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[Xmca-l] Re: Mediating Activity and Mediated Activity

Well, but then in hindsight everything coevolves with everything, Andy. And
only in hindsight. Three problems with that.

First of all, this view of "co-evolution" renders the idea of evolution
vacuous. There is no obvious reason why the larynx should be considered the
"rudiment" of language rather than the mouth or the ears or for that matter
the hand (Stokoe makes a very convincing argument that sign languages
predate vocal ones). So then we have to say that speech co-evolved with
mouths and ears and hands?

Secondly, to pre-empt a little the upcoming issue of MCA, that this view of
co-evolution also makes it impossible to explain crises as internal
phenomena. The pace of change of language is qualitatively different from
the pace of change of the "rudiment" of language, wherever you choose to
locate it, and this changing of gears needs to be explained. It wasn't a
simple adaptation to the environment, whatever it was; it doesn't appear to
be environment specific at all.

Thirdly, this notion of co-evolution, discovering "rudiments" in accidents,
does not give us a unit of analysis that has all of the properties that we
are interested in studying. The quipu and the notched stick
are deliberately endowed with meaning, but the larynx is not.

Perhaps what you mean is not the larynx but the vocal tract: the lungs,
the bronchial tubes, the wind pipe, the voicebox, the oral cavity, the
tongue, the lips and the nose and nasal passages. But this did not evolve
at all; in  fact, as a physiological organ the vocal tract does not even
exist. It's not an adaptation but an exaptation--a bringing
together of organs which evolved with very different functions for
a purpose which is not an adaptation to the environment but an attempt to
create a qualitatively new type of environment, namely a semiotic one.

The notion of the co-evolution of tools and signs not only renders the idea
of evolution almost meaningless, it also makes it next to impossible to
consciously and deliberately and rationally introduce design into
development. If signs are, like tools, just ways of slavishly adapting to
an environment or (worse) slavishly adapting the environment to human
whims, we can only stagger and struggle against each other, from one
adaptation to the next. But if speech is an audaciously wise attempt to
create an environment of an entirely new type, an environment made of
meaning rather than merely of matter, then we humans might have some hope
of transforming the bitter blind combat of each against all into a common
collaborative project. That would be co-evolution indeed.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

