Re: [xmca] The Strange Situation

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Thu Oct 23 2008 - 08:31:54 PDT

Michael, I can't help but ask why you think that a working person's
concrete universal is **different** from that of a professor,
assuming, for the sake of discussion, that they are both well-skilled
after decades of experience. I appreciate that you are pointing out
that saying one is better or advanced than the other is judgmental.
But I am wondering whether concrete universal really are in principle
different. Let's look at three of them, including one concrete
universal for a working person, a mill operator.

Let's take a mill operator for starters. A concrete universal for a
mill operator is the location of objects within the axis grid of their
machine. The grid is defined by the X, Y and Z axes (the usual
nomenclature for core axes in computer numerical control mills).
These axes on milling machine are all perpendicular and have a single
intersection point. The machine moves its spindles along these axes.
All positioning on the mill is referenced to the intersection point
and the grid, or the grid and some object that is positioned in terms
of the intersection point and the grid.

This concept of how the axes are set up and how the locations of all
objects are referenced in terms of these axes and where they intersect
permeates the machinist's entire conception of how and where the
machine moves, how the nesting surfaces of the fixturing are
configured and oriented, how the part is loaded, how the cutters are
set up, how to measure distances between things, how to read the part
cutting programs, how to interpret and orient drawings (blueprints)
and instructions related to of all the above. There is nothing in the
milling process that is not connected in some way to the axis system.
It is the thing that ties the entire milling process together.

Milling machines can also have other axes. If there are two spindles,
they will only share (usually) the X axis, and have different names
for the other axes on the different spindles, perhaps Y and Z for one,
and V and W for the other. If the spindles warp (rotate in a plane
formed by the Y and Z axes) or twist (rotate in a plane formed by
either the X and Z or X and Y axes) these rotational moves are also
called axes and must be well understood conceptually by the mill
operator. Sometimes letters like A, B are used for warp axes, and
the letters Q, R (on two spindle mills) for twist axes. Both the
operator and the programmer have many things to pay attention to when
the machine moves in any axis, and especially when the spindle is
moving in several at once.

Thus, for the machinist, the key unifying relational object - the
concrete universal - is the location of objects in the milling area in
relation to the mill's movements and axis system. A simple term for
this concrete universal might be "grid location."

LIkewise, a professor is likely to be conscious of concrete universals
in their area of study. For the physicist, for example, the "matter-
energy" form (examples include electrons, atoms, molecules, suns,
etc.) is a likely candidate for being a concrete universal in physics,
just as the positioning and location of objects within an axis system
(the grid location) is a concrete universal in milling.

A writer in Marxist economics may see the "value-form" (examples
include commodities, money, capital, etc.) as the concrete universal.

So here is my question. What is different in principle between these
three examples of concrete universals? How does the class position,
motivations, goals etc. of the person using a concrete universal
impact its nature?

