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Re: [xmca] The strange situation

Whoa!! gotta print and read,
Martin. But ALL-- could you check out the article at

Not a school. But what sort of concepts (modes of interpretation if you
prefer michael r!) are mediating this activity??

On Tue, Apr 6, 2010 at 6:43 PM, Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu> wrote:

> A little while ago David Kellogg suggested that when LSV refers to
> "scientific concepts" they "are simply the type of concepts that are found
> in classrooms." I replied that I thought LSV was hunting bigger game: he was
> trying to show how children develop the capacity to think scientifically.
> Now, after doing some more homework,I think that both David and I are
> correct. On my reading of chapter 6 of T&L, LSV would like to show that SC
> are not just a new way of talking (and thinking), but a deeper, more
> adequate way, one which grasps the essence of reality. What he does succeed
> in showing is that in many ways - perhaps every way - learning SC is like
> learning a new language. He presents this as an analogy and insists that it
> not be pressed too far. But the only difference that he identifies between
> SC and a new language is that instruction in a second language does not
> introduce a new system of meanings, while instruction in SC does. SC differ
> from EC (everyday concepts) he suggests, because the latter lack a system.
> But he is quite inconsistent here, at times saying that SC have a system and
> EC do not while at other times writing of "the system" of complexes. What he
> seems to settle on is that each of the "structures of generalization" (i.e,
> syncretic heaps, complex, preconcepts or pseudoconcepts, and scientific
> concepts) has its own distinct kind of system. It is worthwhile taking a
> look at this proposal in more detail.
> The way LSV suggests we think about what he calls the "system of
> generality" of each of the "stages" or "structures of generalization" is in
> terms of the metaphor of the globe, with its lines of longitude and latitude
> (p. 226). (As David pointed out last year, he seems to have the two terms
> backwards, so I'm going to try to avoid repeating this minor error.)
> LSV argues that each stage involves a different way of generalizing,
> different "relations of generality" that define a "system of generality,"
> and that in turn this makes possible different acts (or "operations") of
> thought in each stage. ("As the relationships of generality change with each
> new structure of generalization in the process of development, they elicit
> changes in all the operations of thinking accessible to the child" p. 228.)
> The system of generality as a whole is represented by the globe. We should
> think of concepts (and here LSV is using the term, confusingly, to refer to
> the kind of generalization specific to each structure) as organized on its
> surface, and so as characterized by two dimensions, longitude and latitude.
> Together, he writes, these two dimensions describe "both" the act of
> thinking and the way reality is grasped in the concept (p. 227). These two
> aspects - the act of thinking, and the way reality is grasped - are, he
> writes later, the "function" and "structure" of thinking at each stage (p.
> 234). These "relationships of generality" are "the two basic features that
> characterize the concept," and they define the specific relations of
> generality that hold among all the concepts of a particular stage.
> The phrasing here is somewhat ambiguous, at least in Minick's translation.
> Do the two coordinates, longitude and latitude, *correspond* to the act of
> thought and the grasp of reality respectively? Or do they "together" somehow
> "represent both" these two in a more indirect way? I have gone back and
> forth a couple of times, but having drawn on David's helpful combined and
> annotated translation, I think it is the former. North-South *is* "the act
> of thought." East-West *is* the way reality is grasped.
> For example, David gives us this from Meccaci: "In this way the longitude
> of the concept characterizes in the first place the nature of the act of
> thinking itself, of the very apprehension of the object in the concept from
> the point of view of the unity of the concrete and the abstract which is
> found in it. The latitude of a concept characterizes in the first place the
> relation of the concept with the object, the point of application of the
> concept to a determined point of reality."
> It needs to be said that the origins of these two aspects that define any
> concept are somewhat unclear, to me at least. I've called them "act of
> thought" and "grasp of reality," but LSV uses a variety of phrases, as this
> quote from Meccaci illustrates. The first is also "the operation of
> thinking," and "that through which" the concept grasps an object. The second
> is also the "point of application" of the concept to the object; how a
> concept "picks out a particular point of reality"; the way the object "is
> represented in the concept"; "the relationship of the concept to the
> object"; the "relationship between the concept and the object."
> However they are phrased, these two aspects seem to bear a striking
> resemblance to what Husserl called "noema" and "noesis" (from the Greek word
> for mind).  Husserl proposed that any intentional act (e.g., an
> object-directed perception, or an act of thought) has two components. They
