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Re: [xmca] perception/conception etc

I would have a couple of reactions to David's question, which inevitably arises from critique of cultural psychology.

Firstly David, you very pointedly pose your question in the firt person. In the first person, we can talk about our own consciousness as something given; but conversely we can't talk about what we can't articulate or don't know we have, can we? The point is to be able to articulate the experience, to put our consciousness (in the most general sense of my relationship to my environment) into words or images of some kind.

So secondly, if we take it that the question is posed from the point of view of an observer, then the fact that the subject cannot articulate it is not an in-principle barrier.

Artefacts are present in our consciousness whether we have conscious awareness of them or not.

That's my two-artefacts worth.


David H Kirshner wrote:
To put it as a question, what status are we to give to experiences we
have but don't know we have (i.e., can't articulate to ourselves)
because those experiences are not (yet) reified in language?

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
On Behalf Of Martin Packer
Sent: Saturday, July 10, 2010 1:42 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] perception/conception etc


I am having some difficulty following your argument. Let me see if I can
reconstruct what you are saying.

First, you say I am presupposing my conceptions. Yes, I suppose I am. Is
there a way of engaging in debate that does not presuppose conceptions?
Or perhaps your point is that I should be critiquing my conceptions,
albeit necessarily from within? But isn't that what I am doing? I am
critiquing our common assumption that emotion is somehow prior to
Second, you say that one does not know what pain is before one
experiences it. I suppose that is true too, in a narrow sense. Would you
say I do not know what Australia is before I visit it? We need to draw
distinctions between different kinds of knowledge, don't we?
But do I "know" what Australia is after I have experienced it? Surely
yes, but there are many ways to know a continent, and there are many
ways to know pain.
If you are trying to draw a distinction between theoretical knowledge
and practical knowledge, I would certainly agree with you. To call only
the latter "real" knowledge is problematic, however. Even Heidegger,
who, as you know, emphasized the ready-to-hand mode of engagement in
practical activity and was critical of what he called the
pure-present-at-hand of detached contemplation, granted a place for
deliberation and articulation. We could hardly view the book Being &
Time as a practical manual, could we?! Bourdieu himself wrote text upon
text in which he demonstrated his symbolic mastery, albeit with an
ambivalence (especially clear in Homo Academicus) that shows the
problems that come from attributing the status of "real knowledge" only
to practical know-how.

In an earlier message you wrote "we know pain in and through the
experience of pain not because of cultural-historical concepts." It is
not clear to me whether you want to say that we don't know pain because
of culture, or because of concepts. If it is the former, I disagree with
you, as I explained in my last message.
But if it is the latter, my response has to be that it all depends on
what one means by 'concepts,' and this is where we came in, isn't it?
None of us seems to sure what we mean by a concept. The standard
psychological definition is that a concept is a mental representation,
and I certainly agree that the experience of pain is prior to mental
representations. But I presume that a sociocultural approach is aiming
to develop a different conception of concepts. One approach would be to
argue that concepts exist precisely in practical activities, as a mode
of human engagement in the world. (You mentioned Merleau-Ponty, who has
explored this. For M-P, the 'invisible' that is in 'the visible' is the
conception that is always in perception, to put it briefly.) My point
was that what counts as pain, and the way pain is experienced (or love)
is always the consequence of our participation in cultural practices. I
would not rule out the possibility of conceiving of this participation
in terms of concepts, suitably rethought.


On Jul 10, 2010, at 12:57 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

your way of thinking is cultural-historical unsustainable, because you
did not have cultural concepts prior to culture. It is completely
inconsistent of all phenomenological analyses I am aware off that ----
similar to CHAT (Leontyev, Holzkamp) ---- show how anything like
intention, cognition can come about in the first place. You seem to
reason from after the fact but presuppose your conceptions.
And, I beg your pardon, you do not know what pain is before you
experienced it; you do not know what flow is until you experienced it. A
physicist who has never played football may be able to calculate an
approximate trajectory for a ball but never throw a ball
himself/herself. If you were claiming such things, then you are in the
same position as Catholic priests who know what it means to feel things
that they inherently, because of their commitments, never can feel. As
said, you are talking about what Bourdieu calls SYMBOLIC mastery, not
real mastery.

