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Re: [xmca] Issues of hierarchy and heterogeneity
First of all, many thanks to Martin, for his graphs and charts (which did get through this time) and to Mike for his attachment of Wertsch, and finally to Martin again for his very lucid and insightful comments on Mike's attachment (which I had always, it appears quite wrongly, assimilated to Shweder's distinction between universalist, developmentalist, and relativist perspectives!)
Secondly, a brief abstract for the impatient or time pressed who neverthess which to follow this thread in all its messy but still progressive cumulative development. I think that the attachments, even if they did support Martin's argument, would be very weak supports for an argument about human deveopment as a whole, because they are based on very isolated data points and very restricted periods of time. But in the event I think that they are actually weak supports for my argument rather than his.
On the distinction between diversity-as-genetic-hierarchy, diversity-despite-genetic-hierarchy, and diversity-without-genetic hierarchy, it seems to me that different domains are different: what is true of mathematical development (diversity as hierarchy) is not true of linguistic diversity, and we must not be too surprised that a developmentalist perspective on public health (and free will) does not make much sense applied to more context-embedded forms of development (art, language, the humanities, the social sciences, religion, ethics, and even "hard" sciences like geography).
So, first of all: Martin's chart on longevity clearly demonstrates that the development of longevity is not linear. However, it demonstrates this for what appears to be a very small sample in a single very isolated place.
The data reflects the exotic and isolated location (England):what, for example, happened to almost cut longevity in half in 1680 and around 1720? Why do the dips and peaks smooth out in the last few years of the graph?. It would be very easy to use similar data to disprove global warming (and in fact this has been done).
Nevertheless, Martin's chart does show that there are real, long-term trends in longevity (first down, and then up) and that overall the net tendency really is, even over this fairly short stretch of three hundred years, is upwards. So I don't see that it contradicts the statement that we live longer because we develop, it only contradicts the idea that development is linear.
Martin's table on causes of death over ten years in Japan seems similar to me. It is only two data points over a very short time (ten years). So even if it did contradict the statement that ours is the first group of humans that wears out biomechanically, it would be a very weak basis for contradicting it.
But in the event, it confirms what I suggested: cardiovascular problems are not usually the result of contagious disease or trauma, and the same thing is true of neoplasms. They are forms of wearing out, and in that sense we are the first group of humans who have realized the biomechanical potential of the human form as given by evolution. We die of heart attacks and cancer, and not contagious disease or violence.
Secondly, on Wertsch: I like Martin's idea of teasing apart 'power' and "difficulty", and hierarchies of power and hierarchies of difficulty. This is particularly important in language development: there are areas of language which are very difficult but not particularly powerful (irregular tenses, remembering proper nouns) and others which are easy and quite powerful (plurals, and especially number systems).
We can see that both Martin and Wertsch tend to DIFFERENTIATE domains. So for example what Gilligan says for moral and ethical development (that is, non-genetic heterogeneity) can hardly be said to apply to longevity (in all known societies women are simply superior to men; that is really all there is to say on the matter).
It is easy to imagine that there are some domains where higher forms of thinking completely restructure lower forms (my father looks incredulous when I cannot tell the difference between acceleration and velocity; it is quite as if I were confusing mammals with paramecia as far as he is concerned) and there are other domains where this does not happen (e.g. everyday speech tends to the complexive rather than the conceptual, as Wittgenstein teaches us).
But there are also domains which are universal, which we share as a species, and it is here that we can make objective developmental statements. Let me cite two of them from opposite ends of the biological-ideological spectrum: biomechanical longevity (that is, life expectancy) and free will (that is, the ability to exercise volitional choice, including volitional choice over culture and language itself).
It doesn't make any sense to argue that some peoples have high infant mortality and that should be respected, or that some peoples die in their thirties, and they be allowed to do so. For one thing, we know that such peoples, given a choice, do not choose infant mortality and early death, even when it means giving up very important assets (e.g. their native language and culture). If we want people to maintain their cultural and linguistic diversity, then we had better address their problems with infant mortality and early death in a way that allows them to do this.
I notice that Martin doesn't really address the issue of free will, that is, the extent to which we may base a universalist, rather than a heterogeneous, notion of development as the development of free will. To avoid a Pollyannaish Whig history, we may think of the "ascent" of man as a rather Gothic process of transition from being murdered, to murdering others, to finally murdering himself.
