Re: [xmca] Discourse Is Not Activity

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Sun Dec 23 2007 - 17:52:18 PST

Its lucky for us that the Chinese let you out of the country, David. Police
interrogation seems a dreadful circumstance in which to be taught the
local version of Grice's maxim.

The kinds of experiment you describe were a hot topic of discussion in the
1930's and I recall that the results were seen as crucial to arguments
gestalt and american behaviorist learning theorists. I have not read that
book for a long time, but will take a look at the passage you cite. Your
account of the
difference between that of the kids and fish (I recall that chickens behave
like the fish) seems interestingly plausible, in so far as I understood it.
What does the
&thing* construction mean?

On Dec 23, 2007 12:10 PM, David Kellogg <> wrote:

> I'm reading Leontiev's 1981 book, "Problems of the Development of Mind"
> (Moscow: Progress). On p. 167, ANL describes the experiments of Zaporozhets
> and Dimanstein with American catfish.
> When the experimenters put meat in a tank of catfish, the fish go for it
> in a beeline, moving from one end of the tank to the other. When they put
> meat in but erect a gauze barrier that has a gap on one side, the fish again
> go for the meat in a beeline, and meeting the barrier go back and forth
> along the barrier from one side of the tank to the other, until they by
> chance find a gap in the barrier. They then continue to the meat on the
> other side of the barrier.
> Of course, these two movements, the end-to-end beeline motion and the
> side-to-side back and forth motions, have no internal link. The end-to-end
> movement is a response to meat, while the side-to-side movement is a
> response to the barrier.
> ANL¡¯s description is a bit of a barrier to understanding, though!
> "This second effect is not associated with an object that excites
> activity and toward which it is directed but with the condtiions in which
> this object is presented. This is an objective difference between the two
> effects and is their objective relationship. Is the objective relationship,
> however, reflected in the activity of the fish being studied. Does it also
> operate differently for the fish? Does the one operate as associated with
> the object, i.e. with what stimulates the activity? And the second as
> relateding to the conditions of the activity, in general as an other?"
> The barrier and the meat are linked and create a single path in the mind
> of the experimenter, but not in the mind of the catfish. Not yet, anyway.
> But after some time the catfish do make a beeline for the gap rather than
> for the barrier when meat is introduced into the tank. The interesting thing
> is that they continue to make a beeline for the gap rather than for the meat
> when the experimenters REMOVE the gauze barrier, and only gradually do they
> learn to once more make a beeline for the meat. This indicates to ANL:
> "(') the effect governing the roundabout movement was firmly associated
> in the studied fish with the effect of the food itself, with its smell. That
> means that it was perceived by the fish right from the start (?)
> continuously with the smell of food, and not as a component of another
> ¡®node¡¯ of interconnected properties, i.e. the property of another
> ¡®thing¡¯."
> ANL sees a contradiction here: the behavior of the fish already indicates
> a distinction between the action of eating food and the operation of getting
> TO the food. But the STRUCTURE of the behavior does not appear to
> distinguish between goal and operating condition. Since consciousness is, in
> Vygotsky¡¯s memorable phrase, the problem of the structuring of behavior, the
> fish¡¯s REPRESENTATION of the situation suggests that the distinction between
> goal and operating condition is only objective and not subjective.
> But if the catfish does not differentiate between the two stimuli (food
> and barrier) it should make no difference if the barrier is there or not. So
> how and above all why does the fish straighten out the crooked path to the
> food and why is this straightening out gradual?
> There is another way to look at it: all behaviors, including the initial
> and final beeline behavior and the dogleg path we find in between, consist
> of repetition as well as variation. The catfish initially employs the
> end-to-end beeline towards the meat because it has, in the past, provided
> the most direct route to food. The catfish varies this to a side-to-side
> beeline only when it encounters a barrier.
> When this variation yields a solution, the variation too is repeated and
