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DIALECTIC OF ACTIVITY AND THEORETIC PSYCHOLOGY

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Title: DIALECTIC OF ACTIVITY AND THEORETIC PSYCHOLOGY


1
DIALECTIC OF ACTIVITY AND THEORETIC PSYCHOLOGY
  • Lev Naumenko

2
  • Im not a psychologist so my participation in
    psychological discussion cant be legitimate. It
    looks as strange as if Id started to discuss
    mathematical problems.
  • But there is one area where the dialog between a
    philosopher and a psychologist as well as a
    philosopher and a mathematician is not only
    possible but absolutely inevitable. That is the
    problem of subject matter of psychology as well
    as mathematic. Better to say the problem of
    reality both in psychology and in mathematic. We
    take maths as an illustration. Here is the point
    where the productive dialogue between philosophy
    and psychology is quite possible. The very
    subject matter of psychology is dialectical.
    Nowhere else we have such insistent need in
    dialectic as in psychology because as Evald
    Ilenkov said a human is a dialectical creature.

3
  • 1. What is subject matter of science in general
    and psychology in particular?
  • Our subject matter is an object of our attention,
    an object of our discourse. In psychology it is
    evidently in the same time an object of our
    observation and investigation, and a subject,
    that is we ourselves, and what we see in the
    object, what we ascribe to it, what we say about
    it, how we judge it. One can hardly deny that
    subject matter of psychology is a function of our
    aim, in our case researchers aim.
  • An object of psychology is a human being. In the
    same time a human can be an object of mechanics,
    chemistry, physics, biology, physiology etc.
  • One object different subject matters.

4
  • Thus a subject matter is a section of an object
    or its side. E.g. the crosscut of a tree opens
    the growth rings, while a length cut - the wood
    fibers. The side or section is an abstraction.
    When this abstraction is regarded separately as
    self-sufficient system, when it turns into a
    hypostatized abstraction it forms a special
    subject matter of special science or research
    area. Thus subject matter of science is not only
    a bare object, but our discourse about it as well
    with all its judgments, thoughts, assumptions,
    abstractions, idealizations, with all what
    science highlights in the object. That is popular
    or better to say vulgar conception of subject
    matter of a science.

5
  • 2. Lets say that an object is given to us in
    reality as a fragment of this sensual reality.
  • Is the subject matter of science given to us in
    the same way?
  • Surely not. The subject matter of science is our
    description of an object, a product of our
    researching approach, of our angle of view,
    methodology etc., it is a result of our treatment
    of the object, of its replacing by our theoretic
    model. That is quite simple and in the same time
    absolutely false understanding which induces an
    illusion of arbitrariness of model, its
    dependence only to special investigators point of
    view. Here we meet a serious theoretic problem.
  • What is subject of mathematic? Numbers,
    figures, functions. Do such objects as
    mathematical point which has no length, no width,
    no height really, physically exist? Surely no. To
    save the situation positivists invented so called
    abstract objects scoffed by Evald Ilenkov.
  • If a circle is locus of points equidistant from a
    centre, while a center is point which has not any
    spatial dimensions, thus it cant take any place.
    In the same manner soul which possess
    nonextended essence in Cartesian philosophy
    cannot be located in body and cannot interact
    with it. Such soul is a typical abstract
    object, nonsense, a contradiction, by no means
    dialectical one.
  • Thus what is subject matter of math? Real
    physical objects or our thoughts about them, our
    arbitrary abstractions, our inventions?

