RE: [xmca] concept and function

From: <ERIC.RAMBERG who-is-at>
Date: Tue May 13 2008 - 12:12:15 PDT

Hello Sasha:

Such an intriguing and thoughtful response to my contradiction. Perhaps my
habit of responding quickly and not marinating my thoughts provided an
error; that error exists in my statement that truth was irrelevant, my
apologies. However, truth is dependent upon the context, as Latour's
constructivism points out so well. That was my thinking when I paired
concept and function in the heading of this thread.

So, let me dive a bit deeper into the pool and swim about with the concept
of "practice" for a bit. In essence you are correct to categorize the
Sakharov experiments as not highly developed practices but that in and of
itself does not dismiss them as hollow and merely floating in the ether.
In the functional method of double stimulation there is the experimenter
that knows the word meaning and the subject that works toward word meaning.
To me this mirrors the everyday practice of adults facilitating the
development of the child. Within the child are loosely connected snippets
and fragments of knowledge accessible based upon numerous variables. It is
my belief that the Sakharov experiments mapped out how children move along
the continuum of concept development. This map is the subject matter of
Chapter 5 in Thought and Language. Consider a portrait from my day
yesterday. I am in the market of getting brackets for the purpose of
walling off a portion of my barn. When I went into a welder's shop the
conversation developed from me knowing what I needed and the welder wanting
to please a customer. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "I need to have brackets made that I can attach to posts in my barn for
the purpose of sliding 2 x 6 boards in the slots, I need a chute for my

Welder: "You would need the channel on the bracket to be an inch and a

Me: "I don't need it to be snug."

Welder: "An inch and five eigth then?"

Me: "That would be great and I need it to be 4 feet long."

Welder: "Now I don't know what you mean."

The initial portion of the conversation had assisted the welder in
gathering snippets of his knowledge into a complex that would allow him to
build what I wanted but the mentioning of 4 feet did not fit into the
complex he had constructed. I backed up in the conversation and introduced
the subject from the angle of drawing a picture and demonstrating on a
nearby wall. As I drew a picture and talked about the bracket he used the
word channel and introduced the concept that the bottom would be capped to
hold the boards in place. He then drew a 3-D type figure of what I wanted,
with the dimensions and said he would call me with an estimate of the
price. I was pleased with the welder's drawing of the 'channel' and left
the shop extremely happy that the welder knew what I wanted. Does this
example provide evidence that word comes before deed and that concept
follows word? Certainly the conversation the welder had with his customer
would represent a very important aspect of the welder's practice.


                      Surmava" To: "'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'" <>
                      <monada@netvox.r cc:
                      u> Subject: RE: [xmca] concept and function
                      Sent by:
                      05/12/2008 07:42
                      Please respond
                      to "eXtended
                      Mind, Culture,

