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Re: [xmca] Re: Reading Mike's cultural psychology
Yes, I'm sorry about the long preamble. I was still very excited by the work we are doing on Vygotsky's History of the Development of the Higher Psychological Functions; I should really have gotten out Mike's book and re-read it instead.
Halliday says somewhere that every text is both an artefact and a specimen. What he means by that is not, as you might think, a reference to the cultural historical origins of language on the one hand and the biological substratum on the other. What he's really referring to is much closer to what Vygotsky means when he distinguishes signification, which is a product of the replicability and the systematicity of language, from sense, which is the ineffable instance of use.
To me, that is what your first two points were about. Vygotsky actually criticizes Luria's experiments in Central Asia--not by name, but by a clear description--as a simple transfer of experiments that had questionable validity in the laboratory to a context in which they did not even have the questionable validity of the context of cultural surrounding the laboratory.
The reason why stimulus-response experiments are of questionable validity even in the context of culture where they arise is that every test that involves language--and even supposedly non-verbal tests do, because of the necessary instructions--we have a specimen of language (an ineffable instance of use) treated as an artefact (an interchangeable part in a language system).
So how DO we do experiments? In Chapter Two of History and Development in the Higher Psychic Functions, Vygotsky argues that the scientific method, when we really look at as it is integrated into the history of everyday life, is neither inductive nor deductive (although he does quote Engels approvingly to the effect that the to the extent natural science can be said to 'think' it must be said to think inductively).
It's iterative. That is, you create a kind of mental model of something. Then you try to make it into a real model, with all the messiness that implies. And that helps you build a better mental mousetrap, and so on and so forth. That's why Vygotsky is so interested in Buridan's ass (a logical model of a real ethical decision) and in tying knots, casting lots, and counting on fingers (a real model of a logical decision). That's why he considers Carnot's imaginary steam engine the true prototype of both the real steam engine and the laws of themodynamics. The logical model is an artefact, but the real model is a specimen.
I think that Father Christmas, and the Wizard, and any fictional hero or villain is the same type of mental model in the mind of the child. I guess one way to look at these mental models is to see them as associative complexes--the child's idea of Santa Claus or the Fifth Dimension Wizard, or Captain America is made up of concrete experiences with real people, and in that case every imaginary character is composed of a vast amalgam of incorrect generalizations and subtle lies.
But this process cannot explain the child's creation of imaginary friends (e.g. the "Kitty" to whom Ann Frank wrote her diary, or the imaginary little brother I kept in my mind as a child). These characters do have some relation to real models, but they are created through negation as much as through affirmation, through abstraction as well as through generalization. And I think this is even more true of the child's creation of self--the child's growing sense of his own personality owes much more to Carnot's steam engine than to any real steam engine, it is a thought experiment rather than a real one.
Hanguk University of Foreign Studies
Because every test of cultural history on the one hand and biology on the other
--- On Sat, 4/7/12, Huw Lloyd <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Huw Lloyd <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Re: Reading Mike's cultural psychology
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Saturday, April 7, 2012, 3:41 PM
On 7 April 2012 12:36, David Kellogg <email@example.com> wrote:
> I just got back from a Saturday seminar on Chapter Two of Vygotsky's
> "History of the Development of the Higher Psychological Functions". Like
> Mike's book, it's a frustrating piece of writing in some ways: Vygotsky
> tells you that he is going to produce a small working model of a higher
> psychological function, which will create the very basis for their
> experimental replication that the traditional Stimulus-Response experiment
> has failed to provide.
Hi David, the points I raised, for me, aren't indicative of a frustrating
text. I think the text does a good job of demonstrating the kind of deeply
systemic approaches required.
> He then tells you that it is based on a real but rudimentary function.
> That although it is today eking out a miserable existence in a world it no
> longer understands, it once played a heroic role in leading the whole of
> humanity out of the bestiality of an animal existence into the
> semi-bestiality of a capitalist one.
> After sixty highly opaque pages, he tells you exactly what he has in mind:
> Buridan's ass, an imaginary donkey surrounded by bales of hay, unable to
> decide which to eat first, and therefore starving to death. (This is then
> the basis for three real monographs of rudientary functions: casting lots,
> tying knots and counting on your fingers, or auguries, mnemonics and tokens
> for manipulating concepts.)
> Why a gedankenexperiment (actually, Buridan's donkey was really a
> rhetorical ploy by angry Aristotelians against Jean Buridan, one of the
> world's first strict behaviorsts and as such a denier of free will)? Why
> not a real experiment?