6
  • We can hardly accept the traditional explanation
    of Aristotle if we abstract from weight,
    density, color, heat capacity, conductivity and
    let alone only one characteristic abstract
    quantity, spatial geometric form, we will get the
    pure form as a subject matter of geometry.
    Similarly if we abstract from all characteristics
    of active, living body and leave only inner,
    subjective, hidden, which can only manifest
    itself through action, we will have a typical
    abstract object.
  • In both cases we will burn our ships and close
    the door to the reality, to physical objects, to
    sensual bodies. In the beginning of the last
    century Bertrand Russell describe the situation
    in words Arithmetic knows nothing about US
    population. We can add that it knows nothing
    about the whole Universe as well. No one of
    mathematics follows Aristotles methodology, we
    mean no one starts from physical reality in order
    that to receive their theoretic abstractions in
    the process of abstracting. No one mathematic
    will even seriously discuss such an approach. The
    do start from abstractions and not come to them
    in the end.
  • One can ask what is subject matter of maths
    then? Where, in what reality it finds its subject
    matter?

7
  • Lets make a reservation. Surely one can fudge
    some object under mathematical abstraction,
    invent an arbitrary abstraction. Thus we can
    identify in the one notion shoe brush and mammal.
    As ironically mentioned Engels the brush will not
    end by growing of breasts.
  • Thus the idea that the object of research of
    maths is not real objects but their ideas about
    the reality was deeply rooted in philosophy and
    epistemology after Kant.
  • This old but still alive prejudice insists that a
    theoretician doesnt investigate reality but
    his/her own artificial constructions, invented by
    researchers mind. A human can cognize only
    products of his own creativity. The very reality
    as an object of cognition is discarded. So
    instead of cognition of an object we have (in
    better case) self cognition of a subject.
  • Here we have to ask why in this case, if all
    engineering calculations of Eiffel had nothing to
    do with reality and were based on fictions of his
    imagination, his real Tower is still standing in
    real Paris? Just in the same theme Malebranche
    was puzzled in his own witty way during the
    siege of Vienna, the defenders of the city
    undoubtedly saw and shot at the Turkish army as
    transcendental Turks, but real Turks were
    killed. The idea of specific point of view
    cant save the situation looking from one side
    we have physic, looking from the other side
    mathematic. Taking from outside we have body,
    brains, physiology, taking from the other side
    a soul, a psyche.Utterly naive methodology.

8
  • 3. What is subject matter of psychology?
  • A psyche.
  • And what is psyche?
  • A psyche is a subjective reality, i.e. images,
    ideas, feelings, affects, thoughts, motives, aims
    etc. I.e. something inner.Where is this
    inner situated? Inside what? Inside a test,
    person or inside us as investigators? Can we find
    this inner and subjective as something real
    or even as a side of this real? Or all this is
    only our own construction or abstract object?
    What is a subject matter of psychologist? Objects
    per se or his/here thoughts about those objects?
    Those what do exist or those what we think about
    its existence?
  • Really and truly looking from any point of view
    we cant see the ideal or psyche inside the grey
    substance.
  • A subject matter of psychology is a human being
    i.e. living, thinking body. But is his inner
    world, his psyche given to us? Where can we find
    this reality?

9
  • 4. Lets imagine the following a
    neurophysiologist or neurosurgeon say Penfield
    implants electrodes into the brain tissue of a
    patient, gives a weak electric impulse and asks a
    patient about his feelings. The patient replies
    that he sees his late grandfather and other
    relatives talking to him.
  • That is what a subject can see. And what can see
    a surgeon? Can he see the grandfather?
  • Surely not. He can see the brains and electric
    activity in the brain tissue on his electronic
    monitors. Evidently a patient and a surgeon can
    see the different things. Do those things belong
    to one and the same or to absolutely different
    realities? That is the question.
  • In his external experience a surgeon deals with
    objects and objective, observable processes. Here
    he deals with the problem as a neurophysiologist.
    But where he finds a psyche? A subjective? Why he
    has to ask his patient?
  • The answer is obvious because he finds the
    subject matter of psychology only in his own
    inner experience, in introspection.
  • Thats why a psychologist is looking with one eye
    outside, while with the other one inside. He
    tries to superpose two pictures into one. But is
    it possible in principle? Can we judge about age
    of schooners master measuring the height of the
    mast? Psychologist can judge only by analogy.

