What Are Concepts, and How Might They Be Taught?

Important questions. Interesting answers.

Excerpts from Andy Blunden, Huw Lloyd, Peter Smagorinsky, David Kellogg, and Nikolai Veresov provide a great start to a rich conversation.

Sources for all clips are available here .

Go to our Youtube Library for longer interviews and presentations by distinguished CHAT scholars and educators.

65 thoughts on “What Are Concepts, and How Might They Be Taught?

  1. Hi all,
    I listened to all the answers to the question – What concepts are? I got an impression that these answers are somehow related to Vygotsky’s theory. Here I got lost. Vygotsky had a clear understanding of what should be the structure of answering “What is” questions, i.e., what kind of informations must be provided in order to get satisfactory understanding of what something is. All the answers in the video are partial in that sense; none, therefore, could be considered satisfactory from Vygotsky’s theoretical perspective. So I have a question – why did you decide to rely on a different epistemology, different understanding of what is understanding? And also – what is your theory of explanation and why you have chosen to rely on a theory that contradicts Vygotsky’s whole approach?
    With best wishes

    1. Thanks, Aaro.

      Your questions suggest that I have erred — if the video’s title is unintentionally confusing, you can blame me for that. The short compilation includes brief excerpts from five separate interviews and does not seek to provide the definitive, exhaustive answer to the question of concepts (or the teaching of concepts). You are indeed correct that all responses are Vygotsky-related; however, the interviewees were not directly asked and were not directly answering the question, “What are concepts, and how might they be taught?” 

      We all can certainly have a go at that question now, though.

      Instead, we have five speakers, each deeply versed in Vygotsky’s theory, in real-world teaching, in the history of concepts, and/or all of the above. We have high quality ingredients from five seasoned chefs; what shall we make of this dish?

  2. These snippets are vague. I would have to check out the full videos. The suggestion that a concept exists only for problem-solving might be useful. As I would extrapolate on this: for a concept to be more than an ideological construct or a catch phrase to be footnoted and imitated, it has to be put to work in a convincing, active fashion. The snipped about higher concepts is interesting. But really, one must look at the full videos to do something with the concepts (?) presented here.

  3. I was pleasantly surprised that all of us answered the question consistently, in the same way, in just the way that Vygotsky answered such questions: we responded in terms of the development of concepts. There is of course much more to be said. I have written an entire book on that question: https://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/pdfs/Concepts,_A_Critical_Approach.pdf , but the starting point (for Vygotsky) is the origin and development of the object.

  4. For a developmental view, we need a prehistory of the concept. Vygotsky tries to provide this in the chapter on concepts in the Pedology of the Adolescent (the longest single piece of writing Vygotsky ever did). But the prehistory of that chapter is “interest” (both subjective, in the sense of an enthusiasm and objective, in the sense of a class interest). “Concepts” (Ch. 10) comes immediately after a chapter on interests (9). Vygotsky often cites Spinoza: “an idea that has become an emotion”. It seems to me that Vygotsky has in mind the opposite: an interest is a shared emotion becoming an idea, sometime around adolescence. Not a bad definition of a “project”.

  5. Dear all,

    Thank you for your responses. Anthony – there is no your mistake here. I understand that these responses are excerpts from longer interviews and therefore taken out of context (as Ralph also says). This may sometimes distort the original meaning. But for me these short statements illustrate in a concentrated way the reason I asked my questions. I actually have read a few papers from each of the interviewees, with the exception of Lloyd. I have also read some Vygotsky’s works (and Luria’s, who consistently developed this approach in his neuropsychology). And my questions are based on what I have found in this wider background.

    Andy – you mention that all responses are essentially quite similar, grounded in the same way of thinking. I agree, and this is why I asked the same question to all. Andy, I had not seen your book before, but the discussion of the question, What concept is?, in the Part V of your book justifies my question even more. Your and David’s answers to my question are, in my understanding, supporting my question also.

    You both suggest that Vygotsky would answer such questions in terms of development. I agree. But he was very clear also that scientific understanding requires answering three questions more. Developmental approach cannot answer the question, what something is. Process is not what something is – I disagree with Andy’s statement that “[Vygotsky] took concepts to be processes of development” (p. 293 in your book). Process is a change of something, not what is changing.

    After all, I see that you did not answer my question. I am not asking about what concept is in your opinion. This is just a good specific case to anchor my question. I am asking, what kinds of information a definition of “what something is” must contain in your opinion? Development you mentioned. Is that all? If yes, then it is in direct contradiction with the Vygotsky’s epistemology; his answer to that question was more complex.

