Re: [xmca] XM, C's and H's

From: Derek Melser <derek.melser who-is-at>
Date: Sun Dec 14 2008 - 15:43:02 PST


Thank you for those questions. My answers:

1. I read the XM as 'extended mind' and hence another label for the idea or
set of ideas also labelled 'externalism', the 'leaky mind' idea, the
'embodied cognition' idea and 'the second cognitive revolution' proposed
by A. Clark and others. The idea is that the mind exists not solely within
the person, in the head, but extends outside into the world, to embrace
cultural activities and artifacts, measurement systems, etc.

My view is that the notion of mind qua a non-physical agent or venue (or
perhaps mechanism) inside people's heads is entirely a creature of
metaphor. All our everyday uses of the noun "mind" are metaphorical. 'Mind'
is essentially just a fiction we use to hang the various (and very numerous)
colloquial metaphors on. However, metaphors, though they deal in fancies,
are nevertheless about real things (otherwise we wouldn't bother with them).
The idea of a supernatural agent or place inside people's heads is the basis
of a metaphor, a beautifully apt and constantly useful metaphor, for
referring at the everyday level to a particular kind of learned activity
that people engage in. The closest I have got to describing this special
kind of activity is the last few entries in the 2008 Notebook on my site. It
is a way of readying oneself for action or activity X by rehearsing, in a
special rapid and subtle way, educative activity (such as lessons,
instructions, encouragement, admonitions, etc.) related to action or
activity X. The educative activity, which the thinker, imaginer, planner,
etc., is conducting his solo (and especially rapid and subtle) rehearsal of,
is necessarily social activity.

Thus I believe that while 'mind' is a metaphorical fiction, the innumerable
everyday figures of speech in which the noun 'mind' occurs all refer to
varieties and aspects of something very real (and very important) indeed
namely, this kind of activity, this 'minimal rehearsing of educative
activity' that I am talking about, that can plausibly be equated with
'thinking'. The sources of the above idea are numerous (see my book).
Certainly, one of the major contributors is L.S. Vygotsky.

To me, the notion of the mind 'extending', from inside the person's head,
out to include things in the world is a kind of rhetorical monstrosity
contextless, useless, and generally half-arsed and imbecilic. I imagine LSV
smiling in agreement. What we are talking about, the underlying reality
here, is a species of learned, 'culturally-learned', activity. In a serious
academic context, any reference to the popular fiction 'mind', any attempt
to extrapolate from, formalise, summarise or extend the colloquial mentalist
terminology, is retrograde.

  2. Mike, I bow to your superior scholarship here. My distinction between
cultural-developmental theories of thinking and what I would now like to
call 'determinist' theories is crude. My concern, at that point in that
thesis, was simply to distinguish theories like Descartes' (wherein
thinking is entirely a function of our God-given 'minds') and cognitive
science's (wherein our thinking is determined by neurophysiological
information-processing mechanisms that evolution has installed in our
brains) from theories that make thinking something that *we do*, and (in
fact) spend years learning how to do. My keenness (and, I would say, LSV's
and others') is to reclaim thinking as ours, our own responsibility, and the
prerogative of neither supernatural nor natural intracranial agencies or
mechanisms (if, indeed, there are such).

As far as the brain's relevance to thinking is concerned, my ideas come from
Hebb. Imitation learning, practice and thinking all culturally-led
activities effect changes in neural pathways (firing programmes) in
cerebral cortex. These changes serve in the short-term to ready the person
for imminent action, and in the long term to facilitate efficient
performance of the action/activity in question. Cultural activity leads. The
brain follows and, subsequently, assists. Evolution has given us a biddable
brain, not an authoritarian one.


PS: Maybe we can get on to the CH later. And you will be aware I have
concerns about empathy/objectivity issues regarding the A... (Not the A as
well, Derek, surely to God!) I'll pass your greetings on to Andy Lock.

