Re: [xmca] Experience: material, ideal, real, imagined

From: Peter Smagorinsky (
Date: Mon Mar 06 2006 - 02:56:35 PST

The responses I've seen to Mike's initial question so far have dealt with
people with "normative" psychological makeups. (I know some out there are
already asking, "what is normative?" but bear with me.) I'll take a
slightly Vygotskian tack and use a "defectology" approach--that is,
introducing "non-normative" makeups such as personality disorders, which
may include "disturbances in self-image; . . . ways of perceiving
themselves, others, and the world"
disorders may have social or biological origins. Or people whose
perceptions have been affected (warped?) by experience--e.g., if someone
were to be released from the Abu Ghraib detention facility and subsequently
interpret everything as a threat.

fyi I have extensive experience at home and work with people with such
makeups and am intrigued by the ways in which such people's interpretations
of concrete events depart in singular ways from most other people's
accounts of the same events--also with autistic children whose
interpretations of events are very hard to grasp to outsiders (e.g., the
son of a friend who is now 16 yrs old and has never spoken). I am also
intrigued by the ways in which psychological makeups get diagnosed (I've
witnessed the recommendation for hospitalization of someone whose single
Rorschach test results were outside the normal range of interpretation).

I am not an expert in these matters beyond my experiences and reading on
the subject. I wonder how someone like Vygotsky would approach this
question--he often turned to the "abnormal" to explain the normal. One way
is to consider the conditions that define what is "normal" (or perhaps
"real" to use Mike's original terms). Here I'll quote myself from The
Discourse of Character Education (Erlbaum, 2005):
Damasio (1994) argues in his somatic-marker theory against the classic
Cartesian mind/body binary, instead positing that brain and body are
integrally related not just to one another but to the environment. A
change in the environment, he finds, may contribute to changes in how a
person processes new information (cf. Luria, 1979; Pert, 1997); that is, in
response to developments in the surroundings, the brain will encode
perceptions in new kinds of ways.
                 Conceivably, then, changes in school climate can
contribute to the emotional well-being of students whose mental makeup
falls outside the normal range. The therapy for such students is still
widely debated. While medication and counseling have benefited many with
nonnormative makeups in their relationships with others, the medical model
has been criticized because it assumes that a normative mental state is
best for all. This criticism frequently comes up in debates about whether
medications for Attention Deficit Disorder are prescribed too often for any
students who have difficulty focusing in school. Some argue that
prescribing such medications is designed more to increase the comfort
levels of those around such students than to help those students themselves.
                 The jury is still out concerning the question of whether
people with such diagnoses are sick and in need of medicine. Cook (2004)
argues that relying simply on medication and counseling is inadequate; that
a broader environmental change that enables an understanding and tolerance
of difference, and gives young people tools for managing their difference,
is essential to helping young people construct positive lives for
themselves and in turn contribute to a more humane society. Taking a
punitive approach to difference, she argues, is regressive and only makes
life more fragile for those characterized as different and more emotionally
and cognitively unhealthy for those who surround them.

Well, a ramble with no resolution, but I did want to introduce some issues
from the mental health field that are concerned with perception. Peter

At 05:02 PM 3/4/2006 -0800, you wrote:
>The following quote from Dewey speaks to issues that have been ongoing on
>XMCA and also provide context for a question I am hoping for some help on
>(having been so successful with
>my question about references on narrative!). In particular, it concerns the
>conclusion that experience is a hybrid of what is termed here the physical
>and the mental. This snippet is provided courtesy of Matt Brown, a member of
>our seminar on mediational theories of mind.
>Here's a little tidbit from Dewey that I think is interesting for several
>reasons: it answers the question from earlier about whether Dewey is
>concerned with the social, it provides a sort of summary statement of
>central Deweyan theses, and it is exceptionally clear (for Dewey). From
>Chapter 11 of *Art as Experience*:
>Experience is a matter of the interaction of organism with its environment,
>an environment that is human as well as physical, that includes the
>materials of tradition and institutions as well as local surroundings. The
>organism brings with it through its own structure, native and acquired,
>forces that play a part in the interaction. The self acts as well as
>undergoes, and its undergoings are not impressions stamped upon an inert wax
>but depend upon the way the organism reacts and responds. There is no
>experience in which the human contribution is not a factor in determining
>what actually happens. The organism is a force, not a transparency.
>Because every experience is constituted by interaction between subject and
>object, between a self and its world, it is not itself either merely
>physical nor merely mental, no matter how much one factor or the other
>predominates... In an experience, things and events belonging to the world,
>physical and social, are transformed through the human context they enter,
>while the live creature is changed and developed through its intercourse
>with things previously external to it.
>Here is my question, related to this characterization of experience:
>In various situations (in particular, I am thinking of various massive
>multi-user games and related cyber-interactional meeting places)
>it appears that people can, perhaps cannot help at times, confusing what we
>would normally refer to as "fantasy" and "reality."
>There is an extensive literature on the development of this distinction in
>children's development, but I am seeking research on the
>distinction's presumed presence or absence among adults.
>Any and all help appreciated
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