Hi. Eric

at last I find time to answer to your interesting remarks.
First of all a few words about the understanding of the notion of practice.
I do like Vygotsky's reflections about "highly developed" practice, but
as Andy I don't find it in the least bit different from Marxist one.
May I try to make my interpretation of the notions marked you with question
marks. I think that Vygotsky tried to put a distinction between the
traditional for psychology understanding of "practice of psychotherapeutic
sofa" which is entirely based on "words" (=ideology, ="false
=mythology) of psychoanalyst and free from ideology industrial, military
suchlike practice marked by Vygotsky as "highly developed". Commanding
officer as well as industrial manager don't need in false, ideological
imitation of psychological knowledge as well as imitation of magical
influence on the customer. To command a solder, to send him against enemy
fire and to manage a wage labourer to force him to work hard they need the
real "gear stick", not an ideological imitation. From this point of view
psychotherapeutic practice is not a practice at all, or that is rather a
practice of earning money of psychoanalyst than practice that can be put as
a basis of theoretic investigation.
Similarly in the general case we can't estimate the "practice" of academic
psychological experiments as objective, "highly developed" practice too.
Thus the "practice" of well known Vygotsky-Sakharov's experiment dealing
with so called "artificial concepts" has nothing to do with "highly
developed" practice. It reflects the theoretic (ideological) ideas instead
of something objective.
The conclusion is that Vygotsky formulated absolutely true Marxist
distinction between "highly developed" or objective practice and subjective
or ideological one. In the same time he failed in realization the declared
program in most of his real investigations (probably with the exception of
neuropsychology and special psychology).
It seems to me that the pathos of "Word" (I mean your phrase: "In the
beginning there was the word and from the word great practice was spread")
is hardly compatible with the materialist principles of "highly developed"
practice. I can agree that LSV was contradictory in his attitude to word.
Whereupon approvingly quoting Goethe's famous line about the key role of
deed Vygotsky immediately tries to shift the stress to emphasize the word.
Vygotsky regards a deed as vanishing, transient moment which has a goal to
give a birth to word and to die in it.
Meanwhile, in materialist logic the role of word is huge but technical. The
human thinking starts from deed and ends in deed. In abstraction from deed
word costs little. A deed crowns discourse (or demonstrates its poverty).
You are asking about Marx' methodology and practice. The first is much
simpler. The Marx' "methodology" is neither more nor less than his theory.
That is not a collection of special "methods" of say. making revolutions
take under military control railway stations, post, telegraph, and. drug
traffic) but something much more dangerous for the old world. That is its
genuine and deep understanding. As for reasonable question concerning a
practice, I think that you use the wrong tense asking what "WAS" the
practice. The practice relevant to a theory of such scale as Marxism
includes all past history and a fair amount of future. Anyhow it is not
equivalent to specific "practice" of so called "communist" regimes of XX
century. Thou the latter is evidently an inevitable, thou tragic and
negative part of historical practice, the part which needs to be
As for Vygotsky and specific mechanical understanding of animals and humans
I've never insist that he equated humans and machines. I asserted and can
repeat it that Vygotsky failed in overcoming psychophysical problem and
his theoretic model of human remained a Cartesian one. It means that human
being was presented as magically composed from mechanical body and bodiless
soul. It sounds oddly but in essence that is the most traditional point of
view shared by absolute majority of psychologists. Surely according to the
aphorism of Vygotsky himself "that is prescientific approach".
Evidently I can hardly agree with your statement that "Whether the theory
was incorrect or not is irrelevant, what is relevant is Vygotsky's deep
desire to study human development as it pertains to Marx's
cultural/historical perspective and then utilize his discoveries in the
practice of societal change."
 Let's examine carefully this statement. You assure that it is irrelevant
what theory: true, correct, or false, incorrect we utilize ".in the
of societal change". I am sure that neither Marx, nor Vygotsky would never
agree with you. The practice of societal change is no less answerable
than say surgery so that the expressed position looks a little bit
irresponsibly. Both Marx and Vygotsky strongly believed that the truth do
exists and that the main humanistic duty of each of us is to find this
to receive a chance to act practically with open eyes.
The position which insists on irrelevance of truth is something rooted in
postmodernism or positivism and not in Marxism whereas LSV sincerely tried
to think as Marxist.
As a conclusion I want to say that we all need deeper comprehension of
classical philosophical roots of CHAT. One of the strongest ideas of
Vygotsky was his clime to psychologists to return to good (dialectical and
materialist) philosophy from vague based on self-interested ideology
subjectivist "practice". Or (what is equal) to return to good, "highly
developed" practice from vague idealist and metaphysical "theory".
Trying to take from Vygotsky a sort of abstracted "methodology" and
the problem of truth irrelevant we objectively betray Vygotsky in his core
Excuse me, please, for such a total disagreement with you :-), and thank
for your sincerely and courageously formulated position.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of
Sent: Thursday, May 01, 2008 7:20 PM
To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] concept and function

Such an interesting discussion, one that has provided great food for
thought. I understanding that Marx was a man of action. However, when I
use the term practitioner I am specifically referring to Vygotsky's view of
practice: "We can elucidate this by referring to three aspects. The first
is practice. Here psychology was first (through industrial psychology,
psychiatry, child psychology, and criminal psychology) confronted with a
highly developed ? industrial, educational, political, or military ?
practice. This confrontation compels psychology to reform its principles so
that they may withstand the highest test of practice. It forces us to
accommodate and introduce into our science the supply of practical
psychological experiences and skills which has been gathered over thousands
of years; for the church, the military, politics, and industry, insofar as
they have consciously regulated and organised the mind, base themselves on
an experience which is enormous, although not well ordered from the
scientific viewpoint (every psychologist experienced the reforming
influence of applied science). For the development of psychology, applied
psychology plays the same role as medicine did for anatomy and physiology
and technique for the physical sciences. The importance of the new
practical psychology for the whole science cannot be exaggerated. The
psychologist might dedicate a hymn to it. (chapter 12 of crisis)."

Practical psychology cannot be built on false, vague and vacant concepts
but rather on the specifics of practical, functional concepts. Where do we
find such decisive concepts. . . . in the word. In the beginning there was
the word and from the word great practice was spread. Practice that
encompasses the feeding of the baby to the banging of the drum to the
building of the bomb and to the revolution. Yes Marx was a revolutionary
but what was the methodology, what was the practice? His explanation holds
great truths of history, but where is the practice? I am also lost when I
read Vygotsky being summarized as a theorists claiming humans are machines?

