Tuesday, May 23rd at 9am Pacific Daylight Savings Time
Guest Speaker: Eugene Subbotsky, Reader (Emeritus) Lancaster University, UK
“Imagination and Cultural-Historical Method: Limits of Applicability” (you can find the PPT presentation here)
The 9th Session in the Seminar on Imagination & Creativity in Vygotsky’s Work. Contact Francine Smolucha at email@example.com for the ZOOM link.
A discussion of L.S. Vygotsky’s third paper on imagination and creativity “Imagination and its Development in Childhood”: One of six lectures given by Vygotsky in 1932 on the development of higher psychological functions (perception, memory, thinking in concepts, imagination, emotion, and will). Vygotsky describes the co-ordination of HPF as higher order psychological systems (1930). While the ability to do so begins in adolescence, it is not until adulthood that one becomes proficient at doing this as previously discussed in Vygotsky’s paper “Imagination & Creativity in the Adolescent”.
Eugene Subbotsky (pdf of an unpublished manuscript) “Living Consciousness and the Cultural-historical Method: Limits of Applicability”
L.S. Vygotsky “Imagination and its Development in Childhood” (1932). In The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky, Robert W. Rieber & AAron S. Carton (eds.), 1987, pp. 339-349
L.S. Vygotsky “On Psychological Systems” (1930). (Lev Vygotsky Archive, marxists.org)
Valerijs Makarevics & Dzintra Ilisko (2018). “Creative Imagination and its Development in Ontogenesis.” Rural Environment. Education. Personality. (REEP). Proceedings of the 10th International Scientific Conference. (Vol 11, pp. 223-229). New Findings Consistent with Ribot’s Diagram (1900).
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Thank you Eugene,
For the clarification of how you were using that illustration of ‘life on the moon’.
Rewatching the video, I can see the point you are making. But I think Vygotsky’s
position would be that it is an example of reconstructive (creative) imagination,
not reproductive imagination.
We can agree to disagree to advance the discourse.
What we have here are three types of imagination that have permeable boundaries. The underlying issue is how we consciously construct a
fantasy. This is very interesting and requires further thought.
2. Reconstructive imagination as creative imagination that is consciously
directed by means of verbal self-guidance or creative collaboration with
others, a Higher Mental Function. Vygotsky would consider the
illustration of ‘life on the moon’ as an example of reconstructive imagination
rather than reproductive imagination, because it was not an attempt to
remember something that was previously seen by the artist. Reconstructive
imagination is “capable of creating infinite combinations of previous
elements. It cannot, however, create new elements” (Vygotsky, Imagination and its Development in Childhoodpage 340 of the Collected Works, 1987).
It creates new images out of sensory motor experiences.
“Even in dreaming, we see nothing that we have not experienced in some
form when awake” (Ibid, p.340)
Part of the denial of consciously directed processes in creative imagination is centered on visual isomorphisms (visual analogy) as the basis of figurative
thinking. Dreams characteristically fuse images together as in Kekule’s
daydream of the ouroboros, but people can learn to generate such fused
images (Benzene ring as a snake biting its tail) in a consciously directed
process. Programs in Art & Design, especially focused on
advertising, include exercises for identifying and incorporating visual
analogies in a work of art or advertisement.
3. Creative imagination as an unconscious process that has its own
mechanisms (for lack of a better word). This seems to be what Eugene
is calling ‘lived experience‘. How does this differ from the Freudian
concept of Primary Process Thought that creates dreams?????
In Vygotsky’s theory, elementary psychological functions (Lower Mental
Functions) do not disappear, but can continue to be used throughout the
life-span along with consciously directed HMF. The issue Eugene raises
is whether creative imagination is the exception among LMF, in that it cannot becomes a Higher Mental Function (consciously directed by means of inner
My position would be that an unconscious lived experience does influence
much of our thinking. And this requires a serious consideration of
how it interacts with consciously directed HMF. If we disregard the
influence of lived experience (magical thinking) we overintellectualize
human motivation. However this is very Neo-Freudian, which I do not think is
[Tolkien to a great extent consciously constructed the fantasy world of Middle Earth – just as JK Rowling did with the World of Harry Potter. This doesn’t rule out some
regressions in service of the ego that would now be considered mind wandering.
How do adults create playworlds for themselves?????]
Thanks for your interesting considerations. I wouldn’t mind calling this picture a product of reconstructing imagination, and it does have the creative element in it, because it is re-combinations of known elements.
However, I would disagree that “Even in dreaming, we see nothing that we have not experienced in some form when awake” (Ibid, p.340). This statement has no empirical support whatsoever (as much in Vygotsky’s brilliant writings), and to agree or disagree with this statement is a matter of personal choice. As far as it concerns me, I sometimes see in dreams something completely out of my experience, thought if you believe Vygotsky’s claim, you might begin inventing your past experience to justify is claim. It is pointless to try to persuade a believer out of his or her belief.
