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[xmca] Mind the Gap!


Here's an example of the differences you find, and a long rumination on it which will, I hope, justify changing the subject line (now that not even I can quite remember what the roasted pigeons were about).

1982, according to Seve: "Explaining the appearance of awareness exclusively by the appearance of a need that one has of it comes down at bottom to explaining that birds have wings because they require them in order to fly. Such an explanation not only takes us far back in the history of scientific thinking but also implies that a need carries with it the capacity to create the apparatuses necessary for its satisfaction. As for the awareness itself, it is supposed that its constant disposition to intervene is not the object of any development and that, as a result, it is pre-formed."

1934, according to Meccaci: "Explaining the appearance of awareness exclusively by the appearance of a need signifies at bottom the same thing as explaining the origin of feathers with the fact that they are required for flight. Such an explanation does not simply carry us far back into the history of the development of scientific thinking, it assumes that a need in itself carries the capacity to create the means necessary for its satisfaction. As for awareness itself it is supposed that this lacks all development, that it has a constant readiness for action, (and that like the need) it is as a result pre-formed."

Meccaci notes that the words in parentheses “and that like the need” were omitted in the 1956 and 1982 editions. 

Jay promised us, not too long ago, his thoughts on the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species. We know that the followers of Darwin (rather like the followers of Vygotsky, as we shall see) are somewhat split between a FUNCTIONALIST wing led by Richard Dawkins and a wing we may call EXAPTATIONIST led by the late Stephen J. Gould. 

The functionalists believe that absolutely everything is explained by a particular need. For example, genes need organisms to reproduce themselves. The reason why birds have feathers is that their genes need them to fly in order to mate and lay eggs and reproduce. 

Similarly, organisms need organizations in order to reproduce their genes. The reason why men are jealous is the same reason why they are promiscuous: their DNA clamors to reproduce itself, and their social organization is a tool of DNA in much the same way as their biological organism is. 

The exaptationists point out that many important developments appear initially unrelated to the needs that they ultimately satisfy. For example, feathers appeared in dinosaurs which could not fly. They also point out that Darwin’s view was that adaptation by natural selection was only one, very important, but still only one form of adaptation. 

A lot of adaptation seems to come from outside genes, at least initially: for example, the use of features of the natural environment for shelter (twigs for birds, caves for humans), the use of tools, and of course the use of features of the body (the lungs, the mouth, the tongue) for entirely new functions (communication rather than eating or breathing).

This distinction between followers of Darwin is also visible between followers of Vygotsky. First of all, there is the Leontiev view that it is orientation to an object (a goal, a motive) which “explains” activity. This almost pure example of functionalism really only explains the need for Engestrom’s subsequent elaboration of the activity triangle! 

As Vygotsky said, we cannot explain the trajectory of the cannonball simply by referring to the aim of the cannoneer. Leontiev cannot tell us why cannonballs miss any more than Dr. Pangloss can tell Candide why the earthquake happened in Lisbon rather than London.

Secondly, as we know from Chaiklin (2003), there is the common interpretation of the zone of proximal development as a general potential for problem solving which can be talked into being by the assistance of those in the environment of the child. I think of this interpretation as the GAP version, that is, the Generality-Assistance-Potential version of the ZPD. What it really is, though, is functionalist; if we take seriously what Vygotsky tells us about the origins of the ZPD in play then we know it is false.

The Gap ZPD, whether located inside the child as a latent potential or outside the child as an undiscovered need, does not undergo any development itself; it is, as Vygotsky says, preformed. Like the selfish gene, it uses organisms and organizations to reproduce itself.

The Gap version of the ZPD simply assumes that everything that develops does so at the most propitious moment, in the most efficient form, and in the best possible manner. Like Dr. Pangloss it assumes that there must be a need for whatever socially instituted concepts are being taught, just like there must be a need for earthquakes and if the earthquake hadn't happened in Lisbon then it might have occurred in London.

As they say in London (and Lisbon)...Mind the Gap! 

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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