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[xmca] Message in a Bottle
Steve, I think THIS is the distinction I was trying to get at, and it's a distinction that is under-addressed when we equate tools and signs. Equating tools and signs is a matter of equating bottles and messages, chatbots and the actual people who design them. It is a retreat to the pre-Thinking and Speech Vygotsky, the Vygotsky of mediated action rather than the Vygotsky of the zone of proximal development (which Seve, interestingly, insists on translating as the "next zone of development"--it makes quite a difference, doesn't it?)
VOLUNTARY communication happens when you assume that the will to communicate is reciprocal. Actual reciprocal communication does not have to happen; Katie does not have to actually hear from me to imagine me asking her questions about where she lives and what she likes and who her best friends are and not being very interested in her dark murderous feelings about spiders.
But there has to be exactly what is missing when a human pretends to communicate with a chatbot or designs a wine label which not even the designer is willing to read from beginning to end: there has to be a theory of reciprocal willingness to communicate based on the assumption that the other is a subject like oneself. That is the key distinction between subject-subject relations and subject-object relations that I think Leontiev ignored.
Mike has taken to gardening and fishing, Candide like, at the end of his postings: "Il faut cultiver notre jardin", as Candide says to Dr. Panglosse when the good doctor explains that if the Lisbon earthquake hadn't happened in Lisbon, why then it would have happened in London, so you can see that this is the best of all possible worlds.
As Mike points out, we are tilling different gardens, and my previous post was really by nature of a fishing expedition to find out what Mike was on about. Now I know. I am not ENTIRELY sure it is ENTIRELY unrelated to what I am doing and to what Paula is doing on finding links between Chapter Five and Chapter Six.
But if it is related, then it is related the way that Barack Obama's ignorant comments on Korean schools are related to the realities of schooling here, i.e., not in any direct way but only through a rather flat, stereotyped image of Stakhanovite schooling which I for one do not take very seriously; I know very well that what Obama says about long school days here is both more and less true than he imagines.
There's a more direct relationship, though, which goes back to November 2007, when Mike did an online presentation as part of the San Diego-Helsinki discussion on development. Mike wanted to know how Vygotsky's unfinished theory of child development related to his readings in Gestalt psychology. This discussion is of some continuity as well as antiquity: it ran "like a red thread" through the Strange Situation discussion and came up again in our discussion on Marianne Hedegaard's article and it's even there in Seve's quirky translation of the zoped as the "next zone of development".
Last night I read something that for me sheds quite a bit of light on it. It's from Thinking and Speech, and it corresponds to p. 229-230 in your Minick translation. Here's Meccaci's version:
“The analysis of the development of general representations in the child in the preschool period, which corresponds to what we have called “complexes” in the experimental concepts, has shown that general representations as a higher stage in the development of the meaning of words result not from single general representations but from generalized perceptions, that is to say the form of generalization which dominated during the previous period. This conclusion of fundamental importance, we have been able to draw from our experimental research, resolves in substance the whole problem. In the study of arithmetic and algebraic concepts we have established analogous relations between the new generalization and that of the preceding period. We have managed to establish, with respect to the transition from the preconcepts of the schoolchild to the concepts of the adolescent, exactly what the research on the previous period established with respect to the
passage from generalized perception to generalized representations, that is to say, from syncretism to complexes.”
Here Vygotsky really does try to link Chapter Five and Chapter Six. But in Chapter Five he argued that complexive thinking dominated throughout childhood right up until the transitional age and even permeated the everyday thinking of adults.
In the field of education, this emphasis on the complex was consistent with the work he was then doing in the Labor School, with Blonsky and with Krupskaya. In the field of linguistics it is consistent with Volosinov’s 1929 stress on the pliability and mutability of signs rather than upon their consistency and self-similarity.
If the essence of the word is the ever-changing theme rather than the artificially stabilized meaning, then complexes are rather closer to word meanings than concepts. (This is what we see when we look at frequency corpora; the stability of meaning is inversely proportional to the frequency of use.)
Here in Chapter Six, things change. Now Vygotsky argues that the child can leave complexive thinking at the school door and begin to work with concepts at the very outset of schooling. The transition from syncretic heap to complex is characteristic of the preschool period, not school age; school age is dominated by the transition from the preconcept to the concept.
Vygotsky gives us an analogy. Algebra is a GENERALIZATION of the relationships we find between actual quantities in arithmetic. In the same way, complexes are a GENERALIZATION of the relationships we find between actual objects in heaps.
Put another way, algebra is a processs of ABSTRACTING AWAY the actual quantities (1, 2, 3, …) from the relationships between the quantities (y = x [x-1] + 2x – 3). In the same way, complexive thinking is a process of ABSTRACTING AWAY the actual perceptions and object-oriented activities (e.g. counting) that are characteristic of syncretic heaps.
A lot has changed between 1931 and 1934. Some of the changes, as we’ve seen, are political: the Labor School is gone, pedology is in disgrace, and there is a kind of educational Stakhanovism taking hold.
Linked to, but nevertheless distinct from, these political changes there are some important theoretical changes going on in Vygotsky’s thinking. One of them is the development of a comprehensive theory of child development (which is laid out in incomplete form in Volume Five).
According to this (unfinished) general theory, lines of development which were central in one age (e.g. perception which dominates in early childhood, see p. 189 in Minick) become subordinate and peripheral in the next; perception becomes subordinated to speech with the creation of verbal perception in preschool.
That is why we see that the first complex, the associative complex, is a kind of heap in the form of a mega-object: it is the moment when the child notices the similarity between a heap and an object and tries to create a heap in the image of a prototype object.
But verbal perception too becomes subordinated to thinking with the creation of preconcepts in elementary school. It seems to me that the best way to understand the “preconcept” is not as the “potential concept” mooted in Chapter Five but more like the pseudoconcept.
By analogy with the associative complex,: the preconcept is the moment when the child notices the similarity between an idea and a generalized representation and tries to create a generalized representation in the image of a bounded idea.
This bounded idea is not a concept because the child does not consciously control the boundaries of the bounded idea. That boundary is functionally determined; it is controlled by others, so it is a concept for others but not for the child.
Finally, thinking itself is subordinated to conscious awareness and metacognitive mastery in the adolescent. At this point…and only at this point…the concept for others becomes a concept for the child.
So in this sense the new theory in which concepts are left at the school door is not entirely inconsistent with the old theory according to which thinking in concepts really only takes place in the transitional age (i.e. adolescence).
Actually, what I took away from the Sfard article on Commognitivism in math teaching is really NOT that there is a logical order to the acquisition of concepts such as plus times minus equal minus, or one, two, three sides equals a triangle. Quite the contrary: what I took away from it as that sometimes you do leap before you look and fill in the earth underneath you later.
Sometimes we go through the empirical motions of learning for years before we figure out what the motions really mean and why they are there. In fact, it seems to me that is what happens whenever we successfully communicate; we start out with a theory of the other person's mind which logically should be the product of our communication. In that sense every successful communication is something of a message in a bottle, even when it is directed to one's (future) self.
Seoul National University of Education
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