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Re: [xmca] Hedegaard article

So, I find a couple of issues here, David.

One is the question of what is developmental vs. what is higher. A kind of thinking in which we make judgments about which contextualizations are relevant (so, says S1, bring in the contextual factor of visual-gender vs. linguistic-gender and say "he" in this case) both tends to come later in ontogeny and to be "higher" in some sense (more complex, built on the preceding processes, more widely usable, as you say). I would see it as developmental in terms of when it first becomes established: previously none, then a first instance, then other instances, some backsliding, some extension to wider domains, eventually a ready resource, if still limited in some ways). But long after that, we still find people NOT using it when they could, and instead relying on the lower forms, for many possible reasons. Now when it occurs, it need not be "developmental", need not in any way necessarily be part of a longer term trajectory of change in how the person thinks. It is still, in the above sense, "higher".

Acting "smarter" in the moment is not always part of long-term development towards being more capable. When it first happens it probably is (though not always, as we know). Much later, probably not.

Similarly, we also have the problem of "scientific" vs "everyday" thinking. Sometimes instances of the former represent part of a developmental process going beyond the latter. But eventually they don't any more. I assume that every culture has some form of thinking that works enough like what we call "scientific" thinking to count as similarly higher, and there I can also be a relativist, to each their own. But some technologies are products of, embodiments of, and very often affordances for the development of kinds of thinking that might be called higher. Riding a bike might not qualify, but repairing a bike might. Designing a better bike almost certainly would. Bikes are a way in to our kind of scientific thinking, a potential way in -- you can also ride them along without riding them "up". Some other culture will have other ways in to its higher forms of thinking.

But I did not understand the book vs painting example. Were you saying that you haven't ridden paintings as a medium "up" to any higher mental functions?


Jay Lemke
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

On Mar 4, 2009, at 10:41 AM, David Kellogg wrote:

If one reads Thinking and Speech with a jaundiced eye, one might think that LSV has a down on cycling for some reason. On p. 200 (of the Minick version) he lists riding a bicycle as an example of a skill which does not lead to child development in any important way. Again, on p. 212 he describes it as a "specialized, technical skill" which does not play a developmental role.

I think there are two reasons for this, and neither one really has to do with distaste for bicycling--or for that matter a view of human development that is narrowly restricted to the higher mental functions.

But I think both reasons DO have to do with the sense that the RESULT of development (which includes the restructuring of lower level functions, e.g. learning how to RACE a bicycle) is necessarily wider than the PROCESS (in which the higher mental functions really do play a dominant role and bicycling has to take a back seat, so to speak).

The first reason is that lower level skills are piecemeal and specific and don't seem to generalize very well. Here's some data we were just looking at. The teacher is showing pictures and giving the names:

T: Now you, ask me and I'll answer.
SS: What does he do?
T: He is a cook.
SS: What does she do?
T: She is a teacher.
SS: What does she do?
T: She is a pianist.
SS: What does she do?
S1: Anya, "he" jana, namjandae... (familiar, self-directed speech: "Naw, it's "he", 'cuz it's a guy.").
T(overhearing): He or she...?
SS: He..
T: So what does...
SS: What does he do?

This often happens in the classroom; the kids get into a rut of lower level skills based ont the rote repetition of the last thing they heard themselves say. It's only the higher level thinking of S1 that gets them out of it. It's one of the reasons why "Listen and repeat" meanings don't seem to transfer to "Listen and answer" exchanges: they aren't WORD meanings at all; they are just noises.

The second reason that Vygotsky seems to deprecate bicycle riding is that there is a very important sense in which Vygotsky really IS a cultural relativist: there is nothing culturally superior about riding a bicycle or even a motorcycle, for the same reason that cricket is not a higher pursuit than baseball.

For Vygotsky ALL forms of complexive thinking (thinking you are a red parrot, associating "baby" in baby whale with a human baby, associating a bowler hat with good sex) are basically at the same developmental level, whether they belong to children, Bororo tribesmen of Central Brazil or college professors before they've had their first cup of coffee in the morning.

By the same token ALL forms of conceptual thinking are at the same level, whether they belong to Trobriand Islanders arguing a legal case, children playing twenty questions, or college professors after they've had their coffee. But that means that no forms of complexive thinking are at the level of conceptual thinking; in fact, that's what it means to say that the former develop into the latter and the latter grow down into the former.

I remember than when I read "Talking Science" I was very struck by the implicit argument that science concepts are mutually determining, that each piece of the puzzle only makes sense in the light of the others (pp. 16-17). This is seems untrue of complexive thinking; on the contrary, concrete objects (a baby, and a baby whale) stand alone and even metaphorical thinking only relates them as alike in one way and unlike in all the others.

I think we implicitly recognize this hierarchy between concepts and complexes, which cuts across culture, gender, and even age, when we discount sloppy handwriting and funny accents and pay attention to the logic and the content of what people say. I also think this is why I have a much better memory for even a lousy book than I do for even a wonderful painting, even though I, being intellectually lazy and rather epicurean, would rather look at paintings.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

PS: There wasn't much of a connection between evolution and the Hedegaard article at all, Jay. It's just that I find it a lot easier to think about the issue of reductionism in context, and it seems to me that the Darwin/Wallace distinction is really about Wallace's (and Dawkins') reductionism.

One effect that reduction of a process into elements seems to have is to eliminate or downplay the crisis, and make development much more incremental. "Evolutionary" rather than "revolutionary", as people like to say, but in Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium evolutionary is profoundly revolutionary. That is why I think it's probably a mistake to reduce Vygotsky's concept of "crisis" to a series of verbal misunderstandings.

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