> define two poles of intentional consciousness, roughly speaking the object
> directed towards (noema) and the directing act (noesis). The object may be a
> physical object, a word, a mathematical entity, another act of
> consciousness, etc. Noesis gives sense (Sinn) to the noema (and there is a
> Fregean reading of Husserl). If this is a correct parallel, LSV is saying
> that thinking (which we know is always a generalization) is the application
> of a concept to a specific object (a "determined point of reality") so as to
> grasp it in a particular manner. As one moves North-South, the unity or
> balance of abstract and concrete in this grasp changes. As one moves
> East-West, the point of application shifts.
> At this point LSV sounds not only like Husserl, but also very like Piaget,
> and very like Kant, but I'm going to put aside for the time being the
> concerns that these similarities raise for me. I will point out, though,
> that LSV criticizes Piaget for being too focused on the structure of
> generalization and for assuming that the functions are unchanging. I am not
> sure this criticism applies to the later Piaget. Just as David predicts that
> some day we will find Vygotsky's marked up copy of Hegel's Phenomenology, I
> predict that one day we will find Piaget's marked up copy of Thought &
> Language. Piaget's later distinction between mental actions, concrete mental
> operations, and formal mental operations is surely a distinction among the
> functions of thought, of just the kind that in chapter 6 LSV insists we must
> look for.
> Let's return to the system(s) of generality. The concept's position in
> terms of the two coordinates on the surface of the globe is what LSV calls
> its "measure of generality." Its position on a North-South line represents
> the character of the "act of thinking," specifically the way such an act
> combines abstract and concrete. I am going to reverse David's reading and
> define the North pole as the abstract, since LSV usually writes of the
> abstract as above and the concrete below, and (apologies to Andy) we usually
> consider North to be above and South below. A concept at the South pole,
> then, is an unmediated, concrete, sensual grasping of an object which is
> undifferentiated from other objects. A concept at the North pole is the most
> general, abstract concept possible. In between (N-S), every concept contains
> both abstract and concrete aspects, in a unity. (We will see that this
> implies that as the child moves from one stage or structure of
> generalization to the next, from syncretic heaps to complexes to concepts,
> their globe becomes larger.) At the same time, the position on an East-West
> line reflects the fact that a concept can be applied to a wide variety of
> different points of reality.
> The metaphor is a fruitful one. LSV describes our consciousness of a
> concept as of a figure against a ground, where the ground is the whole globe
> (p. 227). He also suggests that thinking is movement around the surface of
> the globe: a series of acts of thought, and at the same time a series of
> graspings of reality. The possible paths of thought will be picked out on
> the ground that is this surface of the globe. Thought moves from one concept
> to an "equivalent" concept, or it moves North to a more abstract concept
> then back South to a more concrete one.
> From one stage to another, however, the relationships of generality among
> concepts are qualitatively distinct, and so each stage must be represented
> by a globe in which the lines of longitude and latitude are defined
> differently. (Let's say they are drawn in different colors.) LSV goes into
> some detail about the kinds of relationship that characterize each stage,
> but I won't try to reconstruct that here.
> Furthermore, each stage builds on the previous one. Each involves a new
> kind of generalization, but this will be a generalization of the previous
> generalizations. This "self-movement" means there are "internal connections"
> among the stages (p. 229). The stages, LSV writes, should be seen as "a
> spiral based on a series of connected and ascending circles" (p. 229).
> Ascending towards what? Towards the abstract: each stage of generalization
> combines the abstract and the concrete, but there is more abstract, so to
> speak, available in the later stages than in the earlier ones. We should
> visualize the ontogenetic spiral as a globe that grows in size with each
> stage. The distance between North and South poles is greater with each
> stage, as the North pole ascends each time. (NB: I would love to say that
> the ascension is towards the concrete, but this seems to fly in the face of
> LSV's observation that infants grasp reality in a solely concrete and
> sensual manner.)
> So each stage has its system. Although SC have a system that is
> qualitatively different from the system of EC, it is *not* a "completely
> new" system of meanings, but a restructuring of what already exists. In just
> the same way, learning a  second language involves a restructuring of ones
> native language. On the basis of chapter 6 we cannot rule out the
> possibility that instruction in science is no more than learning a new
> language. One that is more explicit and disciplined in its definitions, for
> sure, but at root no more than a new way of talking (and thinking). I think
> LSV wanted to go a step further.
> Martin
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