Generally, I have noticed that when a follower of Vygotsky comes under the spell of the LMFs/HMFs distinction, he or she cannot be persuaded otherwise and will show miracles of creativity in order to put everything under this distinction. As I already mentioned, in my view this distinction is much outdated and doesn’t stand novel empirical research in psychology. What is called LMS’s should be called basic living consciousness (experience), and what is HMFs should be called (culture mediated) objectivised consciousness (experience), without classifying one as lower, and the other as higher. This is not just simple renaming, but has a rational reason, because what they call LMFs has a connotation of something simple and unsophisticated, and this creates underappreciation of living consciousness, both in terms of theoretical errors, and in terms of empirical poverty of research on living consciousness.
Regarding theoretical errors, if you red my paper “Vygotsky’s distinction between Lower and Higher Mental Functions and Recent Studies on Infant Cognitive Development’
I pointed out at one of Vygotsky’s error (claiming that constancy of perception should be HMF). In terms of empirical paucity, you write “In Vygotsky’s theory, elementary psychological functions (Lower Mental Functions) do not disappear but can continue to be used throughout the life-span along with consciously directed HMF.” I agree with that, but where is empirical research of the LMFs after the HMFs are formed? Vygotskians don’t provide such empirical research, because who would waist one’s time on researching lower functions if there are more complex and interesting higher functions to take care on? In reality, in my view living consciousness is the potential source of shaking new psychological discoveries. For instance, the whole line of research on psi is about living consciousness. I used to be sceptical to it, but then did some research, alone and in collaboration, and found that these phenomena (such as remote viewing and mind-over-matter are real, though hard to study empirically (see for instance Subbotsky, E. (2013) Sensing the future: Reversed causality or a non-standard observer effect?
Subbotsky, E. & Ryan, A. (2015). Motivation and belief in the paranormal in a remote viewing task. The Open Behavioral Science Journal, vol. 15.
There is nothing Neo-Freudian in studying magical thinking except that much of MT is subconscious, but then again, subconscious processes have been known long before Freud.
Regarding objectivised consciousness (HMFs in Vygotsky’s terms), it has important role in controlling and directing living consciousness, for teaching knowledge and adapting living consciousness to social environment, but it is free of creativity and spontaneity of living consciousness. As I argued in one of my previous letters to you (to which you didn’t respond), HMFs cannot explain the most wonderful phenomena in consciousness, such as how birds can fly, monkeys can jump in trees and humans can make discoveries.
I agree to disagree.
There’s got to be something oobvious I am missing about equating more real and more permanent. I’m real but not peprmanent. No living thing is permanent. Living consciousness dies with the body, but is real enough, as long as the body is alive.
See More from Eugene Subbotsky
I remember writing a paper on the distinction between real and permanent. The difference between permanent and non-permanent entities is in origin and perception. Simply put, a non-permanent entity is real temporarily, its origins are unclear and it exists only when it is perceived by senses (when we are in the waking state) or by the mind (when we see a dream) but becomes only a piece of memory when it goes “out of sight”.
In contrast, a permanent entity is the entity whose origins can be traced, and which remains a part of reality even when it is no longer observed or is destroyed.
Examples of non-permanent entities are UFO’s, religious visions (like St Mary or Christ), characters and events we see in dreams (neuroscientists say the origins is the brain, but we don’t know why the same brain impulses create this particular image and not the other one and can’t prove that brain processes and mind events are causally connected rather than being just correlational).
Examples of permanent entities are trees, stars, galaxies, tables and people.
But the differences are more complex than that, so in reality we can talk about the ‘degree of permanence’ rather than about two unrelated classes. For instance, a cloud of smoke from your cigarette, or a short live quantum particle such as a quark, are permanent in terms of origins, but in terms of perception they are hard to maintain. My dream about winning a million in a lottery or thought about having a fatal car accident are permanent in terms of origins, but non-permanent in terms of perception.
The corollary of this distinction is that non-permanent objects are changeable by mind alone, and permanent are not. When a witch tells you that when she puts a spell you will have a car accident soon, you might not believe it consciously, but rather decline the spell. But if the witch tells you that she might move a house by her spell, you know well this won’t happen.
Now, our consciousness, both living (creative thinking, perception and dreams) and objectivized (artifacts, languages, books etc.) is both real and permanent in terms of perception, because, in my view, our living consciousness is the only thing that we can call “real”. But in terms of origins, our living consciousness is non-permanent, because we don’t know where it comes from. The alternative that neuroscience offers (brain makes the consciousness) is inacceptable as it is circular, since brain is already a part of consciousness. We also don’t know whether the whole world disappears when we die or keeps rolling over into the future, though I, like most people, would like to believe the latter option.
See more on that in my books “The Bubble Universe’ and “Faith through the prism of psychology”.
Hope this makes sense
Can we substitute “grammatical” for “logical” and voobrazhenie/into image making, for living consciousness?
