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RE: [xmca] Types of Generalization: concepts and pseudoconcepts
It was in a discussion shortly after San Diego's ISCAR last year that I
asked Steve Gabosch if he had been reading my mind - now I'm about to ask
you the same question because your posting here raises issues that I am
exploring for my PhD!!
I had also wanted to include an element of say, in place of the four groups
cev, bik, mur, and lag, "and", "but", "because" and "although" instead...
And, in another possible scenario, "plus", "minus", "multiply" and
"divide"... But I think, at least at this stage, that my focus on the main
area of my research needs to be maintained. So, perhaps this is an area for
exploration later - or by an intrepid researcher somewhere(!). It is a pity
that I may probably not be including these cases in my immediate research
because the concepts in both sets exemplify the double dichotomy of the
blocks so perfectly.
Peg, I often wondered whether you'd received my letter of grateful thanks
for your involvement in an enterprise of mine a few months ago - your input
enriched it enormously, but I needn't have worried about whether you'd got
my letter or not because you are so very obviously in touch with what I am
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On
Behalf Of Peg Griffin
Sent: 14 September 2009 07:37 PM
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; 'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'
Subject: RE: [xmca] Types of Generalization: concepts and pseudoconcepts
It's just a part of ecological validity (EV), Andy.
Who's to say that the "p" "not p" version of the Wason task is the
genetically primary example of it?
Maybe the retail store task is closer to that.
And maybe the mathematizing of it was a social move for purposes unrelated
to the properties of the task -- maybe to advance the intellectualization of
management, maybe to fortify mathematics, maybe just to build an SES sorting
machine far away from retail clerks' interests.
Here's a little bit on EV:
When you work with a finding from the experimental setting or the school
setting, you know something but there may be more to it.
In general, in non-EV work, you can interpret the "correct" with some degree
of comfort but it is hard to be sure what is going on with the "incorrect."
In non-EV settings, we are unlikely to get at the motives and goals
organizing the subjects -- the whole task -- since the division of labor
with the tester can fudge this beyond observation, recognition, and
And, what you see in the one may not be the "whole" you need or the
interpretation you build may not be the only possible one or the better one.
When your training is non-EV (or vice-versa), transfer or generalization is
not as simple as folks once thought.
So EV research is about the following sorts of explorations:
What can you learn about a theory or an aspect of a theory if you find it
"in the wild."
How are its properties and processes different in more naturally occurring
Do the results of the search and the outcome of more "ecologically valid"
experiments cast doubt on or fortify the theory or different versions of the
So, the post I referenced suggested to me that the blocks experiment might
have an "in the wild" version when the leading activity is trade or capital
consumerism. (Sakharov's telling the subjects the task is about names of
toys of children far away -- that could be a way to try for a play leading
What happens if analogue experiments to the blocks one are built and they
include work (as trade or capital consumerism) as a leading activity?
Will it cast new light on the issues about concepts and how they are grown
and how they differ and how they are used?
Suppose people get "trained up" on the trade/consumerism instance then you
give them "transfer triggers" and then give them the blocks.
How do they do on the blocks after this "priming?"
Do the strategies differ for blocks solvers and consumer solvers?
Do the successful folks in one version differ from those successful in
another version based on individual, group, development, or socio-cultural
aspects of their life experience?
Then, do any of the outcomes help with how you theorize, how you interpret
others' theories, and how you practically work for success for more people
in a more just world?
I think it was the man I referenced, D'Andrade, who likened his work to
doing geology in the midst of a rock slide. (Mike will know who originated
Ecological validity is a little niche to jump into and keep our heads about
us for a bit.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
> On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
> Sent: Monday, September 14, 2009 4:50 AM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Types of Generalization: concepts and
> Fascinating area of research, Peg. I had to use Google books
> to figure out what the hell you were talking about!
> My only reaction is this: the blocks experiment was
> deliberately designed to isolate the tasks from any
> realistic references which could tap into life experience.
> That was necessary for the "testing" rationale of the
> experiment. But by isolating the sensuous content of the
> experiment from any meaningful life experience, they make it
> difficult for any conceptual thought to enter into the
> process. You really have to be a mathematician to get
> anything out of it.
> But I'm still not quite sure what you were driving at, Peg.