    I had also another question. If you find that developmental approach is all there has to be, then you have chosen to take only part of Vygotsky’s understanding. Why you think he went wrong in his understanding?

    With best wishes

    1. You are assuming that to have a concept is to capture something in some “full” or “final” way. This is clearly not the case and yet, since concepts do involve a kind of grasping, this is why we can only speak of them in their development. In challenging the speakers about their epistemology you assume that there is some better or more deeper foundation that they have not acknowledged and for which they must account. On the contrary, I think it’s you who needs to motivate such a search or acknowledgement. What ever “satisfaction” might be and whoever it might be satisfying, it is determinately human. Vygotsky’s word for this is perezhivanie.

  6. Aaro, “Process is a change of something, not what is changing” sounds like a powerful argument. I say at the outset that “a concept is a unit of life, a unit of a culture more precisely.” The answer is” various processes of development.” The answer to the question of “what is it which develops” would lead only to definitions such as “concepts are forms of activity,” which are still imprecise.
    The answer that “concepts are processes of development” is not strictly correct since it implies a kind of empirical definition determined by chance events and conditions, etc. In fact, I should give a logical definition of a concept which is the “essence” of the process of development, its inner core, so to speak, but to clearly explain this subtlty would require a whole book. The way we have all anwered is correct. A true concept of what a concept is begins with a unit of life, a process of development, …

  7. Hello again,
    Kyrill – You say that I should bring motivation to explicate further the epistemological ground of the speaker’s statements. If it would be a question of my own “assumptions” that this epistemological ground could be different, I would agree with you. But here the situation, as I see it, is different. There are eminent scholars, “each deeply versed in Vygotsky’s theory” (as Anthony put it) making statements about Vygotsky’s theory. So I can assume that statements about Vygotsky’s theory are presented in the context of his theory as a whole. Vygotsky expressed very clearly his epistemological position. I can assume that experts in Vygotsky’s theory are aware of it. Especially considering that such principles are general, they are applied in all treatments of specific questions about mind, word meaning structure, semiotic mediation, etc. Vygotsky was also quite (but not fully) consistent in following these epistemological principles in his works. (Luria applied the same principles to the study of neuropsychology and was very consistent in this. BTW, he studied neuropsychology of Higher Psychological/Cortical Functions, i.e. semiotically mediated psychological processes. So this is coherent extentsion of Vygotsky’s theory)

    The problem is that if Vygotsky’s epistemology is ignored or replaced with another epistemology, the meaning of his theory changes into a qualitatively different theory. In my opinion the speaker’s views contradict the general principles of VYGOTSKY’s (not only mine!) epistemology. So I think there is clear motivation to ask the questions I asked. If what the speaker’s said is correct, Vygotsky had to be wrong. It is possible, of course. But I am interested in understanding, why and how Vygotsky went wrong. Especially if Vygotsky was wrong in his epistemology, then all his theory must be highly questionable at the very best. Because, I repeat, one and the same epistemology grounds all his theory.

    I will be more specific, to support my statements.
    Vygotsky wrote (The cultural development of the child): “The inclusion in any process of a sign remodels the whole structure of psychological operations, just as the inclusion of a tool remodels the whole structure of a labour operation.” … “However, that structure does not remain unchanged. That is the most important point of all we know concerning the cultural development of the child.”

    “Sign” in this context refers to concepts (depending on how to read Vygotsky, sign can be understood as synonymous to the concept or a [signifier]-[signified=concept] whole; all signs (or words) must have meaning, so the idea of a concept is clearly here). So, there is a sign/concept – some thing; and there is development, which is not the same as sign/concept in the structure of the mind as a whole. To say that “development” is included in the structure of mind, would not make sense here. Sign is something; when it is included in the structure of psychic processes, the whole mind changes. And this novel semiotically mediated structure will develop further. There is something that develops. To call that, what develops, “unit of life” is still too vague to me. (Usually a living cell is called “unit of life)

    Altogether, I agree with Andy that discussing all these issues might take a book or more. But answering my questions would take a paragraph. Vygotsky described what he thought the scientific theory, including definitions of studied things and phenomena, must contain in principle, i.e., what principal questions must be asked and answered. My question to the speaker’s was and is this: What in your opinion are the principal questions that science must ask and answer? If your answer is different from Vygotsky’s, then why you have chosen a different epistemology?