Why, so far in this discussion, hasn’t the distinction between paradigmatic and syntagmatic been introduced in
this discussion so far. If anyone is interested in that direction to the discussion, I suggest Bruner’s article on the
topic as a starting point, with something from Katherine Nelson. This distinction puts time into the process we are
discussing in contrast to logic which is usually considered timeless.
ps- I know Eugene has an objection to this idea but I do not understand it. I am hoping to arrive at the point where Eugene and I agree. Thanks Francine and Eugene for this very helpful interchange
See More from Larry Smolucha
Thanks for your suggestions. The distinction between paradigmatic and syntagmatic links within language is relevant specifically to linguistics (see https://psocialsciences.com/wp-content/uploads/7.-A-Review-How-Syntagmatic-Paradigmatic-Relations-are-Significant-for-Language-Learning.pdf,)
In the current discussion, both paradigmatic and syntagmatic links is what I have been calling ‘the logic of language’, distinguishing this logic from the more general (Aristotelian) ‘logic of thought’ (the laws of identity, contradiction and the excluded middle). What we are discussing here is the psychological distinction between logical thinking (which in my perspective includes the ‘logic of language’) and magical thinking, which is immune to logic and because of that immunity should be excluded from what is meant by HMFs. Logic (of any kind) is a ‘mental carcass’ made of steel, whereas magical thinking is a ‘mental fluid’ (it’s like the ocean of the famous ‘Solaris’ by Stanislav Lem, which produces unpredictable fantastical complex structures that appear and disappear without causes or reasons).
Generally, what we are discussing here as living consciousness is better understood in terms of images and fantasy than in terms of math, logic and linguistics. In Lem’s ‘Solaris’ people are faced with some intelligent entity which is immune to Earthly logic, and this is a perfect image of which I mean by magical thinking (Coincidentally, I recommend watching Andrey Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” film as a ‘documentary addition’ to the current discussion).
I believe that what you call magical thinking, I call imagination. во-ображ/ение. Into-image-making.
The imagined world made real (Plotkin). As you have persuasively argued, culture acts as constraint, and
syllogisms represent a particular configuration of constraints that school children constantly struggle with
in the fordist classroom no less than the workers running the conveyor belts that put the little stickers with
a bar code on them to indicate the exact amount your phone’s paycard will deduce the amount from your
account. How does all of this actually work? Don’t ask me. To me its all magical, just like this form of conversation.
Growing up, as they say, is a form of disenchantment.
As compensation, adults the ability to create space to play, even under difficult circumstances.
My two cents
Culture might be that condition that excludes a mentality
capable of measuring it. T. Adorno
I agree with those (like Ribot and Vygotsky) who distinguish between two kinds of imagination (into-image making). One is like tossing a pack of cards (reproductive imagination) and another like inventing new cards into the traditional pack (productive or creative). Adding new cards might spoil the rules of the game, but in some cases create new game with new rules. Magical thinking is the latter type of imagination, but it never happens in its pure form, rather, in the everyday thinking MT is mixed with logical thinking and with reproductive imagination.
All and all, living consciousness is a kind of ’thought salad’ that is a bizarre mixture of different modes of mental activity – created images, remembered images, mental representations of concepts, etc, and all of that is spiced and sauced with emotions.
For me, the best way to understand MT is to sit back in a quiet room, close my eyes and let the associations play their game. But don’t overdo it, because in the deprivation chamber MT might grow into hallucinations.
The important thing about MT is to break away with causal thinking and accept that some images emerge without premises.
Thank You Eugene, for clarifying the value of thinking as a “creative mess”.
And I think the rest of what you have written here helps to clarify what
you have been saying about HMFs as language mediated in contrast to
LMFs as “thinking without words.”
I have some questions:
2. And what about my rather outrageous suggestion that dialectical
thinking is magical thinking – (the search for a concept that is a synthesis
both A and not A)? This is in sharp contrast with Aristotle’s basic premise
that either A or not A is correct.
3. You write “But when we dress the results of our thinking in language, it acquires the logical structure, because language is logical by necessity.”
One could counter that much speech and writing is illogical not following a
line of reasoning. Language does provide a grammatical structure – is that what
you mean by logical?
The way you are approaching these topics is very interesting,
and as Bernard had said during the ZOOM session it does make us
reexamine how we have been thinking about the relation of LMF and HMF.
Thanks for your interesting questions. Let me put it this way.
1. From my perspective, there is a development of LMFs (which I call living consciousness), both in phylo- and ontogeny. Have you ever watched a monkey jumping in trees when chased by a higher rank monkey or a preditor? That is a perfect demonstration of living consciousness (read thinking) in its early and unspoilt form. Even if the monkey could speak it doesn’t have time to consciously decide which of many branches of the tree ahead are capable to keep its weight, and which aren’t. The monkey makes a creative decision instantly, in a matter of fractions of a second, and each decision is vital, otherwise – falling down and death. This is a model how our creative thinking works, only instead of the branches we have images and ideas to jump to. This is the phylogenetic development of LMFs (I hate this term but keep using it because most Vygotskians are under its spell).
