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Re: [xmca] Consciousness

----- Original Message ----- From: "David Kellogg" <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>
To: <mcole@weber.ucsd.edu>; "xmca" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 2:39 AM
Subject: Re: [xmca] Consciousness

Some of us in Seoul are quite sympathetic to the idea that the higher psychological functions can be derived root and branch from mediated activity, and others are more skeptical. It seems to the skeptics (including me) that to say that the higher psychological functions have emergent properties is to say they are not reducible to the elements of subject, object, and mediational means.

In an analogous way, it seems to me that one of the things that Vygotsky is saying is that consciousness itself isn't just a root or a branch; it's not just one of many higher psychological functions (e.g. logical memory, conceptual thinking, and so on). The seizure of power by consciousness restructures all the other functions in its own image, and this restructuring is not symmetrical or reciprocal.

That's what I get out of LSV's criticism of Piaget's remark on the nonsystematicity of child thinking at the end of Chapter Six. Nonsystematicity of thinking isn't one amongst many traits of child thinking, because systematicity has the potential to transfer all of the other traits and remake them in its image. When a branch becomes a trunk, we don't call it a branch anymore. When the stone that is discarded by the builders becomes the cornerstone, we're going to get an entirely new structure.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education


I've been puzzling over the supposed "Shakespeare" reference on p. 220 for some time: "To paraphrase Shakespeare, much opens up here of which 'even wise men have not dreamed'." Where did Shakespeare say THAT?

In Hamlet, of course!

Seve's translation: "Before coming to a schematic description of this process and in anticipation of the results of the exposition which must follow, let us speak of the fundamental, directing idea that this study must develop and explicate. This central idea can be expressed in a general formula: the relationship of thought to word is not a thing but a process; it’s a movement from thought to word or inversely from word to thought. This relationship appears in the light of psychological analysis as a process of development. Of course it is not a matter of development determined by age but instead of a functional development, and the movement of thinking which goes from the idea to the word is a development. The thought does not express itself in the word but realizes itself in the word. That is why we can speak of a becoming (a unity of being and non-being) of thought in the word. All thinking tends to unite one thing with another, to establish relations between things. All thinking has a movement, an unrolling, a development, and in brief all thinking fulfills a certain function, carries out a certain work, and resolves a certain problem. This unrolling of thinking operates in the form of internal movement across a whole series of planes, a passage from the thought in the word to the word in the thought. In this way the whole first task of an analysis which gives itself as an object the relationship between thinking and the word as a movement of thinking to word consists of studying the phases through which this movement is effectuated, to distinguish the diverse planes through which thinking passes when it is incarnated in the word. The researcher discovers here “more things than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, as Shakespeare said."

There are doubtless more things in this paragraph than the wise men and women of SNUE will dream of next week (when we discuss it), but it seems to me we can distinguish at least four linked "planes" through which Vygotsky's thinking is passing.

a) Vygotsky says that the transition from word to thought is really a two way street. Of course, he means reception and production, speaking and listening, reading and writing. These ARE mutually determining, internally linked, elements of a relationship—but this does NOT mean that they are exactly the same, that speaking is simply listening backwards, or that reading is the reverse engineering of writing. If that were true, it would be otiose for Vygotsky to speak of the relationship twice, as word to thought AND as thought to word. As we will see, speaking and listening develop quite differently: one from part to wholes and one from whole to parts. So it is not at all a matter of simply reversing one process (a la Piaget) to obtain the other.

b) Vygotsky says that the development of thought into word is a process, but it is not an age related process. Of course, he recognizes that this process is different at different ages. What he is saying is that the process of ontogenetic development is different from the process of microgenetic development. We saw that ontogenetic development occurs through the “generalization of generalizations”, through the emergence of concepts from complexes. But this process is not repeated when we speak; the product of ontogenesis is included in the process of microgenesis in the form of word meaning.

c) BECAUSE the product of ontogenesis is include in the process of microgenesis in the form of word meaning, it often seems to us that our words come out of nowhere at all, that they are somehow already formed when we think (or even BEFORE we think, in the case of what Wray calls “formulaic language”!) But in fact what really happens is that in microgenesis the process of thinking is only fully realized, fully completed, fully embodied in the word. This means that the process of putting thoughts into words is really a process of BECOMING, exactly like the process of concept emergence described in Hegel’s Logic, i.e. a unity of being and non-being.

d) As in Hegel’s Logic (and as in the example of ontogenetic emergence of concepts) it travels through several planes. These planes are not identical to the planes that the concept travelled through in ontogenesis; they cannot be the same process because they are themselves the products of ontogenesis. Yet we can expect them to show some traces of their origins, and therefore the process as a whole may show an affinity with ontogenesis.


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