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RE: Re: [xmca] Princeton University's obituary for George A. Miller

When I was in elementary school, I loathed the time-tables, and I was always looking for signs of intelligent life in them. So for example I derived inexplicable delight from the discovery that multiples of ten were just the mulitplier with a zero stuck on the end 3 x 10 is just 30), that multiples of five were half of their multiples of ten (3 x 5 is 15), that muliplies of eleven were just the multiplier redux, in both the tens place and the ones (33). Binet would call this a simulation of memory; it's a function that LOOKS like memory pheonotypically but it's structurally more like thinking. 


It was with fiendish delight that I discovered a rule of nine. When you want to mutiply You just take the mutiplier, subtract one, and put it in the tens place and then figure out what yo.u need to add to that number to make nine and put that in the ones (e.g. if you want to mutiply 3 x 9 you take one from three and start with 2 in the tens place, and then choose seven for the ones, because 2 + 7 = 9). To tell you the truth, I still use this rule (because one of the things about these simulations is that they obviate the need for brute memory, and mine is lousy).


Now, the other rules had reasons which were pretty transparent once you figured out how the decimal system works. But it was many years before I understood why the rule of nine works. Even then, I think my explanation, which I must have arrived at some time in high school, had to do with a "simulation"; I had the idea that nine was a kind of "imperfect ten" and that the ones column was basically a count of how many imperfect tens you had, just as the ones column in the rule of eleven was basically a count of how much supererogation you had got.


You can see why Binet loathed simulation (it played havoc with his memory tests) and why Vygotsky loved it (it was a precise, conscious understanding of the foibles that cultural signs tools of have, and it also vastly improved memory beyond the natural limits that Miller precisely stipulated, of which Vygotsky was already vaguely conscious). Above all, it's an _expression_ of a little boy's dislike of arbitrariness and desire to know why things are the way they are.


That's precisely what Zipf didn't ask himself. Zipf doesn't really tell us WHY frequent things are shorter; he just assumes that minds are lazy and like to do things the easy way. I think Vygotsky found that that is really only true for elementary functions; the power of cultural signs are such that not only is there no real incentive for doing things the easy way and in fact sometimes there is a big premium on complexity and prolixity.


But not, Mike reminds me, on xmca and I promised to write about James. Yes, Miller loved him, and we know Vygotsky was very taken, when he was young, with "Varieites of Religious Experience". But James himself HATED James--he wanted to give up psychology altogether and become a religious philosopher, and that is eventually exaclty what he did. 


So Vygotsky considers him kind of a turncoat, and he has nothing but scorn for James idea that you can solve the whole problem of free will by just saying that when you are able to raise your hand (they used Searle's example long before Searle did) it's not the case that spiritual energy is actually lifting meat off the desk; instead, you appeal to God and God helps you do it. Yes, that's the way things may look from the outside; a miracle. But it sure doesn't feel like a miracle, does it?


I understand LSV's frustration, Mike. I struggled through both volumes of James' "introduction to Psychology" waiting for this answer, and I was very disappointed when he delivered it at the very end of the second volume. It's why I was very amused at the old joke that Will's brother was a brilliant psychologist, but Henry's brother just wrote fiction (which I think I learned from your intro to Bronfenbrenner).


I was also a little disappointed with the Richardson article, by the way. Richardson is taking terrific liberties with Vizenor.  Vizenor spent significant chunks of his life doing exactly what Mike Cole does on off days in San Diego, working with kids, families with fetal alcohol syndrome problems, and trying to get kids through school. He is from Minnesota, like me, and he also went to China to teach roughly the same time I did. I don't think Vizenor's novelistic work contradicts this either, although I may be wrong.


David Kellogg

Hankuk University of Foreign Studies


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