say) is a much more useful concept here than an endless chain of associations that end in a banana.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Sat Jul 28 09:07 PDT 2007

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