Re: [xmca] Activity Systems, Time, and a shared semantics

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Mon Oct 17 2005 - 14:43:54 PDT


I'll try to help, but may just cause problems.
You wrote:
1b) The existence of these categories is timeless - the diagram does not
change over time.

No: The existence of these categories (see learning by expanding or the
Developmental Work Research web page) emerge in the course of human
phylogeny from the basic subject-object-
community triangle to the expanded triangle that includes mediation by
artifacts, social rules, and division of labor. But maybe you mean the
expanded triangel after the caves ot Lascaux era, e.g. anatomically modern
homo sapiens sapiens.

2a) There ARE relations among these categories, dialectially.
seems so to me. They are mutually consitution of the overal system in their
dynamic tensions.
2b) These relations are timeless.
not clear to me. The relation between artifacts and division of labor etc in
the caves of Lascaux does not seem plaubible to me. Where is the synamism
that any dialectic implies, (to my very limited understanding!). But in
saying this I am moving from the abstract to a
specific (pair?, multiplicity?) of concrete embodiments, or rising to the
concretes of two historical eras. .

In 1987-87 I had many discussions wtih Yrjo about how best to represent that
fact that he is
using a universal/timeless abstraction to represent a living system. In the
MCA logo online we sought ways to pub the triangle into motion, if only
around its axis, which at least represent multiplicity. Yrjo uses various
time-representing abstractions, such as spiriling triangles, to
get at the time dimension. I have tried puttting an arrow "diagonally"
through the middle of
the triangle as a third spatial dimension indicating time. None of this is
very satisfactory to

The individual/social relationship is another, linked, matter about which I
am unclear but hope upcoming discussions will clarify.

I am sorry, Bill, that I am neither capable, nor desirous, of refuting you
make or sustaining statements I am recalled to have made during any
convention at any year past Writing in response to your message I can say
that the triangles are abstractions in Devydov's sense and in this sense
empty, awaiting embodiment in concretes to which they are adequate. As
abstractions, they do not have time built into them. Hence they need
supplementary forms of representation to make this essential element
graspable and usable as a psychological tool.

I greatly admire your tenaciousness in seeking to help us all understand
what we are talking about better. I welcome the opportunity to keep returing
to these issues in search of great understanding, and hopefully, greater
co-understanding. Might you post the url to your dynamic representation to
that those puzzled by this discussion could check it out. And checking out
the Helsinki Web site is also helpful, at least to me.
On 10/17/05, bb <> wrote:
> Thanks Carol, for the chance to take these animations further than just
> some fleeting post to xmca.
> In San Diego, at aera , Mike described the extended triangle diagram to me
> as something intended to be timeless -- this is Mike's and Yrjo's chance to
> refute my quite possibly faulty recollection... although... I do agree with
> this assertion at a fundamental level. Coincidentally, I once expressed to
> Mike (aera n'orleans) that i took the extended triangle to be content-free,
> that is, one pours in the content of any particular situation, i.e.
> instantiates it, and the relations expressed in the diagram are then are
> mapped to relations among the particular instantiations.
> So I totally agree that what i animated is content free, unless you read
> some paper that instantiated it. Somewhere in MCA could be one, by some
> author, who, if stated, could be accused of self-promotion, and while I
> despise self promotion, I'm stuck figuring out how one can communicate with
> others without sharing.
> Onward and upward. Just what does the diagram provide, or even better, add
> to insight?
> Well, by way of semantics, I'll venture the following, and again, MC and
> YE can comment, refute, add, edit, fix, extend, etc. IMHO the extended
> triangle, as a diagram makes the following assertions:
> 1a) There IS a well defined subject, object, artifact, division of labor,
> etc., (because the diagram parses activity into these categories).
> 1b) The existence of these categories is timeless - the diagram does not
> change over time.
> 2a) There ARE relations among these categories, dialectially.
> 2b) These relations are timeless.
> All this timelessness is why I have not pursued the animated extended
> triangle approach, because I realized it was not a functional approach, save
> the following:
> What does the animated diagram add? I modeled the individual moving from
> one system to another and back *as a system*. This makes the assertion that
> the fundamental categories of an activity system (which Yrjo, I understand,
> takes as a collective) , and their relations, can be applied to an
> individual, at least in one case. That's the claim to be investigated. I
> only have partial support for it in one case. What I think the thing to do
> is, to proceed with this assertion as a tentative one, so to gather another
> case or so which will refute it, and arise with a new and more functional
> assertion.
> bb
> > Mike –I would disagree. As enchanting as those moving Activity Systems
> were
> > (bb, they really are, I loved them, and stared at them for several
> minutes
> > quite mesmerized), they were still content-empty in relation to any
> > particular system, and that's what I understood you, Mike, to mean as an
> > abstraction. I think at Seville people were thinking that it's just to
> easy
> > to draw up a simple system, as if that's an explanation. The explanation
> > comes discursively. I am thinking particularly of the
> Sevillepresentation
> > of graffiti in East Berlin, which started off as a simple description,
> > listing the elements and then went into sense, meaning and power.
> > So, how does moving and changing size mimic time?
> > Carol
> >
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Mike Cole []
> > Sent: Saturday, October 15, 2005 5:20 PM
> > To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> > Subject: Re: [xmca] Activity Systems and Time
> >
> > I believe that modern graphics program afford representation both of
> > variability and time and the two
> > combined, Carol. I beieve that is what bb has been playing with.
> > mike
> > On 10/15/05, Carol Macdonald <
> > <> > wrote:
> >
> > Mike pointed out that the Activity System is an abstraction: I see it as
> an
> > external tool, and as it is currently drawn, it only represents two
> > dimensions. Time—which can't be represented, is the fourth dimension and
> > as such, we could only represent it by having a continuously moving
> system,
> > but this is best done discursively as the relationships are continuously
> > changing. As Mike (1996:141) said:
> > The various components of an activity system do not exist in isolation
> from
> > one another; rather, they are constantly being constructed, renewed, and
> > transformed as outcome and cause of human life.
> > It is our job to describe the construction, renewal and transformation
> and
> > changed relationships: the schema per se cannot do that for us.
> > Carol Macdonald
> > Wits School of Education
> >
> >
> >
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> > <>
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
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> >
> >
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