On 2010-07-10, at 10:42 AM, Martin Packer wrote:


I'm afraid that just don't agree with your claim. There is already a
lot of research to show that culture mediates what is taken to be pain,
and how pain is experienced. I will mention again Hoschchild's work. I
recently read a fascinating ethnography of the Jayne, an Indian
religious group that practices extreme practices of self denial. Think
of self flagellation in the Middle Ages. Think of Micky Rourke stapling
himself in the wrestling ring.  Or think of the experience of undergoing
eye surgery. When a doctor inserts a needle into the eye one's reaction
is definitely influenced by the interpretation that the procedure is
intended to be beneficial.
Or on a more positive note, would you claim that the passion of love
is not today mediated, organized, colonized by technologies of romance,
sexuality, eroticism, etc.?

On Jul 10, 2010, at 11:48 AM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

HI Martin,
we know pain in and through the experience of pain not because of
cultural-historical concepts. Same with suffering and other passions.
"Only suffering permits us to know what suffering is" (Henry, 2003, p.
167, my translation). And passions are not intended, they come upon us,
we receive them . . .
We may subsequently talk about them, which means employ cultural
concepts. We may even talk about passions we have not experienced (like
Catholic priests, possibly) but we don't KNOW these passions, we only
have, in the words of Bourdieu, symbolic mastery thereof, not real
All of this to say that there is no primacy of cultural
concept(ion)s, and that is what the history of the phenomenology of
perception would reveal to you. (I am not saying the reverse, that "raw
experience" underlies anything). But you know that Marx talks about
consciousness being the result of life rather than its origin.

On 2010-07-09, at 6:46 PM, Martin Packer wrote:

Sorry, Michael - what precisely is your point?

On Jul 9, 2010, at 7:56 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

PRECISELY my point. What';s the difference between a Japanese (or
Albertan, where I get my chicks from) and Martin Packer? They see a
difference what is the same to Martin. What is different? Well, there
are different gestalts.
I have been watching you all running in circle wondering by myself
why nobody was suggesting to go back to Heidegger and his notion of
apophansis (in Being and Time), and its relation to logos, which, for
the Greeks according to Heidegger, have the same origin. From there I
would go to the phenomenology of perception (Merleau-Ponty, 1945) to
Crossing of the Visible (Jean-Luc Marion, 2004) and Michel Henry (Seeing
the invisible).
Then you would have some answers to the questions raised, thought
through by some interesting philosophers.


On 2010-07-09, at 5:04 PM, Martin Packer wrote:


This is the famous and familiar 'chicken-sexing' phenomenon. Experts
are able to tell the sex of day-old chickens, and can't explain why. The
best chicken sexers come from Japan, where the  Zen-Nippon Chick Sexing
School has 2-year long courses.
But I don't follow your argument. You seem to be saying, since they
can't explain what they do in words, they have no concepts. But they
must have something, so they have percepts.
You are apparently equating a concept with a 'cultural label' that
is 'stuck' on an object, as though we could only recognize a barrel if
it were labelled 'barrel,' if not literally then metaphorically.  That
seems a rather simplistic view of what concepts do. And actually the
chicken sexers do employ cultural labels - as do your fish sorters, I
presume. The chicken sexers say to themselves, 'male chick,' 'female
chick.' They simply can't introspect the characteristics they have
identified which have enabled them to attach the label. Your fish
sorters are saying, 'good fish, 'bad fish,' or something similar.
Obviously these are cultural-historical distinctions, right?

On Jul 9, 2010, at 6:14 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

See, even without the notion of "barrel", you perceive a shape and
do not run into it. This shape, prior to all cultural labels you might
stick to it or recognize it as part of cultural-historical activity, is
some shape that exists for you in your practices. In two papers, one in
Journal of Pragmatics and the other in Social Studies of Science, I
describe phenomena for which there are no words or concepts and yet
people act toward it. For example, fish culturists sort fish. They can't
tell you the difference between the ones that go to the right, down into
the bucket, or into the left channel. They ask you to "just look." So
they can see it, but not tell it. Similarly, in ecological field work,
the participants could see differences but not tell them, that is see
that something is not a rock pile even though the definition of a rock
pile said it was one.