> Oh, Vygotsky explains that too: In a logical account, you move the main
> purpose of your object of analysis to the beginning of your account of it,
> but at the beginning of a truly developmental chronological account, that
> purpose is nowhere to be seen.
> Such a logical account (where the unit is analyzed first) is always
> contained in a chronological account but it is also hidden, because
> "chronos" stands in front of it and obscures it, with all the messy things
> that humans fill their time with.
> And of all of that is really standing in front of my real defense of the
> imaginary character. In English language teaching studies here in Korea, we
> found that contrary to the usual dogma of "real life" talk about "you and
> me", talk of imaginary characters in the classroom almost always produces
> language that is consistently more uninhibited, and linguistically more
> We also found that children are much more able to reason morally and
> ethically when they are talking about hypothetical moral dilemmas then when
> they are confronted with (fabricated) "real" ones (e.g. classroom turn
> taking). And that even preschoolers are much more likely to use the ethical
> meaning of "good" when they are in the third person point of view then when
> they are exercising the second or first one.
> Why should this be? Oh, the linguistics of it is easy to explain: in all
> the languages I know, first and second person is more iconic, more
> indexical, more context-embedded and thus less sophisticated symbolically
> (compare "Look here!" with "I would like him to look at me.")
> The developmental aspect is less transparent. In language teaching we have
> committed a hundred year mistake, quite similar to (yea, predicated upon)
> the mistakes of structuralist linguistics: we have assumed that the pure
> purpose of language is social communication and that the derived purpose of
> self-communication is somehow always a derivative of this, the way written
> language is supposedly a derivative of spoken.
> But suppose self-communication were, developmentally, the central goal of
> language use (as it is in a Korean classroom)? Yea, suppose the child's own
> self is an imaginary character?Then, as Brecht says, the reality of the
> theatre lies precisely in its unreality, about which it behooves us to be
> perfectly and completely frank. To children one must always tell the
> absolute truth about lies.
This refers to point 3. So is there anything in the quality of pretending
and being frank about it, that is important here? A simpler version,
perhaps is Bateson's animals signalling play, which he suggested is a kind
of pretend act. But this kind of pretend act is the pretense of a real
act. One cannot pretend about father christmas in this way to a mature
> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> --- On Fri, 4/6/12, mike cole <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> From: mike cole <email@example.com>
> Subject: [xmca] Re: Reading Mike's cultural psychology
> To: "Huw Lloyd" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Cc: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
> Date: Friday, April 6, 2012, 9:02 PM
> Sound like excellent questions. Wonder what the answers are!?
> On Fri, Apr 6, 2012 at 8:23 PM, Huw Lloyd <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> > I've been reading through Mike's cultural psychology book.
> > There's plenty of good material arranged in a way a found helpful.
> > Three points I'd be interested in hearing elaboration and, or,
> > confirmation on are:
> > 1. The logical typing of the implicit unit of analysis employed (on p.
> > 233 Vai literacy types and filter method as practice types) for the
> > cross-cultural research where by:
> > a) The 'unit instance' (data) is not logically comparable to any other
> > data other than data from the same context.
> > b) A filter method of approximate testing that the context has not
> > changed, or that the context is being approximated to the fidelity aimed
> > for.
> > c) This filter as a recursive means of qualification around the integrity
> > of the data.
> > 2. The idea of Lurias method for discovering hidden processes applied to
> > a very rich activity, with the smoothness of the (implicit, perhaps
> > to the subjects) base process.
> > a) Finding a suitable base process becomes the initial search which
> > mediates the hidden processes sought.
> > b) Demonstrating an effective base process would seem to come after
> > out various base processes (i.e. revealing symptoms in useful ways).
> > 3. The use of fictional characters in the 5th dimension.
> > a) The pretense of communicating with and heeding a fiction/fantasy
> > to me, to be, potentially, a longer term impediment (both to scaling the
> > activity to different kinds of knowledge and the longitudinal involvement
> > of maturing children). To what degree is the wizard necessary? Why
> > wouldn't an equally playful/friendly environment be set up around say a
> > historically real figurehead?
> > b) To what degree are the fictions of the wizard a political statement to
> > the adults/parents of fitting their own fantasies of idyllic fairy
> > childhoods or is the means of signposting the activities as not needing
> > adult interference, "this is our world thank you, don't interfere"?
> > c) As I understand it, urban contemporary children want to get involved
> > the world of adults, which they're often denied access to. Setting up
> > environments that are child friendly, accessible and pliable for the
> > children is part of this, though I wonder if sugaring up the central
> > as a fantasy figure goes against this.
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