Ontogenetically, I argued in my presentation that living consciousness develops in the degree of awareness and volume. Infants are creative, but they aren’t aware about this, and adults are, and even develop theories of creativity (a useless exercise, because creative thinking is irreducible to simpler ideas and thus immune to theorising). Further, living consciousness develops by increasing its volume. For instance, infants don’t have feeling of disgust and would lick and try to taste everything, and adults don’t because their MT makes their living consciousness more synesthetic (remember the case of Shereshevsky buying the ice-cream from Luria’s “Little book of great memory”).
And there are more lines of the development of living consciousness and creative thought, in exceptionally creative individuals, but this development is nothing like the development of HMFs.
2. Dialectical thinking (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) looks like MT, but only superficially, because it develops in time. When you are in the captivity of a thesis, someone else may produce antithesis, and then you two might come up with the synthesis through discussion or fight – this is still logical thinking at the bottom. A war is an example: One nation has a thesis, another – antithesis, and synthesis is reached after millions are dead and both nations are exhausted to extreme. In contrast, MT is an instant combination of apparently unrelated things. Look at the artwork by Salvador Dali – a clear case of MT in the domain of visual, do you see dialectical thinking there?
3. When I listed your written message as a ‘creative mess’, I didn’t mean your language, I meant your thinking. Linguistically, every written sentence was perfectly logical in terms of semantics and English grammar, but your thinking taken as a whole was illogical and therefore creative. In contrast, when you take a computer program, it is logical both in terms of language and thinking, but it lacks creativity of its own.
I hope I this makes some sense
Thank You for the follow-up Eugene,
If as you say “non-magical thinking is most clearly expressed in computer programming (such as Basic or Fortran), or writing a manuscript on logic and mathematics” – then using everyday concepts is not thinking as a HMF (it is perhaps magical thinking). But Mike had said that for Vygotsky everyday concepts were HMF, just as scientific concepts were.
I don’t mind examining my line of reasoning further, that Eugene described as follows “it is from the point of view of that all our normal everyday thinking is magical, but from the point of view of logical consistency this is a mess of unrelated indicators, concepts, and persons..” While my line of thinking might appear to be “a mess of unrelated, indicators, concepts, and persons” (perhaps mind wandering) – there is an underlying logic (maybe more dialectical than Aristotelian). Dialectical thinking must be magical thinking???????
Is my conclusion illogical (or just my way of getting there)?
Mathematical formulas such as the Pythagorean Theorem, Euclid’s Algebraic
Geometry, and the estimation of the value of Pi in calculating the circumference
of a circle, all predate the Scientific Revolution by centuries. These forms of analytic thinking are examples of HMF that differ from thinking in scientific concepts.
So “thinking in scientific concepts” is a relatively new cultural phenomenon, yet
Vygotsky refers to scientific concepts as “true concepts” (in The Development of Scientific Concepts in Childhood, first paragraph). But are scientific concepts the only true concepts? or the best example of a true concept?
The terminology Larry and I used to describe the collaboration of imagination
and analytic thinking is more inclusive than saying imagination and thinking
in scientific concepts. If we want to consider thinking in higher level concepts
(that are not exclusively scientific concepts), we are going to have to figure out what that means.
Let me add, that I am not offended by Eugene’s critique of my line of thinking.
I found it somewhat amusing considering that I am the only woman (thus far
to venture into this discussion on thinking in concepts).
I am surprised to read that you might have associated my message with offence. What I meant was that everyone’s everyday thinking (mine as much as yours), being measured by the standard of AI, is a mess. Just the opposite, what I meant was that living consciousness is a creative mess, and it is only from this mental broth that artificial (logical) languages, as well as any languages, could be distilled.
Importantly, we need to distinguish between thinking and ‘speaking or writing’. As I tried to say in my presentation, thinking doesn’t need language, and that is what makes thinking magical. But when we dress the results of our thinking in language, it acquires the logical structure, because language is logical by necessity. When we talk about ‘thinking in concepts’ (whatever version of the ‘concept of the concept’ we adopt from the recommended Stanford Encyclopedia paper), we already talk about objectivised thinking, that is logical thinking.
Because HMFs are defined as language mediated, they are already a form of objectivised consciousness and, therefore, conceptual and logical. What I disagree with Vygotsky about is the role of what he calls LMFs. It is the LMFs (i.e., ‘thinking without words’) that give us the whole bulk of creativity and culture, not the HMFs. The HMFs only feed on the creativity of living consciousness, converting its products in the form of the ‘fossilised consciousness’ that can be taught and transmitted to others. That is why I insist that naming LMFs ‘lower’ was unfortunate.
Thank you for considering this email about thinking in concepts as a HMF.
On my to do list is to reread Vygotsky’s writings on thinking in concepts
to see if he does include everyday concepts among thinking as a HMF.
And where he specifically mentions scientific concepts.
[In our writings, my husband Larry and I would use the term logical/analytic
thinking instead of the term ‘thinking in concepts’.]
