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[Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history
Here is a useful part of an XMCA discussion from 1/27/06
about ch. 4 of *Mind in Society* that may answer your question.
Wk 2: VygotskyVygotsky, Mind in Society, Ch 4: Internalization of Higher
psychological FunctionsJoanne Price
In this chapter, Vygotsky provides a distinction between tools and signs,
the primary mediating artifacts that provide the evidence of higher
psychological functioning. He believes that an imprecise use of metaphors
associated with tools and signs might result in a blurring of the important
distinction between them. And since the researcher’s task is “to uncover
the real relationship, not the figurative one, that exists between behavior
and its auxiliary means” (p. 53), such a blurring would be disastrous.
Vygotsky accuses Dewey of making just such an error in referring to
language as the ‘tool of tools.’
Of the two, tools and signs, tools have perhaps tended to receive more
focus, more investigation since they are external, tangible. But Vygotsky
seems to be intrigued with signs, ‘we seek to understand the behavioral
role of the sign in all its uniqueness. This goal has motivated our
empirical studies of how both tool and sign are mutually linked and yet
Vygotsky uses three ways to compare and contrast tool and sign:
1. They are similar in that either can play a mediating role in activity.
2. They are different in the ways that they orient human behavior:
a. A tool is externally oriented.
It is a ‘means by which human external activity masters nature.
b. A sign is internally oriented.
It s a ‘means of ‘mastering oneself.’
3. The real tie between these activities: the tie of their development in
phylo- and onto-genesis.
‘The mastering of nature and the mastering of behavior are mutually linked,
just as man’s alteration of nature alters man’s own nature.
I found this chapter shocking as it applies research in the workplace.
There is so very little attention given to signs and their role in the
development of activity and yet issues pertaining to ‘signs’ (because they
are internally oriented) are perhaps the key stumbling-block to
coordinated, distributed activity.
From: "david leitch" (email@example.com)
Vygotsky begins Chapter Four of Mind in Society with a contention that,
"the sign acts as an instrument of psychological activity in a manner
analogous to the role of a tool in labor."(MiS 52) Here Vygotsky cautions
against treating this analogy as an identity. On the one hand, treating the
two as identical can lead, in Vygotsky's view, to meaningless expressions
pretending to content: "The tongue is the tool of thought," for example.
Once someone tries to interrogate this phrase for meaning, its vacuousness
becomes clear. On the onther hand, treating sign and tool as identical can
lead other psychologists, such as Dewey and other American pragmatists, to
forget the important differences between them.
In order to avoid this, Vygotsky reaches back to Hegel's famous aphorism
"Reason is just as cunning as she is powerful. Her cunning consists
principally in her mediating activity which, by causing objects to act and
react on each other in accordance with their own nature, in this way,
without any direct interference in the process, carries out reasons'
intentions." (MiS 54 quoting "Encyklopadie, Eter Theil, Die Logik," which
Vygotsky draws on from Marx's Capital )
Both tools and signs are like reason in that they cause intended actions
without any direct interference in the process; they are subcategories of
the general categoriy of mediated activity. The difference between them is
that tools are used to mediate the physical world, and signs are used to
mediate the psychological world. Therefore, tools are physical objects that
mediate the physical world, such as wheels, pulleys, levers, and machines,
and signs are psychological objects that mediate the mental world, such as
mnemonics, gestures, and language. The physical and psychological worlds
are analogous but not identical; note even the use of the term 'world' to
describe what is psychologically mediated by signs; the term 'world' is
itself a physical analogy, as there is no locatable psychological world. A
crucial difference between the two is their orientation. The physical world
is external to tool-user. The psychological world is internal to the
sign-user. Therefore, ! tools orient the user externally and signs orient
the user internally. These orientations are different things, but can take
Indeed, this combination is the defining characteristic of higher mental
functions. The development of pointing, for example, takes place in
Vygotsky's model through the combination of tools and signs. The parent
acts as a tool, in that they act upon the physical world to give the child
the child reaches for, and the gesture towards the object and the failed
attempt to grasp it is the beginning of a sign, in that it acts indirectly
