[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Re: [xmca] The strange situation
It has occurred to me more than once that LSV does not think the way that we mortals do. So for example I am convinced that the "mix up" on longitude and latitude is not really a mix up at all; LSV just thinks of the lines of latitude as being made of infinitely many points of longitude, and of course that is exactly what they are.
Throughout thinking and speech there is always an implicit contrast between the communicative and the non-communicative (or, to use a word that bothers Martin, the reflective) functions of language. The latter arises from the former, but that is like saying that a man arises from a boy; after a certain point you cannot go home again, because the genetic difference has given rise to a very fundamental structural one.
If we REALLY must look for Saussurean influences, we may find one here. The fundamental structural difference that arises is between a form of language which is basically SYNTAGMATIC, because the main relations are at the same level of generality, and one which is basically PARADIGMATIC, because the main relations cross levels of generality.
It would be a terrible mistake to imagine that Vygotsky places one permanently in a position of domination or superiority over the other. The abstract is an imaginative iteration of the concrete, and the infinite possibilities that it encompasses are no more than possiblities unless they are made concrete.
They are simply different, and interpenetrating, modes of thinking, like the parts of Seoul which are laid out in a grid and those which are laid out helter skelter like a village.
The classroom and the playground are both part of the one and the same school, and the child who moves from one to the other does not require an act of transubstantiation to do so.
You cannot go home again, but you can situate both in a much larger world and then make your home there. After all, every foreign language is also somebody's native language somewhere.
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Tue, 4/6/10, Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Martin Packer <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 6:43 PM
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
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.
xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list