RE: [xmca] The Strange Situation

From: Mary van der Riet <VanDerRiet who-is-at>
Date: Tue Oct 14 2008 - 00:58:09 PDT

Hi Paula
I've been gradually catching up on ISCAR info and my own work etc. and came across this email of yours. I would also love to see the video - can I get a copy from you? Buy a copy?? what are the options

best wishes

Mary van der Riet; School of Psychology; University of KwaZulu-Natal
Private Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209

tel: 033 260 6163; fax: 033 2605809

>>> "Paula Towsey" <> 2008/08/19 03:46 PM >>>
Dear David, Eric, Mike, and Andy


Attached for XMCA-ites who won't be going to San Diego: sneak preview of
draft handout


Thank you so very much for inviting me to share my findings with these
weathered but not withered blocks. There's what seems to be a throw-away
comment about them by Vygotsky on page 136 of Thought and Language (mine's
the 1986 version) that says that since none of the blocks is identical to
any other, even trying to sort them according to the maximally similar isn't
possible. What's striking about this very small observation about the
design of the blocks is two things: number one, it means that irrespective
of the variety of hypotheses that subjects invoke in their attempts to solve
the problem of the blocks, there is only one way of doing it (the blocks
can't logically and consistently be sorted any way); and, number two, the
number of permutations possible from a set of blocks of five different
colours and six different shapes and two different heights and two different
sizes or diameters is quite large ("staggering", as a (rather exceptional)
eleven-year-old suggested to me).


What I thought I'd do is append a copy (as yet unedited) of the notes
that'll be available as handouts to my ISCAR poster, for two reasons: one,
it's a short-and-sweet treatment of the main trends from my study; and, two,
this way, those who'll not be going to ISCAR can have a sneak preview.
Also, what I will be sending to you, David, and to you, Eric, is a copy of
the DVD (NTSC okay? Or PAL?): the eight-year-old featured in this
microgenetic analysis also makes a brief appearance in the poster. Perhaps
these 'juicy examples' will also answer some of the questions raised so far.
I'll try to answer others as best I can as soon as I can (is this okay,


Eric, thank you for your fabulous introduction: I'm hoping that the "Zalkind
Summary" on the higher behavioural processes - and my accompanying
discussion - will be published soon (am awaiting the final 'yay' or 'nay'
for it and for a kind of 'part two' paper that looks at pseudoconcepts in
more depth). As you say, Eric, it was Chapter Five that got you hooked on
Vygotsky - me too, from the very first time I read it and wondered what
chain logic would look like.


Paula T


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of
Sent: 18 August 2008 05:48 PM
To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] The Strange Situation



David, Paula, Mike, Andy and all:


What a great and fabulous discussion. Thank you for introducing it to the

list David. It is indeed Chapter 5 that hooked me into the study of

Vygotsky. I believe there are two pieces that are extremely important to

this discussion. I will not steal Paula's thunder by summarizing anything

she will be speaking about in San Diego but merely mention that she

unearthed and translated into English (not by her, but a colleague) a

little known speech by Vygotsky entitled, "Experimental research on higher

behavioral processes" notice the behavioral instead of psychological.

Forgive me Paula but I find it too important to pass up on the mentioning

of this little gem. Why this is important is that it provides a bit of a

glimpse into the history of Vygotsky's thinking on the subject of

development v. learning. Much as LSV states in Thought and Language that a

person's thinking and their speech develop along different lines, LSV

viewed development as a different journey then learning. In the blocks

experiment he is not interested in studying how children learn the names of

the blocks but is rather interested in seeing at what stage of development

in thinking an 8 year-old is as opposed to a 14 year-old as opposed to a 23

year-old. I will stop on that piece of thinking and allow Paula to present

without my muddled and sophmoric attempt at an explanation.


2nd piece is the history of the Ach designed experiment. It follows the

liniage of studies in memory that were begun by Ebbinghaus. Ebbinghaus was

most interested in what the capacity of a person's memory was and did so by

devising nonsense words.It should be noted that even though Ebbinghaus used

himself as a subject, replications of his work have stood the test of time

and the seven digit phone number is a result of his study of memory!

Anyway, Ach wanted to a study a person's volition upon their own memory so

he devised the double stimulation method. Instead of using the

associations of one nonsense word after another to affect memory Ach

randomly produced two nosense words to understand how a subject may use

previous knowledge to access their memory. So then, what is LSV interested

in understanding? and how does this impact his thinking on schizophrenics

or other severly emotionally disturbe people? LSV believes that in Ach's

double-stimulation method was the seed of viewing how thinking developed in

the child and what is it that allows a child to move beyond mere

associations to true conceptual thinking. And he saw a similarity in a

child's thinking when compared to an adult afflicted with schizophrenia.