upon the world, mediating the child's desires through the rubric of the
cultural significance of pointing. Let me explain this in a little more
"We call the internal reconstruction of an external operation
internalization." (MiS 56) In order to understand how internalization
occurs, we must understand two things: what an external operation is and
how it becomes reconstructed internally. Already from this sentence,
however, we can see an important difference in Vygotsky's model from
Piaget's. For Vygotsky, the higher mental functions begin externally, and
move into the child, rather than vice-versa. This model opposes Piaget's
conception of development as the increased external expression of internal
development. This reversal is central for understanding Vygotsky because it
encompasses the uniqueness of Vygotsky's thought. Modelling development as
the external entering the internal emphasizes the need for a developmental
model to account the transition from the external to the internal. For
Vygotsky, this has two important effects, one of which I concentrate on in
this account. First, this emphasis leads Vy! gotsky to the mediational
aspects of his thought; signs and tools becomes central conceptual objects
for Vygotsky because of the work they do in explaining the transition from
the external to the internal. Second, Vygotksy's approach to signs and
tools as conceptual categories forces Vygotsky to take account of culture
in a much more nuanced, central way than previous thinkers had; as we will
see, the innate sociability of man is the reason that operations begin
externally. This accounting is not just a reaction against the Pavlovian
Behaviorism that characterized the mainstream of Soviet psychology. Rather,
it is the birth of a new way of approaching psychology, a way that takes an
individuals' cultural memberships into account without denying the presence
of the individual.
Vygotsky uses the example of a child pointing to outline the process of
internalization. At first, a child sees and recognizes an object, and
reaches out to grasp it. If the child is successful, the child grasps the
object and, given the child's age when they begin to point, will frequently
put the object into their mouth. If the child is unsuccessful, the attempt
is either witnessed or not. If the attempt is not witnessed, then the child
will either locomote over to the object and attempt to grasp it again, or
the child will give up. If, however, the failed attempt is witnessed, by a
parent for example, then the process of internalization can begin. (MiS 56)
The parent, seeing the child's failed attempt to grasp the object,
understands that the child wishes to possess the object. Loving the child,
the parent will frequently pass the object to the child. Consider this from
the child's point of view. The attempt to grasp the object has succeeded,
although through an unexpected means; rather than the gesture sucessfully
interacting with the world directly, the gesture successfully acted on the
wrold indirectly, mediated through a successful social interaction with the
parent. "Consequently, the primary meaning of that unsuccessful grasping
movement is established by others." (56) After some time, the child
eventually comes to realize the primary meaning that has been established
by the parent. At this point, the action of attempting to grasp an object
becomes the action of pointing. The movement becomes simplified and
oriented towards another person. So long as others respond to the gesture
in the way the child has now come! to expect (by fetching the object), the
social meaning of the gesture will be reinforced.
See what has happened here. The child no longer acts directly on the world
in order to grasp an object, but rather indirectly upon the world through
others. The child's interaction with the objective world has become
mediated through the cultural convention of pointing. In this way, a
cultural meaning has been internalized by the child through a series of
An operation that initially represents an external activity is
reconstructed and begins to occur internally
An interpersonal process is transformed into an intrapersonal one
The transformation of an interpersonal process into an intrapersonal one is
the result of a long series of developmental events
From: "Matt Brown" (firstname.lastname@example.org)
> Both tools and signs are like reason in that they cause intended
> actions without any direct interference in the process; they are
> subcategories of the general categoriy of mediated activity. The
> difference between them is that tools are used to mediate the
> physical world, and signs are used to mediate the psychological
> world. Therefore, tools are physical objects that mediate the
> physical world, such as wheels, pulleys, levers, and machines, and
> signs are psychological objects that mediate the mental world, such
> as mnemonics, gestures, and language.