2008/12/14 Mike Cole <>

> Hi Derek--
> What a lot of food for thought not only in your message but in your web
> page
> and its links.
> I gather you are somewhere in the vicinity of Andy Lock? If so, say "hi"
> and
> see if you can
> entice him to join in. I have still to read properly several of your
> essays,
> the topics of which
> are of great interest to me, but will try to pick a key issue I came across
> early that seems relevant to the
> topic of this note.
> First, about XMs, C, and H(istory). I want to focus on the c/h issue
> because
> I think it is key to issues
> where we might be able to find where we disagree or misunderstand
> 1. What do you interpret the x to mean that xm should be anethema to you?
> Is it just the use of "mind" or more than that?
> 2. In the first line of the chapter for your thesis your write: " The
> Russian Psychologist Vygotsky's theory of thinking is, like Piaget's, an
> 'ontogenetic' or developmental one."
> I believe, and believe there is ample textual evidence to support the idea
> that Vygotsky's theory of thinking was UNLIKE Piaget's in that he believed
> human ontogeny
> to be the emergent outcome of four "historical/developmental" domains:
> phylogeny, cultural history, ontogenetic experience itself, and
> microgenesis
> (which is
> constituitive, along with Phyl and CH, or Ontogeny. I would relate this
> idea
> to the ideas of Ilyenkov, whom you cite in another note with regard to the
> nature
> of artifacts and thought. I thus do not (deliberately!) conflate culture
> and
> concerted because while I take "joint mediated activity" to be a basic unit
> of analysis for
> understanding development, those "concerting" and the artifacts that
> mediate
> he concert, are distinguishable in material terms and in the principles of
> change
> that predominate for their domains.
> I am happy you have entered the discussion. I am sure we can all learn from
> the ensuing conversations, as many of us already have!
> mike cole
> I think this is a factual error and that the nature of the error may lead
> to
> a misunderstanding.
> It often takes me a long time to distinguish between disagreements and
> misunderstandings. From what
> you have seen on xmca in the discussion around XMCA you can probably
> understand one manifestation
> of the problem. People use the same words in really different ways. To
> focus
> just on you comments about
> xmca as a summative acronym.
> On Tue, Dec 9, 2008 at 8:21 PM, Derek Melser <>
> wrote:
> > I come to XMCA as a philosopher of mind convinced that 'mind' (and
> related
> > metaphor-based notions such as 'internalisation') can be explained in
> terms
> > of (a) people's natural tendency to act in concert (do the same thing,
> > together) and (b) various derivative, subtler, but still
> > in-principle-observable, skills that children acquire. My account,
> > developed
> > from those of Ryle, Vygotsky and Hebb, has acting in concert as the basis
> > of
> > culture. Solo action, cooperation, and objective practices (in which the
> > empathic, side-by-side stance characteristic of concerted activity has
> > given
> > way to objective attitudes) are learned adaptations of acting in concert.
> >
> > Unfamiliar concerted (and solo, cooperative and objective) activity must
> > usually be preceded by preparatory educative activity, the prototype of
> > which is the demonstration-and-imitation procedure. The immediate goal of
> > demonstration-and-imitation is for teacher and pupil to perform the
> action
> > in concert. After the pupil's participation has improved, perhaps after
> > repeated demonstration-and-imitation sessions, to the point where he can
> > perform the action on his own, rehearsals may still be necessary prior to
> > performance.
> >
> > To rehearse an action or activity is to go through a
> > demonstration-and-imitation session in a streamlined and abbreviated way.
> > There are many different ways of abbreviating the
> > demonstration-and-imitation procedure, some involving two or more
> > participants, others for the solo agent. Verbal communication,
> > consciousness
> > and thinking are all forms of rehearsal all ways of rehearsing actions
> > and
> > activities before (or indeed whilst or instead of) performing them and
> > they are all 'derivatives by abbreviation' of the
> > demonstration-and-imitation procedure.
> >
> > A child acquires these various rehearsal skills in much the same way he
> > acquires other skills by watching and listening to other people