10
  • But is this analogy legitimate? What can he see
    in his object, in another person, in test person?
  • He can see observable physical and physiological
    conditions, vasomotor phenomena, shouts,
    movements, gestures, expressive behavior. All
    these are physical phenomena. But what is he
    looking for?
  • A psyche. Can he observe a psyche of another
    person, can he feel a pain of the other one? No.
    He can only conclude about it by analogy with
    himself. Watching an expressive behavior he ties
    it with something hidden, inner. But what is this
    inner? Inside what does it exist? Inside a skull?
    Under a skin cover? But we know that there is
    only physics and physiology. Thus looking outside
    we can see only physical and physiologic
    phenomena and we cant see a tiny hint on psyche,
    while looking inside we see only phenomena of our
    psyche and nothing alike physiology. An eye cant
    see itself, and even if he really sees itself in
    the mirror he cant see stars or trees, i.e.
    objects. Thus the only possible method of
    psychological investigation is an analogy with
    our own feelings and thinking.
  • Thus we have a situation when a psychologist is
    looking on the object with one eye and inside
    himself with the other one. One of his eyes is
    directed to the North, while the other to the
    South. This basic psychological squint is a
    congenital malformation of traditional, non
    dialectic psychology which cannot bridge the gap
    between the opposites. Under this approach these
    oppositions are incommensurable as masters age
    and the height of the mast. It means that we
    cant take as a starting point neither body nor
    psyche, neither inner nor external. These are two
    opposite ends of one and the same thread. And we
    cannot cut it. The single thread is an active
    vital activity, object oriented activity, the
    embodiment of subjects conditions and
    subjectivisation of material objects. This
    movement constitutes the essence of
    cultural-historical process, its substance.
    Without realizing this, cultural-historical
    approach can give birth only to nonsense and
    anecdotes. Here it is - an example of such
    absurdity.

11
  • 5. Levi-Brule investigating a primitive
    thinking in Amazonian region put forward the
    central idea of his theory of pre logic
    thinking a primitive is experience-impermeable
    .  
  • The primitive The primitive is primitive just
    because he cannot think at all. He lives as if in
    the delusion or in the state close to autism,
    lives in the realm of dreams. This position was
    shared by Jan Piaget concerning the egocentric
    thought of a little baby. It looks rather
    strange when a primitive builds a canoe from
    the cortex he is a good deal experience-permeable,
    moreover he is obviously logical and wise.
    Moreover well bet our boots that the very
    Levi-Brule was considerably more
    experience-impermeable in such situation and
    hardly could build a boat. Though in all other
    cases he considered a primitive a fool.
  • Lets take an illustration from Levy-Brule
    himself. Natives from Bororo tribe dont
    distinguish themselves from red Arara parrot.
    They simply consider that they Bororo, and
    parrots Arara is one and the same thing. In all
    meanings - one and the same! Levi-Brule made a
    helpless gesture what a stupidity, these
    primitives cant distinguish themselves from a
    parrot? What a load of bull! And as a result the
    inevitable conclusion all they are insane.

12
  • Lets perform a little mental experiment. Lets
    imagine that we have overheard Bororo
    conversation after mentally advanced
    psychologist-European had left them.
  • Near Bororo there lives another tribe, say
    identifying themselves with jaguars. They are as
    primitive as Bororo. They also cannot
    distinguish themselves from an animal. The tribes
    are at permanent war. And in case if Bororo is
    captured by Jaguars he can be eaten by them. That
    is the first premise.
  • The second premise is that both Bororo and
    Jaguars are red-skinned, that they speak one and
    the same language, that they have very similar
    culture, i.e. they are practically
    indistinguishable. But the need to distinguish is
    absolutely vital otherwise the risk to meet
    Jaguars on the narrow path and to be eaten turns
    real. How they can distinguish? Objectively their
    distinction is blood distinction. But Bororo can
    hardly make DNA test. How to solve a problem? No
    within Bororo, nor within Jaguars there is no
    alive ancestors. Meanwhile the real distinction
    is the distinction between ancestors. Here we
    have quite reasonable answer we, as Bororo
    distinguish ourselves from this hostile tribe as
    Arara distinguishes from Jaguar. And what do we
    need in excess to distinction?