On Wed, May 4, 2016 at 2:09 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> David, I am responding to "Tool use--and even tool manufacture--is quite
> common in higher primates. But while the higher primates regularly use
> gesture, there is no evidence of any other species developing anything like
> a lexicogrammar."
> In his somewhat discredited book "Ape, Primitive Man and Child," Vygotsky
> makes the point that the form of activity which is found in non-human
> animals in *rudimentary* form but is fully developed in humans, is the key
> to the "transition from ape to man" and is thus the "essence of man" (to
> use a lot of 19th century language). That is why he was so determined, at
> the time, to find "rudimentary" forms of writing among not-literate peoples
> (those memory sticks and knots).
> For all the faults of this work, I think this was a profound insight. What
> he seemed to have been blind to is that the larynx evolved together with
> the hand, and human beings learnt to speak at the same time as they learnt
> to make tools. It was only in 1931 that he recognised that a spoken word
> was as much a sign as a piece of technology manufactured for communicative
> purposes - which nonetheless, did turn out to mark a qualitative leap in
> human cultural development.
> The great insight from this work is that despite himself, he looked *not*
> at the attribute of human beings which was exclusively found among humans
> (lexicogrammar) as the "essence of man," but on the contrary to the
> mediating activity which produced the change from one species to another.
> This is the Hegelian idea of concept, a.k.a. species, as opposed to the
> positivist concept of species/concept which looks for "essential"
> attributes as definitive. But he didn;t know that until 1931.
> Andy
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden
> http://home.mira.net/~andy
> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
> On 4/05/2016 1:48 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
>> Greg:
>> Tool use--and even tool manufacture--is quite common in higher primates.
>> But while the higher primates regularly use gesture, there is no evidence
>> of any other species developing anything like a lexicogrammar. It's in
>> that
>> sense that I was arguing that tool use has temporal priority over signs. I
>> don't think tools and signs co-evolved phylogenetically any more than they
>> co-evolve ontogenetically. I think that practical intelligence and
>> speech have separate genetic roots and separate functional paths, the one
>> oriented towards the environment and the other towards conspecifics.
>> While he was in prison, Oscar Wilde was allowed one sheet of paper a day,
>> which was issued to him in the morning and then locked in a safe in the
>> evening. He used this to write a very long letter to his lover Lord Alfred
>> Douglas (about a third of this letter, with the long and highly
>> contradictory complaints removed, was published as "De Profundis"). But it
>> was only after his release that he was able to transform the sorry mess
>> into great art, a ballad about a trooper who was hanged while he was in
>> prison.
>> He did not wear his scarlet coat
>> For blood and wine are red
>> And blood and wine were on his hands
>> When they found him with the dead
>> The poor dead woman that he loved
>> And murdered in their bed
>> It's all there: the blue coat of the trooper is now red, Christ transforms
>> blue water into red wine at Canaa, wine is transformed into blood before
>> Gethsemane and Golgotha, and even the main complaint Wilde has against
>> Douglas in "De Profundis", which is that "each man kills the thing he
>> loves
>> but each man does not die" is changed into "murdered in their bed". But
>> the
>> very first step in this transsubstantiation of mere suffering into great
>> art happens in the very first word, where Wilde begins with "he" instead
>> of
>> "I".
>> Of course it's possible to use your personal misery to create great art.
>> But it's hard, for (at least) three reasons. First of all, it's hard to
>> stand back and let the material alone rather than try to whip it into
>> shape. Second, it's hard to reconcile the sense that your pain is the one
>> and only and incomparable and ineffable and the sense that you are at the
>> same time everywoman. Thirdly, pain is debilitating: it withers your
>> embrace right at the very moment when you need to reach out, makes you
>> unfit for companionship right when you need it most, fills your mouth with
>> incoherent screams precisely when you most need the precision of words to
>> convey what you are feeling to others. On top of that, as Vygotsky says,
>> really good art is not the contagion of feeling: it's the individuation of
>> social emotion and not the socialization of individual emotion.
>> The unmotivated reconciliation that ends "Lemonade" is deus ex machina,
>> i.e. both unartistic and unrealistic. Either it was manufactured for mass
>> market consumption, or the raw emotion that preceded it was. Or both.
>> David Kellogg
>> Macquarie University
>> On Tue, May 3, 2016 at 11:05 AM, Greg Mcverry <jgregmcverry@gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>> I would have to agree with Andy on the co-evolution of the tools. To
>>> separate one as developing phylogenetically as ontogenetically seems
>>> false.
>>> Could one argue that agriculture was a pre-cursor to formal writing
>>> systems
>>> but sign systems evolved as a form of communication long before? I am
>>> not a
>>> cultural anthropologist. I really do not know if there has been a writing
>>> system developed in a hunting and gathering culture.
>>> Yet that does not mean those same cultures were not ripe with sign
>>> systems
>>> and meaning makings.
>>> I think the mediation and differentiation of tools coevolving is even
>>> more
>>> stark when we consider the age of the web. For the first 25 years of the
>>> web the people building the web were also doing their own identity work.
>>> People that hung out on the the Well, Usenets, chat rooms. xmca
