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

Re: [xmca] further thoughts on layers and stages within socioculturally situated practice

For sure, the paper by Eugene is quite interesting. Below are some passages from the paper Mike just posted, "The Ghost in the Machine: Why and how the belief in magic survives in the rational mind" by Eugene Subbotsky.

A key theme is that scientific and magical thinking co-exist in all individual modern people. This is also the key theme in that 1993 article Mike and Eugene wrote Mike also mentioned the other day. I certainly agree with that theme. Magical thinking is everywhere today. (Even Marxists cuss! LOL) Eugene's paper suggests a number of ways this can be explored scientifically.

One question Eugene's paper raises for me is just exactly what **is** the difference between "magical thinking" and "scientific thinking," two enormous "layers" of human thinking and culture that impact modern people in every way. Eugene suggests they are both forms of **causal** thinking, which I agree with. However, I am perplexed by the way Eugene counterposes science versus magic, and "physical causality" versus "magical causality," in this passage:

Eugene explains "... the ideas associated with science and the ideas associated with magic are conceptual opposites that condition each other. Whenever we think of physical causality, we inevitably (and usually subconsciously) imagine the possibility of its violation, and this violation by definition, is magical causality. For example, we know that in order to erect a building we need to have three components: the wish to erect a building of a certain kind, the materials (concrete, steel and glass) and human labor. When we imagine that the building is erected with one or more of these components absent (i.e., we wished to erect a building and the building appeared), we understand that physical causality has been violated and that we have witnessed the effect of magical causality."

While thinking about "magical causality," its relationship to imagination, and whether magic is the "conceptual opposite" of science, here are some other interesting points Eugene brings up, to give people a feel for the article.

Eugene advocates developing " ... a new discipline: the cognitive- developmental science of magical thinking and magical beliefs in modern humans. This discipline may potentially link together phenomena that thus far have been studied separately from one another ..."

This investigation can help explain things like beliefs in the paranormal, and such things as ...

"... the phenomenal financial success of such magical masterpieces of the entertainment industry as Rowling’s “Harry Potter”, Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and Cameron’s “Avatar”. In the modern industrial world both children and rational adults are tempted by the enchantment of magic, and this temptation is powered by their subconscious magical beliefs."

Eugene suggests:

"The results summarized above suggest a new view on magical beliefs in modern industrial cultures. This view proposes that modern educated adults cannot be divided into those who believe in magic (i.e., superstitious individuals) and those who do not. Rather, everyone is a believer in magic, and individual differences exist only in how deep in the subconscious magical beliefs are buried and how strong the psychological defenses are. Consciously, an individual can consider himself or herself to be a completely rational person and deny that he or she is a believer in magic; subconsciously, the person can still hold the belief in magical causality."

One final passage. Eugene points out that obedience to suggestion and persuasion due to magical thinking may not have changed in modern societies, even if these societies purport to be based on science and rational logic.

"People believed that the pharaohs, kings, priests and other persons of power had a special link with gods and thus possessed the “divine right” to be obeyed. In the course of history, these social phenomena have changed their appearances. In a world where science reigns, they disguised themselves through dropping their “old skin” (the belief in the magical powers of gods and spirits) and taking on a “new skin” (the belief in the powers of society, evolution, and natural selection). On the seat of power, presidents, medical doctors and psychology experimenters replaced kings and priests. However, to a large extent, our impulse to go along with suggestions, to conform and to obey is still powered by the subconscious belief that the commands come from entities with supernatural abilities. Stripped of its original sacred context and renamed suggestibility, ward communicative magic survives in societies that otherwise strictly adhere to science and rational logic (for more on this, see Subbotsky, 2010, Ch. 9)."

- Steve

On Jun 22, 2010, at 10:33 AM, mike cole wrote:

I need time to absorb all that Larry and I may not be alone. Meantime, here
is a paper by
Eugene Subbotsky that he said I could pass along and that he believes
relevant to the issue of
layers and stages. His work is always interesting!

On Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 6:13 AM, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com> wrote:

Mike and others reflecting on layers/stages
I wasn't sure if I should add to your post on definitions and the role of superordinate categories as imlpicated the increasing decontextualization
of formal definitions. I decided I should  start a new thread.
As the article states, the cognitive ability to generate decontextualized
abstract FORMAL definitions is considered a cental ability for
persons into IQ subgroups. Acquiring this ability is often viewed as a hallmark of individual diplays of intelligence and an excellent tool for creating "ability groupings" and people who "lack this innate ability" are
viewed as "lacking" intelligence.
Therefore, if it can be shown that this "ability" is not an individual attribute but rather a culturally valued bias implicit in the sociocultural traditions of formal schooling, it raises fundamental questions about our notions of IQ and what is measured. Every school psychologist as part of there professional education should be required to read AND grasp the ideas in this article. Thank goodness the sociocultural turn in psychology is
challenging the basic assumptions in this cognitive model.

"Developing" decontextualized definitions and abstract ways of thinking
a sociocultural perspective is a matter of practicing generating "formal definitions" in institutional structures which value this particular genre
as a  performance.

This article's focus on the centrality of practice can also be seen as another example that can be used to capture the tension in the various
accounts of the layering/stages antinomy.  If  the culture values
decontextualized ways of thinking then this "ability" will be privileged over more concrete ways of thinking and be labeled as "higher". However, as the article points out previous ways of constructing are not transcended or sublated. Our horizon of understanding expands to include our emerging capacity to use formal definitions as an often more efficient practice especially in the "assembly-line" institutional structures of FORMAL school settings. However, as B. Rogoff reminds us, assembly line practices are not ALL pervasive, even in formal school settings. Other models of learning co-exist with the assembly line practices. However, the dominant structure is formal and the formal tests of vocabulary development capture who are
efficient in these particular situated genres.