> Peg Griffin wrote:
> > Steve or Andy wrote: " the principle is actually very familiar, for
> > to modern consumers when they compare similar commodities of
> > brands and models for desired (and undesired) features, prices, etc."
> > So, the D'Andrade type experiment is just waiting to be done! (In
> > D'Andrade's variation on Wason?s selection task, the scenario
> involves a
> > task for a clerk at a department store deciding about which checks
> needed to
> > be turned over to check if the supervisor had signed off on it.)
> > Anyone do it yet?
> > PG
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From: email@example.com [mailto:xmca-
> >> On Behalf Of Steve Gabosch
> >> Sent: Saturday, September 12, 2009 11:05 PM
> >> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> >> Subject: Re: [xmca] Types of Generalization: concepts and
> >> pseudoconcepts
> >> Andy, thanks for your response to Davydov on concept formation and
> >> efforts to get us to read Davydov, Vygotsky, Sakharov, etc. It has
> >> certainly been effective in my case. And Jay, your comments have
> >> been very helpful.
> >> Two questions on your essay, Andy.
> >> One, what do you mean by "an absolutely non-empirical social factor"
> >> when you say: "The transition from complex to concept is a
> >> and complex process, but one which necessarily involves a complex
> >> leap, in which absolutely non-empirical, social factors enter into
> >> formation and enrichment of the concept."
> >> Two, I am having difficulty understanding how Sakharov block
> >> for bik, cev, lag and mur are not "true concepts" in the way
> >> used the term. A taxonomy formed out of formal rules can be a true
> >> concept, yes? The Sakharov block test is really just a puzzle where
> >> you have to figure out the taxonomic classification system by
> >> observing the visible attributes of the blocks and figuring out the
> >> only one that can be put into four logical groups. Yes, the
> >> words are arbitrary and only have meaning to test participants - but
> >> that is the case for any game. In chess, for example, rooks and
> >> are "concepts" - yes? If a rook is a concept, then why not bik,
> >> mur and lag?
> >> ******************
> >> Here are some details on the Sakharov test and its solution that
> >> help visualize this question of whether the solution groups to the
> >> test are themselves "true concepts". In discussing details to the
> >> solution to the test the way I do, I am arguing that the solution
> >> groups are "true concepts." I am willing to be corrected on this,
> >> course. Perhaps there is a better way to interpret these details.
> >> The 22 Sakharov blocks were very cleverly designed. No two blocks
> >> exactly alike. They are comprised of 6 different colors, 5
> >> geometric shapes, 2 different heights (tall and flat) and 2
> >> sizes (large and small). There would be 120 (6*5*2*2=120) different
> >> blocks altogether if a full set of blocks were created out of these
> >> parameters. The 22 that were selected have the interesting
> >> characteristic of having one and one only possible rule-based
> >> to the challenge of sorting them into 4 logical groups based on
> >> physical attributes.
> >> Since there are 4 groups that these 22 blocks are going to fall in,
> >> one's first impulse is to look for a single parameter that all
> >> share that has 4 variations. As it turns out, this is impossible.
> >> There is no 4*1=4 solution. That took some serious design
> >> forethought. There are not even any clever, obscure alternative
> >> solutions along these lines.
> >> In one of Paula's earlier papers, she reports on a child who, after
> >> deciding that neither color nor shape would work as solutions, began
> >> counting numbers of **sides** of the blocks to see if **that**
> >> parameter fell into 4 groups. It doesn't - they fall into 5 groups.
> >> That little inspiration got me me to try to come up with some other
> >> way of grouping the blocks into 4 logical groups by seeking unusual
> >> parameters, such as numbers of angles, numbers of two-surface
> >> intersections, numbers of three-surface intersections. However, no
> >> single parameter I have come up with has has only 4 variations. (As
> >> an aside, most of these parameters just mentioned, interestingly,
> >> 5 variations - the reason being that all the 6 different geometric
> >> shapes have different totals of these unusual parameters except the
> >> square and trapezoid, which have the same number of these - so
> >> consequently, the total of 5 keeps reappearing).
> >> I don't think it is a coincidence that there are no alternative
> >> solutions. I am guessing that Sakharov very deliberately designed
> >> these blocks to avoid that distraction. This is part of this test's
> >> very clever design.
