FW: [xmca] The Strange Situation or An Awesome Instrument?

From: Paula Towsey <paulat who-is-at johnwtowsey.co.za>
Date: Thu Aug 21 2008 - 23:23:44 PDT

Dear David and XMCA forum members


Now that (some of) you've had a chance to sneak a look at some of my data, I
thought to offer a defence of an awesome instrument rather than a strange
situation: my points of view here are in bite-sized pieces in response to
David's very astute and detailed postings.


What Bronfenbrenner would say

I have to assure my fellow scholars that the way in which this intervention
was introduced into (and conducted within) the developmental niches of the
subjects was in such a way that even the eco-specific and exacting
Bronfenbrenner would have had little to argue about (the sensitivities paid
go way beyond merely PR and ethical exactitudes).


Luria on Sakharov

I believe that Mike's comments (below) have answered this one: all I can
add to it is that I am unashamedly passionate about these blocks and about
the results they yielded - in Sakharov and Vygotsky's day, and in my own,
80-odd years later - and a hemisphere away.


Concepts forming in Geneva and Germany and in soccer and the sky

This is the big question. But, for starters - and without fudging - and
hopefully to add to the discussion, I have several more: What are my
results giving an inkling of? Obviously it'd be shaky to go out on a limb
on the strength of merely 60 South African subjects, but whence the
correspondence with Vygotsky's writing on chains, collections, elaborate
diffuse complexes, and (astonishing) pseudoconcepts? What became very
apparent for me from this study was the emerging ability of subjects to
abstract and to generalise - like driving a car, where the clutch pedal is
the abstraction and the accelerator's the generalisation, and where the two
in harmony lead to the smooth ride of the logically abstracted
characteristics that make up the concept: Wertsch says he's sometimes called
Vygotsky "an ambivalent rationalist" because of what happens in (rationalist
privileged) Chapters 5 and 6 and "the funny thing" that happens when you
turn the page to read (situated meanings, poets, etc) Chapter 7 of T&L. And
then too, as I understand it, Paul Wang (1983) made some interesting
adaptations to the original blocks procedure by inviting subjects to group
the blocks in as many ways as they can, which allows for the creative and
the novel. Even so, my interest was in not only replicating the original
blocks procedure, but was an attempt to see if the original results would be
replicated too. And I believe they were.


The terrible fudge and the children, primitives and schizophrenics

It's a bit difficult for me to answer you coherently here, David, because
I'm dealing with a different translation and the nuances I had to deal with
are different to yours. For example, to be honest with you, one particular
issue raised by Vygotsky on page 129 in my 1986 copy of T&L led me to view
his line of reasoning - and any similar ones made about 'primitive' people -
as having been at the very least eclipsed by research in the intervening
years. What he states is that "Primitive people think in complexes, and
consequently the word in their languages does not function as a carrier of
the concept, but rather as a family name for a group of concrete objects
belonging together, not logically, but factually". As a result of this, my
focus in Chapter 5 inclined more toward those aspects of Vygotsky's argument
which veered away from his citings of Werner, Levy-Bruhl, Storch, Von
Steinen, Bleuler, and Thurnwald towards issues that I considered more
central to the chapter and which have not been eclipsed by research (or
which did not reflect so Eurocentric a mindset of the researchers of his
day). Also, I am not a linguist, and so I didn't give Vygotsky's discussion
on the functional roots of linguistic development the same degree of
scrutiny that a linguist would: for me, the examples he gives of complexes
residing in everyday language use are clear (quite apart from anything else,
who would ever advance a connection between shoes and socks, and cups and
saucers, and the notion that an eight-year-old (I wish I could include a WAV
file here) would say, with the most charming lilt to emphasise her point,
".and I put this one here because it is completely different!"?). At any
rate, I think that the overall thrust of Vygotsky's chapter - and Kozulin's
point - is that thinking in complexes and pseudoconcepts shouldn't be viewed
as purely developmental phases, but as "methodological devices" that people
employ, revert to, and retain in their quest for understanding and
interpreting the demands of a particular task - and that these
representations can affect the strategy they are likely to use. For
example, my response to trying to understand what my pilot husband takes for
granted in 'flying great circles' is classically a case of putting the
functional rather than the essential characteristics together - and there is
my frustration at not being able to work out or to abstract what the
essential elements are (I'm mathematically challenged too!). A similar
scenario is having a car and yet not having an expert understanding of the
nature of the combustion engine (sorry to be trite!).


