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[xmca] The Meltzoff/Wolves Thread: Mike's "decoupling" and a Sakharovian footnote for David

In answer to Mike's question: there was a 100% correlation between age and
years of education.  All of the three-year-olds came from the same group at
a private preschool in the city's affluent northern suburbs, and all of the
subjects from five to fifteen from a private school in the same area.  This
private school starts with children aged five in a reception year of the
foundation phase (junior primary), and the more "formal" curriculum
commences the following year.  I had asked for all participating subjects to
be those who had their birthdays in the first half of the year.  The medium
of instruction is English and the participants came from a variety of
language and ethnic backgrounds.

I'm rereading Sakharov and found something I'd highlighted before but not
included in my research report: I think it relates to David's concluding
remarks today in "Threshold", and to Mike's "If I understand LSV
correctly..." paragraph below.  At least, it provides an angle that I hadn't
really paid much attention to before (probably because I didn't understand

"In the present talk we use the word 'concept' in the traditional sense it
has in experimental psychology, which inherited the definition of this term
from formal logic.  A concept in this sense (a general idea, the meaning of
a word) is not a concept for dialectical logic; however, it is synthetically
related to the latter as a specific stage in its development [original
(Sakharov, 1994, p. 97 (in Van der Veer & Valsiner, Eds., The Vygotsky

Does this use of "concept" add anything to the discussion?  I am more than a
little intrigued by the decoupling notion, Mike...  


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of Mike Cole
Sent: 20 August 2009 09:46 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Meltzoff, More Wolves, and Leontiev Erratum

David and Paula--

I fully agree that using the blocks experiment as a test -- IQ,
Schizophrenia, etc. as if they represent an unproblematic thermometer-- is
miss the point of the work.(However, see question below).
And I agree that too many write without reading and vice versa. And of
course, mea culpa.
And, I'll add, that too many assume everyone has read some thinker they are
referring to when it is not true. I have not read Being and Time, I have not
looked at On Grammatology for decades. And its unlikely that I will unless I
resign or am fired -- which makes such
prospects somewhat attractive.

Right now I waiting for a copy of Hanfmann and Kasanin because theirs is the
procedure that Paula and Carol were using. When we were working on T&L in
the mid-1980's and trying to figure out how to help Norris with his
translation (our inadequacies having been often pointed out here, attributed
to him sometimes fairly, sometimes not) we were under the impression that
which blocks were turned over
at certain junctures were chosen by the experimenter. I am probably
hallucinating, but want to check. Then i will write because then
I will have a better idea of exactly how things proceeded.

Now the issue of using these blocks to study the process of conceptual
If I understand LSV correctly, he should believe that South Africans who
have not had the benefit of reaching adolescence having started to receive a
European style education at age 6-7 would be unable to get beyond complexes
but wherever the leveling off point it would
not be true concepts. I also surmise that he would think that one could show
de-volution in the case of brain damage and mental illness.

If so, some comparative work accessible to those interested in this way of
studying the process of conceptual development should be an attractive

If I understand correctly the data collected in the current paper there is a
100% correlation between age and years of education.
Finding ways to decouple that relationship should be fruitful for
theoretical development.


PS-- When this thread has run its course, perhaps we could turn to the
Science article. A very interesting list of authors not ordinarily
of one mind, at least one of whom has touted the new field of cultural
biology, others of whom take sociality to be primal, and so on.
Or not, as time will reveal.

