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[xmca] Race and Types of Generalization: concepts and pseudoconcepts

My wife just directed me to this link to an article on the
development of racial prejudice/awareness -- "Even Babies

(there is also an interesting audio clip on the page)

I wondered whether the recent conversation about concepts and
pseudoconcepts might have something to add to the question of
racial categorization and development. It might also get at a
more naturalistic sense for how concepts are put to use in
more "naturalistic" settings.

Unfortunately, I don't have time right now to offer much to
stir the waters or to engage in much conversation, so I'll
leave it to others to determine whether there is anything
worth discussing here. Seemed interesting though.


>Message: 1
>Date: Tue, 15 Sep 2009 12:51:57 +1000
>From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
>Subject: Re: [xmca] Types of Generalization: concepts and
>	pseudoconcepts
>To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>Message-ID: <4AAF014D.2070007@mira.net>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed
>Steve, here is Vygotsky commenting on how children play chess:
>"Although initially the investigator's task was to disclose 
>the hidden rules in all play with an imaginary situation, we 
>have received proof comparatively recently that the 
>so-called pure games with rules (played by school children 
>and late preschoolers) are essentially games with imaginary 
>situations; for just as the imaginary situation has to 
>contain rules of behavior, so every game with rules contains 
>an imaginary situation. For example, what does it mean to 
>play chess? To create an imaginary situation. Why? Because 
>the knight, the king, the queen, and so forth, can move only 
>in specified ways; because covering and taking pieces are 
>purely chess concepts; and so on. Although it does not 
>directly substitute for real-life relationships, 
>nevertheless we do have a kind of imaginary situation here. 
>Take the simplest children's game with rules. It immediately 
>turns into an imaginary situation in the sense that as soon 
>as the game is regulated by certain rules, a number of 
>actual possibilities for action are ruled out."
>What do you make of that?
>Steve Gabosch wrote:
>> 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 also 
>> 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 the 
>> formation and enrichment of the concept."
>> Two, I am having difficulty understanding how Sakharov
block solutions 
>> for bik, cev, lag and mur are not "true concepts" in the
way Vygotsky 
>> 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 nonsense words
are arbitrary 
>> and only have meaning to test participants - but that is
the case for 
>> any game.  In chess, for example, rooks and pawns are
"concepts" - yes?  
>> If a rook is a concept, then why not bik, cev, mur and lag?
>> ******************
>> Here are some details on the Sakharov test and its solution
that might 
>> 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, of
>> Perhaps there is a better way to interpret these details.
>> The 22 Sakharov blocks were very cleverly designed.  No two
blocks are 
>> 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)
>> 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 solution 
>> to the challenge of sorting them into 4 logical groups
based on their 
>> 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 blocks 
>> share that has 4 variations.  As it turns out, this is
>> There is no 4*1=4 solution.  That took some serious design
>> 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
>> parameters just mentioned, interestingly, have 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
>> 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 solution 
>> requires not finding one parameter with 4 variations, but
>> **2** parameters that each have **2** variations.  I think
Paula calls 
>> this a dichotomous solution (Paula, do I have the right
word?).  Running 
>> into this principle in the way this test presents it is not
an everyday 
>> occurrence, but the principle is actually very familiar,
for example, to 
>> modern consumers when they compare similar commodities of
>> brands and models for desired (and undesired) features,
prices, etc.  
>> Once one understands this general principle (multiplying
the parameter 
>> variations to figure out the total possible combinations)
and that this 
>> is the way this Sakharov-block puzzle works, the solution
>> completely obvious by just observing the parameters and
counting their 
>> variations.  Since the solution seeks 4 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 the 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
>> determine the different groups just by looking at the 22
>> 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?  (An interesting
question to ask is, 
>> about those that do solve the test - which solve it
>> and which stumble on the solution as just a pseudoconcept?)
>> The question Mike and Paula discussed, and I think David
raised, about 
>> what procedure or methodology does the test-giver use to
guide the 
>> test-taker during the test, is especially interesting. 
Which block do 
>> 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-taker understands and does.  But
here is another 
>> level to look at this from: **what concepts** are guiding the 
>> **test-giver** when they are giving their prompts?  (And if
they are not 
>> being guided by "true concepts," 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 of this
overall concept, 
>> are necessarily concepts as well.  Generalizing, I am
suggesting that 
>> these are "concepts" within this experimentally-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
>> 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-small, tall-large, and tall-small, which are
meaningful concepts 
>> within the game's rules.  These conceptual groups are an
integral part 
>> of that puzzle's internal taxonomy and its overall
conceptual system - 
>> even though this puzzle, in many ways, is just about as
>> rule-based, experimental, arbitrary and trivial as you
could probably 
>> invent and still get children and adults to make sense out
of.  But lots 
>> of cool puzzles are kinda like that.  And this
Vygotsky-Sakharov concept 
>> formation test really is a cool puzzle.
>> Well, that's my argument for calling these nonsense words
>> 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 that 
>>> LSV emphasizes very strongly and consistently the key role
of verbal 
>>> language, and so we ought really want to know more about
exactly how 
>>> 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 use 
>>> in social institutions. This limits the relevance of 
>>> artificial-concept experimental studies in ways that would
not be 
>>> apparent in a 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 
>>> similarity (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
>>> processes, F on changes in the historical institutions
>>> modern), and L on heterogeneity of mediation in relation to 
>>> heterogeneity of actant networks? to understand better how
>>> institutional context and its processes play out?
>>> I left out Wittgenstein, but he may help with an
intermediate scale, 
>>> 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
>>> 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
>>>> Davydov claims that in his analysis of the Sakharov
>>>> 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
>>>> and the general notions derived from everyday life.
>>>> 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 exactly 
>>>> as charged by Davydov. And no-one seems to have noticed!
>>>> Although Paula and Carol are consistent and correct in
>>>> they say in their paper, they err on one occasion only
when they cite 
>>>> Kozulin citing Hanfmann. It is as if people equate
logical use 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
>>>> 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

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>Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, 
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