The limited and too-detailed experiment and descriptions

David, I find your summary (below) of Vygotsky's theoretical constructs
astute and comprehensive - has it changed at all now you've seen my
pictures? The one element you didn't include is the potential concept, but
perhaps that's a translation thing in your copy.

I have to agree with Vygotsky that the most intriguing animal in this
menagerie is the pseudoconcept, and that, in many respects, complexive
thinking is all pseudoconceptual in nature (he actually says this at one
point and it seems contradictory but I've dealt with this elsewhere and
could provide more details to those who're interested). I have argued in a
paper that's being considered for publication that: "What each of these
instances was found to share, to varying degrees of complexity, was a
tendency to link concrete, factual, and functional attributes rather than
logical, abstract(ed), essential characteristics or principles; an
insensitivity to inconsistencies and contradictions; and the lack of a
system to compare or juxtapose one's actions against."

So my question is: Is this developmental, then, in a universal sense; is it
a contrivance of the experiment (the strange situation); is it perhaps
Vico's "another property of the human mind that whenever men can form no
idea of distant and unknown things, they judge them by what is familiar and
at hand."?


In response to your idea, David, that perhaps Vygotsky's argument or
treatment in this Chapter that lumps together children and schizophrenics
and dreams and word etymologies is complexitive, I would say "No - there
might be 'gaps' (lack of evidence considered valid today?), but it embraces


1) Vygotsky was very well aware of the "limitations" of this method.
In both the 1962 and 1986 versions of Thought and Language, Vygotsky's
wording is identical:

Furthermore, the investigation of real concepts complemented the
experimental study by making it clear that every new stage in the
development of generalization is built on generalizations of the preceding
level; the products of the intellectual activity of the earlier phases are
not lost. The inner bond between the consecutive phases could not be
uncovered in our experiments because the subject had to discard, after each
wrong solution, the generalizations he had formed and start all over again.
Also, the nature of the experimental objects did not permit their
conceptualization in hierarchical terms. (Vygotsky, 1962, p. 114; 1986, p.

(and I also deal with these issues elsewhere - just ask). And yet,
according to Van der Veer (pers. comm., 2008), when Vygotsky was preparing
Myshlenie i Rech in 1934, he included this earlier work, seemingly chapter
and verse: Van der Veer believes he must have seen value in the work to
include it the way he did.


2) Compare the following three quotations with one another and then
with the main argument of T&L's Chapter 5.


"As we know from investigations of the process of concept formation, a
concept is more than the sum of certain associative bonds formed by memory,
more than a mere mental habit; it is a complex and genuine act of thought
that cannot be taught by drilling, but can be accomplished only when the
child's mental development itself has reached the requisite level. At any
age, a concept embodied in a word represents an act of generalization. But
word meanings evolve. When a new word has been learned by the child, its
development is barely starting; the word at first is a generalization of the
most primitive type; as the child's intellect develops, it is replaced by
generalizations of a higher and higher type - a process that leads in the
end to the formation of true concepts. The development of concepts, or word
meanings, pre-supposes the development of many intellectual functions:
deliberate attention, logical memory, abstraction, the ability to compare
and to differentiate. These complex psychological processes cannot be
mastered through the initial learning alone." (Vygotsky, 1986, pp. 149 - 150
(Chapter 6))


"The primordial word by no means could be reduced to a mere sign of the
concept. Such a word is rather a picture, image, mental sketch of the
concept. It is a work of art indeed. That is why such a word has a
"complex" character and may denote a number of objects belonging to one
complex." (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 133 (Chapter 5))


"1. The study of higher behavioural processes, which involves finding a
method of analysis appropriate to their psychological nature, and seeking to
discover the specific functional structure of higher forms of human
behaviour, has to be grounded in a special method of experimental
investigation corresponding to the object and aims of the research. The
functional method of double stimulation is an attempt to create such an
experimental analysis of higher behavioural processes.


2. Experimental research into concept formation processes has shown that
the functional use of a word or another sign, as a tool for actively
directing attention to specific characteristics, separating and isolating
them, and then abstracting and synthesising these characteristics, is a
fundamental and essential part of the entire process; the formation of a
concept (or the acquisition of meaning through a word) is the result of a
complex activity (an operation using a word or a sign) in which all the
fundamental intellectual functions are involved in a specific combination."
(Vygotsky, in Zalkind, (Ed.) 1930, pp. 70-71 / Inggs & Van der Veer, 2006)


Paula T

ps David: I'm one of those traditional writers who doesn't write in txt
either, so I suppose that terms of endearment are part of the same package!