Since the most obvious things are sometimes overlooked, please humor me here:
Prior to the Scientific Revolution in Europe (associated with Copernicus
(1547) and Francis Bacon (1620)), there was formal logic introduced by Aristotle
surely a HMF. And prior to Aristotle, there were mathematicians and architects for whom thinking in geometric concepts was a HMF (for example, the unnamed architects who designed the Egyptian pyramids, and the ancient Greek mathematicians Pythagoras and Euclid).
[And wasn’t geometry thought of as a form of mysticism?]
Also there were architectural achievements in non-Western cultures (that must have been the result of geometric thinking). So mythopoetic or magical thinking has existed side by side with thinking in geometric concepts throughout history in some people in every culture?????. And teaching children how to use mathematical formulas used in geometry is not actually imposing Western colonialist science.
But it is imposing Western educational standards for mass public education, whereas in non-Western cultures suchmentoring was an only available
for a select few.
Now we live in a global technocracy where better paying jobs require
skills in computer processing and programming, and technological skills.
The mythopoetic or magical thinking that accompanies this can be
found in videogames. And maybe social media itself functions as a videogame.
What do you think?????
In my view, most of our everyday thinking is magical, because it uses not the syllogistic reasoning and Aristotelian laws of thinking, but associations by sympathy, contrast, contagion, and some other magical structures, such as ‘something from nothing’. The non-magical thinking is most clearly expressed in computer programming (such as Basic or Fortran), or writing a manuscript on logic and mathematics. Just take this message of yours: you speak of Vygotsky, then your husband Larry, then Europe and Copernicus, then HMFs, then geometry, then mysticism, Western colonialist science, etc. etc. To you this looks logical and consistent, and it is from the point of view of that all our normal everyday thinking is magical, but from the point of view of logical consistency this is a mess of unrelated indicators, concepts, and persons.. In programming, if you use a single symbol in the wrong place, all of the program goes to trash. But our everyday thinking is not programming, it unfolds under the laws of magic, So, answering your question “So mythopoetic or magical thinking has existed side by side with thinking in geometric concepts throughout history in some people in every culture?????” I am inclined to say that mythopoetic and magical thinking is the normal way of thinking throughout cultures, ages and people, whereas rational “geometrical” thinking is a relatively recent invention (historically), requires special efforts, is hard to do and is based on magical thinking as its basis.
See More from Larry Smolucha
Interesting paper, thanks for navigating me to it. I agree that the experiments are nice and the reality threshold for perception is a challenging problem, only partly touched upon in this study. But the ideology of the paper is typically neuroscientific – brain does the job, not the mind. When reading papers framed in this ideology, I always wonder who actually the author is – the one whose name is shown under the paper’s title or the name owner’s brain. In other words, brain is personalised and attributed the function of the author, whereas the author’ Self becomes totally invisible.
But joke’s aside, the ‘reality monitoring’ is a fascinating area for studying imagination, to which I didn’t stay indifferent too. For example, in one study I was surprised to find out that pre-school children treated fantastical objects to be as permanent (read ‘real’) as perceived or imagined objects, whereas adults treated fantastical objects as significantly less permanent (real) that either perceived or imagined ones. Isn’t this another illustration of Vygotsky’s hypothesis that in the course of cognitive development imagination comes under the influence of thinking? This is where we can see the exchange between HMF’s and living consciousness. Even more interesting was that the imagined personally significant objects (like us having a traffic accident in the future) are even less permanent (real) than fantastica objects and become vulnerable to magical manipulations.
If interested, see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7966055_The_Permanence_of_Mental_Objects_Testing_Magical_Thinking_on_Perceived_and_Imaginary_Realities
Found this article among my pop-ups – it is about the difference between
perception and imagination. To me, it lacks a neuropsychology systems approach.
It almost becomes reductionist looking for localization of visual perception or
imagination in the occipital lobe (as a difference of threshold). The suggestion
is made that the frontal lobe might make the determination of whether one is seeing something or imagining something.
Is It Real or Imagined? How Your Brain Tells the Difference. | Quanta Magazine
New experiments show that the brain distinguishes between perceived and imagined mental images by checking whether they cross a “reality threshold.”
I would lok for prefrontal cerebral cortex systems of executive functions along with self-regulating inner speech making judgement calls about reality or fantasy.
Surprised that sensory deprivation studies were not mentioned because it was found that the absence of sensory motor activation led to mistaking fantasy for reality.
Those are just some of my thoughts.
What do you think?
Amen to Eugene’s (ironically) proposed “brain as author”.
But I’m still wondering about the presupposabilty of “reality”.
Attached is a paper by Felin et al titled “Rationality, perception, and the all-seeing eye” that makes a case for the problematic nature of presupposing a singular reality. They make their argument via a critique of Daniel Kahneman’s approach to rationality and visual illusions as “mistakes” (a claim that the authors take issue with).
