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Re: [xmca] Dialogue on Concepts Part 1 Released!

I want to point out that none of this--NONE of it--would have gotten off the drawing board without Paula and her brilliant (re)presentation of the blocks experiment and presentation of completely new evidence on Vygotsky's OWN ambivalence about his OWN block experiment results.
I mention this for two reasons. First of all, Paula in her uneffaceable modesty tends to efface her own contribution (by, among other things, attributing the idea to Andy and ignoring that the execution, from the first presentation to the technical mixing of the other two presentations, was entirely her own). 

Secondly, it's a very dense piece of work and demands a lot of multi-tasking on the viewer's part (in addition to non-redundant text in audio and in video form there are Paula's playful graphics). Even (especially) the most musical mind can take in only so many notes in the evening, and so it's easy to simply forget Paula's overture and only cling to the ripping arias at the end of the evening ("Comtessa, perdone! Perdone! Perdone!" "Piu dolce io sono...et dico di si....")
That is, alas, how operas and conversations work; we uptake the last thing we heard rather than the first. Languages have evolved to put the hearer salient information last for precisely that reason, and this is one reason why even English, one of the more reactionary holdouts of the linguistic family, is evolving relentlessly towards the topic-comment structure that Asian languages discovered and perfected so long ago.

Having said all that, I'm going to uptake the last three things I heard: Monica's comment on the possiblity of other concepts, Larry's remark on the role of the distal in concept formation, and Mike's wish to see research into the possiblity of developing true concepts outside of schools. With any luck, I might be able to connect this with what I take to be Paula's central point, which is that the key feature which distinguishes Chapter Five concept formation from Chapter Six concept formation is the absence and then the presence of a system.
Larry remarks that objectivity and distance, secondary as opposed to primary intersubjectivity, is a key factor in the development of the concept. I think I would say that it is necessary but insufficient. It's necessary because for the infant there is no clear functional need to take up the indicative (pointing) function in place of the ostensive (holding) function without spatial distance, and there is no clear functional need for the toddler to take up the denominative function in place of the indicative function without distance. 
But Vygotsky keeps reminding us that functional explanations are not explanations at all: "we developed language because we needed it to survive" gives us the WHY but not the HOW, and it's a little like explaining the flight of the cannonball by the aim of the gunner. I think that distance gives us the functional reason for developing indication over ostension and denomination over indication and signification (concepts) over denomination (complexes, to use Chapter Five lingo). 
Distantiation is insufficient because it just gives us generalization, and not objective analytical abstraction. If I see a speck on the horizon, I have a great deal of distance, and I might want to use "that speck on the horizon" to refer to it, but I do not need a concept (either a true concept or a science concept) to do this. Only certain kinds of activities (and many of these occur in laboratories and classrooms) combine both distance and objective, analytical abstraction necessary for science concepts (I think true concepts, including "furniture" and "food", are another matter). 
Mike and Monica raise the extremely important issue of whether science concepts ONLY occur in laboratories and classrooms. I think the answer to this question really MUST be no, or else we cannot explain how concepts get into laboratories and classrooms in the first place. But for most of us, including me, the answer has got to be yes, because we need the system in place before we can place the concepts in it properly. 
Claude Lorrain was the first person to paint the sun in a realistic canvas; this was supposed to be impossible, because you couldn't actually look at it, and the idea was that nothing can be realistically painted without direct contemplation. But Claude was clever enough to realize that nothing is ever directly painted in the first place; as Mike says, all ideas, complexes, concepts, and even raw objects, are heavily mediated, but they are mediated in different ways. 
(I think in this remark Mike actually explains why "mediation", which is an absolutely central concept in Mead and in Luria and even in many places in Vygotsky, hardly occurs at all in the pages of "Thinking and Speech". Vygotsky must have realized that "mediation" was one of those concepts that explains everything, and as a result distinguishes nothing, and cannot be used to distinguish preconceptual from conceptual thinking.)
Claude painted the system first: the way in which the sun illuminates the sea, the buildings, the trees and the faces of St. Ursula. Then he gradually moves towards the setting sun, increasing the illumination and reducing the color. On the very edge of the horizon, where the sun is dipping into the sea, he leaves the canvas entirely blank, and in the gesso plaster that he used to ground the canvas, the mind creates the concept of the sun.
Claude was a baker, though, and he was largely self-taught (his experiences in the academy were, for the most part, disastrous). So what was really necessary for Claude's great discovery was not schooling but system. For most of us, that means a small culture of some kind: a laboratory or a classroom. But Paula's triumph is that she has found a way to generate entirely new scientific concepts without a classroom, even in my miserable brain.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Mon, 7/26/10, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com> wrote:

From: Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Dialogue on Concepts Part 1 Released!
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Monday, July 26, 2010, 9:47 AM

Paula, David, Mike [and Andy & others developing the Vimeo site]

What a powerful medium for clarifying and extending the CHAT dialogues.
A few quick comments that are more impressionistic on this very educational
video presentation and elaboration of concept formation.