-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: 18 August 2008 12:33 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] The Strange Situation


Dear Paula (At last! Another person who uses terms of endearment as


Thanks for your note, and thanks in advance for your promise of a nice,
juicy example. This is precisely what is missing for me in most of Chapter
Five; I am so constituted that I really can't believe in the godhead of
categories without the avatar of data. Unfortunately, I can't make it to San
Diego; classes start today here in Seoul. But I look forward to the DVD with
baited breath.


Especially since the rest of Chapter Five (in Thinking and Speech) leaves me
even more dazed and confused. On 148-151 LSV tries to argue that
'primitives', 'schizophrenics' and children share complexive thinking via
participation in which the functional application of a given word 'is
entirely different than it is in our own' (151).


And then, on pp. 152-153, we learn that historically, phylogenetically, ALL
words function complexively. There are three things wrong with this:


a) If it's true, then the 'functional application of a given word' by
schizophrenics and primitives cannot be ENTIRELY different from our own.
After all, the functional application of words is part of their history, and
their history is part of their (present) functional application.

b) It suggests that word ontogeny (in the child) is nothing more than a
recapitulation of word phylogeny (in the lexicon). This is a
methodologically wrong position; ontogeny is never a recapitulation of
phylogeny for the simple reason that phylogeny pre-exists ontogeny and not
vice versa.

c) The REAL development of concepts MUST include their pre-existence in
cultural and historical form, and so the schema outlined in this chapter
CANNOT be the actual course of development.


It seems to me that LSV's category of 'complexive thinking' is ITSELF an
example of complexive (and ahistorical) thinking: we have a very
heterogeneous group of thought processes-child behavior in the Sakharov
experiment, the child's spontaneous concept formation, so-called 'primitive'
thinking, schizophrenic thought, word etymology, and dreams, and the word
'white', 'tooth', and 'stone' in the language of deaf mutes (155)-all of
which are 'c'omplexive'.


Of course, child behavior in the Sakharov experiment is related to the
child's spontaneous concept development, and this might too be related to
so-called 'primitives' or at least to their children. As Jaynes argues,
schizophrenic thought is in some ways similar to the way we primitive
Westerners behaved in the Iliad, when they hear the voices of gods rather
than heed their own consciousness. But while each link of the chain seems
connected to the previous one, it is not clear what unique relationship
unites the thinking we find in the Iliad and that found in the Sakharov


On one level they all APPEAR to be the same in that they differ from
Aristotelian concepts. But as soon as we examine them closely we can see
that there is no real common feature to these phenomena: they are all quite
different both genetically and functionally, and they only share the family
name of 'complexive thinking' bestowed by LSV.



David Kellogg

Seoul National University of Education



--- On Sun, 8/17/08, Paula Towsey <paulat@johnwtowsey.co.za> wrote:


From: Paula Towsey <paulat@johnwtowsey.co.za>

Subject: RE: [xmca] The Strange Situation

To: mcole@weber.ucsd.edu, "'eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity'"

Date: Sunday, August 17, 2008, 2:49 AM


Dear Mike


Thank you so much: I look forward to joining in with the discussion and hope

to contribute meaningfully to it. C u there!


Paula T

ps - It is tragic that Sakharov apparently committed suicide - Rene van der

Veer told me a few months back


-----Original Message-----

From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On

Behalf Of Mike Cole

Sent: 16 August 2008 10:37 PM

To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity

Subject: Re: [xmca] The Strange Situation


Hi Paula--


My apologies to you and other XMCA members for making (the all too common!)

error of responding to the list when intending to respond to an individual.

And to use an impolite word as well. Never too old to repeat old mistakes it



Your message came in as I was responding to David's message to xmca about

the Sakharov-Vygotsky method in the context of an ongoing attempt that he


I and a couple of others from XMCA have been making for about a year now

to untangle issues of learning, instruction, and development. A serious

discussion of the specific issues he raised would certainly be worthwhile on

XMCA and perhaps your presentation at ISCAR will help induce that process.


I am particularly interested in analyses of the behavior of the experimenter

in the use of this method. So much depends upon it and it is so

"non-American" in its

style of trying to understand language and conceptual development. So you

can expect me in the audience for your presentation, along, I am sure, with


other xmca-ites.


I wish I were as far along in preparations for talks there as you are. As my

untoward personal comments in the prior message indicated, I am struggling

to find the time to get ready for ISCAR which is still on the other side of

a giant

pile of obligations to be met before I can re-orient.


