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

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Sun Dec 14 2008 - 16:55:19 PST

Good morning, Derek. Thanks for the clarifications. Plenty to discuss and
since it is clear we agree on a lot, teasing apart disagreements and
misunderstandings is probably a useful way to go at it. These threads can
get pretty long, but I will respond in *italics *betwixt your comments.

On Sun, Dec 14, 2008 at 3:43 PM, Derek Melser <>wrote:

> Mike,
> 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.

*This won't help much, but the X in XMCA stands for extended discussion of
ideas of people who once passed through LCHC (hence, its predecessor, XLCHC)
when we had a newsletter which I was buffaloed into making into a journal so
that young people could get tenure publishing in it, and then the buffalo
herder left town. I preferred the newsletter version, personally. But I had
tenure so have tried to distribute as much of the labor as possible around
the world as far as I could distribute it, with partial success. At present,
the editorship resides with Michael Roth, who, while a Canadian citizen, is
French/German background, which at least moves it a little off of the
anglophone world. Having international discussion seems essential to me. We
have it, in fits and starts. *

> 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.

*Yes. And what you say in this regard below is quite interesting. Hard to
get away using language stripped of metaphors. Take educative, for example,
and many other terms you use. I am also a great admirer of Hebb's and a
student of Luria's so I can appreciate the direction of your thinking in
those regards, but a human language that does not use metaphor (itself a
metaphor!) is a little
difficult to imagine (another 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.

*I have a lot of sympathy for the simulation notion you outline here, but am
not sure why the term educative is necessary. We could you prepare, for
example. But I do not know what you mean by educative, and the term pre-pare
has some implications that might be troublesome. But I get the drift (!) and
like the idea.*

> 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.

*Darn. Here is where your surmise about XM is correct and where we may have
hit on a real disagreement. I do not think LSV would be smiling in agreement
and am pretty certain Ilyenkov would not. Long discussion, but the original
source of this idea using the term, mind, I got from Bateson, although I
believe it goes back at least to Merleau- Ponty -- the parable of the blind
man and the stick. But I believe it goes with Gibson's ideas about
affordances and Ilyenkov's notions of the ideal. I am sorry that renders me
imbeclic and so hope this is a hidden misunderstanding!!*

> 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.
*Posh. As you must have figured out by now, in this discussion everyone is
assumed to have expertise in part of the overall domain and ignorance in
others and the hope is that through discussion we can all learn from each
other about those parts of the lifeworld we have less knowledge of.*

> 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).

*I am not sure how to parse responsibility part, just as I find it difficult
to parse inside and outside of human action/activity, but I fully agree with
the two negatives at the end.*

> 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.
*In my view, biological and cultural evolution are so intertwined in humans
that in order to say which is leading which one can be misleading and
depends upon the timescale we are focused on and the specifics of the case
at hand, and I am uncertain of what biddable means, but I think I agree with
the spirit of your conclusion.

more to come! I will endeavor to read your book, but I am quite far behind
some writing assignments and am sticking to papers on your website for now.

> DM
> 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
>> >
>> > **
>> > _______________________________________________
>> > xmca mailing list
>> >
>> >
>> >
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Received on Sun Dec 14 16:56:24 2008

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