13
  • Meanwhile how can we distinguish Levi-Brules from
    Levi-Strausses? Both are white, both speak French
    and all are different. Levi-Brules are babies and
    adults, men and women, children and old.
    Levi-Strausses too. Then how we can distinguish
    Levi-Brules from Levi-Strauss?
  • Just in the same simple manner as we can
    distinguish a parrot from a jaguar cause the
    signs Brule and Strauss means the same. The
    family names Levi-Brule and Levi-Strauss are
    conventional signs, while a sing is something
    which has nothing to do with denotatum. These
    European names are as dissimilar to their owner
    as parrot or Jaguar are dissimilar to humans.
    Each one is simply a language. And the Bororo
    language is as good as French. Thus Bororo
    summarize we basically cant go without a
    parrot. And probably add This European is
    absolutely experience-impermeable.
  • In Mike Coles and Silvia Scribners monograph
    were the convincing criticism of linguistic
    determinism doctrine (hypothesis of Sapir-Warf)
    is given one can find the following example Hopi
    designates all flying objects except birds (i.e.
    airplanes, pilots, dragonflies) with one word.
    Whether this mean that they cannot distinguish
    between a pilot and a dragonfly?

14
  • It is not an objects which are labeled with a
    word, but meanings. Meanings, not images
    expressed in word. Ilenkov insisted on it. As a
    material thing an axe has very little distinction
    from a splitting axe. Both are wedges one more
    thin and sharpen, while another more thick and
    blunt. A townsman will hardly distinguish one
    from another. As things and as sensual images
    they are very similar. But they have quite
    different meanings. Lumberjacks know it very
    well. Try to cut flexible twigs with a splitting
    axe and you risk to lose your eyes. Try to split
    with a simple axe a billet of elm tree and you
    risk to lose the axe which can be seized in the
    billet. In meaningful idea of an axe and
    splitting axe is represented the objective
    structure of wood and the logic of action with
    this wood cutting and splitting. All meanings
    are born only in object oriented activity, there
    where the schemas of thinking coincide with the
    schemas of the very object, where the logic of
    aims coincide with the logic of objects, i.e.
    there where The order and connection of ideas is
    the same as the order and connection of things
    (Spinoza). These are not two distinct, but simply
    one and the same order.
  • Linguistic determinism turns a subject into
    wooden marionette stimulated mechanically from
    the language structures. The source of stimuli
    can have sociocultural or cultural-historic
    nature and be presented as archetypes, all
    kinds of taboo and prescriptions, mental schemes
    and paradigms etc.
  • Is there any distinction between this secondary
    structures and primary structures molecular,
    cerebral and alike structures? We are sure that
    there is nothing different between them.

15
  • 6. I cant characterize the category of subject
    in a different way than through the concept of
    activity. The activity in its turn must be
    characterized as self causal, spontaneous, not
    forced from outside action. It means that a
    causal explanation of phenomena of psyche somehow
    or other reduces subjective to the objective,
    psychic to physic, to those which is external to
    the subject. They can be physical,
    molecular-genetic, physiological, socio-cultural,
    linguistic schemes, archetypes everything which
    Russian positivist Bogdanov called Schemes of
    socially organized experience. In all cases
    there is no distinction between physical or
    physiological from one side and sociocultural
    determination from the other. In both cases
    subjective categories and phenomena reduce to
    external regarding to the subject factors, thus a
    psychology lose its special subject matter and
    reduces to physics or physiology, to biology,
    linguistic or sociology. Psyche is regarded in
    this case as epiphenomenon of processes which
    have quite different nature. If in effect we can
    find only those which previously contained in
    cause (while this is the essence of Leibnitz law
    of sufficient reason) thus psychology is
    impossible as a special science.
  • Category of causality is related to objects,
    while subjectness and subjectivity needs in other
    category in category of self causality. How can
    we combine causality with self causality, the
    necessity with freedom, only dialectic can give
    an answer. More definitely the dialectic of
    activity.