My apologies once again for my faux pas

c u in san diego


PS-- David-- I do not parse the reference by Luria to the Sakharov-Vygotsky

experiment in *The Making of Mind* as you do. Sakharov is referred to as

"a gifted collaborator of Vygotsky's who died at a young age."

(He does not

say how). I do not believe he was a part of the 1929 group that ARL refers

to in the next paragraph and as you will note, he talks about its uptake

later in the

US. Not the same fate as the work on pictograms, etc. which he refers to in

the following paragraphs.


The extent to which Bronfenbrenner's comments about experimentation apply


the blocks experiment is an intriguing one as is the entire set of issues

surrounding the conditions that warrant generalization in psychological




On Sat, Aug 16, 2008 at 8:18 AM, Paula Towsey



> Dear David


> At this very minute I'm working on putting the finishing touches to a

> script

> for a DVD I'm having made for ISCAR and - it features the middle mode


> thinking from the middle category in preconceptual reasoning from Chapter


> of T&L: the chain as an example par excellance of thinking in


> The DVD's a microgenetic analysis of an eight-year-old and it brings

> Vygotsky's writing to life.


> The first thing I'll be doing once my DVD deadline's been met is

to read

> your very comprehensive summary - and talk at more length with you about

> this (most) fascinating instrument of Sakharov and Vygotsky.


> Till then


> Paula T



> -----Original Message-----

> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On

> Behalf Of David Kellogg

> Sent: 16 August 2008 04:48 AM

> To: xmca

> Subject: [xmca] The Strange Situation


> Last night on a loooooong airplane flight I re-read "Thinking and

> Speech" (instead of re-watching, say, "Harry Potter and the

Chamber of

> Secrets"). For some reason (maybe just jet lag) Chapter Five began to

> strike

> me as very STRANGE, like the "strange situation" they used to

use in

> studies

> on child development (which I actually participated in when I was very

> little).


> On pp. 89 and 90, LSV has argued that Piaget's "clinical

method" produces

> results that will not generalize. Even Piaget's own observations on

> egocentric speech yield quite different results when we observe children


> Germany, as opposed to Geneva. More: If you ask a child why the sun does

> not

> fall out of the sky you will get a very different (and more syncretic)

> answer than if you ask the child why she fell and flubbed a point during a

> volleyball game.


> This application of cultural variation to instruction is at the very heart

> of the concept of the ZPD, of course. The same child who gives a syncretic

> answer in the former instance and a coherent answer in the latter MAY be

> able to synthesize the two if we ask a question like "Why doesn't



> fall over when you are going and why does it fall over when you



> Then Chapter Five takes a single very limited experiment (Ach's

blocks, as

> modified in Sakharov) and turns it into a very detailed (TOO detailed)

> description of concept formation. This is how I understand it:


> 1 Syncretic Order (meaning, no order other than the child's subjective

> experience)


> 1.1 Unorganized heaps (I think of this as ordering according to the


> one and then that one" principle)


> 1.2 Spatially or temporally organized heaps (I think of this as the


> over here and those over there" principle)


> 1.3 Representatives of heaps (I think of this as the "This is one of


> principle)


> 2 Complexive (meaning, empirically rather than logically ordered)


> 2.1 Associative (I think of this as the basic insight underlying

> protypicality; it's obviously linked to but distinct from 1.3 because


> the

> one hand it does involve "this is one of these" and on the other

it adds a

> kind of "because..." reason, e.g. "This belongs here

because it looks the

> same".)


> 2.2 Complexive collection (This is a pluralization of the 2.1, the child

> can

> now think "These are some of this group because they look the same


> they are all red)")


> 2.3 Chained complex (This is a metaphorical extension of 2.2: one damn

> thing

> now leads to another that lies beyond the collection, but there is no

> systematic principle for extending the collection in any particular

> direction. A yellow triangle can lead to a yellow circle and on to a red

> half-circle)


> 2.4 Unbounded complex (Now the child has a general tendency for extending

> the complexive collection, but this tendency is undefined and vague and


> reliable. For example, a trapezoid and a triangle both look kinda fat down

> here and thin up there)


> 2.5 Pseudoconcept (The child has a clear verbal reason for extending the

> complexive collection from one block to another but this reason is

> empirical

> rather than logical. So a red triangle and a blue triangle are both called

> triangle, and you can put them side by side and see that they are the

> same.)