- Steve

On Oct 23, 2008, at 6:08 AM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

> Hi Andy,
> I think that the discussion needs to extricate itself from the
> judgmental. A child's or a working person's "concrete universal" is
> different than that of a professor who has been thinking on some
> topic for several decades. The judgment comes in when some, like
> GWFH or academics, define their concrete universals as better or
> more advanced than those of others. This is the whole crux with the
> concept research, whether it reappears as "misconceptions" research
> or whether it is the "pseudo-concepts" adults are said to hold.
> In the very essence of the concept of the concept, you have the
> concrete and the universal. It is what Bakhtin refers to as the
> spectral nature of the word. Someone pointing to a tree saying,
> "Look at this tree" expresses this dual nature, THIS tree, the
> concrete specific, and this TREE, something AS something. That a
> child talks about a tree and the biologist about Acer saccharum in
> the family of Sapindaceae in the Order of Sapindales, rosids,
> eudicots, angiosperms, and kingdom Pantae are just two forms of the
> concrete|general nature of concepts.
> The problem with education is that kids "need to be fixed," some
> adults "need to be fixed". That's the problem with the pseudos, the
> mis-ses, the "non-formal" etc. characterization of the lesser.
> Cheers,
> Michael
> PS: And I was asking to consider, not making statements, or making a
> statement about considering alternatives
> On 23-Oct-08, at 5:45 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
> Michael,
> I haven't been following this extended discussion around David and
> Paula's discussion at all closely, but I find your intervention
> surprising.
> As usual, I will make my comment from the Hegelian perspective.
> LSV's description of Concept (_Begriff_) and pseudo-concept and the
> development possible from ps-c to C, does not have a direct parallel
> in Hegel, but the ideas are clearly identifiable and make sense in
> the Hegelian framework which underlies so much of LSV's work. Hegel
> calls a pseudo-concept an "abstract general" concept as opposed to a
> true concept which he calls a "concrete universal." In his
> exposition of _Begriff_ in the _Logik_, he describes a series of
> stages in the transition from one to the other.
> "T&S" was the first Vygotsky I read and that was some time after I
> read Hegel, and it was this stuff about concept and pseudoconcept
> which really won me over to LSV. I just don't see the reason for
> your skepticism over it.
> I was interested in the bit, I think it was Steve G. who was
> quoting, where LSV says that even adults very often or even mostly
> in certain circumstances, do not use truly conceptual, i.e.,
> concrete universal, thought. I agree! In fact, when it comes to new
> ideas or some of the difficult concepts in Vygotsky's work, few
> people grasp things as concrete universals without considerable
> expenditure of effort.
> David and Paula and others have been making some very subtle points
> about the developmental psychology of all this which I am not
> qualified to comment on, but LSV was on very solid philsoophical
> grounds, in my opinion, in what he says.
> I don't know if that helps?
> Andy
> Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
>> Hi all,
>> you may consider the following.
>> 1. LSV was a human being, subject to be wrong. His articulation of
>> concepts and pseudo-concepts may have been appropriate then but
>> makes no more sense today---whose the judge about what is pseudo
>> and what is real?
>> 2. He talks about speaking/thinking as developing, as well as the
>> relation between the two (word meaning) as a developing thing/
>> phenomenon. The development is at all time scales, microgenetic,
>> ontogenetic, and phylogenetic/cultural. How do concepts, which are
>> stable features, fit in there? I would go the language route
>> Bakhtin took rather the more psychologizing talk that people take
>> who refer to LSV. Focusing on language, you stay out in the open
>> and don't try to get into the unobservable mind, it is an
>> "objective psychology" (pace Bakhtin) and it is a concrete
>> psychology (pace LSV)
>> 3. There may be problems in the translations from Russian to
>> English concerning the term "concept"
>> 4. LSV may have misappropriated the Russian term "concept" from
>> other languages he read, like Kant's Begriff (which is the noun to
>> "begreifen", literally to touch, but meaning to understand"
>> :-)
>> Michael
>> On 23-Oct-08, at 12:30 AM, Steve Gabosch wrote:
>> Paula, Vygotsky briefly mentioned adults using complexive thinking
>> in the Plenum Press edition of Thinking and Speech (Ch 5, pg 155).
>> I have some more questions to add to the ones already in the
>> hopper. What is your perception of when adults use concepts,
>> pseudoconcepts, and other complexes? And what are concrete
>> concepts? And what is the difference between general
>> representation and a true concept?
>> I'll quote from a few paragraphs.
>> Vygotsky says:
>> "An extremely interesting phenomena can also be observed in adult
>> thinking. Although adult thinking has achieved the formation of
>> concepts, and generally operates on that foundation, not all
>> adult's thinking is based on these operations."
>> Vygotsky then goes on to discuss dreaming for a few sentences. He
>> continues:
>> "In his research, Jaensch observed that there is a special form of
>> generalization or unification of images in concrete thinking, what
>> might be considered the concrete analogues of concept, that is,
>> concrete concepts. Jaensch calls these meaningful compositions and
>> fluxes. In adult thinking, transitions from thinking in concepts
>> to concrete complexive thinking occur continually. "The
>> pseudoconcept is not the exclusive achievement of the child. In
>> our everyday lives, our thinking frequently occurs in
>> pseudoconcepts. From the perspective of dialectical logic, the
>> concepts that we find in our living speech are not concepts in the
>> true sense of the word. They are actually general representations
>> of things. There is no doubt, however, that these representations
>> are a transitional stage between complexes or pseudoconcepts and
>> true concepts."
>> Thanks,
>> - Steve
>> On Oct 22, 2008, at 2:28 AM, Paula Towsey wrote:
>>> Dear David
>>> What a thrilling read you have given us! And to have so
>>> articulate and
>>> coherent a writer put things the way you have is very compelling.
>>> And so
>>> now can you see why the pseudoconcept is so important? Because it
>>> is not an
>>> incorrect concept, and it is not an incomplete one: it's a
>>> pseudoconcept
>>> because it is put together with different rules. What I always
>>> wanted to do
>>> after I finished my research (and perhaps should) is write a paper
>>> for
>>> teachers suggesting that they shouldn't only consider that a
>>> child's got it
>>> wrong, but that they have it differently; that they have it
>>> pseudoconceptually. Maybe forms of assessment could have a symbol
>>> for
>>> pseudoconcepts...
>>> I think I could ask you now if you'd like to read my master's
>>> (it's a large
>>> document and you can see now why it would have to be) to see the
>>> similarities in our arguments in tracing the history of the many
>>> of threads
>>> that we have picked up on since your very long flight and your
>>> analysis of
>>> the strange creatures in this strange situation. Do you still
>>> think we
>>> should be calling it this?
>>> Just to keep things coherent for other readers on the forum, I've
>>> cut and
>>> pasted my response from yesterday (which I'd inadvertently posted
>>> directly
>>> to David instead of to the forum in response to dol chapki):
>>> I agree with you unreservedly. Adult intervention is there in the
>>> culturally determined meanings assigned to the new concepts cev,
>>> bik, mur,
>>> and lag. And I disagree with the exasperated posting placed on
>>> the forum
>>> this morning: however it’s put, adults are there also in putting
>>> the game to
>>> children, in explaining and prompting – with the younger ones
>>> including some
>>> of my eight-year-olds, I doubt whether they would have managed
>>> without it.
>>> And adult intervention is there in the form of the school-like
>>> discourse –
>>> and in being the one who needs to be asked for blocks to be turned
>>> over to
>>> reveal their names. And in being the one who obviously knows what
>>> the names
>>> of the individual blocks are (although I’m not sure whether any of
>>> the
>>> younger ones articulated an overt awareness of this). And in terms
>>> of the
>>> one who knows how the game is to be played.
>>> So, where to now with Vygotsky’s claim that complexive thinking –
>>> and
>>> syncretic and potential concepts – is what would happen without
>>> adult
>>> intervention? I’m still of the opinion that this venerable
>>> instrument
>>> points to something and it’s on this point that we agree too – if
>>> I may
>>> quote an insightful analysis:
>>> “I think that's why Vygotsky is willing to accept that Sakharov's
>>> experiment
>>> reveals processes that do not go away but play an important role
>>> in REAL
>>> concept development; he believes that the categories of syncretism,
>>> complexive thinking and preconcepts are all there even in the
>>> child's school
>>> based thinking because underlying each is a mental act of
>>> generalization
>>> which is not based on perception and memory but rather on conscious
>>> awareness and mastery.” David Kellogg, XMCA forum, 12 September 2008
>>> David, I think that what Sakharov and Vygotsky were doing was
>>> trying to get
>>> away from introspective analysis – and the nonsense words with
>>> artificial
>>> concepts were the way they went. I have also come to see – and
>>> you did
>>> allude to this before – that my appreciation for and understanding
>>> of this
>>> instrument and the many levels involved with it has deepened
>>> because of my
>>> experience with it. When I first embarked on this journey,
>>> although I was
>>> intrigued by the blocks, and wanted to see what complexive
>>> thinking looked
>>> like – I also thought “Tosh! Vygotskii – if children aren’t
