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

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Dec 14 2008 - 21:45:48 PST

Well answered Derek, but of course I would expect that you
would not be thrown by my probing.

One must needs recognise that existence is not a simple
black-and-white issue. Take 'Santa Claus' for example; any
meaningful sense of existence would have to mean that Santa
Claus does not exist, because it is part of a 'game' for
children. On the other hand, one could not simply say (the
Christian) God does not exist, because this is a concept
which is used to coordinate the activity of entire peoples.
So I would not go around saying God is a figure of speech, a
metaphor or an illusion. It is a concept that makes sense
only within certain world views and modes of social life,
not including my own. If I wanted to argue with a Deist, I
would have to use longhand, avoiding claims about existence
and non-existence; if I was arguing with an Atheist (like
you) I would have to talk about what they mean by "God does
not exist" - an absolutely equally dogmatic claim as "God
exists" in my opinion.

Michael Thomasino has a nice bit about "folk psychology" in
his "Origins of Human Communications" where he points out
that folk psychology exists as a real force in human life
and goes from there into a very interesting argument. You
should have a look at it.

Secondly, this stuff about homunculi or other stuff about
various agents existing inside the head, is not really
relevant to this list, as none of us ascribe personality to
the brain or other organs. For us, consciousness is a
product of culture and history, not of biology, and exists
in social relations, not those of the organism alone.

Nevertheless, it is a perfectly valid observation that we
all feel as if there is a personality in there behind our
eyes. I think it is sensible to talk about the "illusion" of
the location of the subject behind the eyes, without getting
involved in the reality or otherwise of the subject. I think
it is legitimate to argue with someone about its physical
embodiment or location and extension and whether any such
claims stand up to examination. To flatly deny that a
subject, or agent, or mind or consciousness or any such
thing exists, is, IMHO, obviously mistaken. Never mind
introspection, you can see them acting all around you, just
as well as you can read a meter in the physics lab., without
claiming that temperature etc do not exist.

It is always I think worth taking Kant's conception of the
subject as a good starting point, even though in our
tradition beginning with Hegel and Marx there is a radical
change in the idea of the subject. For Kant, the subject is
associated with an individual person, but it is
*transcendental*. In my view, this concept of the subject is
sublated into Hegel and Marx, not simply denied. The Kantian
individual subject is *not* located in the head, has no
location or extension, or any essential nature at all. This
is a pretty profound and interesting idea.

Anyway, Derek, please do stick around. These exchanges are
enormously useful to us all I think.


Derek Melser wrote:
> Mike, Andy,
> I can see I will have to put my thinking cap on and go back to the
> drawing board.
> Is it permissable to say, 'there is really no such thing' as a thinking
> cap? Can one say 'there really is no drawing board for me to go back
> to'? The drawing board 'does not really exist'. 'There isn't really
> one'. 'It's just a way of speaking'. What is the correct way to make
> such points? How does one explain the difference between saying 'he has
> a mean streak in him' and 'he has eight pints of lager in him'? Isn't
> there some sense in which the mean streak 'isn't really' in him in the
> way the lager is?
> Is it OK to say to a child, 'Santa is not real' – to a ten-year-old,
> say? 'It's just a story'?
> How can I say 'there is really no such thing as the mind' – it's just a
> way of speaking? How does one say that there really is no supernatural
> agent inside people's heads that thinks, no invisible organ in there
> with that function and nor is there any invisible intracranial venue
> where thinking occurs? Because, surely, the fact is, there really isn't
> any agent or entity (supernatural or natural, metaphysical or physical)
> that exists inside people's heads and which thinks. Nor is there any
> (supernatural or natural, metaphysical or physical) special place in
> there where thinking goes on. Thinking is, surely, something that people
> do for themselves. And they do it in innumerable places, but never
> inside their own heads. It is important to realise this – that the
> concept of a person doing something inside their own head is utterly
> imponderable. I mean: how would you even get in there? And yet everyone
> talks about doing things 'in their heads' all the time. Speaking as if
> there is an intracranial agent that does our thinking for us, or a
> special intracranial place where thinking is done, is just a colloquial
> faηon de parler. But the propaganda effect of such figures of speech is
> remarkably powerful. It has How does one combat this kind of effect?
> If there is no way of setting aside and going on without concepts like
> Santa Claus, phlogiston, the divine right of kings, the rain god, mind,
> etc., no way of rationalising one's terminology, it is hard to see how
> intellectual progress is possible – in, respectively, the sociology of
> Christmas, the physics of combustion, politics, meteorology, psychology
> (or activity theory), etc. For example, Mike, the new concepts of
> perception forged by Merleau-Ponty, Ilyenkov, Gibson and Bateson, and
> taken up by the extended-mind lobby, are provocative, productive, and
> fascinating intellectual innovations. But they have been – to my mind –
> totally vitiated by being couched in terms of (thus subordinated to)
> such a basically childish and out-of-date folk superstition as 'the mind'.
> When people use the noun /mind/ in the ordinary way in everyday
> circumstances, they mean 'mysterious agent inside people's heads that
> does their thinking for them' or 'mysterious place inside people's heads
> where thinking goes on'. That's how the English noun /mind/ is used in
> colloquial speech. That's what the word means. And you might want to
> say: No, that is not how I use the term /mind./ That would be like
> saying, No, I want /Santa Claus/ to mean 'the spirit of the end-of-year
> holiday period' or something like that. Rather than attempting to attach
> a new meaning to a long-standing English noun, it could be less
> confusing to make up a new word and use that.
> I will try and decide during this holiday period, now upon us, whether
> my participation in these exchanges under the auspices of XMCA (being so
> mistaken about the XM was sobering) is going to benefit anyone. In the
> interim I will re-read Leontyev's 164pp on activity and consciousness,
> to see whether my concept of what activity theory is is/was mistaken.
> DM
> 2008/12/15 Andy Blunden < <>>
> Derek, I would really like an answer to my question too: what do you
> mean by "exist"? If you can't say what "exist" means, then you
> really have to stop talking about things existing (or being real) or
> not (or being fictions or metaphors). On the other hand, if you tell
> us what you mean by "exist," all our disagreements might dissolve
> into trivialities.
> And what about mind extending from the outside in, which is Vygotsky
> & Co.'s idea, quite different from the 'leaky mind' idea?
> Andy
> 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.
> 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.
> 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
> 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
> <>
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
> <>
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
> <>
> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden
> <> +61 3 9380 9435 Skype andy.blunden
> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
> <>

Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 
Skype andy.blunden
Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Dec 14 21:46:50 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Jan 06 2009 - 13:39:39 PST