    With best wishes,

  8. Aaro, the key to your objections seems to be what you claim to be “Vygotsky’s epistemology.” So far as I can see, the only claims about epistemology that Vygotsky makes is in the “Crisis” text https://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/crisis/psycri13.htm where he clearly supports Lenin’s Hegelian approach as expressed in Lenin’s 1908 book. It would help if you explained what other epistemology you are imputing to Vygotsky.

  9. I also think that the first part of the title “What concepts are” has a lot to do with the second part of the title “How they are taught”. Vygotsky does get at least some of his epistemology from Spinoza (that’s why his theory of signs is “systemic and semantic” rather than, say, iconic or idexical). Spinoza points out that thinking is just how we humans do things: it is only one of many attributes to be found in nature, but it happens to be central to human understanding, ergo central to concept formation.

    Today I am working on how we teach Korean children to say “no” to strangers when they have and can have no concept of “child molester”. It’s an interesting problem, because it actually goes against traditional Korean etiquette towards strangers, and the child has no epistemological basis for saying “no”. We are building our argument on teaching the child to spot logical contradictions (e.g. “I know your mother; she’s a good friend of mine, but I don’t know your name….”). I suppose that this is a very intellectualist approach, even “upwardly reductionist”. But the alternative is to show children pictures of menacing, ugly strangers. That is the old way, and we can’t do that any more: it’s a very new world over here.

  10. Andy, all,

    My question was: What in your opinion are the principal questions that science must ask and answer?
    Vygotsky answered exactly to this question (again, The cultural development of the child):
    […] the first task of scientific investigation, when it deal with some cultural method of behaviour, must be the analysis of that method, i.e. its decomposition into component parts, which are natural psychological processes.
    […] The second task of scientific investigation is to elucidate the structure of that method. Although each method of cultural behaviour consists, as it is shown by the analysis, of natural psychological processes, yet that method unites them not in a mechanical, but in a structural way. In other words, all processes forming part of that method form a complicated functional and structural unity.
    […] However, the structure does not remain unchanged. That is the most important point of all we know concerning cultural development of the child. … … After the structure comes into being, it does not remain unchanged, but is subject to a lengthy internal change which shows all the signs of development.

    I think Vygotsky was clear enough and it is not entirely justified to assume that I attributed certain form of epistemology to him. Essentially he had four questions:
    1. What are the elements/parts of the studied thing or phenomenon
    2. In which relations these parts are. (… parts are united in a structural way …)
    3. What characterizes the emergent whole (discussion of the unit of analysis in other places is also about a whole)
    4. How the structures develop.

    Luria studied Higher Psychological Functions – these very same mental structures that emerge when a sign/word/concept is included into the structure of the mind – from neuropsychological perspective. This perspective was based on a theory Vygotsky summarized in his 1934 short paper. This theory is the theory of the systemic dynamic localization of the HPFs. Luria provided ample empirical support to this theory. Here: localization = what are the parts/elements?; systemic = how these parts are related and how the whole HPF emerges in the cooperation of the parts; dynamic = How the pattern of localizations changes in the course of mental development? Thus it becomes clear that the theory applies not only to processes as parts, but also to material distinguishable regions of the brain (which activity underlies the processes).

    There are many other places in Vygotskys writings where these ideas are implied. And I also think there are strong reasons to suggest that Vygotsky’s (and Luria’s) theory loses its meaning if this epistemological ground is ignored or replaced by some other.

    Vygotsky was also materialist, so parts and wholes had to be material for him. A word is a material unit, there is also no question about its existence. Thus I would say that Vygotskian (not necessarily Vygotsky’s, we had 85 years to go beyond him) scientific definition of a “concept” would include description of parts, relations between parts, novel qualities of the whole that emerge in the synthesis of the parts, and, if relevant, distinction of developmentally different forms of them. Four kinds of concepts, he distinguished, for example (syncretic, everyday=complexes, “scientific”, “true”). Each of them must be different from the others by their structure. If the elements are all the same (“natural”), then the relations between them must be different.

    With best wishes,

    1. I think that’s a good point. That is another dimension through which we can describe concepts. You can’t have just one concept – a concept functions in a system of other concepts. In terms of the foundational role of concepts as described here in developing a wider theory/method, that’s something Andy has written a lot about in discussing germ-cells.

  11. 1. Addressing some mischief: the video fragment does not address the question imputed to it, the fragment is addressing a different question that is posed in a conversational exchange. It is only vaguely related to the question.