> >> What makes this test a puzzle even to most adults is that the
> >> requires not finding one parameter with 4 variations, but combining
> >> **2** parameters that each have **2** variations. I think Paula
> >> this a dichotomous solution (Paula, do I have the right word?).
> >> Running into this principle in the way this test presents it is not
> >> everyday occurrence, but the principle is actually very familiar,
> >> example, to modern consumers when they compare similar commodities
> >> different brands and models for desired (and undesired) features,
> >> prices, etc. Once one understands this general principle
> >> the parameter variations to figure out the total possible
> >> combinations) and that this is the way this Sakharov-block puzzle
> >> works, the solution becomes completely obvious by just observing the
> >> parameters and counting their variations. Since the solution seeks
> >> groups, and since there are no 4*1=4 solutions, the one and only
> >> possible other solution would be to find a 2*2=4 way of assembling
> >> groups together. And wallah! There the solution is, plain as day
> >> once you see it - tall/flat and large/small.
> >> In theory, if one understands this principle clearly, one could
> >> determine the different groups just by looking at the 22 blocks,
> >> counting and calculating the parameters and their variations by eye,
> >> and do so without picking up a single block. However, since the
> >> nonsense words are arbitrarily assigned, it would still be necessary
> >> to pick up a block in each of 3 different groups to determine the
> >> precise names that correspond to each group. There probably are
> >> people who could figure this all out just by staring at these blocks
> >> and arriving at this reasoning, but they would have to be a pretty
> >> experienced puzzle solver to do that in one shot, I would think.
> >> However, there are many very bright people associated with this list
> >> anyone solved or seen the test solved in "one shot," so to speak?
> >> interesting question to ask is, about those that do solve the test -
> >> which solve it **conceptually**, and which stumble on the solution
> >> just a pseudoconcept?)
> >> The question Mike and Paula discussed, and I think David raised,
> >> what procedure or methodology does the test-giver use to guide the
> >> test-taker during the test, is especially interesting. Which block
> >> they overturn under what circumstances to show the test-taker the
> >> error of their ways during the test, and what other "hints" and
> >> "prods" to they provide as the test proceeds? (The younger the
> >> child, the more creative prods are needed, from what Paula's
> >> reports!) This question is interesting on two levels. One,
> >> obviously, relates to how these prompts influence what the test-
> >> understands and does. But here is another level to look at this
> >> **what concepts** are guiding the **test-giver** when they are
> >> their prompts? (And if they are not being guided by "true
> >> then what are they being guided by?)
> >> My point in going into all this detail is to suggest that this
> >> parameter-counting principle is a concept, (or combination of
> >> concepts), and that the solution groups, which themselves are
> >> organized according to this principle, being completely derivative
> >> this overall concept, are necessarily concepts as well.
> >> I am suggesting that these are "concepts" within this
> >> designed system in the same sense that the numbers 1, 2 and 3 are
> >> "concepts" within the number system.
> >> Bik, cev, lag and mur, according to this reasoning, are the made-up
> >> names for specific concepts and are arbitrarily assigned - as are,
> >> ultimately, all words for the things they correspond to. In this
> >> game, these four nonsense words correspond to the concepts flat-
> >> flat-small, tall-large, and tall-small, which are meaningful
> >> within the game's rules. These conceptual groups are an integral
> >> of that puzzle's internal taxonomy and its overall conceptual system
> >> even though this puzzle, in many ways, is just about as artificial,
> >> rule-based, experimental, arbitrary and trivial as you could
> >> invent and still get children and adults to make sense out of. But
> >> lots of cool puzzles are kinda like that. And this Vygotsky-
> >> concept formation test really is a cool puzzle.
> >> Well, that's my argument for calling these nonsense words "true
> >> concepts" in the Vygotskyan (not necessarily the Davydovian) sense.
> >> Thoughts?
> >> - Steve
> >> On Sep 11, 2009, at 1:14 PM, Jay Lemke wrote:
> >>> A small follow-up, having now read at least Andy's comments on
> >>> Davydov, if not the Davydov itself.
> >>> I would agree very broadly with what Andy says, and highlight one
> >>> point and note one that is perhaps underemphasized.
> >>> Maybe it's because of Davydov's view, but it seems clear to me
> >>> LSV emphasizes very strongly and consistently the key role of
> >>> language, and so we ought really want to know more about exactly
> >>> the ways in which children and early adolescents use verbal
> >>> languages changes as they come to mediate their activity more along
> >>> the lines we might call acting-with-true-concepts.