Here is one of their concluding paragraphs that sums up the argument nicely:
“As we have discussed, visual illusions do not provide evidence of bias (Rogers, 2014; cf. Hoffman & Richards, 1984). Instead they reveal how the perceptual system works (well) in the presence of incomplete, degraded, or ambiguous input information (Koenderink, 2012; Zavagno et al., 2015) [MIND THE GAP!]. Visual illusions reveal that multiple responses, or ways of seeing, are equally rational and plausible, as highlighted in our discussion of the Ponzo illusion (see Fig. 1). Rational judgment, then, much like visual perception, can be seen as “multistable” (Attneave, 1971). As noted by Schwartz et al., “multistability occurs when a single physical stimulus produces alternations between different subjective percepts” (2012: 896, emphasis added). Whereas Kahneman and others working in the heuristics-and-biases tradition emphasize the “physical” or “actual properties of the object of judgment” (2003: 1453) and thereby focus on a single, fixed, and veridical interpretation (i.e., the rational response), we argue that even simple stimuli are characterized by indeterminacy and ambiguity. Perception is multistable, as almost any percept or physical stimulus—even something as simple as color or luminance (Koenderink, 2010)—is prone to carry some irreducible ambiguity and is susceptible to multiple different interpretations.”
The thing that they don’t quite get to, except in a brief clause in their conclusion, is that it is via culture and history (including history-as-evolutionary-biology – color could never be the “mental paint” of the world were it not for evolution) that stability (i.e., how we experience the world most of the time) is produced in a world that is multi-stable.
Perhaps this is where a cultural-historical approach to perception is needed?
Thank you for an expanded discussion of my commentary.
Most interesting. There are three issues that I would raise for further
discussion by our XLCHC community:
Here is one way of approaching the question of the role of imaginary play
for children in contrast to adults. (Gillian’s email called for a further
discussion of the developmental role of imaginary play). From a
psychoanalytic perspective imaginary play in adults would be
considered a regression, possibly even a ‘regression in service of the ego’
an important process in adult creativity. The question arises as to
the possible maturation of imaginary pretend play as a consciously
directed activity. One of the earliest papers that my husband and I
wrote is titled “Creativity as a Maturation of Symbolic Play” –
in which we advanced a neo-Freudian developmental theory of creative
imagination (prior to my Vygotsky translations).
2. The role of creative collaboration (as it relates to pretend play and other
actvities such as Suki John’s chorea drama Sh’ma that we discussed in a
previous ZOOM session. Sharing of lived consciousness becomes a social
‘enterprise’ that requires the use of cultural semiotic systems (language,
music, dance, visual imagery, even mathematical formulas for scientists).
But it is not just a sharing, but a co-construction of new lived consciousness
that is the nature of creative collaborations. On June 20th, our readings
will include a paper by Vera John-Steiner on lifespan creative collaboration.
3. Cognitive development as the remembering of things already known.
At the level of personal experience, it can feel at times that one is trying
to remember something that is already known – somewhere in the
brain, or in the Akashic Records, in a place where there is no space or time.
Since science has yet to address this phenomenon, we are left with
accounts that are poetic, bordering on mysticism. For Socrates and Plato
this phenomena was explained as trying to remember past lives – memories
that were ‘erased’ by taking a drink of water from the river Lethe just prior
to being born. [I once remarked that I just “wet my lips’ when it was time
to take a drink at the river, to which my friend remarked that he
“filled up an entire canteen to take with him so he wouldn’t remember”.]
Another fanciful ‘notion’ would be that we have generational memories
stored in our DNA.
To a strictly scientific mind grounded in realism some ideas are
ridiculous and most not be entertained, much less shared publicly.
I want to say “however in non-Western cultures such personal experiences
are part of the cultural framework” but even in ancient Greece such ideas
were entertained as evidenced in Socrates remarks as quoted by Plato.
Was it Aristotle who put an end to all this nonsense??????
Or some ‘ecumenical council”?????
Very interesting thoughts! Particularly about Socrates’ revelations and the “remembering theory”. Just to mention that the reason for this theory was the overcoming the ‘learning paradox’. The paradox is in the fact that in order to learn something a person has to recognise what s/he is looking for, otherwise the person would not even notice the material s/he is supposed to learn. Briefly, the paradox is as follows:
If you know what you’re looking for, inquiry is unnecessary.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, inquiry is impossible.
Therefore, inquiry is either unnecessary or impossible.
I addressed this issue in the paper Luria and Vygotsky: challenges to current developmental research. In that paper I argued that, by and large, Vygotsky’s concept of cognitive development (like that of Piaget) can be fully apprehended within the theory of “tabula rasa” (the blank slate), which goes back to Aristotle (1936) but most clearly was elaborated by John Locke (1996). Both Vygotsky and Piaget did acknowledge that new-borns had some innate abilities, but these abilities (simple reflexes, sensations, perceptions, mnemonic ability, and movements) are far from being knowledge: all proper knowledge come to the child through learning “from nature and society”’ which consists of a unique combination of following the adults’ instructions or imitations of adults’ actions (Vygotsky’s emphasis) and independent exploration (Piaget’s emphasis). From this philosophical view it follows that cognitive development is the acquisition of knowledge and skills; hence, Vygotsky could not accept the idea that “knowledge-like structures” (i.e., infants’ “understanding” of the constancy of perception) are innate, because accepting this would mean that there is no a place for development. By sharing the ‘blank slate” view on cognitive development Vygotsky (like Piaget) gets trapped in the Plato’s “paradox of knowledge” .