>>> listservs,
>>> etc were defining the tools in a way to help define themselves. Here is
>>> agreat piece by Ben Werdmuller reflecting on how his tool development
>>> could
>>> not be separated from his own ontological development:
>>> https://words.werd.io/we-are-the-monkeys-of-rum-70f81d4a02df#.n0x23ugom
>>> In terms of Beyonce. Whether you call it a mediating activity or a
>>> mediated
>>> activity. I am not sure it matters. The point is to be a force. For those
>>> not in the states her latest release has been seen as a call to women of
>>> color. Her Super Bowl performance was both celebrated and vilified.
>>> I haven't heard Lemonade yet ( I suffer from severe pop culture deficit)
>>> but I hear it getting talked about all over the web. I wonder how Hegel
>>> would think of something like the web where the culture is both affected
>>> by
>>> market pressures but not limited to any one national identity. Is the web
>>> the world spirit?
>>> On Mon, May 2, 2016 at 8:44 PM Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
>>> I think the evidence is in that speech and labour (i.e.,
>>>> tool-use) co-evolved, but writing came a whole epoch later.
>>>> I do not think it is a sustainable "developmentalist" point
>>>> of view that a form of activity can first be differentiated
>>>> and then be mediated: the mediation and the differentiation
>>>> co-evolve (so to speak). That's the whole point.
>>>> On my update to:
>>> https://www.academia.edu/4781886/From_where_did_Vygotsky_get_his_Hegelianism
>>>> I never claimed that Vygotsky only got his Hegel through
>>>> Marx: his knowledge of Hegel was mediated through a number
>>>> of sources (including Lenin and Engels and probably
>>>> Plekhanov, followers of Deborin and Lewin). The correction
>>>> you referred to was my admission that the passage you drew
>>>> my attention to in HDHMF I had overlooked in my catalogue,
>>>> and that it had to be included with the one or two other
>>>> allusions which seem to have come from a reading of the
>>>> section of Hegel's Subjective Spirit named "Psychology".
>>>> Someone, c. 1931, drew his attention to these passages.
>>>> There are other passages of The Subjective Spirit which
>>>> would have been of great interest to Vygotsky and would
>>>> certainly have been appropriated if he had ever read them,
>>>> but he hadn't, far less the Logic (though he had studied
>>>> Lenin's Annotations on the Logic) or the Phenomenology,
>>>> which no Marxist or Psychologist read in the period of his
>>>> lifetime.
>>>> Is it time yet, David, for you to make a correction to your
>>>> claim that the Vygotsky archive would eventually turn up
>>>> Vygotsky's annotations on the Phenomenology?
>>>> Andy
>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>>>> Andy Blunden
>>>> http://home.mira.net/~andy
>>>> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
>>>> On 3/05/2016 9:00 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
>>>>> Andy:
>>>>> You and I both come out of the pugilistic left, and
>>>>> we live in a country where socks are considered formal
>>>>> apparel. So I imagine that no question mark is required to
>>>>> start a discussion; nor pulling of punches to finish one.
>>>>> I think I made the case that the distinction was pretty
>>>>> useful, at least to Beyoncé fans--if not, see Vygotsky's
>>>>> conclusion to Chapter Two of HDHMF, where he points out
>>>>> that the precise nature of the relationship of signs and
>>>>> tools needs to be worked out yet, but in any case that
>>>>> relation is indirect; it MUST pass through a
>>>>> super-category he calls MEDIATING activities. For YOU and
>>>>> for HEGEL, all activity can be said to be both mediating
>>>>> and mediated, but this is a non-developmental point of
>>>>> view: for a developmentalist, one must perforce be
>>>>> differentiated first. Phylogenetically, it seems likely
>>>>> that tools were differentiated before signs, but
>>>>> ontogenetically it is usually the other way around.
>>>>> What really IS academic in the extreme is your
>>>>> own distinction between "really quoting" Hegel and
>>>>> quoting Hegel in a footnote to Marx academic. It's also
>>>>> quite unprovable. By the way, this might be a good place
>>>>> to acknowledge the corrections you have recently made to
>>>>> your assertion that every single Hegel reference you have
>>>>> found in Vygotsky's work can be found verbatim in Marx.
>>>>> David Kellogg
>>>>> Macquarie University
>>>>> On Mon, May 2, 2016 at 12:00 PM, Andy Blunden
>>>>> <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>>>>>      I didn't see a question mark anywhere David, but (for
>>>>>      reasons of my own) could I just note that Vygotsky is
>>>>>      not really quoting Hegel, but rather quoting Marx
>>>>>      quoting Hegel's Shorter Logic in an author's footnote
>>>>>      to /Capital/. Marx puts an interesting twist on the
>>>>>      point Hegel is making in the original. I think it is a
>>>>>      twist which preserves Hegel's meaning, but it is
>>>>>      really the opposite of what Hegel is saying.
>>>>>      By "the cunning of Reason" Hegel means how History and
>>>>>      social processes in general unfold according to their
>>>>>      own logic, irrespective of the intentions of their
>>>>>      human actors. Marx twists this to make the point that
>>>>>      natural objects act according to human purposes, not
>>>>>      their material properties as such.
>>>>>      I agree that when Hegel is talking about human
>>>>>      affairs, "Spirit" means "Activity", but of course
>>>>>      unlike Marx, Hegel deifies Spirit. For Marx, men make
>>>>>      history, only not under conditions of their own
>>>>>      choosing. For Hegel, men are mere tools of the
>>>>>      Weltgeist (world spirit).
>>>>>      I was able to grasp the distinction between mediating
>>>>>      and mediated activity, though given that all activity
>>>>>      is mediated and all activity is mediating, the
>>>>>      distinction strikes me as academic in the extreme. I
>>>>>      remain to be convinced that Hegel knoew of any such