Is his explanation rather muddy, yes? Could I unmuddy the waters? Well,

not at this time, I am not an eloquant enough writer and haven't conducted

any experiments or studies that would back up my thinking on the subject.

Do I believe LSV to be correct in his theory that thinking and speech

follow two different lines of development and that teaching and learning

should be analyzed using two different mesurements? Yes to both questions.

Perhaps my attempt at posting on this subject has not provided any insight

but I felt compelled to give it a go.






                      David Kellogg

                      <vaughndogblack@ To: "eXtended Mind,
Culture, Activity" <>

            > cc:

                      Sent by: Subject: RE: [xmca] The
Strange Situation





                      08/17/2008 05:33


                      Please respond



                      Please respond

                      to "eXtended

                      Mind, Culture,








Dear Paula (At last! Another person who uses terms of endearment as



Thanks for your note, and thanks in advance for your promise of a nice,

juicy example. This is precisely what is missing for me in most of Chapter

Five; I am so constituted that I really can't believe in the godhead of

categories without the avatar of data. Unfortunately, I can't make it to

San Diego; classes start today here in Seoul. But I look forward to the DVD

with baited breath.


Especially since the rest of Chapter Five (in Thinking and Speech) leaves

me even more dazed and confused. On 148-151 LSV tries to argue that

'primitives', 'schizophrenics' and children share complexive thinking via

participation in which the functional application of a given word is

entirely different than it is in our own' (151).


And then, on pp. 152-153, we learn that historically, phylogenetically, ALL

words function complexively. There are three things wrong with this:


a) If it's true, then the 'functional application of a given word' by

schizophrenics and primitives cannot be ENTIRELY different from our own.

After all, the functional application of words is part of their history,

and their history is part of their (present) functional application.

b) It suggests that word ontogeny (in the child) is nothing more than

a recapitulation of word phylogeny (in the lexicon). This is a

methodologically wrong position; ontogeny is never a recapitulation of

phylogeny for the simple reason that phylogeny pre-exists ontogeny and not

vice versa.

c) The REAL development of concepts MUST include their pre-existence in

cultural and historical form, and so the schema outlined in this chapter

CANNOT be the actual course of development.


It seems to me that LSV's category of 'complexive thinking' is ITSELF an

example of complexive (and ahistorical) thinking: we have a very

heterogeneous group of thought processes?child behavior in the Sakharov

experiment, the child's spontaneous concept formation, so-called

'primitive' thinking, schizophrenic thought, word etymology, and dreams,

and the word 'white', 'tooth', and 'stone' in the language of deaf mutes

(155)?all of which are 'c'omplexive'.


Of course, child behavior in the Sakharov experiment is related to the

child's spontaneous concept development, and this might too be related to

so-called 'primitives' or at least to their children. As Jaynes argues,

schizophrenic thought is in some ways similar to the way we primitive

Westerners behaved in the Iliad, when they hear the voices of gods rather

than heed their own consciousness. But while each link of the chain seems

connected to the previous one, it is not clear what unique relationship

unites the thinking we find in the Iliad and that found in the Sakharov



On one level they all APPEAR to be the same in that they differ from

Aristotelian concepts. But as soon as we examine them closely we can see

that there is no real common feature to these phenomena: they are all quite

different both genetically and functionally, and they only share the family

name of 'complexive thinking' bestowed by LSV.



David Kellogg

Seoul National University of Education



--- On Sun, 8/17/08, Paula Towsey <> wrote:


From: Paula Towsey <>

Subject: RE: [xmca] The Strange Situation

To:, "'eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity'"


Date: Sunday, August 17, 2008, 2:49 AM


Dear Mike


Thank you so much: I look forward to joining in with the discussion and


to contribute meaningfully to it. C u there!


Paula T

ps - It is tragic that Sakharov apparently committed suicide - Rene van der

Veer told me a few months back


-----Original Message-----

From: [] On

Behalf Of Mike Cole

Sent: 16 August 2008 10:37 PM

To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity

Subject: Re: [xmca] The Strange Situation


Hi Paula--


My apologies to you and other XMCA members for making (the all too common!)

error of responding to the list when intending to respond to an individual.

And to use an impolite word as well. Never too old to repeat old mistakes




Your message came in as I was responding to David's message to xmca about

the Sakharov-Vygotsky method in the context of an ongoing attempt that he


I and a couple of others from XMCA have been making for about a year now

to untangle issues of learning, instruction, and development. A serious

discussion of the specific issues he raised would certainly be worthwhile


XMCA and perhaps your presentation at ISCAR will help induce that process.


