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Re: [xmca] sense and sensibility
Well, I feel a little guilty about my occasionally cryptic subject lines, Monica. But I have spent enough time hanging around art galleries know that with a lot of people the title is the only contact you will ever have.
I also think that there is a tremendous amount of mission creep in a lot of the subject lines, and in particular the last one on concepts. I think the step from concepts to "activity" was really a step too far. It's not that one is a product and the other a process: I think both are really processes. I agree with Jay (at least, with the Jay of "Talking Science") that conceptualizing is really a matter of locating a particular act of thinking in relation to other acts of thinking, and that this is done semiotically, through thematic relations. The problem is that the underplaying of the distinction between mental and material processes (or, if you like, between semantic and behavioral processes) has an unhappy history in cultural historical psychology.
There's a terrific essay in the misleadingly titled "Introduction to Vygotsky" edited by Harry Daniels (Routledge, 2005) by David Bakhurst, with the even more misleading title "Social memory in Soviet thought", Bakhurst starts with something that really is Vygotsky for babes and sucklings, that is, the observation that the distinction between higher and lower psychological functions is an "interiorization" of the distinction between natural and cultural processes. Bakhurst points out this wasn't so elementary for Vygotsky himself, and it wasn't accepted unquestioningly by Vygotsky's colleagues. Vygotsky came to it by essentially DISCARDING the mediational triangle that activity theorists later recovered and expanded upon.
During the experiments on memory described in "Tool and Symbol", Vygotsky came to realize that the "mnemotechnical devices" used by a child to link, say, the word "camel' and the idea of "death" were not "auxiliary stimuli" like a knot tied in a handkerchief. The child does not see the camel and then think of death simply because he had once told himself to think of death when he sees a camel. Instead, the child tells himself a little story about a camel who died of thirst in the desert. It's a complexive relationship, a little "picture" of the concept.
The complexive relationship of sign to meaning is not so much a private mnemonic device like tying a string around your finger. The relationship of sign to meaning is more like the punchline of a joke, or the coda of a narrative, or the relationship of a title to a painting rather than the relation of the painting to the object. In other words, it does not operate through arbitrary or perceptual association at all, but instead through a logical semantic structure, that is, through making sense and not through remaking sensation or sensuousness (which is what Jane Austen really mean by "sensibility").
Bakhurst says that Vygotsky's colleagues mightily resisted this "radical opposition of natural and cultural functions", and that this was one of the three accusations against Vygotsky in 1930 which led directly to the split with Leontiev (the other two were that he dabbled in bourgeois psychology by seriously engaging with Piaget and the Gestaltists, and that he believed in psychometrics because he got his hands dirty with testing). This criticism of Vygotsky lives on today (and can be seen, for example, in Wertsch's "Mind as Action", which explicitly rejects the idea of internalization and offers us pole vaulting as a lever for understanding semiosis as an "activity" like any other).
Bakhurst also says that there is one other place where we find a similar "radical opposition of natural and cultural functions" and also the proposal that we treat the mind as a semiotic object, where signs stand for things outside the mind, rather than a biological one where sensations within the body are somehow reflected. That's the work of Volosinov, who was already arguing that consciousness is only made "stuff" in signs, and has no other objective existence at all.
Bakhurst says that the attempt to "relate" the contents of consciousness to physical states through the "mediation" of operations, or actions, or whatever form of "activity" you care to name is essentially like trying to relate the content of a television programme to the solid state of the electronics in your TV set.
Now, you might think this radical opposition of "consciousness as a dynamic SEMANTIC system" to consciousness as an activity system (see Zvarshneva's account of the Vygotsky archives in JREEP 48, 1: 35) leads to idealism and to dualism. That is apparently what the Soviet critics of Vygotsky said, including Kolbanovsky, who wrote the introduction to the first edition of Thinking and Speech.
Bakhurst says that this is really not so, because, as Ilyenkov's later account of ideality makes clear, ideal phenomena are objective. TV programmes really exist, and they are not simply subjective phenomena that are produced by the interaction of your eyeballs with the dots on a screen.
The part I don't really understand is that, the way I read Ilyenkov, ideal phenomena are objective because they ultimately do have their roots in sensuous human activity (i.e. the actors and actresses), and not in social relations per se (the relations of the actors and actresses to audience).
But perhaps the key is in the word "ultimately"? Or in accepting that communication by whatever means too is a sensuous human activity, depending on intonation and stress, on meaningful glances and pregnant pauses as much as upon vocabulary and grammar, deriving its sense from human sensibility?
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Thu, 4/28/11, Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Martin Packer <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] sense and sensibility
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thursday, April 28, 2011, 8:26 PM
What's your project, Monica?
On Apr 28, 2011, at 8:16 PM, Monica Hansen wrote:
> Thank you so much! Definitely useful for my current project-a small part of
> my dissertation, which is turning out to be a lot about semiotics, who knew?
> I thought it was just about words and meaning.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On
> Behalf Of Martin Packer
> Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2011 5:22 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] sense and sensibility
> This from Morris' dissertation: Symbolism and reality: a study in the nature
> of mind.
> "The essay will aim to show that thought and mind are not entities, nor even
> processes involving a psychical substance distinguishable from the rest of
> reality, but are explicable as the functioning of parts of the experience of
> an organism as symbols to that organism of other parts of experience. Being
> then the symbolic portion *of* experience, the psychical or mental can
> neither be sharply opposed to the rest of experience, nor identified with
> the whole of experience. And since experience will be shown to be a portion
> of reality, it follows that mind and reality can never be utterly separated
> nor indiscriminately identified" (3-4)
> On Apr 28, 2011, at 7:09 PM, Martin Packer wrote:
>> Charles W. Morris (May 23, 1901, Denver, Colorado - January 15, 1979,
> Gainesville, Florida) was an American semiotician and philosopher. George
> Herbert Mead directed his doctoral dissertation on a symbolic theory of
> mind, completed in 1925. His students included semiotician Thomas A. Sebeok.
> For some years I've had his "Six Theories of Mind" (1932) on the shelf, and
> recently found time to read it. (It's available on the web.)
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