>>>>>      distinction.
>>>>>      The paragraph following the note on "cunning of
>>>>>      Reason" in the Shorter Logic is an interesting one:
>>>>>      TheRealised Endis thus the overt unity of subjective
>>>>>      and objective. It is however essentially
>>>>>      characteristic of this unity, that the subjective and
>>>>>      objective are neutralised and cancelled only in the
>>>>>      point of their one-sidedness, while the objective is
>>>>>      subdued and made conformable to the End, as the free
>>>>>      notion, and thereby to the power above it. The End
>>>>>      maintains itself against and in the objective: for it
>>>>>      is no mere one-sided subjective or particular, it is
>>>>>      also the concrete universal, the implicit identity of
>>>>>      both. This universal, as simply reflected in itself,
>>>>>      is the content which remains unchanged through all the
>>>>>      three/termini/of the syllogism and their movement.
>>>>>      Andy
>>>>>      ------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>>      Andy Blunden
>>>>>      http://home.mira.net/~andy <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy>
>>>>> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
>>>>>      On 2/05/2016 9:03 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
>>>>>          I'm reading a chapter by Janette Freidrich in the
>>>>>          collection "Vygotski
>>>>>          maintenant" published in 2011. It's an imaginary
>>>>>          dialogue between Buhler
>>>>>          and Vygotsky on the former's theory of language
>>>>>          and the latter's criticisms
>>>>>          thereof, very cleverly written in INDIRECT SPEECH
>>>>>          so that Friedrich doesn't
>>>>>          have to waste time trying to imitate the voice of
>>>>>          each or pretend that she
>>>>>          knows the exact wording of each argument.
>>>>>          Friedrich begins with Hegel's
>>>>>          distinction (from the LONGER Logic, the one that
>>>>>          I've never read) between
>>>>>          mediating activity and mediated activity.
>>>>>          Mediating activity is what Vygotsky talks about
>>>>>          using the quote from Hegel
>>>>>          in HDHMF Chapter Two: it's when your role is
>>>>>          essentially bystanding, when
>>>>>          you use one force of nature, more or less in the
>>>>>          natural state, against
>>>>>          another.For example, you arrange the downspout of
>>>>>          your house roof gutters
>>>>>          so that it bores a hole in a piece of limestone.
>>>>>          Or you hang your wet
>>>>>          laundry on a tree branch and let the sun dry it
>>>>>          out instead of trying to
>>>>>          wring it dry yourself..
>>>>>          Mediated activity is in some ways the same, but in
>>>>>          others completely
>>>>>          opposite. It's the same in that you are using one
>>>>>          natural force against
>>>>>          another, but it's opposite in the sense that your
>>>>>          role is not bystanding;
>>>>>          you are yourself one of the forces of nature. For
>>>>>          example, instead of
>>>>>          arranging the downspout, you make a chisel or a
>>>>>          drill of some kind to bore
>>>>>          a hole in a piece of limestone and sculpt it into
>>>>>          a flagstone or a
>>>>>          tombstone. Or you beat the laundry dry with a tree
>>>>>          branch instead of just
>>>>>          hanging it there.
>>>>>          Friedrich points out that in Vygotsky's early work
>>>>>          (e.g. "The History of
>>>>>          the Crisis") Vygotsky speaks of psychic tools--he
>>>>>          is treating ALL activity
>>>>>          as "mediated" rather than mediating. But in HDHMF,
>>>>>          we know that he
>>>>>          CRITIQUES this point of view, precisely because it
>>>>>          equates the sign and the
>>>>>          tool. Now, you might think that the sign even more
>>>>>          like mediated activity
>>>>>          and even less like mediating activity than the
>>>>>          tool. After all, sign users
>>>>>          are not bystanders; they are even more intimately
>>>>>          and intensively and
>>>>>          deliberately involved as subjects than tools. But
>>>>>          that confuses the sign
>>>>>          user with the sign itself. It also ignores a key
>>>>>          difference between
>>>>>          mediating activity and mediated activity--which is
>>>>>          that in mediating
>>>>>          activity the force of nature is allowed to act
>>>>>          according to its own
>>>>>          properties. When I use a word, I do not try to
>>>>>          transform it from a sound
>>>>>          into something else; or rather, if I do, then I
>>>>>          get something that is less
>>>>>          obviously language and more like onomatopoeia.
>>>>>          While I read, I am listening to Beyoncé's new
>>>>>          album "Lemonade", which is an
>>>>>          attempt to take a force of nature (the sour lemons
>>>>>          of a husband's
>>>>>          infidelity) and to transform it into something
>>>>>          larger than life or twice as
>>>>>          natural (the eponymous lemonade). It's an uneasy
>>>>>          cross between a mediating
>>>>>          activity ("for colored girls who have considered
>>>>>          suicide | when the rainbow
>>>>>          is enuf", where 20 imaginary characters are used
>>>>>          and Ntozake Shange simply
>>>>>          stands back) and a mediated one ("Black Macho and
>>>>>          the Myth of Superwoman",
>>>>>          where Michelle Wallace tries to use her own
>>>>>          experiences alongside a
>>>>>          traditional academic approach). Beyoncé can't
>>>>>          quite figure out whether she
>>>>>          wants to do this as a mediating choreographer for
>>>>>          an ineffable everywoman
>>>>>          or as a mediated activity by the one and only
>>>>>          Pasha Bey.
>>>>>          David Kellogg
>>>>>          Macquarie University
Status: O