    2. With respect to differences from Vygotsky, two most salient ones for me are firstly the use of an additional higher semiotic level to signs, which may be equated with the symbolic, and which I refer to as active orientation. This pertains to the agent’s unit of analysis when stable activity is undertaken. The second is to drop Vygotsky’s distinction between higher and lower mental functions and to attend instead to the partition realised by conscious and unconscious use of signs and their manifestation in the morphology of activity.

    3. Regarding signs and concepts. I conventionally distinguish ideas, notions, patterns, schemas and concepts in addition to others (systems, terms, triads, tetrads etc). I reserve concept for a precise set of relations, e.g.: triangle, brother, feedback. Notably concepts are recursive or composite in nature.

    4. Criteria for definition: a strategy (method) for identification or construction. Identification itself is a special form of construction. Note that this strategy may include a means of distinguishing false positives. Typically this may be simplified to a set of criteria, because the strategy may be ‘walked’ in numerous ways. It is only in psychological studies (or similar studies of processes) that one needs to analyse the particular structures of processes of identification or construction.

    5. Although a concept is derived from activity, it need not be isomorphic with that activity, rather activity itself may be focused upon the structures of prior activities (reflection, modelling) to yield second- or greater-order structures used for guiding activity. In such circumstances such “crystalline” structures may themselves need to be unpacked in order to make use of them in activity, hence activity and sign may be recursively applied.

    6. Conventionally “concept” is also used in a much looser way, sometimes referring to implicit structures. Likewise word forms are also associated with concepts although strictly speaking their manifest form functions as a label, not the concept per se. For example, the names written on the bottom of the blocks used in the block dual-stimulation experiment are signs that function as labels. The relations making up the “concepts” may be discovered through the activity (the block puzzle).

  12. Interesting brief survey of some further worms wriggling in the concept can. Why do we need a symbolic above the sign? In the Lacanian sense? I also feel no higher/lower would mean no signs. Is your motivation to say animals have signs? I’m completely with Vygotsky here. As John Haueland argues, it doesn’t make sense to say a bird did not eat a yellow butterfly.

    Vygotsky’s views don’t fit much of the traditions around concepts but taking Spinoza, Hegel and Marx seriously in him, de res is still strongest approach for me.

  13. Kyrill, Huw, all,

    Kyrill – you are correct, according to Vygotsky a (linguistic) concept can be understood as a smallest unit of psyche. On the one hand all qualities of the whole mind are reflected in it. It has to be so, because concepts are “acquired”, actually, constructed; construction of knowledge is possible only if the psyche operates as a whole. On the other hand, however, the same concepts are parts of mind.

    I think your questions to Huw are also justified. Huw – what you write is explicating the ground why I asked my questions. First you mention that the fragment of your talk was not meant to answer the question, what concept is. In this discussion it is not important. As I wrote above: all the excerpts from interviews contain statements that contradict Vygotsky’s epistemology.

    It is interesting that none of you have answered to my question about your epistemology. And yet without taking his epistemology into account, his theory cannot be understood. For example, there are interpretations of his ideas that are absolutely ruled out following his theory of scientific understanding. All forms of activity theory, for instance, turn out to be incorrect. These are impossible according to Vygotsky’s epistemology: in structures there can be no unidirectional environment–>individual “influence” in principle. David’s post brings another example. The question – “how we teach children” is, if we try to be theoretically correct, wrongly put. Teaching as “making a student to change” is impossible. We can ask: “how to support a student to develop certain knowledge or skills”. The difference between two forms of questions is immense.

    The way Huw describes his position supports my claim: it contradicts Vygotsky’s theory both at the epistemological and specific level of analysis. First Huw writes that he adds a higher semiotic level to signs, active orientation. According to Vygotsky, HPFs have 11 characteristics; among them, HPFs are * conscious*, *voluntary, *and active forms of adaptation to the environment. It seems, what is added, is already there in Vygotsky’s theory.

    Huw, your second statement is strong: you claim there is no difference between higher and lower mental functions. And yet you keep a distinction between conscious and unconscious. Vygotsky’s distinguished between nonconscious and conscious processes also. For him the latter was the consequence (!) of the emergence of semiotically mediated thought. If the difference between mediated and nonmediated mind is taken away, the whole Vygotsky’s theory is gone. On what ground you do that? There is actually ample evidence to support the idea that mind changes fundamentally when a linguistic signs become parts of the structure of mind (this is Vygotsky’s definition of semiotically mediated mind). There is further a lot of evidence also to show that psyche changes substantially at every next stage of conceptual development he distinguished. For example, certain mental operations are impossible for individuals who think with everyday concepts, but become possible when the “scientific” (I prefer to call them “logical”) concepts develop.