On Thu, Aug 20, 2009 at 2:34 AM, Paula M Towsey

> Dear David
> Dare I add "handmaidens of thought" to the subject line?  Oh, I think it
> more than just a catchy title: I think you are absolutely on the button
> when
> you suggest that these handmaidens of thought do service to more than just
> nouns and perception in activities and conversations with the blocks.
> The conversation is really what it is about.  In fact, for those
> researchers
> who over the years have used the blocks activity for investigation, I am
> convinced this is what makes them so intrigued by the blocks too (Ana, we
> have heard nothing from you this summer...?).  I don't want to start
> lyrical about the blocks as I tend to do quite often, but Carol has always
> been of the opinion that there is a PhD hiding somewhere in a linguistic
> analysis of the data from studies like this...
> I've presented three "gems" here in the light of your point, David, about
> conversations and handmaidens of thought.
> Would there be anything of interest to linguists in the conversation with
> the five-year-old from Figure 10 (particularly the last sentence)?  I've
> cut
> & pasted the paragraph from p. 245 of the Wolves paper:
> "The moments of correction to this collection (Figure 10) were revealed by
> an orange lag, a
> white cev, and a green bik (in the corners, names revealed), which this
> participant reasoned as meaning,
> ". . .just one name for the same colour . . . like all the other names
> aren't the same colour. . . . So, all the names are actually the colours
> and
> [pause] there aren't any colours [left] in the middle."
> When asked about the newly turned blue bik that flatly contradicted this
> observation, he said,
> ". . . [the] same names can go in the-what-the places the one's called
> [i.e., the bik corner]"
> (which he placed at top left), demonstrating a fluid move in association
> from colours as names to the area or place as names. Further fluid logic
> reasoned that
> "What I'm doing . . . I'm turning over the one and if it's the same then I
> put it next to them [of the same label]".
> And "So . . . if it's not the same group then you put it in another group
> that's called the
> group" (see Figure 10)."
> There is clearly more going on here than nouns and perception - quite
> astonishing that 22 little wooden blocks could elicit this kind of
> (the genius of their design, methinks).  This young subject was very
> intent,
> sincere, and totally involved in his activity with the blocks.  Shortly
> after this reasoning, he introduced more and more rules for his own game
> (along the lines of "What I'm doing..." above) which became increasingly
> complicated and left me as the bewildered outsider.  Perhaps I should have
> made a DVD of him to present in San Diego instead!
> And then, for me, another gem (linguistically interesting?) came from the
> eight-year-old in Figure 13 (the colour solution which he couldn't move
> beyond):  At the end of his session, he told me that the game was
> "It's not easy but it's quite hard".
> And from one of the eight-year-olds who was not featured in Wolves (he was
> very timid and took refuge in blocks being "different": once he had hit on
> this reason, it became the panacea for him).  However, at the end of his
> session, I reported this:
> "In the transference exercise, this subject (S807M) described the largest
> glass as being able to have the most water, and the smallest glass as
> "You can put more less water in here, an'. an. it's more smaller than all
> the others".
> The bik glass, the last to be discussed, was described as
> "And this one's thick and you can get more water in.  like water like this
> much [pointing to the lag glass]. the same much water as this and [the
> amount of water] can go in here [in both the lag and bik glasses]"."
> I think Piaget would have smiled at this apparently preoperational
> discussion: it certainly kept me on my toes, though, because he was so
> sincere!  I'd really be interested in hearing what XMCAers think about
> these
> three examples...
> Paula
> Ps - next time you meet a friend who has lost weight, try saying "There's
> more less of you every time I see you!"
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
> Behalf Of David Kellogg
> Sent: 20 August 2009 04:23 AM
> To: mcole@weber.ucsd.edu; Culture ActivityeXtended Mind
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Meltzoff, More Wolves, and Leontiev Erratum
> Dear Mike:
> Yes, that's it. I'm sorry if I sounded upset; I guess I am a delicate
> and I am easily annoyed by titles that include the word "new" followed by
> articles which do not include any actual new content. But that is
> irascibility rather sensitivity; everything out there is new somewhere.
> This morning I had a not particularly new idea about Paula and Carol's
> paper, which still seems underdiscussed to me. One of the very few
> outstanding xmca lacunae is that readers don't always write and (I speak
> one of the most obstreperous writers) let it be said that writers
> don't always read.
> It's this: if we treat the blocks test as a kind of IQ test or even as a
> "schizophrenia" test or if we focus purely on the product, we come up with
> a
> concept of the concept as NOUN: the  archetypical concept is a BLOCK, and
> consequently the prototypical thought is really a PERCEPTION.
> If you think a little bit about Leontiev's problems describing the act of
> reading you will see that many of them stem from his desire to reduce
> reading to an act of unconscious perception. As I said, I think at the
> least one needs to treat reading as an act of focal (that is, volitional)
> attention, and volitional attention is not at all the same thing as
> awareness, particularly not if we have Vygotsky's idea of the mind as a
> system of psychological systems in mind.
> But this view of the static, noun-filled world of the concept ENTIRELY
> changes when we treat the blocks test the way that Paula and Carol have
> chosen to treat it; as a dynamic form of guided interview which center on
> the question "why?", as in "Why did you put that there?" I think this is
> the
> way Vygotsky actually DID do his research; it explains why he's not that
> interested in the actual results and never bothers at all with scoring his
> data.
> As soon as we treat the blocks test as a "conversation piece" (like the
> paintings which eighteenth century gentlemen commissioned to focus the
> flagging conversations at their dinner parties) or a "bonne a penser" (a
> "handmaiden of thought", as Levi-Strauss liked to say of his myths), the
> fit
> between Chapter Five of T&S and Chapter Six becomes a lot closer.
> After all, the kids must justify their sortings with "because" and
> "although". And the artificial concepts ("lag", "mur", "cev", and "bik")
> really are similar to the academic concepts of the new social science
> curriculum ("exploitation", "socialism", "proletarian", and "revolution")
> as
> far as the child's hands on experience is concerned.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> PS: Andy has pointed out that some of the page numbers I gave Monica do
> really match up with the versions he has. I just got back to Seoul and
> checked my library: the ref to Problems of Development of Mind matches the
> 1981 Progress Publishers edition, but the pp 66-65 ref which I just gave
> actually from:
> Leontiev, A.N. (1979, 1981) The problem of activity in psychology. In J.V.
> Wertsch (ed.) The Concept of Activity in Soviet Psychology. Armonk, NY:
> M.E.
> Sharpe, pp. 37-71.
> Sorry, Monica!
> dk
> --- On Tue, 8/18/09, Mike Cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:
> From: Mike Cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
> Subject: [xmca] Fwd: Meltzoff Science paper
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> Date: Tuesday, August 18, 2009, 7:03 PM
> David-- Is this the piece that upset you?
> mike
> -
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