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Re: [xmca] Consciousness, Piaget

Mike, it has been troubling me that you never got a satisfactory answer to your repeated question: what is consciousness?

My answer would be to turn to Lenin's infamous "Materialism and Empirio-Criticism"

Lenin explains (and Engels would agree http://.marx.org/archive/marx/works/1886/ludwig-feuerbach/ch02.htm) that the distinction between matter and consciousness is the most basic and first distinction made in philosophy. This does not tell us anything about consciousness or matter, except that you can't say anything more about the meaning of these categories, because to do so would require calling upon other categories, which are thereby placed prior to consciousness, which contradicts the definition just given. They are the "boot-strap" concepts, if properly defined.

Consciousness is what is given to us; matter is what exists outside and independently of consciousness. Further enquiry into the meaning of consciousness can only be a further enquiry into the human condition. Further enquiry into "matter" is called natural science.

Where this leaves us and whether it tells us anything about hos to proceed with a "science of consciousness" I don't know. Whether this claim makes us guilty of "substasntialism" I don't think so. But I can't think of a better answer.

Does that help?

Mike Cole wrote:
The later formulation makes more sense to me steve.
Geraldine. I have never tried to google "consciousness" on xmca, but it
would be most likely an extensive undertaking with a lot of contexts of uses
and meanings. The primordial
nature of human sociality, the being born into culturally mediated social
life seems to me the starting point for human consciousness. Piaget is
certainly not alone in identifying the birth of consciousness with the
semiotic function, but all sort of issues remain unclear about directionalty
of change and, referring to Andy's comments, the issues of borders and
(to name just a few!!).

On Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 2:50 AM, Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com> wrote:

Mike, et al--

I see two problems with the formulation I used about Ilyenkov claiming that
ideality is independent of consciousness and will ...

First, it would have been clearer if I had specified **individual**
consciousness and will, as in a **particular** individual's mentality.
 Ilyenkov explained that ideality as a phenomena occurs as a result of
**social** processes.  According to him, ideality is not just something that
happens inside individual heads.

Second, there is an even more important problem with my formulation - the
way I used the word, "independent," which, used by itself in the context I
put it, is one-sided and misleading.  Ilyenkov puts it much more clearly:

"“Ideality” is, indeed, necessarily connected with consciousness and will,
but not at all in the way that the old, pre-Marxist materialism describes
this connection. It is not ideality that is an “aspect”, or “form of
manifestation” of the conscious-will sphere but, on the contrary, the
conscious-will character of the human mentality is a form of manifestation,
an “aspect” or mental manifestation of the *ideal* (i.e., socio-historically
generated) *plane of relationships between man and nature*."
paragraph 133 of 143 in The Concept of the Ideal
see http://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/ideal/ideal.htm

As a result of this little side discussion on ideality, I found myself
taking another close look at this essay, and have put something together on
it in another post.  Thanks, Mike.

- Steve

On Sep 10, 2009, at 2:35 PM, Mike Cole wrote:

 Steve et al--
I have not been a real part of this discussion because I have been meeting
up-close deadines and trying to read very carefully through Anna Sfard's
book.*Thinks as Communicating. *I also find Ilyenkov very difficult and
have, thus far, only "cherry picked" ideas that seemed to give
voice to intuitions I have had during years of teaching, but could find no
relevant formulations for. So I cannot respond adequately here, Steve, to
your question, although taken in its present context, I find it very
difficult to believe that " ideality (roughly, the social meanings of
things) is independent of human will and consciousness as well." Partly
is because I assume the artificial to be the embodiment to prior human
achieving actions that have
survived to be present in our current activities.

Recently Jay published a review of Anna's book in MCA which is well worth
reading, but
as i work my way through it, her ideas reverberate with the traces of the
current discussion
I am able to grok in passing, or feel like I am "getting."

One of these is her suggestion that a concept is " a word or other
WITH ITS DISCURSIVE USE (my emphasis). That complicates identifying words
and concepts and moves us toward a Wittgensteinian notion of word meaning.

I also think that reading the Davydov materials posted by Andy is
because VVD
was quite critical of Vygotsky's notion of concept.

I am also trying to think about how to extended the into-image-making
"level" of consciousness, which occurs, "behind our backs" (or beneath our
notice) and other forms of
imagination which are clearly linguistically mediated and quite deliberate
-- A book on
"Rational Imagination."

I sure wish there was a way to allign our temporally and geographically
distributed musing
and wonderings. For now, getting the XMCA archive fixed up and stable is
next best step
I can manage.

Thanks to you and David and the others who are doing close readings and
summaries, evaluations, and extrapolations. Keeps the golden ring just
almost within reach.


On Thu, Sep 10, 2009 at 3:38 PM, Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com>

 Mike, David, all:  I have a question about the how some of Ilyenkov's
on thinking and consciousness align with the comments on consciousness
you make, Mike, in your 2006 article, which you linked us to the other
(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
human mental life, it nevertheless makes a brief but very interesting
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
and I have been discussing, Ilyenkov also believes that the
between human thought and the world of objects are independent of human
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,
social meanings of things) is independent of human will and consciousness

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
necessary for an adult human to experience a visual image of the world
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
components of the visual image” we can conclude that one component is
specified by factors arising from human beings’ phylogenetic history and
part from the individual’s culturally organized experience, which itself
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
seeking to make sense of their experience for an integrated, veridical
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
are bi-directional and that neither constituent of psychological
is sufficient; the active resolving activity of the human being striving to
make sense of the world is a necessary component of normal consciousness
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
the era when the term
was exorcized by American psychology. You can find my first halting
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
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.
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

Tony, Mike:

We translated Piaget's "prise de conscience" as "seizure of
except that in Korean the verbal noun has the more psychological sense
"grasping" as when you grasp a meaning that you didn't really
a phrase that you have heard many times. So, to nominalize, the "prise
conscience" is the "graspture of awareness" or the "rapture of
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,
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
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
passing of the child from a relatively passive, reactive state to a
more voluntary, volitional one.

Last night, I was re-reading Engestrom's old book "Learning by
which some of our teachers are busy translating into Korean. In Chapter
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
what point learning is REVERSIBLE--at what point the laying down of
socioculturally accumulated experience becomes the creation of new
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),
laboratory experiments (what Paula and Carol replicated), his empirical
classroom observations (Chapter Six of T&S) and his theorizing as
a single process which can be REVERSED in order to yield the next,
phase of expansion. The first process works from outside in, and the
from inside out.

The problem, it seems to me, is the crisis. the "prise de conscience"
really a crisis par excellence, and a crisis is by definition NOT
reversible. For example, awareness is not simply the end point of
done backwards, nor is noticing the endpoint of attentional selection
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
development to be different from precritical development in important
In physics, a shock wave cannot, by definition, be understood with the
mathematics we use to describe continuous phenomenon. And the shock
reverberates: if a crisis is generally restructuring, we have to expect
the laws of the next phase of social progress are going to be in some
fundamentally different.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education


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