In the spirit of considering the layering/stages antinomy I want to discuss another "skill" that is often judged to be foundational for categorizing persons into ability groups and is often theorized as "innate ability".
This "skill" is verbal expression which is of central importance in
American culture. I want to suggest this is another example of American
cultural values [biases], which are historically situated, but are
often theorized as a universal developmental dynamic.  I will be
Suzanne Kirschner's account of "verbal expression" as articulated in her

"The Assenting Echo: Anglo-American Values in Contemporary Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology" (1990) in the journal SOCIAL RESEARCH, vol. 57,

Suzanne's article highlights how Freudian ideas [and ideals] when
transported to North America, are culturally transformed when translated into a new cultural tradition. The hermeneutical process she articulates when giving an historical account of psychodynamic developmental theory in America is another example of the sociocultural embeddedness of all our
theories [including developmental theories]. If one rejects the basic
premises and assumptions of psychoanalytic accounts, then reading an
historical account of how these "invalid" notions could so profoundly
influence cultural notions of development becomes a hermeneutical narrative that highlights how historically situated sociocultural processes develop.

Suzanne points out that American tradition values and  articulates 3
dominate themes when reshaping, reframing and reconstituting developmental theories from an American cultural imaginary. Her article documents the translation of pyschodynamic developmental theory when these European notions were TRANSLATED in America. However, the historical process she articulate in her article specifically for psychoanalytic developmental theory is relevant to the translation of other developmental theories as they are "borrowed" from other cultural traditions and become elaborated in
the American cultural imaginary.

The 3 American values which Suzanne suggests are often implicit in American
versions of developmental theories  are
1) Self-reliance  2) Self-direction and 3) verbal expression.
Suzanne believes these 3 values are central and pervasive in American
cultural imaginaries.  The perceived "lack" in an individual of these
values is often theorized  as an indication of a lack of maturity or
becoming stuck at an earlier developmental stage. By examining the value assumptions implicit in the cultural biases of developmental theories that
posit particular human expressions as  "lacking" in the person's
we can glimpse the pervasive constraints of cultural traditions on our

Suzanne points out the lack of "self-reliance" is viewed as being stuck in
DEPENDENCY.  Takeo Doi a Japanese psychiatrist points out there is a
cultural assumption in America that others can help a person ONLY INSOFAR
THE PERSON HELPS HIM OR HER SELF. To help a child become independent "is probably the single most important goal of American parents" [Kirschner]
overdependence is seen as a lack of development. Developmental progress is
viewed as displaying increasing self-reliance and detachment from
relationships. The goal of development is the achievement of autonomy and the ability to regulate a life of ones own choosing. Suzanne suggests
with this bias to valorize self-reliance is a sense of "separateness" and
"detachment" as one focuses on the capacity to improve ones own life

The 2nd cultural ideal is the developing capacity for SELF- DIRECTION. This cultural ideal assumes one should know what is in ones heart and mind and
that one should make choices and live in accordance with these inner
and feelings. It is by examining the perceived negative qualities of the
LACK of self-direction that the cultural value of "self-direction" is
implicated in our developmental theories. The opposite of self- direction
COMPLIANCE with someone else's desires which distorts, constricts, or
suppresses one's true self. If one is seen as compliant and ones true
becomes inaccessible then development is seen as stuck or "arrested" at an earlier stage of development where one lacks autonomy. Again the hallmark
"lacking autonomy" is being DEPENDENT on others to give direction to ones life. Robert Bellah in "Habits of the Heart" describes "finding oneself"
being faithful to that self in one's lifestyle as central values of
cultural values. [what Bellah calls expressive individualism]

The 3rd cultural ideal which is implicit in developmental theories is the ideal of SELF EXPRESSION. There is a cultural bias to encourage using
language as a means of expressing ones own opinions and feelings.
references Joseph Tobin's study of preschool in 3 cultures [Japan, China, and the United States.] Tobin reported dialogue from an American school in
which the teacher asks
"Do you want juice, Rhonda? Milk? A cracker? What do you want? Don't just keep shaking your head. How am I supposed to know what you want if you
tell me?"
Kirschner points out 2 assumptions implicit in this exchange. 1) Everyone
entitled to freedom of choice and a variety of options 2)You CANNOT EXPECT ANOTHER TO INTUIT OR ANTICIPATE YOUR PREFERENCES - you must state them
explicitly. In other words you cannot DEPEND on another person to
your needs. Takeo Doi in Japan documents a different cultural account of development. In Japan the cultural ideal is to be able to anticipate anothers needs intuitively and it is rude to wait until the other expresses
an explicit need.  In the American context to communicate verbally is

As Kirschner summarizes in her article, these 3 cultural ideals imply a tradition of hyperindividualism which Kirschner traces to the historical
situation of America's radical Protestant heritage and its secular
offshoots. She suggests developmental theories in America have developed
along similar lines in their idealization of the self-regulated and
self-reflective autonomous individual. In the context of our discussion on
layering and stages the idea of layering allows recognition of the
CONTINUING tension between a sense of DEPENDENCY AND INDEPENDENCE and is capable of valueing both sides of the tension. In contrast the concept of stages idealizes one side of the tension and views dependency as a LACK of development. Seeing human needs as "immature" and "lacking" because of being embedded in relations of DEPENDENCY which the person must separate
from has parallels to the account of developing decontextualized
As a psychological tool decontextualization and decentering are ways to
expand a person's horizon of understanding BUT NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF
RECOGNIZING EARLIER WAYS of being at home in the world.

Mike, this is another reflection on the discussion of layers/stages and the
implicit values and judgements within accounts of development.

xmca mailing list

<Ghost in the Machine edited.pdf>_______________________________________________
xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list