>>> thinking in
>>> concepts then what are they doing? Isn’t this just an elaborate
>>> renaming of
>>> what constitutes an idea, or a notion, or an imperfect
>>> understanding?”. But
>>> I came to see what he was on about – that the connections that
>>> children will
>>> tend to make between things will be different from the way adults
>>> make
>>> connections. And the consistency, the hierarchy, the learning to
>>> use a
>>> system, the concrete and the factual. And then, too, is the
>>> Hanfmann &
>>> Kasanin observation (from adults and psychiatric patients) that a
>>> subject’s
>>> upfront grasp on what the task involves is generally likely to be
>>> a clear
>>> measure of the level at which they will perform.
>>> I’m going to send this off to you now, so that hopefully, we’ll be
>>> able to
>>> talk again today: you’re seven hours closer to the sun than we are.
>>> David, don't be too harsh on Hanfmann & Kasanin: they never
>>> intended this
>>> instrument to be used as an intelligence test, and neither did
>>> scholars such
>>> as Semeonoff & Laird (British researchers who used it "in
>>> connexion with
>>> special services selection" during and after the Second World War).
>>> I believe we have a great deal to be thankful for to Jacob Kasanin
>>> and
>>> Eugenia Hanfmann: Ana MS will tell you how she and fellow scholars
>>> made sets
>>> of the blocks when they were students at the university of
>>> Belgrade in the
>>> 1970s and it would be interesting to compare her blocks with H&K
>>> ones from
>>> Stoelting. But I don't want to give too much away here, because
>>> some of
>>> this history is traced in a paper that I think has been accepted for
>>> publication - I could let you know more about this when I do,
>>> okay? (Ana's
>>> approach to the blocks seems to have a more direct link to
>>> Sakharov and
>>> there are important but subtle nuances of difference between it
>>> and H&K's
>>> approach.)
>>> Steve, I promise your notes on each of the stages will follow as
>>> soon as I'm
>>> able to. Just in brief, though, I think that each of the stages
>>> is a more
>>> complex (as in complicated or more developed) form of the child's
>>> ability to
>>> abstract and to generalise from a range of possible building
>>> blocks and
>>> these emerging skills go hand in hand with the developing ability
>>> to reflect
>>> on what one is doing.
>>> Paula
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: [
>>> ] On
>>> Behalf Of David Kellogg
>>> Sent: 22 October 2008 01:00 AM
>>> To: xmca
>>> Subject: [xmca] The Strange Situation
>>> Dear Paula:
>>> I think the answer is this. We have to read Chapter Five and
>>> Chapter Six as
>>> complementary parts of a single whole which is only fully realized
>>> in
>>> Chapter Seven. Here's what I mean.
>>> At the very beginning, T&S lauds the CLINICAL method. Of course,
>>> we know
>>> that LSV was a clinician. At heart he had, not psychological
>>> experiments,
>>> but the seven million homeless, disabled, and criminally inclined
>>> children
>>> who were, nominally, wards of the Narkompros under Krupskaya.
>>> Then he goes to town against the foremost clinical thinker of his
>>> day,
>>> namely Piaget. Specifically, he takes Piaget to task for
>>> separating out the
>>> child's thought processes ("autistic" and then "egocentric") from
>>> the
>>> adult's ('communicative" and then "logical"), and only combining
>>> them
>>> EXTERNALLY (through "pressure" and "constraint").
>>> In contrast, he argues that the relationship is complex, twisting,
>>> tangled,
>>> and at several points the lines of development (autistic and
>>> social, egocentric and communicative) cross and even cross-
>>> fertilize. The
>>> combinations are not only (and not even mainly) external, but
>>> He's never satisfied with a purely theoretical argument. He's a
>>> clinician,
>>> and in the end life comes down to real children. So right away he
>>> uses
>>> Piaget's own data against him. He supplements this taken from
>>> replication by
>>> Leontiev, Luria and Levina. But by Chapter Five he feels that
>>> what's really
>>> required is whole new method.
>>> Here's what Bakhurst says about the methods of Chapter Five in a
>>> footnote on
>>> p. 83 of his book "Consciousness and Revolution in Soviet
>>> Philosophy",
>>> Cambridge 1991:
>>> "Vygotsky's inventive use of experiment is an important aspect of
>>> his work
>>> neglected in my presentation. Vygotsky rarely employs the kinds of
>>> tools
>>> associated with orthodox experimental psychology: control groups,
>>> standardized testing procedures, explicit 'coding schemes' for the
>>> interpretation of data and so on. His empirical research might
>>> therefore
>>> strike the modern reader as wanting in rigour and objectivity. It
>>> would be a
>>> mistake, however, to assume that Vygotsky's efforts represent a
>>> failed
>>> attempt to do experimental psychology as it is now understood. On
>>> the
>>> contrary, his research strategies were quite deliberately created
>>> for the
>>> analysis of psychological phenomena as he conceived them. As we
>>> saw above,