                      Andy Blunden

                      <ablunden@mira.n To: "eXtended Mind,
Culture, Activity" <>
                      et> cc:

                      Sent by: Subject: Re: [xmca] concept
and function


                      04/30/2008 10:14


                      Please respond

                      to ablunden;

                      Please respond

                      to "eXtended

                      Mind, Culture,


I suspect tha most of us suffer from a feeling of being a
bit obtuse for our colleagues, Eric. Enjoy it.

But I doubt that the leader of the International Workingmens
Association would concur with being described as a
philosopher and not a practitioner, and actually even the
young Hegel, only became a Professor of Philosophy because
he believed this was the most effective way of furthering
the revolution in Germany in his times.

Andy wrote:
> Yes Martin, I am really having a difficult time understanding what he
> by that as well. I do not view Vygotsky's conclusions regarding concepts
> in Thought and Language as empty and vacant. In my view, whether Vygotsky
> matches with Marx or Hegel is irrelevant. He provides a great framework
> methodology for practicing psychological investigations and psychological
> treatments. Vygotsky's interest was in providing theoretical
> that to this day assist the daily activities of practitioners in
> social work and medicine. Marx and Hegel were philosophers, not
> practitioners. I really like philosophy but without sound methodological
> functioning concepts what is there? Perhaps Sasha could try once again
> sway my thinking. I am always open for healthy discussion. Perhaps my
> obtuse nature does not provide a welcoming of this discussion. It has
> my downfall for years in the world of academia. It certainly was the
> reason it took me four years to complete my master's thesis and why I
> really have no desire to go beyond that. Thank you for your thoughts
> Martin, I truely appreciate them.
> eric

> Martin Packer

> <> To: "eXtended Mind,
Culture, Activity" <>
> Sent by: cc:

> xmca-bounces@web Subject: Re: [xmca]
concept and function



> 04/29/2008 03:14

> PM

> Please respond

> to "eXtended

> Mind, Culture,

> Activity"