16
  • We have described in short in our thesis the
    essence of this dialectic. The dialectic of
    activity doesnt exclude a causality, causal
    relations between subject and object. But we deel
    here with a special type of causality. A call it
    inverted causality. A drag acts on psyche
    directly, causing a pathologic state. The saucer
    of special kef is situated inside the brains.
    Not in the reality. Here we meet the causing of
    the state and not reflection of the reality. It
    is not a reality which cause the state, but a
    physical state is a cause of imaginary reality.
    The physical object, the drag is not an object
    for the subject. It stays behind the scene. The
    psychic experience is only the result, the
    effect. On the contrary in the normal situation
    the psychic experience is reflection of the
    object. The relation is quite reverse.
  • Lets pay attention to the fact that in both
    cases we have an object. But in the first case it
    is not the object for subject, while in the
    second case it is. This forces us to split the
    notion of object and isolate a subject,
    subjectness (predmet or predmetnost) as a
    special category.
  • Exactly on this category is based our
    understanding of inverted causality. And exactly
    with this category and only with it is connected
    everything what has any relation to the subject.
    Exactly with this category is connected all
    content of psychology as a special science a
    science concerning a subject. Spinoza, Vygotsky
    and Ilenkov understood it perfectly. Therefore
    Vygotsky consider freedom as a central problem of
    psychology. Meanwhile a freedom take place only
    there were the subjects statue is determined not
    from behind as Mikhail Lifshitz said, not from
    physiology, but from the front, through
    contemplation of an object before him.
  • is absolutely insistent task of the time. One is
    fruitless without another. I dare say that here
    lies the core problem of CHAT psychology.

17
  • Lets compare two modi of speech I am scared
    (Mne strashno) and I am afraid of somebody or
    something (ja bojus). Psychologically we have
    even one and the same state and in the same time
    we have two different meanings. The first is only
    my state, while the second is objectified state,
    I am afraid because there is HE, who is terrible,
    who exists objectively outside me Their, their
    in the corner as shouts tsar Boris Godunov in
    Musorgskys tragic opera. Not inside me but in
    the corner, outside me. I am afraid not because
    Ive got drugged but because there in the corner,
    before me is standing bloody child. Exactly
    this object causes the Boris fear. This fine
    point is well expressed by the Russian word
    predmet something which is thrown forward and
    is standing before me. Quite the same meaning has
    a German word Genestand standing before me.
    Thus a predmet is not mere external thing.
  • Objects do exist outside me and can stimulate me
    without affecting my subjectivity, my I just as
    radiation. Predmets has to be posited by my own
    activity. An object turns to be a predmet being
    involved into an active object oriented activity.
    A predmet is an object not for itself but for us.
    A subject and its object are an indivisible
    whole. An acacia is a predmet for giraffe only
    because the giraffe himself is for some extent an
    acacia its negative. One dont exist without
    another. A cat is in some extent a mould of a
    mouse, while a mouse is a mould of cat. Evidently
    whalebones are copied from krill. An animal
    posits its object, its predmet not because it has
    a powerful creativity but because itself it is
    posited by ecologic system or biosphere as a part
    of the food chain. Both subject and object
    (predmet) are parts of one and the same thread. A
    subject posits its object in the same extent in
    which an object posits a subject. That is real.
    objective relationship.
  • However the theme of positing of objects, of
    objective intention of psyche is the theme of
    Sasha Surmavas report. From our side we want to
    add to it that the subjects state, his ideas,
    his notions, his affects and aims are posited by
    the object, while the very object is posited by
    the subject. It means that the subject matter of
    psychology is not an isolated object or isolated
    subject, but something single. Splitting of this
    singularity into two opposite sides has to
    investigate a theoretic psychology. This alive
    singularity is a content of dialectic of
    activity. Within any other approach we will be
    doomed to be held up in the hole of crisis
    described by Vygotsky.
  • Thus we can conclude a synthesis of principles
    of cultural-historical approach and principles of
    activity approach