According to Meno, in order to be able to learn anything a person has to already know properties or attributes of what he or she is going to learn, otherwise the person would be unable to set up targets for his or her learning, and even if he or she accidentally came across the target, the person would not be able to recognize it. Alternatively, if the person does know the properties and attributes of the target that he or she is aiming to learn, then the person knows the target and there is no point in learning. Either way, there is no point in learning (read “in cognitive development”). In order to escape this paradox, Socrates developed his theory of anamnesis, suggesting that what appears to be learning is in fact remembering of what one has forgotten. Socrates illustrated the theory by asking an uneducated slave boy questions about a geometrical theorem. At first it appeared that the boy did not know the theorem, but by asking leading questions Socrates was able to help the boy to come to the true answer. This indicates that the boy was not taught the theorem via instruction; rather, with Socrates’s help, the boy reached the true knowledge by recollecting what he had already knew but forgotten. Surprisingly, the discoveries of infants’ precocious abilities recover Plato’s theory of anamnesis for developmental psychology. These discoveries show that infants do possess cognitive skills that are akin to knowledge, albeit knowledge that exists in the embryonic state. Cognitive development, then, is represented as the process of elaboration and perfection of the pre-existing knowledge from its embryonic form (read LMFs) to its mature form as we see it in older children and adults (read HMFs).
Thus, by discovering the striking complexity of LMFs, the recent studies on infants’ cognition challenge the “tabula rasa” concept of cognitive development, but at the same time they bring new meaning to Vygotsky’s distinction between lower and higher mental functions and help Vygotsky’s theory of development out of the paradox of knowledge. Today I would only add that when the HMF’s first appear, the ‘remembering process doesn’t stop but continues as a separate body of the ‘living consciousness’, along with the development of HMFs.
A question I wanted to ask in the discussion on Tuesday (but we ran out of time) is: what exactly is developing? I was excited by the discussion of imagination that Vygotsky describes in the paper on “Imagination and Creativity in Childhood” where he quotes Ribot and offers the small schematic to describe the two lines of development of reason or intellect, and then imagination and their come together and transforming each other in adolescence. I found the description of these two lines of development really compelling and had never thought about the revolutionary impact of what we come out of adolescence with. In your graphic which I can still see in my mind where there is living consciousness and then HMFs having their own branch, how do we account for what is developing in each path, and what forces the revolution/transformation in adolescence? I am curious about the revolution part and how we backtrack from that to see what has been developing right before that, and for years before this time. When you speak of living consciousness, what is developing, and how and at what points in time does it interact with HMFs? Are there particular turning points in development that you pay attention to? Gillian
See More from Eugene Subbotsky
Hi Gillian, thanks for your questions. Partly I answered some of it in my reply to Francine’s commentary, but here a few more thoughts. In Ribot’s diagram to which Vygotsky refers creative imagination and rational thinking intersect at one (allegedly at adolescents) and then in most people they divide again, with the CI going into a decline. In exceptional few CI becomes ‘rationalised’ and keeps in line with rational thinking for a longer time.
In my perspective, what Ribot (and Vygotsky) really mean here is the development of reproductive imagination, not the creative one. In my presentation (now available on CP as a PPt file) I think I provided arguments to that creative imagination precedes language and is independent of language, it is only the products of creative process that are being fixed in language or other cultural forms (e.g., writings, paintings, or movements, like dance).
Both lines of consciousness – the living consciousness and the acculturated one (HMFs) develop in parallel, but in different forms. HMF’s develop via becoming more internalised (egocentric speech and staff) and changing their role in the system (like Vygotsky says). Development of creative imagination does take place as well, but not in the form of restructuring internalising and restructuring, but in the form of growing awareness and volume. For example, babies are not aware of their creativity, and adolescents are. Babies don’t have the feeling of disgust (which is a manifestation of creativity too, but in its undesirable form), and adolescents do. With the growing experience and connections with the wider part of the world (both natural and social), creative imagination is fed with much more raw material, but its underlying mechanism (dissociation and subsequent recombination and association on the basis of cognitive or/and emotional resemblance, contact or participation) remains the same. Figuratively speaking, creative imagination is a beam of creative light, and culture provides a screen for this beam to reveal itself. Some artists acknowledge this:
“You have to systematically create confusion, it sets creativity free. Everything that is contradictory creates life” (Salvador Dali)
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” ―Pablo Picasso
On 25 May 2023, at 11:01 am, Larry Smolucha <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
My Comment on the May 23rd presentation by Eugene Subbotsky
did not get posted on the Cultural Praxis web-site. We have had some
trouble in the past using the Comments Section and it was suggested
that we have to “clear our cache” if our post is not going through.