> Eric,
> This is the research that Sasha has critized because it employs "empty,"
> "vacant" concepts, more like the formal concepts of (empiricist) John
> than the dialectical concepts of Hegel and Marx. I haven't figured out
> whether I agree with him or not - this is just to clarify (perhaps, a
> little).
> Martin
> On 4/29/08 1:57 PM, "" <>
>> If I may interject at this time my own obtuse interpretation of concept.
> I
>> would like to return to Chapter 5 in Thought and Language. Cev bik, mur
>> and lag are 4 nonsense words that Sakarov uses in his experiment to test
>> varying age groups in their ability to form concepts. The meaning of
> these
>> nonsense words is a mystery and upon the subject's experimentation with
> the
>> blocks the subject begins to learn the "function" of the labels. As
>> Wittgenstein's "language games" the words assigned to objects can indeed
> be
>> a mystery until the function of that label is revealed. The blocks have
> no
>> use (other then for Sakarov to study concept formation) and so I would
>> believe that concepts do not need a use but rather a function. Vygotsky
>> and Sakarov borrowed this experiment from Ach but did not name it the
>> method of double stimulation, they labeled it the "functional method of
>> double stimulation". Scribner and Cole conducted a similar experment in
>> their "Psychology of Literacy" research. They asked people to describe
>> new game they had learned verbally and then in written form. The
>> are extremely interesting. Very interesting conversation hope my input
> has
>> been helpful.
>> eric
>> Ed Wall
>> < To: "eXtended Mind,
>> Culture, Activity" <>
>>> cc:
>> Sent by: Subject: Re: [xmca]
>> xmca-bounces@web
>> 04/28/2008 02:36
>> PM
>> Please respond
>> to "eXtended
>> Mind, Culture,
>> Activity"
>> Martin
>> Now I'm confused. You say 'use a hammer' and then 'not use the
>> concept of a 'hammer."' I suspect I don't know what a 'concept' of a
>> hammer is, but wouldn't it include a bit of use?
>> Ed
>> On Apr 28, 2008, at 12:18 PM, Martin Packer wrote:
>>> David, I'm confused. Are you saying it would be impossible for
>>> someone to
>>> use a hammer and not use the concept of "hammer"?
>>> Martin
>>> On 4/28/08 7:25 AM, "David Kellogg" <> wrote:
>>>> I don't understand, Elinami. How is it possible to be a language
>>>> user and NOT
>>>> use concepts like "subject", "verb", "speaker", "grammar" etc.?
>>>> Even if you
>>>> say that concept use has to be conscious, isn't the self itself a
>>>> concept?
>>>> David Kellogg
>>>> Seoul National University of Education
>>>> Elinami Swai <> wrote:
>>>> I cannot resist Andy, who are these tribal people?
>>>> Elinami.
>>>> On 4/27/08, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>> Sasha,
>>>>> I just wanted to probe you little on this question of concept
>>>>> (Begriff) vs
>>>>> "abstract general" (or complex or "representation", etc).
>>>>> It seems to me that all of us, unless we have a psychiatric
>>>>> problem or brain
>>>>> damage or something serious, by the time we become adults operate
>>>>> with
>>>>> concepts. I notice that most theorists do not understand well
>>>>> what a concept
>>>>> is and even the average Nobel Prize Winner cannot distinguish
>>>>> clearly
>>>>> between an abstract general notion and a genuine concept. But
>>>>> nonetheless we
>>>>> all use genuine concepts. Difficulty in theoretically making this
>>>>> distinction explicit is a matter really of whether you have been
>>>>> exposed to
>>>>> Hegelian ideas or Marx, Vygotsky, or other philosophy which
>>>>> incorporates
>>>>> these insights. Tribal people for example, just as much as Logical
>>>>> Positivist philosophers, use concepts. Is that your understanding
>>>>> as well?
>>>>> Andy
>>>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>>> ------ Forwarded Message
>>>>>> From: Alexander Surmava
>>>>>> Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2008 13:01:03 +0400
>>>>>> To: 'Martin Packer'
>>>>>> Cc: Mike Cole
>>>>>> Subject: RE: Life, psyche, consciousness.doc
>>>>>> Dear Martin,
>>>>>> You write:
>>>>>> To my reading, Ilyenkov's concept of ideality, based on the
>>>>>> notion of the
>>>>>> thinking-body, is not the same as suggesting that artifacts have a
>>>>> cultural
>>>>>> meaning. To me, this risks reintroducing a dualism between
>>>>>> matter and
>>>>>> meaning. It is a short step, to my view mistaken, to the belief
>>>>>> that the
>>>>>> natural sciences study matter, while the social sciences study
>>>>>> meaning. It
>>>>>> also leads one to think that each artifact has a single meaning.
>>>>>> Sasha,
>>>>> when
>>>>>> you said that the child really understands "the meaning" of the
>>>>>> knife, I'm
>>>>>> sure you would agree that a child cannot grasp the complexity of
>>>>>> the
>>>>>> relations that a single artifact like a knife has with society
>>>>>> as a whole.
>>>>>> Nor can a peasant understand the full complexity of the social
>>>>>> world in
>>>>>> which they are living, even though they have great practical
>>>>>> wisdom.
>>>>>> I entirely share your idea that "Ilyenkov's concept of ideality,
>>>>>> based on
>>>>>> the notion of the thinking-body, is not the same as suggesting that
>>>>>> artifacts have a cultural meaning? The latter is something banal
>>>>>> and
>>>>>> doesn't need the first. No one of semiotics will disagree with the
>>>>> statement
>>>>>> that each artifact has some "cultural meaning? while all of them
>>>>>> have
>>>>>> hardly ever heard the very concept of "thinking body?and
>>>>>> evidently don't
>>>>>> need in this notion.
>>>>>> As well we never declare something like the statement "that the
>>>>>> natural