> 3. Concepts (experientially but also logically ordered)


> 3.1 Spontaneous concepts (These are based on repeated everyday experiences

> generalized by means of everyday language. For example, the spontaneous

> concept of Saturday, which is related to the concept of week and to the

> concept of day first and foremost by the child's experience and not by

> logic)


> 3.2 Scientific concepts (also, foreign language word meanings). These are

> based on definitions and therefore have an explicit logical hierarchy,


> paradigmatic: "Saturday is the seventh day of the week" and

> syntagmatic: "When it is Saturday in Seoul it is still only Friday in


> Diego."


> (I apologize for my glosses; I know that some people can only understand

> things if they VISUALIZE, but I only ever understand if I VERBALIZE, and

> sometimes, even usually, I verbalize things in a way that doesn't


> reflect children's thought processes very well.)


> It's exquisite, not least because each stage represents a resolution


> problems that inhere in the previous stage. It's a sublime exposition


> the

> kind of HEGELIAN method that Vygotsky later used to such effect in his

> unfinished work on child development in Volume Five.


> BUT...these are stages of Sakharov's experiment. How do we know that


> really are stages of concept formation? (A lot of Mike's work in


> rather suggests the contrary, when you really look at it!)


> I know that Bakhurst talks about how Vygotsky believed in the power of

> abstraction and in the power of the experiment to rise to the

> generalizeable

> concrete. BUT...it seems to me that Vygotsky himself is sometimes not very

> comfortable with this leap from experiment to quasi-stage theory:


> p. 143: "It is only in the experiment that we free the child from the

> directing influence of the words of adult language with their developed


> stabler meanings. It is only here that we allow the child to develop word

> meanings and create complexive generalizations in accordance with his own

> free judgment.It allows us to discover how the child's own activity is

> manifested in learning adult language. The experiment indicates what the

> child's language would be like and the nature of the generalizations


> would direct his thinking if its development were not directed by an adult

> language that effectively predetermines the range of concrete objects to

> which a given word meaning can be extended."


> But it IS directed by adult language! How similar all this sounds to

> Piaget's own defense of his clinical method in "Language and

Thought of


> Child", a defense that LSV rips apart in Chapter Six.


> So LSV continues:


> "One could argue that our use of phrases such as "would be

like" and


> direct" (i.e. our use of the subjunctive mood) in this context



> basis for an argument against rather than for the use of the experiment

> since the child is not in fact free to develop the meanings he receives

> from

> adult speech."


> Yes, one certainly could, and in fact LSV does precisely this on pp.

> 174-175!


> But HERE LSV continues:


> "We would respond to this argument by noting that the experiment


> more than what would happen if the child were free form the directing

> influence of adult speech, more than what would happen if he developed his

> generalizations freely and independently."


> Well, it teaches a lot LESS than that if we accept that in real life

> children NEVER develop generalizations "freely" and



> LSV continues:


> "The experiment unovers the real activity of the child in forming

> generalizations, activity that is generally masked from casual


> The influence of speech of those around the child does not obliterate this

> activity. It merely conceals it, causing it to take an extremely complex

> form."


> This sounds a terrible fudge to me. More, it suggests that the influence


> speech "conceals", "does not obliterate",

"complicates" the child's


> without actually engaging, interacting, and fusing with it. I can't


> children learning foreign language words in this way.


> Isn't it the case that most concepts form under conditions that are


> different from Sakharov's experiment? And isn't it the case that


> differences will be just as pertinent to the process and to the products


> concept formation as the differences between, say, Geneva and Germany, or

> between the sun falling out of the sky and a child stumbling in a soccer

> game?


> Luria describes the Sakharov experiments on pp. 50-51 of "Making of


> like this:


> "The individual studies that we carried out at this time, of which I


> mentioned a few, must be considered banal (!) in and of themselves. Today

> we

> would consider them nothing more than student projects. And this is


> what they were. Nevertheless, the general conception that organized those

> pilot studies laid the methodological foundation for Vygotsky's


> theory and provided a set of experimental techniques which I was to use

> throughout the remainder of my career."


> Obviously, if Sakharov's study is REALLY a description of concept


> IN GENERAL, then there is nothing banal about it at all. And on p.


> that's more or less exactly what LSV claims: "This general stage

in the

> formation of concepts in the child can be broken down into three phases

> that

> we were able to study in some detail."


> That's a risky claim. But Luria's claim about our methodological

> foundations

> seems more risky still. As Bronfenbrenner would say, isn't it the case


> Sakharov's experiment only shows us "the science of the strange



> children in strange situations with strange adults for the briefest

> possible

> periods of time" (Ecology of Human Development, p. 19).


> David Kellogg

> Seoul National University of Education





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