> varied until it becomes a dogleg. This of course creates another repeatable
> behavior which is repeated even when the barrier is removed. But random
> variations eventually flatten the dogleg back into a straight beeline again.
> In all of this repetition and variation, we need not suppose a catfish
> "mind" beyond immediate perception and quite short-term memory. No MENTAL
> structure of the problem at all is required; no attempt to raise a cathedral
> in the mind or on paper before it is raised in wood and stone is necessary.
> Discourse is NOT a barrier-evading meat-seeking activity, for (at least)
> two reasons:
> 1) In discourse, we have to erect the "meat" in mind before we can
> realize it in talk.
> 2) In discourse, the barriers think, and even think about our thinking.
> Here¡¯s some data from just a few weeks ago; one my grads is trying to get
> the kids to play the game of Twenty Questions:
> T (holding up a number and hiding her face behind it): This is a number.
> I don¡¯t know it.
> S: Two.
> T: Is it one?
> S: Two.
> T: Is it one?
> S: No.
> T: No, it isn¡¯t.
> S: No, it isn¡¯t.
> It¡¯s possible to look at this data the way that Zaporozhets and
> Dimanstein look at the catfish encountering an obstacle (and this would
> already be an improvement over the T-S dialogue we see in teacher¡¯s guides,
> where no unexpected obstacles to the teacher¡¯s intentions whatsoever can
> ever crop up). The teacher meets and surmounts a number of obstacles, to
> wit:
> a) The teacher recognizes that "This is a number which I don¡¯t know" or
> "Here is a number which I¡¯m going to try to guess" presents grammatical
> complexities that the children are unequipped to deal with. The teacher
> surmounts this obstacle by severing the clause which presents the number
> from the clause which presents her ignorance of the number and making the
> guessing task implicit rather than explicit.
> b) The teacher recognizes that direct answers such as "Two" will remove
> the pretext for practice and prevent a game from taking shape, so she
> ignores all direct answers to her indirect question and uses an explicit
> yes/no question instead.
> c) The teacher recognizes that short answers such as "no" will leave the
> questioner in the position of providing all the grammar, so the teacher
> switches roles with the answerers and models the "no" answer as "No, it
> isn¡¯t".
> But of course the children are not an inert obstacle.
> a) Because the teacher¡¯s simplification of the initiate was successful,
> the children understand that she wants to know the number, and they offer
> her a direct path to the knowledge she wants. This direct answer, of course,
> functions as a barrier from the teacher¡¯s point of view, but it is NOT based
> on repetition of previous knowledge. It is based on an (incorrect)
> conjecture about the teacher¡¯s intentions.
> b) Because the teacher ignores their direct answer and asks about the
> number using a yes/no question, they assume that she did not hear clearly
> and repeat their answer just as directly and more clearly. This repetition,
> however, is NOT based on the short-term memory of their previous answer:
> like the previous, answer, it is based on a theory about the teacher¡¯s
> intentions (still incorrect, of course).
> c) Because the teacher still ignores the direct answer, the children
> realize that a yes/no answer is required and provide this as economically as
> possible. This economy is not based on any desire to make a beeline for the
> teacher¡¯s goal (which they do not yet fully understand) but once again on an
> act of empathy and a theory about what the teacher has in mind.
> It is, however, close to Paul Grice¡¯s maxim of making your contribution
> as informative as necessary but not any more informative than necessary
> (when I was arrested in China this maxim was clearly explained to me by a
> fellow criminal as "You don¡¯t say nothing until they ask you a question and
> then you don¡¯t say NOTHING except the answer to the question.")
> Paradoxically, the teacher appears to be teaching the children NOT to try
> to guess what she has in mind. Fortunately, this is bound to fail: even the
> decision at the very end to simply repeat and not to vary what the teacher
> has said is based on a theory of mind, that is, the theory that this is what
> the teacher has in mind for them to do. In this sense the children are not
> playing the inanimate gauze barrier. They are not even playing mouse to the
> teacher¡¯s catfish. Instead they are taking on the role of the hypothesizing
> experimenters.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Sun Dec 23 17:53 PST 2007

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