I'm a little worried about this inference, but I guess that's because
I'm not sure what you mean by "psychological object." Surely, signs
aren't (always?) psychological objects in the sense of ideas or
mental representations. Traffic signs, words on a page, the sign on
the bathroom door, gestures and spoken words are all signs, but they
likewise have a material aspect. Similarly, tools also have an ideal
side. They aren't merely physical objects, because they are what
they are in virtue of having a history and being part of a culture.
On Wed, Jan 14, 2015 at 1:09 PM, Annalisa Aguilar <email@example.com> wrote:
> Isn't a sign equivalent to a tool, that language itself is a tool?
> Or are there different transformations in the brain going on depending
> upon which sense it enters? Ears, touch, eyes, smell, taste?
> Don't these all function similarly in the way they transform mind through
> perception? I don't know what is gained by separating them since we don't
> experience our senses as separate functions; they are connected to one
> another through the body.
> Kind regards,
> From: firstname.lastname@example.org
> <email@example.com> on behalf of Andy
> Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 6:46 AM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history
> Just a couple more quotes from Vygotsky which shed some light on Mike's
> question. These come from the last paragraphs of Chapter 1 of "Ape,
> Primitive Man and Child."
> "Once symbols enabling man to control his own behavioral processes
> had been invented and were in use, the history of the development of
> behavior became transformed, to a large extent, into the history of
> the development of those auxiliary artificial "means of behavior",
> and the history of man's control over his own behavior."
> So it is essentially sign-use which characterises cultural development,
> not tool-use, and going to the question of whether there are two
> temporally distinct phases of development:
> "This of course does not mean that, left to itself, the development
> of the hand, that fundamental organ, and of the intellect came to an
> end as soon as man's historical development began. Quite the
> contrary: the hand and the brain, as natural organs, probably never
> developed so rapidly, and at such a gigantic pace, as during the
> period of historical development."
> *Andy Blunden*
> Andy Blunden wrote:
> > Jessica refers to:
> > "Indeed, the struggle for existence and natural selection, the two
> > driving forces of biological evolution within the animal world, lose
> > their decisive importance as soon as we pass on to the historical
> > development of man. New laws, which regulate the course of human
> > history and which cover the entire process of the material and
> > mental development of human society, now take their place."
> > Andy
> > PS, I am not the translator, Jessica, just the transcriber. René van
> > der Veer and Jaan Valsiner did all the work, and I just scanned it to
> > HTML.
> > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> > *Andy Blunden*
> > http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
> > Kindred, Jessica Dr. wrote:
> >> Mike, your paraphrased is very clearly ststed in Vygotsky's essay,
> >> The Socialist Alteration of Man, especially in the second through
> >> fifth paragraphs. I think this may be the source of the phrase you
> >> are looking for, though clearly Vygotsky is riffing on Engels.
> >> ________________________________________
> >> From: email@example.com
> >> [firstname.lastname@example.org] on behalf of Andy
> >> Blunden [email@example.com]
> >> Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 9:23 PM
> >> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> >> Cc: Mikhail Munipov
> >> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history
> >> Actually, I think that "the more that human beings become removed from
> >> animals in the narrower sense of the word, the more they make their own
> >> history consciously" is near as dammit what you are looking for.
> >> Engels of course lacked good information. Even in his day Vygotsky had
> >> poor information. In "Ape, Primitive Man and Child", "primitive" is
> >> taken to mean "non-literate", as it was for Luria in his Central Asian
> >> expedition, and a great deal of emphasis is put on the origins and
> >> development of *writing*. But writing only appears in Egypt c. 2,000 BCE
> >> I think, in any case, in evolutionary time scales 5 minutes ago. The
> >> development of writing is nothing to do with evolution of the species.
> >> Vygotsky defines primitive man as follows:
> >> “This term is commonly used, admittedly as a conventional label, to
> >> designate certain peoples of the uncivilized world, situated at the
> >> lower levels of cultural development. It is not entirely right to
> >> call these peoples primitive, as a greater or lesser degree of
> >> civilization can unquestionably be observed in all of them. All of
> >> them have already emerged from the prehistoric phase of human
> >> existence. Some of them have very ancient traditions. Some of them
> >> have been influenced by remote and powerful cultures, while the
> >> cultural development of others has become degraded.