It seems to me that the development of free will is an absolute and objective sense in which a universal form of development must be said to exist. When you have ONLY a less powerful form of thinking, you cannot choose. When you build a more powerful form of thinking as an alternative, on the basis of that less powerful form, then by definition you have a choice. When I have a first language, I am not free; when I have a second one, I am. That is not an argument for the death of the first language: quite the contrary.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
--- On Wed, 2/22/12, Martin Packer <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Issues of hierarchy and heterogeneity
To: email@example.com, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wednesday, February 22, 2012, 9:02 AM
I jotted down some notes about this section, to try to clear my mind....
Wertsch distinguishes three approaches to the phenomenon of diversity (pluralism; heterogeneity) in cognition, verbal thinking, and behavior - the fact that qualitative distinct forms exist, across cultures, within any culture, and indeed in any individual. He borrows from Peter Tulviste (1986), who drew in turn from Levy-Bruhl, who at least tried to think of the minds of primitives as different yet equal (though he seems to have failed, IMHO).
The first position is "heterogeneity as genetic hierarchy." The plurality is considered in terms of the order of the appearance of the various forms (historically or ontogenetically), and the more recent is assumed to be more powerful. Werner's notion of lower and higher forms of behavior exemplifies this. In occasions of "primitivation," the individual will regress to a less adequate level of functioning. The "paradox" here, Wertsch argues, is why anyone would "select a less powerful, and hence less appropriate, mediational means than is available to approach a task" (p. 100). [I am not sure that this is so hard to explain. Usually the proposal is that 'regression' occurs when the organism is under stress, due to illness, injury, or traumatic circumstances. One might ask why the less powerful forms are still available, but here too a simple answer would be that having less powerful means to hand is better than having none at all, once the advanced means
are lost or unavailable.]
Vygotsky, Wertsch proposes, was somewhat ambivalent in his treatment of heterogeneity. At times he wrote as though early forms of mental functioning completely rework and replace earlier forms. At other times he wrote as though the earlier forms continue to exist beneath the later forms, like geological strata.
The second position is what Wertsch calls "heterogeneity despite genetic hierarchy." Here, it is not assumed that more recent appearance indicates greater power. Forms of functioning that appear at different times are taken to be distinct, yet each is effective for the relevant tasks. William James' pragmatic instrumentalism provides an example: in this view, common sense, scientific, and philosophical reasoning each have their uses; one is not inherently superior to the others. There is a genetic sequence to the three (at least, common sense comes on the scene first), but this does not signify greater effectiveness or power. Tulviste, too, has criticized the frequent assumption that scientific thinking is the most developed form, and that it is the best tool for any task. Rather, different kinds of activity require different kinds of thinking. To the extent that earlier activities are preserved, so will the older kinds of thinking that correspond to
The third position, "nongenetic heterogeneity," also assumes that different settings and tasks call for different psychological tools. An example of this position is Gilligan's proposal that men and women use "distinct moral languages," of justice and care, each of which has a distinct developmental pathway.
If we think, then, of different types of thinking as being required for different forms of activity, we can understand why people in different cultures show heterogeneity in their thought and behavior. Different cultures face (or invent) different tasks, and these require diverse kinds of thinking.
However, it seems to me that Wertsch neglects a fourth possibility. One might ask why, if forms of thinking correspond to distinct tasks and task settings, with no inherent difference in their power or effectiveness, there is any kind of genetic sequence to their appearance. After all, riding a bicycle calls for sensorimotor skills of balance and coordination. Repairing a bicycle require concrete skills of tool use, knowledge of the properties of metals, and so on. Figuring out how a bicycle stays upright calls for skills of mathematical modeling, conception of centripetal force, and the ability to solve differential equations.
Clearly these are heterogeneous, and the third is of no use when it comes to actually riding the bicycle. However, there is a clear ontogenetic sequence to their acquisition. This suggests that, although we may not wish to say that one form of thinking is inherently more powerful than another, we may still wish to say that there are inherent differences in their difficulty. In other words, Wertsch has conflated (or at least has not distinguished) power and effectiveness in use from difficulty in acquisition. Learning to model the bicycle mathematically calls for significantly greater education and guidance than learning to ride it. Here, then, we have a genetic hierarchy of acquisition, even though we may believe there is no functional hierarchy in use.
Note that this 'hierarchy of acquisition' would resolve the paradox that Wertsch points to. It is likely that skills that are harder to achieve are also harder to employ. Under stress, or when cognitive resources are limited, the earlier skills may be the only ones that can be employed, no matter what the task.
On Feb 22, 2012, at 12:09 AM, mike cole wrote:
> For those interested in the discussion of Levy-Bruhl, LSV, primitives and
> computer keyboards, I am attaching a brief section from Jim Wertsch's book,
> voices of
> the mind, about these issues that I have found useful. Perhaps others will
> find it useful
> as well.
> <Wertsch_Heterogeneity of Voices0001.pdf>__________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
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