18
  • 7. The determination of psychic processes say of
    thinking by sociocultural schemes and stereotypes
    is a fact. But we can stop on recognizing this
    fact. On the contrary we will come to
    cultural-historic agnosticism and even
    solipsism as Lifshitz indicated.  
  • Its senseless to discuss the nature of humans
    psyche, thinking and consciousness putting aside
    cultural and sociocultural distinctions. Culture
    being widely understood as a sphere of collective
    human activity is the special objective reality
    inside which all human psyche is formed. It is
    this collective work that all sides of human
    psyche consciousness, thinking, reason,
    imagination, memory are involved into. The
    collective experience of generations objectifies,
    turns generally accessible, and its rules,
    schemes and laws turn valid. A person has to
    consider them even more than his/her own
    experience. Evald Ilenkov didnt stop even
    before characterizing the influence of these
    collectively produced schemes and norms with the
    word forced to underline the objective
    character, without which the discussion about
    human thinking turns senseless. Take it away and
    youll keep an event stream without any
    stability, certainty, order or form, and a
    stream of feelings corresponding with it in
    which the human self consciousness, deprived of
    identity, flounders.
  • But all this is only one side of the deed, its
    half. In the very word forced a very
    complicated problem is hidden. Ilenkov realized
    this problem. Unlike animals the schemes of vital
    activity are not given to a human individual
    together with the organization of his natural
    body, they are not encoded in his/her anatomy and
    physiology, in the structure of his brains and
    instincts. In this (but only in this) sense a
    human being can be estimated as tabula rasa a
    creature mostly plastic and capable to act
    according to shapes and schemes of all things. We
    can say the lesser role are paying in his/her
    vital activity encoded structures, a fixed
    order, the freer is he/she the more adequately
    he/she can cognize the order of things. This is
    Spinozian thought. What will change in principle
    if in place of biologiczl organization we put a
    socio-cultural organization? Both there and her?
    the schemes of activity will act forcibly. How in
    this case we can distinguish a human from a
    trained animal, from a bicycling bear acting
    according schemas alien to his biology? If a
    Chinese will never understand Kant while a
    European Confucius (as Spengler asserted) then
    an interaction of cultures and the very existence
    inside one culture are a fiction, something like
    bicycling bear. Thus an acquisition of both alien
    and native sociocultural schemes will be no more
    than banal training.

19
  • If the schemes of human activity are encoded in
    his/her social, inorganic body, in culture, if
    they are acting forcibly then what will be the
    distinction between forcibility of the second
    type and the first one? Both there and here weve
    lost a subject. Both there and here he is only
    forced from outside. Both there and here he/she
    is mere a marionette. Both there and here there
    is no room for psychology.
  • Culture instructs while an individual is
    learning, he/she instructs himself/herself,
    he/she discovers social truths as truths of
    his/her own experience. Teaching and schooling
    are two opposite poles of human thinking. It lies
    in crossing of these coordinates.
  • Unfortunately many theorists find it sufficient
    to include to their discourses in psychology, in
    logic or in philosophy of science etc. the
    magic word socio-historic (context or
    determination or something alike) to solve
    magically all problems. If you meat some
    culturally specific individuals mode of thinking
    try to find an archetype hidden in the history
    of this society. We have nothing to object to
    such type of investigation in the sphere of
    psychology or cognitive sociology, but we have to
    realize that an invocation on society in
    explanation of thinking demands big sacrifice.
  • Here is the explanation of the term social fact
    given by one of the founders of modern sociology.
    If you leave your house in fair weather and open
    your umbrella only because everybody in the
    street are standing with open umbrellas, in this
    case we deal with social fact. Was he right? We
    are sure that a person who opens his umbrella
    only because everybody do it is not a human being
    but a marionette which is pulled strings wires,
    hi is mere automaton, acting according
    behaviorist S?R scheme. Similarly a person who
    laughs no because something makes him laugh but
    only because everybody are laughing around him
    is looking as an idiot. S?R idiot.

