Re: [xmca] Forgiveness as Recontextualization

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Thu Nov 09 2006 - 21:29:30 PST

I am so sorry that the flood of responsibilities on me resulted in my
overlooking this important discussion. Please help keep it alive Is here
some way to cumulate the crucial
moments in our too-disjoinged attempts at co-understanding?

On 10/24/06, David H Kirshner <> wrote:
> Fascinating response, David.
> The discussion of decontextualization reminds me of Carl Bereiter's
> chapter
> in my and Tony Whitson's edited situated cognition volume of 1997. Carl
> addresses his chapter to Jim Greeno who coined the term "situativity
> theory" as an alternative to "situated cognition theory" because the
> latter
> term implies cognition might sometimes be non-situated. Carl's
> argument--poignantly expressed, and well worth reading--is that humans (as
> situated living beings) can, nonetheless, emulate non-situated machine
> intelligence, as we do, for instance, when we apply logical rules in
> reasoning. He maintains it is precisely this kind of cognitive process
> that
> enables us to overcome the problem of transfer associated with situated
> cognition theory--if all knowledge is indexed to the environment, how is
> transfer of knowledge to another environment possible (Carl, please chime
> in if I'm misrepresenting your position). Interestingly, Carl concedes in
> his framing of the problem that animal cognition is situated, so your
> wonderful analysis of the lioness brings out tensions between "mediated"
> and "situated" (or "contextualized") that we've not yet addressed in this
> conversation.
> David Kirshner
> PS. David, it was really nice to meet you in Seoul week before last.
> Thanks
> for coming to my talk.
> "Kellogg"
> <kellogg who-is-at To: <
>>, "eXtended Mind,
> kr> Culture,Activity" <
> Sent by: cc: (bcc: David H
> Kirshner/dkirsh/LSU)
> xmca-bounces who-is-at webe Subject: [xmca]
> Forgiveness as Recontextualization
> 10/24/2006 12:41
> AM
> Please respond to
> "eXtended Mind,
> Culture,
> Activity"
> Mike:
> ...
> I was a little shocked by your sudden statement that NO psychological
> process can be decontextualized, and I'm still not quite sure what to make
> of it. To me, recontextualization presupposes some form of
> decontextualization. So does internalization, actually.
> I think that when Wertsch talks about the decontextualization of the
> mediational means, he is implicitly setting up a kind of logical route for
> interiorization to happen: first, other people are mediators, and because
> other people have their own free volitional will, this form of mediation
> is
> not readily recontextualizeable. Then, tools. These can be subordindated
> to
> the will, but they cannot be taken out of the physical environment in
> which
> they are used without losing their status as tools. Finally, signs. these
> are both subordinated to the will and fully recontextualizeable. That's
> how
> I've always understood Wertsch. Was I wrong? Was he?
> One way to test this is to consider "forgiveness" as one of many higher
> (that is, mediated) emotions, by analogy with higher (mediated)
> intellectual processes. I'm afraid this throws me back to an older XMCA
> discussion (now several years old, I think): Vygotsky's late manuscript
> "The Teaching Concerning the Emotions".
> Suppose LSV was really laying the groundwork for an essay more or less
> parallel to his work on the higher mental functions. He spends all that
> time discussing the already widely discredited James-Lange theory of the
> emotions because he fully intends to use it as a foil to discuss
> UNmediated
> emotions. While it is not true that "we feel sad because we cry", it might
> well be true that we feel unmediated emotions because we are responding
> cognitively to physical reflexes. So it might well be true we feel fear
> because we react to violence, and similarly that we feel rage because we
> are responding to a physical injury.
> LSV's next step is to bring in Spinoza. I haven't quite worked out what
> exactly he was planning on doing here, but working by analogy with "The
> Development of the Higher Psychological Functions", he might be trying to
> show us what happens if we take a purely mentalist, unmediated view of
> human emotions. The result gives us a clear understanding of what higher
> emotions might look like, but no clear path to get there. It's not
> developmental.
> So his third step would be an attempt at synthesis. In some ways, I feel
> "Psychology of Art" is already a step in this direction (though it clearly
> comes from the other end of his life and would have to be reworked to
> fit).
> That is, Vygotsky sees artworks as tools for the mediation of lower level
> emotional responses into higher, mediated ones.
> But there are, of course, other forms of mediation available. In the case
> of the Amish, the mediators are clearly other people, and this form of
> mediation is not readily decontextualizeable for the non-Amish. Clearly,
> only signs are both fully capable of decontextualization and internal
> recontextualization. No wonder he was obsessed with Hamlet--in a very
> strange way, it is a play about forgiveness (both doing it and what
> happens
> when it is not done).
> Last night while I was cooking dinner the Korean version of the National
> Geographic Channel rebroadcast a special on a pride of lions that has been
> evolving in a swamp habitat. It's a difficult environment, and the pride
> nearly goes extinct, particularly since someone is apparently killing most
> of the newborn cubs.
> Whenever the females go out to hunt, they return to find one or more of
> their cubs killed (and they often eat the remains). One of the young
> females goes off and gives birth. When she returns, her own mother is a
> little TOO pleased to see her with the cubs--she realizes that her OWN
> mother is the cub killer, and they fight. The cub-devouring grandmother is
> defeated, but not killed; there is no question here of forgiveness, a
> simple calculation of strength as is normal in lion-fights.
> The lions are very clearly thinking (about who is the cub killer, and
> about
> what can be done about it). But they are also very clearly not thinking
> human thoughts (they "forgive" the unforgiveable simply by forgetting it
> and eating the remains of their own children).
> They are essentially obeying the James-Lange theory of the emotions,
> feeling their physical responses, unable to recontextualize them as
> volitional memory. Despite the stultifying anthropomorphism of the
> voice-over, not even the National Geographic narrator can transform this
> "Lion King" story into Hamlet.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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