Am I the only one who doesn’t know how to do this?????????
We can start our discussion on XLCHC-redux (and later then cut and paste
it under the Comments section on the CP web-site).
For starters, I wanted to say that Vygotsky has a developmental theory of creative imagination, whether as a higher mental function or psychological system.
Lower mental functions can continue to be used across the lifespan along with HMF or PS. The development of creative imagination is influenced by cultural semiotic systems (including but not exclusively linguistic systems). [Note: Even dreams can be consciously directed to some extent by inner speech (i.e., lucid dreaming)].
This is very different from Eugene’s opinion that the mechanisms of creative imagination are innate and culturally invariant (as in the case of dreaming).
But neuroscientists no longer consider the mechanisms of dreaming to be innate,
instead a developmental theory of dream ‘mechanisms’ has emerged
(refer to The Emergence of Dreaming by G.W. Domhoff, 2018, Oxford University
Press). New insights into the neurological development of dreaming are the result of new technology such as ‘skull caps’ for collecting EEG reading on infants and preschoolers, as well as new neuroimaging techniques.
Having different theoretical positions can help us clarify our own positions
(and we can agree to disagree). Providing empirical evidence to support any particular point of view is another matter – noting that empirical evidence can be gathered by qualitative as well as quantitative research methods.
[Still, I would not rule out some innate mechanism such as analogical thinking
as the basis for pattern recognition such as seeing visual isomorphisms
(the bare branches of a tree and skeleton hands) that are involved in metaphoric thinking. This is one of the mechanisms in Freud’s concept of primary process
thought. In 1983, my husband Larry and I suggested that such a mechanism
could become consciously directed (prior to my Vygotsky translations). This was
in a paper we presented at a Conference on Psychology and the Arts in Cardiff, Wales that included our own empirical research – the art lessons my husband designed to teach his students how to ‘see’ visual isomorphisms in the world and then use visual isomorphisms in their own works of art.]
Thanks for your interesting commentaries, with which I mostly agree. Of course there is an exchange between the tree of living consciousness and the branch of HMFs, and lucid dreaming is a good example of such exchange. Other examples of the effects of culture on creative imagination are those from the Pelaprat &Cole’s paper that I brought up in my presentation. The exchange mostly results in the restraining effect of HMFs on creative imagination. But culture also provides raw material for creative imagination, which are fertilised by creative imagination and converted in novel phenomena and discoveries. Imaginary play in children is a good example of this kind of fertilisation. It will be interesting to see whether play in adults as well includes this fertilisation effect, but I am not sure of that. May be some (play of chess) do and others (play of cards) don’t.
As far as it concerns my view of that living consciousness is innate, this view has been maturing in my mind for a very long time (decades actually). As a student of the Soviet psychological school, I was “charged’ with the set of mind that everything ‘innate’ is simple and primitive (reflexes, simple sensations, and primitive actions) and that almost all that is complex and advanced in human mind comes from the social environment. Partly, this ideology resonated with politics in the Soviet Union, that was based on the ‘religion of Marxism’ and aspired for no less than ‘creating a new man’ (literally !!!). Coincidentally, by the age of 17 I have red and made notes on all of the 23 volumes of Marx and Engels’s selected works. And I believe that much in Vygotsky’s works (though certainly talented pieces) was biased and coloured by this ideology too.
But when I began reading the extraordinary discoveries of precocious cognitive abilities in infants and new-born children (of which Vygotsky was unaware since the discoveries began roughly around the 1960th), my view began to change (see my early paper on that Subbotsky, E. (1996). Vygotsky’s Distinction between Lower and Higher Mental Functions and Recent Studies on Infant Cognitive Development. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, 1996, 34, 2, 61–66.
I began to be increasingly aware that when Socrates came up with his theory of “cognitive development as remembering of already known” (see Plato’s ‘Meno’ dialogue) he was talking business. When kid’s still the mother’s womb can distinguish voices of their mothers from voices of strangers, new-borns can distinguish between canonical geometrical figures, a few months old’s show the ability to adequately react to physical and mathematical distinctions, 15 months-old show some appreciation of TOM, etc.etc., this means that what we used to list as primitive reflexes is in fact nothing less than ‘innate knowledge’. How is it possible, and where does this ‘knowledge’ come from? I don’t know, and nobody knows yet, but this is the fact.
Of course, this fact doesn’t change that culture intervenes and the HMF’s are shaped in due course, but this changes the ‘relative weight’ of the innate living consciousness (I don’t call it ‘knowledge’, because the term ‘knowledge’ is already engaged into the ‘environmental set of mind’), so I suggested a new term – living consciousness.
Sorry for this long response, I could have keep writing on and on but have to stop there. But I hope that the book I am working now on (The magic of living consciousness: The Wonders of the Mundane) would give a more substantial grounding for what I had presented in my talk on May 23.
See More from Larry Smolucha