20
  • A subject, a thinking, a psyche are only exist
    where culture is not an opaque egg but it plays
    role of an optical system which enables us to see
    an objective world. Surely each human can see
    originally but in general case he/she is not
    contemplating his own uniqueness but the very
    reality which is one and the same for all of us
    just as the Sun. In the same time the originality
    doesnt restricts, but on the contrary it widens
    our cognitive capacities. A human who feels free
    inside different cultures has a wider mental
    outlook and can understand much more.
  • We have to grasp in one and the same notion and I
    the same time two opposites both object and
    subject, internal and external.
  • How can we realize this aim?
  • Here you are the key to this antinomy. WE cant
    understand the nature of psyche neither from
    objective nor from subjective. Psyche is a real
    dialectical movement of 1. objectification, i.e.
    objectification (opredmechivanie) of subjects
    condition, and 2. subjectivisation, i.e.
    desobjectification (raspredmechivanie), revealing
    of its human meaning and activity function.
  • Thus our starting point is not something
    external (a thing) as well as not something
    internal (a subjective reality) but the very
    process of transition, of transformation of
    external into internal and vice verca. This
    process is accomplished in object oriented
    activity.

21
  • 8. And finally a few words about the role of
    signs in thinking.
  • Here we have to highlight the basic divergence
    between two strategies in research of thinking
    the strategy of Vygotsky and the strategy of
    Illenkov.
  • The Vygotskys strategy consists of tracing of
    development of thinking from concrete to
    abstract, from sensual contemplation to abstract,
    significative, sign mediated thinking. He
    realised his strategy in investigation od so
    called syncrets, complexes and notions.
  • Ilenkovs strategy is quite opposite, it starts
    from an abstract and ascends to concrete, he
    moves from the concept (predstavlenie) even
    expressed in words, to the real understanding, or
    conception (ponatie), i.e. to the real meaning.
  • Vygotsky deals with a word as with a unit of
    analysis of thinking. A word mediates the
    relation between stimulus and reaction, i.e. S?R
    relation. It is an essence of his famous triangle
    of mediation. Consequently in the basis of
    thinking he put a mechanical S?R relation.
    Something like knee reflex.
  • Basically important chain in his discourse is a
    sign mediating stimulus and reaction connection.
    A sign or a word in this scheme is something like
    meditative structures of Levi-Strauss. A sign
    as a mediator.
  • A purpose of mediating structures is the follows
    to help a child to perfume a transition from
    vital stimulus to abstract thought, to cultural
    value. We try to impart knowledge to a child, to
    provoke his/her intellectual appetite to learning
    and to science etc. Then on the way to
    sought-for reaction we put a bait - positive
    reinforcement. Do you like a candy? Than solve a
    problem. Thus stretching your hands for sweet you
    will unwittingly eat the useful things.
  • Unfortunately that is the predominant way of
    teaching in modern school. The school say learn
    and you turn rich, learn and you become
    successful. It looks like a bitter pill in sweet
    cover.
  • Just in this way Vygotsky understands a mediating
    role of abstract word. The initial premise is
    natural interest to something concrete, to
    something sweetish. But on the way to the candy
    one unwittingly will eat bitter.