How do you describe or name what they see as difference but for
which there is no concept, no "notion" to name and tell the difference?
In such cases, "percept" may well do the trick. There are two percepts,
they are different, yet there are no cultural-historical concepts to
name, theorize, conceptualize . . .
As you see from the title of one paper, I used the term "perceptual
gestalts" . . . . Don't know whether that resolves your problem, but was
useful and the best solution for me.

Roth, W.-M. (2005). Making classifications (at) work: Ordering
practices in science. Social Studies of Science, 35, 581-621.
Roth, W.-M. (2004). Perceptual gestalts in workplace communication.
Journal of Pragmatics, 36(6), 1037-1069.


On 2010-07-09, at 3:43 PM, Martin Packer wrote:

"Describe" in what respect, Michael?

On Jul 9, 2010, at 4:01 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

Martin, the percept might describe the forms that appear in
perception? What do you think? Michael

On 2010-07-09, at 9:46 AM, Martin Packer wrote:


For me, the question that needs to be answered is why we need to
introduce a new term, "percept." We can all talk about 'perception,' as
an active process of interaction with the world, right? What is gained
when we start to talk about 'percepts,' as though there are some little
entities floating around somewhere? Haven't we turned a process into an
The university has a good selection of DVDs, and I recently
checked out the first season of the cable TV channel Showtime's series
The Tudors, which recounts how Henry VIII's need for a male heir led to
the rupture between England and the Catholic Church. It's not exactly
aiming for historical accuracy, but I was then motivated to check out
Elton's history of the period and it turns out the series does a pretty
good job of touching on most of the important events.
Everyone in the show is a fashion statement, including Cardinal
Wolsey who, as played by Sam Neil, is both cunning and likable. He shows
up each time in a different outfit, wearing a variety of official
headgear, each in that rich cardinal red.
One morning I was fixing breakfast and reached out for the salt
shaker. It's made of transparent plastic with a lid, something we picked
up at the supermarket. But the lid is bright red, and (and here's the
point; thanks for your patience!) as I picked it up, for a second or two
what I saw was a little cardinal.
That seems to me a nice example of what Mike has been exploring,
the active and ongoing character of perception, in which conceiving and
perceiving are intimately linked. I see the object *through* and *in
terms* of a concept (though we're still none to sure what that is!), in
this case the concept of cardinal that had been enriched by watching the
TV show. The process is not entirely within me as an individual, because
the salt shaker did its part.
To me, saying that I "have" a "percept" doesn't help me understand
this process. The percept would be -  what, a little red cardinal? or is
the percept the salt shaker, and I impose a concept of cardinal on it?
but isn't 'salt shaker' a concept too?? Putting all of this stuff inside
the individual leads to an infinite regress, not a satisfactory
explanation (or even description) of what is going on.

On Jul 9, 2010, at 10:43 AM, ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org wrote:

Percept would be preference?  I don't know exactly but people do
operate upon appropriated concepts 100% of the time.  Do they?
children do not.  Currently I am not exactly sure what the
question is
that needs to be answered.

Perhaps the percept in the 'not-wanting-to-listen-to-dylan" for
me would
be I would prefer listening to the radio seeing as he never gets
any air
time or perhaps it would be that I am stuck inside of mobile with
memphis blues again? That certainly is a great question. Others with thoughts/percepts/concepts?


From:   Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
To:     "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date:   07/09/2010 09:14 AM
Subject:        Re: [xmca] perception/conception etc
Sent by:        xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu

OK, Eric let's suppose you woke up this morning not wanting to
listen to
Dylan. What is the percept in that situation? Dylan? His music?
temporary dislike? The fact that yesterday you felt differently?


On Jul 9, 2010, at 8:04 AM, ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org wrote:


I understand your misgivings about placing construction within
this makes sense:  concepts are appropriated from the
arena but percepts are individually based.  My percepts about
music may
run counter to yours and there are even days I don't want to
listen to
Dylan.  However, I have an appropriated concept of music that is

extremely similar to yours. Does this make sense? I know this internal/exteranl debate has raged for years and won't end
anytime soon
but some things do indeed happen within.  I still have to think
that cracking this code between everyday and scietific could
assist in
understanding human development.


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*Andy Blunden*
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Videos: http://vimeo.com/user3478333/videos
Book: http://www.brill.nl/scss

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