    If you want to EXPLAIN the difference between unconscious and conscious mind, then either you must say that both forms of thought are inborn (then there is no mind, it is all biology) or you must explain how these forms develop. For Vygotsky, explanation of development requires describing what new elements are synthesised into an existing structure, and/or what relationships between the existing elements have changed. Vygotsky proposed exactly this kind of a theory. Consciousness does not emerge with the emergence of linguistic signs, it emerges, when a linguistic sign is included into the structure of the mind as a novel component. That is, consciousness emerges when HPFs emerge. It is one and the same process.

    One final note. I think scientific discussions should not be personal; it should not be important, who provides ideas; ideas themselves are important. But sometimes knowing “who” provides the arguments may help to guess whether the arguments are worthy of attention and thorough reflection or not. So I bring “me” into the discussion. I suppose Jaan Valsiner is well known among experts in Vygotsky’s theory; he has demonstrated high level of expertise in it. Well, he wrote: “[Aaro] is among the top three persons in the World who is an expert in the work of Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria” (Valsiner & Cornejo, 2019). Does this make my two questions more valid? I continue instisting: there can be no reliable and valid scientific theory without well justified explicit epistemology. Vygotsky had it. In my opinion it is the best grounded among all epistemologies. What is your epistemology and why it is different from Vygotsky’s?

    With best wishes,

    1. Aaro,

      Firstly, I am disinclined to write much. And perhaps less here in preference over xmca. Has it been agreed amongst mca people to kill off xmca?

      What is clear to me is that politics are very lively amongst CHAT parties. The little I have written is from my own insights, discoveries, and understandings.

      Whilst I am equanimous at the prospect of diverging from “true Vygotsky”, I find little alignment between your responses and both what I wrote or indeed an interest in impersonal exchange. The first is not that surprising, as it is necessary to unpack what is meant by strategy etc. Probably the best elaboration I have to offer to date is my study of active orientation (https://opleidingkraamverzorgster.academia.edu/HuwLloyd).


  14. I’m puzzled. Or maybe I simply don’t agree that avoiding sexual exploitation is well-described as either skill or knowledge; I don’t think the formation of any concept can be adequately described as either. I can’t agree that this is something “developed” by or in a child, both because that destroys the Vygotskyan distinction between learning and development and because it suggests an anti-Vygotskyan innatism. And as a translator with late-acquired and as a result rather poor Russian, I am genuinely humble and curious, Aaro. If you think that “teaching” is not permissible in this context, how exactly WOULD you translate Vygotsky’s term “обучение”?

  15. Huw, David, all,

    Huw – I am sorry if it looks like killing xmca. It is not my intention. I am occasionally taking a look at the site but I do not belong to the members. I initiated the discussion, and actually it looks a nice place to do it. So that is why it is here. I also agree that to reveal “true Vygotsky” is not very fruitful. No idea in science should be accepted because it was proposed by a certain person. However, I find Vygotsky’s theory – and Vygotskian approach that can be grounded on it – very well supported. But in need of development and elaboration in many cases also.

    David – I would at the moment leave aside the question whether avoiding sexual exploitation is skill or knowledge (or knowledge-based skill). To answer that question knowledge and skill should be defined. This calls for another thread. But I do acknowledge that without defining what develops (or is learned) we cannot get fully satisfactory answer to your question. So I know that my response is going to be only partially sufficient.

    So, what to think about “obucheniye” and how to translate it? There are two problems here. One is that sometimes there are no clear equivalents in different languages. “Obucheniye” seems to be one of such terms. Usually it is defined in Russian as a process that implies both teaching and learning; it is in that sense a complex concept. I know that often it is translated as “teaching/learning”. I think Vygotsky has used the term differently and sometimes “teaching” could be correct also. But the problem is much deeper. Russian page for “Обучение” in Wikipedia is helpful here. It gives 11 definitions of the term; and these definitions were collected only from materials published between 1954-1984. It is concluded there that large number of definitions demonstrates problems in the pedagogical theory. And this is a big problem. The term we try to translate is not easy to understand even in the original version. Just think – Russian “культура” is easy to translate into “culture”. But “culture” has definitely more than 300 definitions (as Kroeber and Kluckhohn found); perhaps even more. And it should be interpreted in the context of a particular theory, Vygosky’s, for instance. Cole’s definition of culture is different from Vygotsky’s (or Vygotskian). And if Cole’s definition would be taken to interpret Vygotsky’s text, it would not work: Cole’s view is incompatible with Vygotsky’s.