David, your historically situating the shift from chapter 5's account to the
chapter 6 account as embedded in Stalin's draconian approach to education
and the radical shift in the way  pedagogy was required to be presented
gives a deeper context to the evolving theory.  The metaphor of the globe
-moving from concrete to abstract- as a process of increasing
"distanciation" as a more "general" way of discussing heaps, complexes,
psuedoconcepts, true concepts, and scientific concepts is very helpful to
orient my understanding of these ideas.

Mike, your elaborating the notion of "scientific systems of concept
formation" as not universal but evloving from INSTRUCTION within SCHOOL
settings and questioning if there are other ways of formulating systematic
theories that are cultural but not situated within schooling links up with
hermeneutical conceptions of "traditions" as formations of systematic
concept development [and also social representations from Moscovici].
Schooling develops traditions of increasing "distanciation" but still leaves
open the central question of "layering" As we coordinate and move within the
latitude and longitude of the concrete-abstract configuration is it a linear
progression of transcendence "over" the concrete [mastery & control] or is
it more a formation of increasing coordination of complexity on "the globe"
and the volitional capacity to engage various "perspectives of
distanciation" from the immediate concrete moment to the most "abstract" -
distanciated from the concrete - systematic concepts.

Chapter 5 p.133 "transition from UNMEDIATED intellectual processes to
operations mediated by signs" [Mead's significant SHARED symbols]  I think
this concept is a central notion to be elaborated and critiqued. My
understanding of "mediation" would include David Kellogg's "2nd  moment" of
development of the concept.  The nonvolitional affective "movement between
actual persons" IS "mediational"  [mediated by OTHERS] and seems to be
foundational for developing concepts. This affective realm, which in some
accounts would be theorized as "unmediated by signs", seems to be a critical
MOMENT in development. The reason I like the term "distanciated" as a way of
understanding the coordination of concrete-abstract perspectives is it does
not bias the "scientific concepts" over everyday concepts or cognition as
separation of affect from thought.  Distanciation "as a tool" which comes
increasingly under volitional control as perspectives are developing
increasing complexity recognizes the centrality of mediating the development
of a "communal self" that can NEGOTIATE and COORDINATE subjective and
INTERSUBJECTIVE perspectives which are experienced as more or less concrete
or abstract but does not privilege one perspective as more "true".

Last point.  "scientific concepts" as a particular "system of distanciation"
which exists within a particular hermeneutical "tradition" and expands our
"horizon of understanding" is maybe the most powerful tool we have yet
developed for coordinating and systematizing our concepts but it is still a
particular historically developed tradition [which develops particular kinds
of persons] Schools, as institutions, structure and systematize the
development of this tool for distanciating from the immediate visual field
BUT it is within historical  circumstances that  "hermeneutical
traditions" as  systems of social relations and systematized scientific
concepts evolve. Ontological development "and systematic conceptions of
"self" and "subjectivity" emerge within these horizons of understanding
[which must be systematic and regulated in order to exist as particular
perspectives on "reality" [perspectival realism].  These "tradititions" are
mediated by significant symbols [concepts] which are systems of concepts.
These systems may be more or less "distanciated" from the concrete immediate
moment BUT even in the most "advanced" scientifically informed
societies experience is a dynamic process of movement between the
"coordinates on the globe"

Once again, thank you for producing this very informative video [which in
combination with the conversation on CHAT has been successful in helping me
coordinate multiple perspectives to deepen my understanding of
"developmental psychology" as a "system  of thinking and concept formation".


On Mon, Jul 26, 2010 at 2:26 AM, Paula M Towsey <paulat@johnwtowsey.co.za>wrote:

> Part One of the *Dialogue on Concepts*, a collaborative presentation
> initiated by Andy Blunden, has now been released and is open for
> discussion.
> XMCAers are invited to view it at:
> http://vimeo.com/groups/39473/videos/13550409
> _________________________________
> Paula M Towsey
> PhD Candidate: Universiteit Leiden
> Faculty of Social Sciences
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
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