[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Generality Is Not Abstraction And The Jerkiness Of Development

Dear Paula and David,

I do think that for LSV abstraction and generalization are not the same thing. The proposal that they amount to analysis and synthesis is an interesting one.

It can't be by accident that LSV calls the whole sphere a "system of generality," and refers to longitude and latitude as representing two distinct (but related, of course!) "relations of generality." This implies, to me at least, that 'generalization' is something that the whole system does (and recall that each stage of development - syncretic, complex, concept - is a distinct system). A system of generalization makes possible a series of acts of thought each of which grasps a particular region of the world with a specific kind of unity of abstract-concrete. As thinking moves along, the acts may move in the direction of more abstraction in the unity (if 'more' is the right way of talking about a dialectic), then more concreteness. They will also shift from one region to another.

Let me try to provide an example, never my strong suit. I am thinking about the mold I've found growing under the kitchen sink. One moment my thought is relatively concrete: I am considering the black color and characteristic odor. Then my thought shifts to the water pipe above, a movement on the east-west axis, picking out a new object, a different region of the world. The next thought is of the needs of mould: moisture, dark, a source of food. That's a move both east-west (I'm back to the mold again) and also along the north-south axis, in the direction of more abstraction. I can juggle scientific concepts (when I've had my coffee), so I become more abstract still: musing on the universal necessities to sustain life. Then I become ruthlessly concrete again: which of these necessities am I going to remove in order to vanquish the mold? 

What characterizes each stage in the development of thinking - syncretic, complexive and conceptual - is not just the kind of representation employed - a heap, a complex, a concept - but the kinds of *movements* possible among representations (or rather the acts of thought that employ these representations), by virtue of the character of the "relations" among them. The "measure of generality" is the balance between concrete and abstract in these relations, and concepts (being on a 'larger' globe) make possible movements that include a greater measure of abstraction.  

As Paola has pointed out, in chapter 5, LSV explores the role of both of these aspects, distinguishing them:

"But a concept in its natural developed state presupposes not just the unification and generalization of separate concrete elements of experience, but also postulates the segregation, abstraction and isolation of the individual elements and the ability to regard these segregated, abstract elements outside the framework of the concrete and factual associations which they are given by experience."

He goes on to draw a distinction between complexive and conceptual thinking in terms of the degree of abstraction that is possible in each of them:

"Thinking in complexes turns out to be inept in this respect. It is totally imbued with an excess or an overproduction of associations and a dearth of abstractions. The process of the segregation of attributes in thinking in complexes is exceptionally ineffectual. Meanwhile, as we have said, an authentic concept is dependent on the processes of analysis to the same extent as on the processes of synthesis. Both stratification and assembly, in equal measure, are indispensable internal factors in the building of a concept. "

...and then follows the Goethe:

"Analysis and synthesis, according to Goethe's famous words, assume the existence of the other, like breathing in and breathing out. All this applies in equal measure not just to thinking in general, but to the building of each individual concept as well."

Several points to emphasize here. First, the power of scientific concepts is not simply that they are abstract, but that they *combine* abstraction and synthesis in powerful ways. Second, thinking in complexes and thinking in concepts are both kinds of generalization, but they are qualitatively different in the *kinds* of generalization they make possible. Generalization, in a sense, always synthesizes things, because it treats something specific as an example of a category. When I call this object a "ball" I lump it together with other objects. But generalization can also involve analysis: when I call mold a "life-form" I bring to bear on it a powerful array of analytical distinctions. 

Some time ago, Larry asked this question:

On Apr 15, 2010, at 8:02 AM, Larry Purss wrote:

"My question, and I have no answer,  is when concepts are forming [latitude and longitude coordinates] and  with higher mental functions include an "expanding metaphorical globe" [horizon of understanding] how is the person-in-the-world doing the co-ordinating?"

At the time I was complaining that in chapter 6 LSV sounds too much like Piaget. Now I have a different reading. Where most psychologists assume that a person is a soft machine, a biological computer, operating by forming representations of the world around them, LSV is painting a picture in which forming representations is only ONE aspect of our relationship to the world. Thinking is never unaccompanied by affect, by will, by communication, perception, and so on. Thinking, it is true, works with representations of one's environment. But unlike cognitive psychologists, LSV shows us that this capacity for representation is not innate, it develops. Obviously, then, it is not the only or the primary way that people relate to the world. And unlike Piaget, who proposes that it pops up at the end of infancy, LSV shows that the development of this capacity for representation is quite slow.

Equally importantly, LSV proposes that it is the person who controls the representation, rather than the other way round. In one of the rare places where he writes approvingly of phenomenology, he describes the manner in which a person, in thinking, *moves around* in whatever system of generality they have developed:

"When we name a given concept, for example, “mammal”, we attempt the following: we position ourselves on a determined point on the network of lines of longitude and latitude, we take a certain position in our thinking (mysl), we have obtained an initial point of orientation and we are ready to advance in any given direction from this point. This is shown in the fact that every concept, when it emerges in isolation in the consciousness, forms something like a group of affordances, a group of predispositions to a given movement of thinking (mysl). For this reason each concept is represented in consciousness as a figure on a ground of relations of generality which correspond to it. We discover in this ground the ways of motion that are necessary for our thinking (mysl).... Specific to each operation, such as comparison, differentiation, and establishing identity between two ideas, every judgment and every deduction presupposes a certain structural movement in the network of lines of longitude and latitude of a concept." (David's Meccaci)

This is completely different from a cognitive psychologist's account of children's cognition. For them, *all* psychological function involves representation, just as all the operations of a computer involve representation (so even emotion becomes evaluation of a representation of a situation). What LSV describes is a living, breathing, willing, acting, feeling child who *also* has available a way of conceptualizing the world, and who actively *employs* that system of conceptualization as a tool with which to think, for practical and social purposes.


xmca mailing list