Re: [xmca] Tool and Sign in the Development of the Child

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Tue May 27 2008 - 20:54:41 PDT

LSV is good at chiaroscuro; that is, he's good at subtle but very telling contrast. Throughout "Tool and Sign" there is a strong contrast between tool and sign, but also between genetic unity and functional diversity.
  Genetically, the "higher mental functions" are united by their reliance on the word. LSV is quite forthright: "the act is usually overvalued to the detriment of the word". He even says that placing a different stress on "IN THE BEGINNING was the act" (the line from Faust) is not enough; we need to say that the continuation of development is absolutely nothing like the beginning, because practical intelligence itself has to be completely reconstructed in the image of its maker, verbal, volitional intelligence. (p. 65 in Vol. 6)
  This reliance on the word is what utterly divides them from phenotypically similar counterparts in animals. (On p. 36 he speaks cryptically of the "three natural primary connections", which I assume, but I have no way of really knowing, are biological perception, involuntary attention, and eidetic memory). I think it's not just Andy who has a hard time with this: this is at the bottom of Sasha Surmava's rejection of Vygotsky's semiotic orientation, and his insistence that the word and the act cannot have two different genetic roots but must on SOME level be versions of the same thing, physical activity. And of course this is quite right, but only relevant on a rather philosophical level.
  LSV never uses the term "exaptation", but I think it describes perfectly what he's getting at. The human speech apparatus evolved for various physiologically distinct functions: breathing, eating, and making noises for signalization purposes. But the EXTREME overdevelopment of the signalization function in early man takes over organs that originally served other functions and creates a new kind of "organ", something like Chomsky's "mental organ" except that it has definite physical components made of meat. LSV quite correctly calls it a functional system rather than a "mental organ"; it is not really mental to begin with.
  Genetically, all these functional systems are linked; in the beginning of each was the meat-made act and then came the reconstructing, exapting word. But functionally they are quite distinct; the word LSV INSISTS on using is "specific" and "special". By this he means the higher mental functions are very specific with respect to each other; thinking is separable from memory as a higher level mental function (though of course as Mike points out the existence of higher level mental functions doesn't obliterate lower level ones and a lot of adult "thinking" does take place on the level of remembering).
  The trend is always towards specialization, not towards generalization. And this in itself would explain why, although on p. 55 LSV assures us that teaching mediated remembering even to mentally retarded children has generalizeable effects, Mike and his colleagues had such a hard time finding had evidence of this in Liberia. Very specific mental functions are hard to test for, and easily masked by less specific ones (as when Mike's subjects kept looking at the experimenter's hands for gestural clues to a sorting task that other experiments showed they were perfectly capable of doing).
  "In describing the operations, we are confronted by a twofold process: on the one hand, the natural process undergoes profound reconstruction, being converted into a circuitous, mediated act, and on the other hand the sign operation itself is changed, ceasing to be external and being reorganized into most complex internal psychological systems."
  Foreign languages are a very pure example of specialization. In every multi-lingual person, the second language is more functionally specific and thus more easily hidden than the first. When I build a second story on my house, I don't add another kitchen/living/dining room but rather extra bedrooms for guests and maybe a study or another loo.
  In the same way, Korean children will (hopefully) never need the English we teach them, which is the English of everyday life, an English for talking to imaginary English speaking fathers and mothers. They need a much more specific and complexly differentiated tongue, one for talking to foreign teachers, colleagues, rivals, and even enemies rather than the one they use for licking their chops, sticking out their tongues at their siblings, and of course telling Mom and Dad about their hard day in English class.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Tue May 27 20:56 PDT 2008

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