> >> “/Primitive man, in the true sense of the term, does not exist
> >> anywhere at the present time, /and the human type, as represented
> >> among these primeval peoples, can only be called “relatively
> >> primitive.” Primitiveness in this sense is a lower level, and the
> >> starting point for the historical development of human behaviour.
> >> Material for the psychology of primitive man is provided by data
> >> concerning prehistoric man, the peoples situated at the lower levels
> >> of cultural development and the comparative psychology of peoples of
> >> different cultures.”(Preface, 1930, Italics in the original)
> >> And from the start, this chapter is framed as "cultural development" as
> >> distinct from "evolutionary development." Chapter 1 on primates focuses
> >> on the limited use of tools possible for apes, with the implication that
> >> the cultural development around the emergence of labour, i.e., the
> >> production of tools, was part of evolutionary development, prior and
> >> leading up to the formation of homo sapiens sapiens. There is no chapter
> >> covering the period between 2 million years ago and say `00,000 years
> >> ago, where cultural and biological formation are interacting.
> >> According to Engels and others including Dewey, speech emerges
> >> simultaneously with tools. Dewey makes the point that a tool is not a
> >> tool until its use is institutionalised, linking social, symbolic and
> >> tool-using activity together.
> >> Andy
> >> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >> *Andy Blunden*
> >> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
> >> mike cole wrote:
> >>> So perhaps its just my bad memory, Andy. the issues remain central.
> >>> THANKS for the appropriate links!
> >>> mike
> >>> On Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 4:51 PM, Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org
> >>> <mailto:email@example.com>> wrote:
> >>> There can only be two sources of this idea: Engels' "Part Played
> >>> by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man" (1876)
> >>> and the Introduction to "Dialectics of Nature" (1883)
> >>> http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch01.htm
> >>> In the latter work, after explaining how freeing the hands by
> >>> adopting an erect gait, led to the use of tools, meaning labour,
> >>> and this led to the expansion of the brain, language and sundry
> >>> other changes, and thus eventualy the emergence of human beings as
> >>> a species. Then he says:
> >>> "With men we enter /history/."
> >>> In the earlier document, he says: "Labour begins with the making
> >>> of tools" which Engels claims happened before the formation of
> >>> modern homo sapiens, contributing to that formation rather than
> >>> being a product of the formation of modern humans, and he narrates
> >>> a story which continues from this point up to socialist revolution
> >>> as if it were one continuous story, blurring over the distinction
> >>> between evolution of the species and historical development of
> >>> culture.
> >>> The nerest we come to your quote is: "the more that human beings
> >>> become removed from animals in the narrower sense of the word, the
> >>> more they make their own history consciously." The "narrower
> >>> sense" I presume means biological differentiation. So this could
> >>> count for what you are looking for, Mike.
> >>> Andy
> >>> *Andy Blunden*
> >>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
> >>> <http://home.pacific.net.au/%7Eandy/>
> >>> mike cole wrote:
> >>> Dear Colleagues--
> >>> I seem to recall reading an idea, that I recall being
> >>> attributed to Engels,
> >>> that (rooughly) "more and more the laws of evolution are being
> >>> replaced by
> >>> the laws of history."
> >>> Can anyone enlighten me either as to the source of this
> >>> "quotation" or as
> >>> to the source of my own confusion in this regard?
> >>> mike
> >>> --
> >>> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal with a natural science as an
> >>> object that creates history. Ernst Boesch.
*Robert Lake Ed.D.*Associate Professor
Social Foundations of Education
Dept. of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading
Georgia Southern University
Secretary/Treasurer-AERA- Paulo Freire Special Interest Group
P. O. Box 8144
Phone: (912) 478-0355
Fax: (912) 478-5382
Statesboro, GA 30460