I am particularly interested in analyses of the behavior of the


in the use of this method. So much depends upon it and it is so

"non-American" in its

style of trying to understand language and conceptual development. So you

can expect me in the audience for your presentation, along, I am sure, with


other xmca-ites.


I wish I were as far along in preparations for talks there as you are. As


untoward personal comments in the prior message indicated, I am struggling

to find the time to get ready for ISCAR which is still on the other side of

a giant

pile of obligations to be met before I can re-orient.


My apologies once again for my faux pas

c u in san diego


PS-- David-- I do not parse the reference by Luria to the Sakharov-Vygotsky

experiment in *The Making of Mind* as you do. Sakharov is referred to as

"a gifted collaborator of Vygotsky's who died at a young age."

(He does not

say how). I do not believe he was a part of the 1929 group that ARL refers

to in the next paragraph and as you will note, he talks about its uptake

later in the

US. Not the same fate as the work on pictograms, etc. which he refers to in

the following paragraphs.


The extent to which Bronfenbrenner's comments about experimentation apply


the blocks experiment is an intriguing one as is the entire set of issues

surrounding the conditions that warrant generalization in psychological




On Sat, Aug 16, 2008 at 8:18 AM, Paula Towsey



> Dear David


> At this very minute I'm working on putting the finishing touches to a

> script

> for a DVD I'm having made for ISCAR and - it features the middle mode


> thinking from the middle category in preconceptual reasoning from Chapter


> of T&L: the chain as an example par excellance of thinking in


> The DVD's a microgenetic analysis of an eight-year-old and it brings

> Vygotsky's writing to life.


> The first thing I'll be doing once my DVD deadline's been met is

to read

> your very comprehensive summary - and talk at more length with you about

> this (most) fascinating instrument of Sakharov and Vygotsky.


> Till then


> Paula T



> -----Original Message-----

> From: [] On

> Behalf Of David Kellogg

> Sent: 16 August 2008 04:48 AM

> To: xmca

> Subject: [xmca] The Strange Situation


> Last night on a loooooong airplane flight I re-read "Thinking and

> Speech" (instead of re-watching, say, "Harry Potter and the

Chamber of

> Secrets"). For some reason (maybe just jet lag) Chapter Five began to

> strike

> me as very STRANGE, like the "strange situation" they used to

use in

> studies

> on child development (which I actually participated in when I was very

> little).


> On pp. 89 and 90, LSV has argued that Piaget's "clinical

method" produces

> results that will not generalize. Even Piaget's own observations on

> egocentric speech yield quite different results when we observe children


> Germany, as opposed to Geneva. More: If you ask a child why the sun does

> not

> fall out of the sky you will get a very different (and more syncretic)

> answer than if you ask the child why she fell and flubbed a point during


> volleyball game.


> This application of cultural variation to instruction is at the very


> of the concept of the ZPD, of course. The same child who gives a


> answer in the former instance and a coherent answer in the latter MAY be

> able to synthesize the two if we ask a question like "Why doesn't



> fall over when you are going and why does it fall over when you



> Then Chapter Five takes a single very limited experiment (Ach's

blocks, as

> modified in Sakharov) and turns it into a very detailed (TOO detailed)

> description of concept formation. This is how I understand it:


> 1 Syncretic Order (meaning, no order other than the child's subjective

> experience)


> 1.1 Unorganized heaps (I think of this as ordering according to the


> one and then that one" principle)


> 1.2 Spatially or temporally organized heaps (I think of this as the


> over here and those over there" principle)


> 1.3 Representatives of heaps (I think of this as the "This is one of


> principle)


> 2 Complexive (meaning, empirically rather than logically ordered)


> 2.1 Associative (I think of this as the basic insight underlying

> protypicality; it's obviously linked to but distinct from 1.3 because


> the

> one hand it does involve "this is one of these" and on the other

it adds a

> kind of "because..." reason, e.g. "This belongs here

because it looks the

> same".)


> 2.2 Complexive collection (This is a pluralization of the 2.1, the child

> can

> now think "These are some of this group because they look the same


> they are all red)")


> 2.3 Chained complex (This is a metaphorical extension of 2.2: one damn

> thing

> now leads to another that lies beyond the collection, but there is no

> systematic principle for extending the collection in any particular

> direction. A yellow triangle can lead to a yellow circle and on to a red

> half-circle)


> 2.4 Unbounded complex (Now the child has a general tendency for extending

> the complexive collection, but this tendency is undefined and vague and


> reliable. For example, a trapezoid and a triangle both look kinda fat


> here and thin up there)


> 2.5 Pseudoconcept (The child has a clear verbal reason for extending the

> complexive collection from one block to another but this reason is

> empirical

> rather than logical. So a red triangle and a blue triangle are both


> triangle, and you can put them side by side and see that they are the

> same.)



