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[xmca] The Search for a God Particle
One thing I have learned from the discussion on consciousness, and perusing the paper Andy posted for discussion, is that Andy and I are divided by a common language. When I look in the mirror in the morning and worry about whether consciousness is given to us or whether us is given to us first, the first thing I really want to know is why I want to know.
In my case the answer is usually fairly simple: in foreign languages, testing folks tend to think of language as a matter of skills (that is, activities), while teachers like to think about capabilities (that is, knowledge). On one level we are talking about the same thing: the testing folks want to look at ink on paper and sound waves in the air, while we, ignorant of the actual questions our kids will be asked, are interested in the "ideal" form of these marks on paper and sound waves in the air.
It really goes without saying that this "ideal" form is the potential of a real form, and that it is concretely related to concrete past and future experience in a material world. How could we face our students if this were not true? (Answer: we would fiddle with the tests to ensure that it is true, and that's what I meant by reification.)
The problem is really therefore not "ideality" per se. "Ideality" readily becomes material and vice versa. The problem is really that part of ideality we call volition, which does not have any such immediate and obvious material correlate. To use the idiom of English teaching again there is this irreducible difference between "see" and "look at", which we also see in "hear" and "listen to". It's not the same as the difference between "touch" and "point to". That irreducible difference is not ideality but choice, will, liberty, yea, freedom.
When Andy says (in his discussion paper) that "word meaning" is NOT the unit of analysis for consciousness but only for the relationship of thinking and speaking, it seems to me he is talking about consciousness in a very general way, almost co-terminous with ideality in general. What he proposes, goal oriented practical activity, contains the idea of "goal orientation", in which volition is already presupposed, just as "us" is presupposed when "consciousness is given to us".
But that abstract, generalized, universal consciousness is not what Vygotsky is writing about. I don't think Vygotsky would be interested in such a God Particle as a unit of analysis for ideality in general. Vygotsky wants to explain will, voluntariness, and volition. This is precisely what the old Subject-Tool-Object triangle failed to explain, and still fails to explain, no matter how much we elaborate it.
Word meanings, on the other hand, really do explain this, because every word is not simply a representation of objects or even of my own goal-oriented practical activity. Each word is a representation of not one but two subjects: speaker and hearer to boot.
For example, if I make the mistake of saying the word "consciousness" to Andy I have to bear in mind that he means by that something very different from what I intend; for this reason I shall henceforth prefer the word "volition", "verbal thinking", and its material correlate "voluntary speech". In this way, the word is a both a representation of what I mean and an implicit recognition of what Andy understands. The spark that travels between us (or more often, fails to leap the gap) is the sunlight of which Vygotsky speaks.
Seoul National University of Education
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