> > demonstrating them, by attempting to join in, and by practising them on
> his
> > own. In *The Act of Thinking* (MIT Press 2004) I retrace some of the main
> > steps in the child's (and perhaps early man's) mastery of verbal
> > communication, consciousness and thinking.
> >
> > My feeling about the Sawchuk/Stetsenko paper is that it is insufficiently
> > purist. It embraces concepts which are actually antithetical to, and
> > compromise, a pure activity approach. For example, there is
> 'subjectivity',
> > which we are said to be in danger of 'undertheorizing' (p.340). What can
> > subjectivity be if not 'private experiencing'? Activity theory casts all
> > experiencing as public, or incipiently public. Subjectivity is a
> mentalist
> > concept. Listed among 'the specific principles of human development' on
> > p.341 are 'the social origin of mind' (which implies there is such a
> thing
> > as mind) and 'internalisation' (implying the existence of an inner,
> > presumably mental, dimension). Vygotsky fell in here too, which is why we
> > need Ryle. Activity does not internalise, it does not disappear into the
> > mental, as it becomes familiar. Nor is mind 'extended'; it does not
> extend
> > from the 'inner' to embrace 'outer' phenomena: mind is a fiction.
> >
> > Sawchuk and Stetsenko characterise activity as 'reciprocal interaction
> with
> > the world' (339), as a process of 'engagement with the world' and as
> > 'transforming the world' (343). However, the world need not stay in the
> > picture. It is required neither as a venue nor as a patient or product of
> > people's activity. The notion of the world, and things in the world, is a
> > teaching aid invented to assist our acquisition of the perceptual skills
> we
> > need to employ in the course of our activities.
> >
> > If we want to concentrate on the activity, then the 'selves' that Sawchuk
> > and Stetsenko say people's activity creates ('as they create their world'
> > (343)) are also dispensable. Selves disappear, they get absorbed, in
> > concerted activity. Even 'the social order', with its reification of
> > activity as the 'social structure' or 'society' that sociology is
> > predicated
> > on, may be a distraction. And what about 'historical'? Personally, I am
> > most
> > interested in the foundational human activities concerting,
> cooperation,
> > verbal communication, consciousness, thinking, etc.). These practices
> were
> > almost certainly established more than a million years ago, so history
> > played no part in their development, though evolution did. History
> becomes
> > relevant only in connection with the great increase in objective
> practices
> > that accompanied the relatively very recent transition from small-group
> > nomadic life to our settled agricultural existence if that counts as
> > history.
> >
> > Should I have presumed to list with XMCA and to comment on a review of
> > CHAT,
> > when the XM is anathema to me, the H of no interest? My C would be
> > 'concerted' rather than 'cultural' too, though, since I conflate these,
> > that's a quibble. Is this where I belong? An activity purist like myself
> > has
> > at least the AT in common with others in this forum, surely. Well, no.
> I'm
> > not at all sure about the T. It has always seemed to me that our
> knowledge
> > of activities is irreducibly empathic. When we witness or imagine an
> > activity, in order to comprehend what we are seeing we must imagine
> > engaging
> > (if not actually engage) in that activity. There is no possibility of any
> > truly objective or 'scientific' observation of activity (behaviour,
> > conduct,
> > action, things we do). Cultural activity is not a natural phenomenon. It
> is
> > not even a phenomenon. It is something* we* do. We are participants,
> > players
> > or incipient, would-be players. We cannot get outside it, hold it at
> > arm's
> > length, make a scrutinizable object of it. If we do, it vanishes. We must
> > empathise even to perceive activity. Certainly, we can be self-aware in
> the
> > act of doing something, alone or with others, and this self-awareness
> need
> > not impede (or not too much) our participation. But what can 'theory'
> > amount
> > to in this context?
> >
> > Derek Melser
> >
> > **
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> >
> >
> >
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Received on Sun Dec 14 15:44:33 2008

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