> 3. Concepts (experientially but also logically ordered)


> 3.1 Spontaneous concepts (These are based on repeated everyday


> generalized by means of everyday language. For example, the spontaneous

> concept of Saturday, which is related to the concept of week and to the

> concept of day first and foremost by the child's experience and not by

> logic)


> 3.2 Scientific concepts (also, foreign language word meanings). These are

> based on definitions and therefore have an explicit logical hierarchy,


> paradigmatic: "Saturday is the seventh day of the week" and

> syntagmatic: "When it is Saturday in Seoul it is still only Friday in


> Diego."


> (I apologize for my glosses; I know that some people can only understand

> things if they VISUALIZE, but I only ever understand if I VERBALIZE, and

> sometimes, even usually, I verbalize things in a way that doesn't


> reflect children's thought processes very well.)


> It's exquisite, not least because each stage represents a resolution


> problems that inhere in the previous stage. It's a sublime exposition


> the

> kind of HEGELIAN method that Vygotsky later used to such effect in his

> unfinished work on child development in Volume Five.


> BUT...these are stages of Sakharov's experiment. How do we know that


> really are stages of concept formation? (A lot of Mike's work in


> rather suggests the contrary, when you really look at it!)


> I know that Bakhurst talks about how Vygotsky believed in the power of

> abstraction and in the power of the experiment to rise to the

> generalizeable

> concrete. seems to me that Vygotsky himself is sometimes not


> comfortable with this leap from experiment to quasi-stage theory:


> p. 143: "It is only in the experiment that we free the child from the

> directing influence of the words of adult language with their developed


> stabler meanings. It is only here that we allow the child to develop word

> meanings and create complexive generalizations in accordance with his own

> free judgment.It allows us to discover how the child's own activity is

> manifested in learning adult language. The experiment indicates what the

> child's language would be like and the nature of the generalizations


> would direct his thinking if its development were not directed by an


> language that effectively predetermines the range of concrete objects to

> which a given word meaning can be extended."


> But it IS directed by adult language! How similar all this sounds to

> Piaget's own defense of his clinical method in "Language and

Thought of


> Child", a defense that LSV rips apart in Chapter Six.


> So LSV continues:


> "One could argue that our use of phrases such as "would be

like" and


> direct" (i.e. our use of the subjunctive mood) in this context



> basis for an argument against rather than for the use of the experiment

> since the child is not in fact free to develop the meanings he receives

> from

> adult speech."


> Yes, one certainly could, and in fact LSV does precisely this on pp.

> 174-175!


> But HERE LSV continues:


> "We would respond to this argument by noting that the experiment


> more than what would happen if the child were free form the directing

> influence of adult speech, more than what would happen if he developed


> generalizations freely and independently."


> Well, it teaches a lot LESS than that if we accept that in real life

> children NEVER develop generalizations "freely" and



> LSV continues:


> "The experiment unovers the real activity of the child in forming

> generalizations, activity that is generally masked from casual


> The influence of speech of those around the child does not obliterate


> activity. It merely conceals it, causing it to take an extremely complex

> form."


> This sounds a terrible fudge to me. More, it suggests that the influence


> speech "conceals", "does not obliterate",

"complicates" the child's


> without actually engaging, interacting, and fusing with it. I can't


> children learning foreign language words in this way.


> Isn't it the case that most concepts form under conditions that are


> different from Sakharov's experiment? And isn't it the case that


> differences will be just as pertinent to the process and to the products


> concept formation as the differences between, say, Geneva and Germany, or

> between the sun falling out of the sky and a child stumbling in a soccer

> game?


> Luria describes the Sakharov experiments on pp. 50-51 of "Making of


> like this:


> "The individual studies that we carried out at this time, of which I


> mentioned a few, must be considered banal (!) in and of themselves. Today

> we

> would consider them nothing more than student projects. And this is


> what they were. Nevertheless, the general conception that organized those

> pilot studies laid the methodological foundation for Vygotsky's


> theory and provided a set of experimental techniques which I was to use

> throughout the remainder of my career."


> Obviously, if Sakharov's study is REALLY a description of concept


> IN GENERAL, then there is nothing banal about it at all. And on p.


> that's more or less exactly what LSV claims: "This general stage

in the

> formation of concepts in the child can be broken down into three phases

> that

> we were able to study in some detail."


> That's a risky claim. But Luria's claim about our methodological

> foundations

> seems more risky still. As Bronfenbrenner would say, isn't it the case


> Sakharov's experiment only shows us "the science of the strange



> children in strange situations with strange adults for the briefest

> possible

> periods of time" (Ecology of Human Development, p. 19).


> David Kellogg

> Seoul National University of Education





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