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Re: [xmca] Consciousness, Piaget

Mike, David, all: I have a question about the how some of Ilyenkov's views on thinking and consciousness align with the comments on consciousness that you make, Mike, in your 2006 article, which you linked us to the other day (see post below). Keeping in mind that this article had a more specific purpose, to make the case for the intertwining of phylogeny and culture in human mental life, it nevertheless makes a brief but very interesting point about consciousness itself.

I find myself agreeing with both Ilyenkov, and the observations in this article. But there seem to be some links missing between the two views, which I am puzzling over.

Ilyenkov, for his part, makes it clear that he believes the world of objects is independent of human will and consciousness. In my interpretation of the passages from Problems of Dialectical Logic that David and I have been discussing, Ilyenkov also believes that the **connections** between human thought and the world of objects are independent of human will and consciousness. Furthermore, in Chapter 8 of his book Problems of Dialectical Logic (1974/1977), and in his essay The Concept of the Ideal (1962/1977), Ilyenkov argues that the ideal, that is, ideality (roughly, the social meanings of things) is independent of human will and consciousness as well.

My question is: How do Ilyenkov's claims - or perhaps put another way, **do** his claims - align with Mike's thoughts on consciousness?

Here are Mike's comments about human consciousness in this 2006 article, which seem very reasonable to me:

"A provocative way to think about phylogeny–culture–cognition relations among humans is to consider the combination of processes that appears to be necessary for an adult human to experience a visual image of the world (the same processes presumably apply to images in other sensory modalities but the relevant data are lacking)." p 237

After a very helpful description of human vision processes, (which, after reading this, could be said to be discontinuously continuous and continuously discontinuous!), Mike concludes:

"Following the logic of this line of research on what might be termed ‘‘the components of the visual image” we can conclude that one component is highly specified by factors arising from human beings’ phylogenetic history and one part from the individual’s culturally organized experience, which itself is the residue of the cultural history of the individual’s social group. However, these two sources of experience are not sufficient to provide a coherent image of the object before one’s eyes. Rather, it requires a ‘‘third component,” the active reconciliation or filling-in by active humans seeking to make sense of their experience for an integrated, veridical image of the world to arise and be maintained.

"In addition to its value as a reminder of the tripartite nature of human conscious experience, the stabilized image experiment is valuable in underlining the fact that the causal relations between the brain and culture are bi-directional and that neither constituent of psychological processes is sufficient; the active resolving activity of the human being striving to make sense of the world is a necessary component of normal consciousness as well." p 239.

- Steve

On Sep 3, 2009, at 4:18 PM, Mike Cole wrote:

Your multi-lingualism, as always, David, is very helpful, along with your
broad and close readings.

I am a very late comer to the issues of consciousness, having been raised in
the era when the term
was exorcized by American psychology. You can find my first halting steps at
coming to grips with
the idea in *Cultural Psychology, *in the chapter where I describe the
analysis of question-asking reading that Peg Griffin invented and which I still work with as a teaching tool. There we replace the solid triangle
with a triangle that is "open at the front end" putting time along the
bottom line and having a gap
between the mediated and direct connections between subject and object. That
process of filling that
gap is the process of consciousness. This idea appears in a different
nascent form in analysis of
fixed images on the retina that can be found at
The fixed image data make clear that tripartate nature of HUMAN
consiousness, where discoordination is constituitive of consciousness.
elsewhere i have written about taking the russian term,
voobrazhenie  into-image-making as THE fundamental cognitive act.

All of these involve, I believe,
a) awareness
b) noticing
c) selection
d) potential anticipation

But there are so many more and many different ways of thinking of the
matter. False consciousness is a term I worry about a lot.

Color me self conscious.

On Thu, Sep 3, 2009 at 4:03 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com >wrote:

Tony, Mike:

We translated Piaget's "prise de conscience" as "seizure of consciousness", except that in Korean the verbal noun has the more psychological sense of "grasping" as when you grasp a meaning that you didn't really understand in a phrase that you have heard many times. So, to nominalize, the "prise de conscience" is the "graspture of awareness" or the "rapture of awareness".
Every child is an awareness raptor.

I think that one important thing to grasp here is that "conscience" in French is not really the homuncular "consciousness" we have in English, any
more than it is the obvious false friend, the meaning of a moral
"conscience" that we find in English writings on ethics. It has a number of
OTHER meanings that attracted Vygotsky to Piaget, to wit:

a) awareness

b) noticing

c) selection

d) potential anticipation

It seems to me that all of these can be conceptualized as moments in the passing of the child from a relatively passive, reactive state to a much
more voluntary, volitional one.

Last night, I was re-reading Engestrom's old book "Learning by Expanding", which some of our teachers are busy translating into Korean. In Chapter Five
he does try to tackle the question that I think gives the "prise de
conscience" its real importance, which is the question of whether and at
what point learning is REVERSIBLE--at what point the laying down of
socioculturally accumulated experience becomes the creation of new content
for the next phase of sociocultural progress.

I think Engestrom sees Vygotsky's preliminary considerations of history (which he describes, it seems to me incorrectly, as phenomenological), his laboratory experiments (what Paula and Carol replicated), his empirical classroom observations (Chapter Six of T&S) and his theorizing as moments of a single process which can be REVERSED in order to yield the next, higher phase of expansion. The first process works from outside in, and the second
from inside out.

The problem, it seems to me, is the crisis. the "prise de conscience" is
really a crisis par excellence, and a crisis is by definition NOT
reversible. For example, awareness is not simply the end point of noticing done backwards, nor is noticing the endpoint of attentional selection in
reverse. Obviously, active anticipation requires awareness, noticing,
and attentional selection, but not vice versa.

So the crisis obeys different laws, and we can also expect post- critical development to be different from precritical development in important ways. In physics, a shock wave cannot, by definition, be understood with the same
mathematics we use to describe continuous phenomenon. And the shock
reverberates: if a crisis is generally restructuring, we have to expect that the laws of the next phase of social progress are going to be in some way
fundamentally different.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education


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