[xmca] interweaving

From: Mike Cole (lchcmike@gmail.com)
Date: Sat Oct 14 2006 - 09:02:20 PDT

What follows are raw materials that are the beginning of a response to bill
barowy's inquiry involving the use of the metaphor of interweaving in
discussions of persons, actions, agency, situatedness, etc.

I do not come to this discussion as a philosopher, let alone a Marxist
scholar and dialectician. To some this would automatically exclude me from
any serious
discussion of cultural historical activity theory. I am an auto-didact in
these matters, coming to them through an odd pathway derived from American
via behaviorism and skinner (of easy to trash fame) and experimental
psychology of learning. It was issues of cultural variation and processes of
development that led me to chat long after I worked with Luria.

But perhaps consideration of the following statements by three scholars who
I take to be, on the surface at least, as markedly different from each other
as one could hope to find, both in their disciplinary allegencies, the
empirical phenomena they studied, and their philosophies of science. What
strikes me is the similarities in their intuitive efforts to deal with the
heterogeneity of the constituents of human experience/nature/consciousness,
the issue of relations of individual elements to their
putative wholes, continuity/discontinuity, and the necessity for the study
of such phenomena over time.

I will try to return to the specific text under discussion later this
weekend if I can make it through the 101 spotted promotion files that I am
privileged to read and comment on about this time of year.

So, here are the meditations, for your consideration

The world is full of partial stories that run parallel to one another,
beginning and ending at odd times. They mutually interlace and interfere at
points, but we cannot unify them completely in our minds. In following your
life-history, I must temporarily turn my attention from my own. Even a
biographer of twins would have to press them alternately upon his reader's
attention. It follows that whoever says that the whole world tells one story
utters another of those monistic dogmas that a man believes at his risk. It
is easy to see the world's history pluralistically, as a rope of which each
fibre tells a separate tale; but to conceive of each cross-section of the
rope as an absolutely single fact, and to sum the whole longitudinal series
into one being living an undivided life, is harder. We have indeed the
analogy of embryology to help us. The microscopist makes a hundred flat
cross-sections of a given embryo, and mentally unites them into one solid
whole. But the great world's ingredients, so far as they are beings, seem,
like the rope's fibres, to be discontinuous cross-wise, and to cohere only
in the longitudinal direction. Followed in that direction they are
many.(William James, *Lecture 4 Pragmatism - the one and the Many)*

I'll tell you what I like to think about: sometimes I like to think of a
rope. The fibers that make up the rope are discontinuous; when you twist
them together, you don't make them continuous, you make the thread
continuous. . . . even though it may look in a thread as though each of
those particles are going all through it, that isn't the case. That's
essentially the descriptive model. . . . Obviously, I am not talking about
the environment. I am not talking about inside and outside. I am talking
about the conditions of the system (quoted in McDermott, 1980, p. 14‑15).

Each of these children was seen to engage in a great many behavior episodes
a day]; the number of things a child did in a day, according to our criteria
of episodes, varied approximately from 500 to 1,300. . . . Most of the
episodes did not occur in isolation. Behavior was more often like the
interwoven strands of a cord than like a row of blocks in that the molar
units often overlapped. . . . Most of the overlapping was a matter of the
intersection of the whole of a short episode and a relatively small part of
a longer one. . . . The behavior continuum was cord‑like, too, in the sense
that overlapping episodes often did not terminate at the same time but
formed an interwoven merging continuum (Barker and Wright, 1966, p. 464).

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