> >>> What struck me as very important, that Andy emphasizes (and Davydov
> >>> also?) is that the development of true concepts depends on their
> >>> in social institutions. This limits the relevance of artificial-
> >>> concept experimental studies in ways that would not be apparent in
> >>> more purely cognitive science paradigm (or old fashioned empirical-
> >>> concept ideology), because the similarity to natural true concepts
> >>> is only logical-formal, and not also social-institutional. A lot of
> >>> my own students tend to get this wrong, because they identify the
> >>> social with the interpersonal, such that there is still a
> >>> (in the micro-social milieu of the experiment itself as a social
> >>> activity). But not at the macro-social institutional level.
> >>> And here perhaps is also a clue to my query about how the modes of
> >>> mediation differ across the historical cases (Foucault), the cross-
> >>> cultural cases (Levi-Straus), the post-modern cases (Wittgenstein,
> >>> Latour), and even the everyday true concept vs. formal scientific-
> >>> mathematical true concept cases. The difference arises in and from
> >>> the institutional differences. Could we perhaps combine LSV's
> >>> insights into how this works in the developmental case (changes in
> >>> the social positioning of the child/adolescent), L-S on the
> >>> functioning of mytho-symbolic mediated activiity in rituals and
> >>> social structuration processes, F on changes in the historical
> >>> institutions (medieval-early modern), and L on heterogeneity of
> >>> mediation in relation to heterogeneity of actant networks? to
> >>> understand better how this institutional context and its processes
> >>> play out?
> >>> I left out Wittgenstein, but he may help with an intermediate
> >>> not the large social institutions, but the game-like activities of
> >>> which they are composed.
> >>> I'll be looking at Davydov to see what he offers in these terms.
> >>> JAY.
> >>> Jay Lemke
> >>> Professor (Adjunct)
> >>> Educational Studies
> >>> University of Michigan
> >>> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> >>> www.umich.edu/~jaylemke
> >>> On Sep 11, 2009, at 5:51 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
> >>>> I have prepared a response to Davydov's book, but it is 4,000
> >>>> words, so I have attached it in a Word document. But here is a
> >>>> synopsis.
> >>>> Davydov claims that in his analysis of the Sakharov experiments,
> >>>> Vygotsky fails to demonstrate any real distinction between a true
> >>>> concept and an abstract general notion (what is usually and
> >>>> mistakenly taken for a concept in non-Marxist thought).
> >>>> I claim that he has a point, but Vygotsky is guilty only of some
> >>>> unclarity and inconsistency in his language, and makes the
> >>>> distinction very clear. And Davydov should pay more attention to
> >>>> what Vygotsky says about the relationship.
> >>>> Davydov works with a mistaken contrast between scientific concepts
> >>>> and the general notions derived from everyday life. Scientific
> >>>> concepts are by no means the only type of true concepts and
> >>>> everyday life is full of concepts.
> >>>> Nonetheless, Davydov has a point. It is evident that Sakharov, the
> >>>> author of the orignal, oft-cited report evidently is guilty
> >>>> as charged by Davydov. And no-one seems to have noticed!
> >>>> Although Paula and Carol are consistent and correct in everything
> >>>> they say in their paper, they err on one occasion only when they
> >>>> cite Kozulin citing Hanfmann. It is as if people equate logical
> >>>> of generalized empirical notions with conceptual thought, never in
> >>>> their own words, but only by means of citing someone else's words.
> >>>> I think this is the legacy of a lack of clarity in Vygotsky's
> >>>> brilliance.
> >>>> 4,000 words attached. And apologies for not entering the
> >>>> of Paula and Carol's paper earlier, but I was not clear in my own
> >>>> mind on these problems, and Davydov helped me get clear. Better
> >>>> late than never!
> >>>> Andy
> >>>> http://www.marxists.org/archive/davydov/generalization/
> >>>> http://home.mira.net/~andy/works/concept-really-concept.htm
> >>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------
> >> ----
> >>>> Andy Blunden (Erythrós Press and Media) Orders:
> >> http://www.erythrospress.com/store/main.html#books
> >>>> <concept-really-
> >>>> concept.doc>_______________________________________________
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