>>>>>> sciences study matter, while the social sciences study meaning?
>>>>>> As for a child with a knife we do insist that to have a real
>>>>> understanding,
>>>>>> real idea of knife a child needs only to be taught by adult how
>>>>>> to use it
>>>>> in
>>>>>> historically developed cultural manner. The knife is a tool
>>>>>> which helps
>>>>>> humans to cut something and a child who practically grasps this
>>>>>> mode of
>>>>>> operation and adequately utilizes the knife has a valid idea of
>>>>>> knife. All
>>>>>> complexities "of the relations that a single artifact like a
>>>>>> knife has
>>>>> with
>>>>>> society as a whole?can add nothing to this plain fact. The role of
>>>>> society
>>>>>> consists in elaborating the artifact and in teaching new
>>>>>> generations the
>>>>> way
>>>>>> to utilize it.
>>>>>> The knife is something basically simple. The absolute majority
>>>>>> of mankind,
>>>>>> those who use knifes in their everyday life needs and have only
>>>>>> practical
>>>>>> notion of knives. On the contrary something that pretends to be a
>>>>>> "scientific notion?of knife is something ridiculous and scholastic.
>>>>>> In exactly the same way illiterate, but experienced peasant has
>>>>>> real,
>>>>>> practical notion say of melon, while a schoolboy with all his
>>>>>> "scientific
>>>>>> definitions?is far from real comprehension of it. He can
>>>>>> successfully eat
>>>>>> melon but he hardly can plant it. And here just as in previous
>>>>>> case "the
>>>>>> full complexity of the social world in which they are living?has
>>>>>> nothing
>>>>> to
>>>>>> do with the idea of melon.
>>>>>> Surely there are objects which can't be grasped practically by a
>>>>>> single
>>>>>> person. Thus for example an idea of agriculture as a socially and
>>>>>> historically developed system of relations which combines
>>>>>> individual
>>>>> forces
>>>>>> of people over the cooperative process of production and
>>>>>> distribution
>>>>> can't be realized in abstract practical manner. Such attempts can be
>>>>> resulted in a
>>>>>> way similar to famous fable about three blind and an elephant.
>>>>>> The same we can say about such an object as atom or nuclear
>>>>>> particle. A
>>>>>> single person never deals practically with such objects. Only a
>>>>> theoretical
>>>>>> culture ?which is essentially a special type of cooperative
>>>>>> practice
>>>>>> ?lt;br>> can
>>>>>> grasp the notion of such objects.
>>>>>> Explaining all this I meet a great difficultness with the lack
>>>>>> of proper
>>>>>> English terminology (or, probably, my poor knowledge of
>>>>>> English). In
>>>>> German
>>>>>> and in Russian there is a clear distinction between two notions,
>>>>>> and two
>>>>>> terms: Begriff = pon'atie, and Vorstellung = predstavlenije.
>>>>>> The highest form in development of thinking is obviously pon'atie
>>>>> (Begriff).
>>>>>> And in the same time it is the universal form of thinking. While
>>>>>> predstavlenije (Vorstellung) is subordinated notion. The obscheje
>>>>> (general)
>>>>>> predstavlenije is understood in dialectical culture as a meaning
>>>>>> of word,
>>>>>> like something that enables us to distinguish among the known
>>>>>> and fixed in
>>>>>> the matter of language culture objects. But one can have
>>>>>> predsatavlenije
>>>>>> without having understanding of the essence of the object.
>>>>>> Thus the brilliant illustration of such divergence of two forms of
>>>>> thinking
>>>>>> (Predstavlenija and Pon'atia) are so called "artificial notions?
>>>>>> from
>>>>>> Vygotsky-Sakharov's experiments, as well as many similar
>>>>>> constructions
>>>>> from
>>>>>> psychological theory. The artificial notion is an empty notion,
>>>>>> which is
>>>>>> something that cannot be understood not because their utmost
>>>>>> complexity
>>>>> but
>>>>>> because their utmost vacancy. Logically as "artifcial notion?we
>>>>>> have an
>>>>>> evident example of general definition (obshchego
>>>>>> predstavlenija), not
>>>>>> understanding (ne pon'atie). So it corresponds not with
>>>>>> dialectic logic
>>>>> both
>>>>>> in its Hegel and Marxist form, but with formal logic, with logic
>>>>>> of John
>>>>>> Locke.
>>>>>> And this distinction is not something academically formal but
>>>>>> the core
>>>>>> distinction for dialectically thinking researcher. Thus Davydov
>>>>>> based all
>>>>>> his theory of developmental instruction just on this
>>>>>> distinction. (I'm
>>>>> going
>>>>>> to ask Peter Moxhay ?the translator of Davidov's latest book -
>>>>>> how he
>>>>> cope
>>>>>> the problem with insufficiency of English terminology in this
>>>>>> case.)
>>>>>> As for the idea of "thinking body?it is equal to basically new
>>>>>> and in
>>>>> the
>>>>>> same time genuine Marxist and Spinozian idea of thinking as not
>>>>>> banal
>>>>>> manipulation with words and other conventional signs, but as a
>>>>>> special way
>>>>>> of acting of one (active or "thinking?body) according to the
>>>>>> shape of the
>>>>>> other body, taken in the moment of its live realization.
>>>>>> All this was fundamentally explored in Ilyenkov's works and I
>>>>>> agree with
>>>>> you
>>>>>> that the joint rereading of this works would be extremely useful
>>>>>> for all
>>>>> of
>>>>>> us as a step to rethinking the traditional understanding of CHAT.
>>>>>> Sincerely,
>>>>>> Sasha
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>> --
>>>>> --------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>> ----
>>>>> Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 Skype
>>>>> andy.blunden
>>>>> _______________________________________________
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