22
  • Vygotsky distinguished three functions of a word
    1. nominative, 2. indicative, and 3. signicative.
  • The nominative function of a word consists of
    ascribing an individual name to an object. Sign
    is therefore a label stuck on a thing.
  • In indicative function a sign is not attached to
    the single thing but to the group of things. It
    indicates the common trait now. Here we have
    generalisation and abstraction.
  • The third and the highest stage is abstract
    thinking as it is. In word as a sign the general
    is separated from individual, the meaning of the
    word is general as it is.
  • Thus sign can separate abstract and general from
    one side and concrete and individual from the
    other. Thus the verbal thinking because it
    operates with abstractions and generalisations is
    declaring a thinking as it is.
  • A word, a sign replaces a thing. On what grounds?
    A sign has nothing to do with his denotatum.
    Repeating the word chocolate doesnt make you
    feel the taste of it. Meanwhile we are being
    persuaded that say the word milk is nearly this
    tasty and nourishing white liquid.
  • Bergson ironically remarked we think with
    labels, i.e. fictions. A conventional sign is a
    fiction. Consequently a thinking based on signs
    is based on fictions.

23
  • I dare to say that the nominative function of a
    sign doesnt exist at all. A sign cant be
    related to a thing. That is absurdity, nonsense.
    According to Alexander Mescheriakov which worked
    with deaf-blind children in Zagorsk a dog can
    grasp a conditional relation between a sign and a
    thing after eight to ten attempts, while a human
    child needs roughly eight thousand attempts. One
    can say that a dog is a thousand times more smart
    than a child.
  • But the thing is that this connection is absurd
    and a human child is more sensible for this
    absurdity just because of his smartness. An
    isolated sign cant be connected with a thing
    because the isolated sign is something
    meaningless. We have had minimum two signs. If at
    each crossroads we can see only red traffic light
    it means for us no more than say the color of its
    mast. The name Lev has some meaning only because
    besides and alongside with Lev exist Ivan, and
    Mike, and Natalia and so on. The object
    attribution is not a quality of a single sign but
    of relation between signs. This relation is the
    same as the relation between things. (Ordo et
    connection). The so called nominative function
    is no more that a new edition of decrepit
    Hegelian idea of Namengebendekraf - or naming
    ability.
  • Ferdinand de Saussure convincingly argued that a
    language consists from phonemes, not from sounds.
    It is a speech which consists of sounds.
    Meanwhile Vygotsky didnt distinguish a language
    and a speech. Phoneme is a sound in function of
    differentiation of meanings. Not the identifying
    of a sound and a thing lies in the basis of
    language, but identifying of two orders of order
    of things and of order of signs (sounds). So we
    can see how exact was Spinoza in his idea that
    The order and connection of ideas is the same as
    the order and connection of things (Spinoza)
    One instead of two different orders. It is
    similar to the case with Bororo and Arara. Bororo
    differ from their neighbours in the same way as a
    parrot and a jaguar.

24
  • Ilenkovs strategy of study of thinking is
    opposite to the one described above to the
    strategy of Vygotsky
  • 1. Thinking moves not from concrete to abstract
    (this is movement to nowhere), but from abstract
    to concrete, to exactly definite sense. When I
    say clock I dont mean the generalities of
    mechanical, electronic, sidereal or sun clocks,
    hourglass, and even my pulse. I mean only one
    absolutely concrete thing the function of time
    measurement the meaning.
  • 2. What Vygotsky calls ponyatie, conception, is
    only predstavlenie, concept expressed in word for
    Il'enkov
  • 3. Vygotsky understands generalization as the
    finding of the general characteristic, abstract,
    that is inherent in all things of the given
    class. On the contrary, Ilenkov says, that
    ponyatie, conception doesnt need lots of things,
    a group of different things that have something
    similar. Nicola Carno didnt need thousands of
    steam engines he needed only one.
  • 4. The thinking of an engineer isnt expressed
    in words, but in schemes, and the thinking of
    Leonardo da Vinci isnt expressed in words
    either. Both examples of thinking arent anyhow
    worse than thinking of a philosopher or a
    mathematician that is expressed in words.
  • The conclusion the cultural-historical
    psychology is impossible without a theory of
    object oriented activity. We find approach to
    understanding this in the works of Vygotsky. In
    Russia Il'enkov, Leont'ev and Mescheryakov
    confidently worked in this direction.
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