>>> Vygotsky holds that psychological capaciteis can be undertood only
>>> through
>>> an analysis of their _development_. This development is argued to
>>> proceed
>>> through the internalization of activities that are first realized
>>> in public
>>> interaction with
>>> others. This led Vygotsky to the idea that psychological
>>> development can
>>> sometiems best be studied if the analist (sic) actively intervenes
>>> in that
>>> development by, for example, offering subjects new psychological
>>> tools with
>>> which to undertake operations under investigation (see the memory
>>> experiments described in Vygotsky 1929; Bakhurst 1999) or engagine
>>> subjects
>>> in activities thought to precipitate internalization, so as to
>>> observe the
>>> relationship among a) what subjects can achieve unaided, b) what
>>> they can
>>> achieve when assisted by others, and c) the trajectory of their
>>> subsequent
>>> development (see Vygotsky 1978: Chapter 8, and the literature on
>>> the zone of
>>> proximal development. Furthermore, Vygotsky believed that the
>>> insights
>>> gained by employing such interventive techniques are often best
>>> presented by
>>> describing particular cases in detail rather than giving
>>> statistical data
>>> for a large sample of subjects."
>>> My first response to your DVD was to wonder why you only show a
>>> single
>>> subject, out of the many that you obviously worked with. But on re-
>>> reading
>>> this, I think it is the right approach, and it's exactly the
>>> approach that
>>> Hanfmann and Kasanin missed when they assigned points to the various
>>> solutions of the Vygotsky blocks and turned it from a clinical
>>> interviewing
>>> technique (which is what it is in your DVD and also, I think, in
>>> Chapter
>>> Five) into a rather sloppy intelligence test (which it isn't,
>>> wasn't, and
>>> can never be).
>>> Carol & eric, have a look at this (if your exasperation has taken
>>> you this
>>> far! It's a long quote but it's a very interesting one):
>>> "Only under experimental conditions was the child, freed from the
>>> directing
>>> influences of well established verbal connections, able to develop
>>> word
>>> meanings and to form complex generalizations according to his own
>>> preferences. This fact shows us the importance of experimental
>>> study, which
>>> alone can reveal the spontaneous activity of the child in
>>> mastering the
>>> language of adults. Experimental study shows us what the child's
>>> language
>>> and concept formation would look like if they were freed from the
>>> directing
>>> influence of the linguistic milieu.
>>> "One may argue that the subjunctive mood of our statement
>>> rather speaks
>>> against the experiment, because the child's speech after all is
>>> not free in
>>> its development. Experiment however reveals not only a
>>> hypothetical 'free'
>>> development of the child's thinking, but also uncovers activities
>>> in forming
>>> generalizations usually hidden from view and driven into complicated
>>> channles by the influence of adult speech." (p. 120, Thought and
>>> Language,
>>> Kozulin trans.)
>>> Here LSV rejects the idea of hypothetical 'free' development for a
>>> time. The first time was when he rejected it in Piaget's CLINICAL
>>> method.
>>> Here he does it again in the EXPERIMENTAL context. His argument is
>>> that we
>>> need the experiment not to show us some "what if" world in which
>>> children
>>> make their own decisions. We need it to show CLASSROOM processes
>>> that pass
>>> us by in the hurly-burly of teaching.
>>> That's what Chapter Six is about. And sure enough they show us a
>>> very
>>> different world, one where symbolic and conceptual relations
>>> (triadic,
>>> secondary intersubjectivity) come first and indexical, iconic ones
>>> (the
>>> world of primary intersubjectivity) are decisively subordinated to
>>> them.
>>> I think if Sakharov had lived, and if LSV had lived, the
>>> transition to
>>> Chapter Six would have been smoother, and we would be better able
>>> to see how
>>> the different categories (heaping, measuring, comparing) are
>>> realized in
>>> classroom condiitions. But Sakharov killed himself, and LSV was
>>> apparently
>>> too heartbroken to tamper with the manuscript he'd written many
>>> years
>>> before.
>>> Shif's work is obviously from a much later period, and Sakharov's
>>> categories
>>> are poorly integrated into it (I think that's why Paula focuses on
>>> the
>>> potential concept as a bridge between these two chapters). But I
>>> think the
>>> real synthesis should come in Chapter Seven, dictated on LSV's
>>> deathbed.
>>> Unfortunately, the ground shifts a little here; instead of looking
>>> at how
>>> the relationships between thinking and speech comes into being, we
>>> are
>>> suddenly looking at how they operate, which is in some ways quite
>>> the
>>> reverse from the way they develop. And then nothing.
>>> David Kellogg
>>> Seoul National University of Education
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
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> andy.blunden
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