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Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality

Lots of interesting messages to respond to, and too many things to try to keep in mind at once! Meanwhile, I've been trying to get clearer on the argument by which LSV linked scientific concepts to the higher psychological functions, by digging back into Pedology of the Adolescent and Chapter 6 of T&L.  I'm going to post a short summary here - it's a work in progress; there are points I still don't understand, and surely things I've got wrong. So I'm tossing it into the cloud for collective improvement!
Recall that the higher psychological functions are characterized by deliberate control and conscious awareness. The central issue in Chap 6 is how conscious awareness arises in the school-aged child. Scientific concepts are the culmination of a sequence of heaps, complexes, pseudoconcepts...

First, LSV draws a distinction between 'consciousness' and 'awareness.' Consciousness "always presents a piece of reality." Awareness is consciousness applied to itself; awareness is an act consciousness for which the object is that activity of consciousness itself. 

The child arrives at school with a bunch of "everyday concepts" (EC), and an awareness of their own psychological functions of perception (the dominant function in toddlerhood) and of memory (the dominant function in early childhood, i.e. preschoolers), as a consequence of a new differentiation between inner and outer, visual and ideal, fields. Thinking amounts to remembering past experience.

While in school, however, the child will be actively taught scientific concepts (SC). 

Now, the *generalizing* kind of consciousness that words make possible is consciousness that grasps its object through some kind of concept (I say 'some kind' because this includes complexes, heaps, pseudoconcepts as well as scientific concepts). 

From the assertion that generalizing consciousness grasps its object by means of a concept it follows that to become conscious of a concept in a way that generalizes it requires grasping it through another concept. And this is why SC can be conscious: because they form a system, a hierarchy of generalization, so that for each concept a higher concept is available by means of which it can be grasped.

EC, on the other hand, are non-conscious because there is, so to speak, no way of getting above them. They have no system; no hierarchy.

In and by learning SC, then, the school child becomes conscious of concepts, and aware of the function of thinking with concepts. Awareness "enters through the gate of SC." This consciousness and awareness then expand to EC as well. 

Furthermore, the teaching of reading, writing, and the other disciplines, requires an awareness of psychological activities that were non-conscious in speaking and listening. Learning to read and write *fosters* this awareness, in the "knot" of learning and development. The child's capacities "pass from a non-conscious automatic plane to one which is voluntary, intentional and conscious."

Overall, "the fundamental neoformations of the school age [are] the seizure of conscious awareness and mastery." Because one awareness of concepts is achieved, their volitional control will follow. 

How does this happen? We seem to get two explanations for the price of one. The first is that to be conscious of something in a generalizing way is to acquire new potentials, new possibilities, for acting with respect to it. (LSV cites De Groot on chess players.) This kind of generalizing consciousness of an activity makes possible the mastery of that activity. This is presumably true at any age, of any psychological function. So perhaps this explanation applies to forms of mastery in prior stages.

The other explanation is specific to scientific conceptual thinking. It is that SC grasp the *necessary* connections among entities in the world. Thinking in true concepts “penetrates into the internal essence” of phenomena, disclosing their “connections and relations” and their “movement” and “development.” SC do this because they themselves form an interconnected system. Once again LSV quotes Engels quoting Hegel: the grasp of necessity is what leads to freedom, because once we grasp the laws of nature (including those of psychology) we can turn them around to master nature (including the mind). The adolescent now uses language (in a way that is not spelled out as far as I can find) to master the other psychological functions.  
Once scientific concepts are in place, at the start of adolescence, the other psychological functions can now be reorganized again. Both the form and the content of thinking have been transformed. In adolescence, thinking now "comes to the fore" as the principal line of development, and the other functions “are intellectualized, reformed, and reconstructed.” 

To pick just one example, perception is again transformed. In adolescence, perception is organized by the synthesis of the concrete and the general that conceptual thinking provides. The adolescent sees with “an ordered, categorical perception.” "The adolescent is not only conscious of and comprehends the reality that he perceives, but also comprehends it in concepts, that is, in the act of visual perception, abstract and concrete thinking are completely synthesized.”

Adolescence is a step closer to the summit of LSV’s account of development: the human being who was 'in itself' now becomes 'for itself,' and in doing so becomes logical, deliberate, and free. There is a new level of self- awareness: “the adolescent is differentiated internally into the acting ‘I’ and into another ‘I’ - the reflecting ‘I.’” 


On Jun 28, 2012, at 11:45 AM, Peter Feigenbaum wrote:

> The relevance of this seeming digression has to do with Vygotsky's use of *scientific* concepts as evidence 
> that children have developed dialectical, rational thinking. In so doing, he also links rational thinking to 
> *schooling*, leading us to jump to the conclusion that *true* concepts are the product of education. While I 
> cannot cite any evidence (yet), I see no reason to believe that typically developing children have ever required 
> overt instruction in learning to think *dialogically*. Dialogical thinking develops in private speech as a result 
> of a child's own activity, not through explicit training or instruction--unlike scientific concepts. 

> If the developmental process of learning to master the activity of speaking and thinking occurs without instruction, 
> then primitive peoples should be able to think dialogically, although they may be unable to think *scientifically*. 
> This distinction might well be crucial to understanding the reasoning abilities of uneducated people. 
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