Re: [xmca] Kevin's paper for discussion: causality

From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane (
Date: Mon Jul 03 2006 - 22:56:22 PDT

Hi Emily and Steve and all,
These are difficult questions! To say the least. I don't know where to
start but if I continue with the "networks" I mentioned before -- then I
see "mental representations" (or what appears to us as
"re-presentations" of the "reality") as networks of relationships
organized by an emergent pattern of ordering "instructions" -- in other
words, or words of Prigogine I see representations as the so called
"dissipative structures" -- structures which are "far from equilibrium
but relatively stable over long periods of time". Prigogine, a
mathematician, described open systems in which dissipation of energy
creates order (which cannot be described by the classical thermodynamic
theory). Mental representations, like material dissipative structures,
are characterized by a set of relations which create a "good form", they
are, like the material dissipative structures, open systems in which
dissipation of energy (transfer, friction, etc) becomes a source of
order. Furthermore, I see mental representations as dynamically changing
systems of relationships which are recursive on several levels of
magnitude which mutually constitute each other. It is like parts get
constituted only as parts of a whole, and the wholes get their meanings
only as parts of other wholes etc. Therefore mental representations are
in themselves complex structures of relationships, but they are also
parts in semantic representations, social interaction, cultural
structures etc.
Steve also said, there are "two very different time lines - one from the
present to the past - history - and the other, from the present to the
future - possibility" -- What kind of systems of relationships will be
developed as mental representations is only a set of possibilities at
the beginning, I meant "beginning". Sometimes it is possible to trace
back development of a mental representation (if one has sufficient
knowledge of the relevant events in a person's, group's, culture's
history, and sometimes there are only clues which are good indicators
but may not be sufficient to reconstruct a whole history.
I don't think that this is a tangle of unruly and unsolvable
relationships, although this may seem to be the case from the short and
convoluted description above. But when I write about things like this, I
am not sure how to meet "you" (Emily and Steve and the multitude of
other people lurking and listening to this dialogue) -- or where is my
thinking and where is "yours" and how to make them walk together. So I
ask back-- what is your difficulty in putting together DST and mental

Emily Duvall wrote:
> Hi Ana & Steve,
> While I think dynamic systems theory addresses the complexity and
> nonlinearity of of human development I have alot of difficulty with
> the DST and mental representations... how do you understand
> representations in terms of DST, Ana?
> You suggest an important point - that when development is placed into
> the context of cause-effect there are too many counter-factuals to
> contend with... or ignore.
> Steve, you ask how processes can be viewed in terms of the broader
> picture of causality... that suggests, to me, that you view causality
> on the macro level with processes on a micro level...??
> Humean habits are hard to break.
> ~ Emily
> Ana Marjanovic-Shane wrote:
>> Steve,
>> I see this issue in a different light. Instead of cause and effect --
>> which are directly connected to each other, I see a series of events
>> which may "prepare" the ground for the next one to happen or not.
>> More like opening possibilities, than a direct cause-effect kind of
>> process. Because human development is a mediated process, and not a
>> direct causal loop, I see development more like a maze or a network
>> of events in which you have many switches (nods) which could open or
>> close the next step in the development.Each switch (node) enables/or
>> disables) more than one possibility leaving a person open to more
>> than one way to go forward. Therefore when I talk about something
>> "caused" something else, I might really mean "enabled": in a sense it
>> is a type of causation, but not a uni-directional one.
>> I think that the concept of mediation by cultural artifacts,
>> interpersonal relationships and particular social and historical
>> events at the time, opens new ways to look at causation. From the
>> point of view of mediation, and what happens there, we should look
>> into different physical models more akin to the dynamic systems
>> theory, than into the physical models which are more mechanical.
>> What do you think? (question asked in the spirit of my good friend
>> and neighbor - E. Matusov)
>> Ana
>> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>>> A recent series of classes in "root cause analysis" at my aerospace
>>> company has gotten me thinking about how CHAT views causality, and
>>> what tools it uses to analyze it. It is possible that CHAT could
>>> use a leap forward in this area. Does it have a conscious
>>> methodology regarding causality? The complex questions Mike raises
>>> about the sociocultural, the phylogenetic and the ontogenetic is a
>>> very good example. How does one understand how they interact and
>>> transform one another? How does CHAT understand these processes in
>>> a broader picture of causes and effects? In the case Mike
>>> describes, what "caused" or what were the "causes" for a bright and
>>> willing graduate student in mathematical psychology in the late
>>> 1950's to have "trouble" with the deep math? His community of
>>> practice? His prior training? His neurology? His inner romantic
>>> scientist? :-)) We ask these kinds of questions again and again of
>>> every human every day. CHAT, following Vygotsky, Luria, Leontiev et
>>> al has made strides explaining essential elements and relationships
>>> in *development*. But what has it discovered about *causality*?
>>> - Steve
>>> At 08:32 PM 7/1/2006 -0700, you wrote:
>>>> How about both-and? If a kid has downs syndrome or spina bifida or a
>>>> perinatal stroke it is a difference that is very difficult to avoid
>>>> having
>>>> be a difference
>>>> that makes a difference. Not impossible to incorporate into human
>>>> society in
>>>> a human
>>>> way, but not easy either.
>>>> Being short at the wrong age?
>>>> "Too thin" for sociocultural norms?
>>>> "Wrong" color hair?
>>>> All differences that can be turned into serious deficits and often
>>>> are, with
>>>> long term
>>>> negative consequences for those so interpreted.
>>>> None of this negates the fact (if I may be allowed to use that
>>>> word) that
>>>> failure has been constituitive
>>>> of formal schooling since at least 4000BC, on the record. But it does
>>>> complicate theories that assume
>>>> that humans have "broken free" from phylogenetic constraints. That
>>>> was wrong
>>>> in 1920 and it is wrong
>>>> today. Humans are evolving. Evolving in a cultural medium, to be
>>>> sure, but
>>>> evolving.
>>>> I do not think this was Kevin's main target of inquiry and do not
>>>> want to
>>>> derail the conversation. I was
>>>> marking time and voicing a long time concern, not direcrected
>>>> specifically
>>>> to his article but to some
>>>> too-frequent implications derivable/derived from theoretical ideas
>>>> that were
>>>> imbricated in his article.
>>>> mike
>>>> On 7/1/06, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
>>>>> At 10:43 AM 1/07/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>>>>> >.... What I was trying to foreground is this: Failure,
>>>>> incompetence,
>>>>> >inability, etc., happen all the time. There are differences,
>>>>> though, in
>>>>> >how consequences of these get organized in different systems of
>>>>> social
>>>>> >relations. Some systems are benign, and even if certain displayed
>>>>> >inabilities might preclude particular life courses, they don't
>>>>> get used
>>>>> to
>>>>> >close off the possibility or likelihood of a desirable and valued
>>>>> future
>>>>> >in general. Other systems are not benign, and displayed
>>>>> incompetence,
>>>>> >inability, or failure do get used to greatly reduce the
>>>>> likelihood of a
>>>>> >valued future. I think it's very important to pay attention to how
>>>>> >systems of social relations organize these consequences - ...
>>>>> So it's not so much the source or cause of difference, but how
>>>>> difference
>>>>> is "interpreted"?
>>>>> Andy
>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>> xmca mailing list
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Ana Marjanovic'-Shane,Ph.D.

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