    So my comment on your “how we teach … children” was about the definition of what teaching is. And as I read your text, I understood that teaching for you seemed (!) to be a set of activities aimed at making a child to do or understand something (“teaching the child to spot …”). I may have overinterpreted here. In which case my comment may have been incorrect about your comment. But I believe it is still valid in respect of (very common) approaches, where teaching is understood in this “active teaching causes the internal change” way.

    Vygotsky’s concept of interiorization/internalization is relevant here. He used it in many ways, but here is sufficient to remind his idea that it is “extracerebral” relations that are internalized. There is no way how extracerebral relations can be transformed into intracerebral from outside. It has to be internal individual process. And it has to be active, that is why I used the term “constructed”. So, essentially I proposed how to define what teaching is: it cannot be anything else, if to follow consistently Vygotsky’s theory (as I understand it), but organizing environment of a student. And that organization becomes “teaching” only, if the organization created can be interpreted by a learner.

    You made an excellent point writing that to say “no” goes against traditional Korean etiquette. But I would push it further. The question is whether to say “no” would also go against “etiquette” of the Korean children? I am certain they do not have any notion of it before certain age (after 3? 5? … whatever), so it is a consequence of development (if development is defined generally as “hierarchical reorganization of a system”). If the “etiquette” emerges in development, it might also be different in children as compared to adults. So we actually should go against the children’s understanding of the “etiquette”, not the “Korean” in general. And maybe there is even no need to go against anything, if the etiquette of the adult world has not been learned by children yet. You did not mention the child’s perspective in your (short!) letter. If it had been there, I would have agreed with you (but not with those, who forget about the child).

    So, altogether, if we need a word for “obucheniye”, depending on the context, teaching could be OK, or, in some cases perhaps “education” or “teaching/learning”. Or, sometimes it might be useful not to translate at all; “obucheniye” could be a term also. But what is needed is a kind of dictionary where the terms are defined in the context of the theory where these terms are used.

    Now I guess it might be enough for a “small” response.

    With best wishes,

  16. Huw–I don’t think anyone killed xmca; I think that the world has changed. Some changes you recognize: people are disinclined to write at great length, they would like two or three minute executive summaries, and they want to see who they are talking to. I think that Cultural Praxis, thanks to Anthony’s hard work, has enabled that kind of change here in a way that was rather difficult to do on xmca (where Anthony has also contributed a lot).

    But some of the world changes that brought about the shift to CP are NOT being reflected here yet: there is a lot of discussion of culture, but not that much praxis. In periods of crisis (and this is one) people expect everything to be critically relevant. This isn’t a reasonable expectation, but it’s not reasonable to expect people to reasonable in a crisis. In periods of crisis, people want to hear from those who are in the front line and taking the brunt of the crisis, regardless of race, creed, color or formal education. These two aspirations for the PRAXIS part of cultural praxis explain why we are here, why we are not there, and also…why we are not really quite there yet. (Where’s Anthony?)

    Notice that Aaro’s epistemological problems boil down to getting definitions right at the outset. This completely explains why he is at odds with Andy. When you approach any phenomenon developmentally, the definition is going to emerge last of all, and sometime even then will not really be definitive. Take, for example, “child molester”: one of the problems with the materials prepared by the Korean police, by social services, and by Western-trained academics who have pursued the kind of liberal child-centered approach that Aaro appears to be advocating is that children conclude that that an unsolicited kiss from Grandma is child molestation. Which is sort of true. But mostly not.

  17. Hello to any readers/visitors/viewers ~

    Does anyone here deliberately teach concepts in a way that corresponds to any or all of the comments in the video? If so, would you share a few basic words on that?

    For example, does anyone “start with the history of ideas” (i.e., “the “juncture in our cultural history” when an “idea or concept [has] come about?”)– and if so, how does that tend to proceed for you and your students?

    Or, does anyone intentionally design for an “interplay of experiential and academic concepts” in order to “produce sturdy concepts” that can transfer and “hold up in continual reapplication”?

    Or how about designing instruction where students “have to use a concept to solve a problem that the concept represents,” or put another way, designing instruction around the idea that “real conceptual knowledge can only be acquired when it’s the means to a solution to a problem”?

    While the philosophy of concepts is interesting, these “on the ground” questions are also quite meaty for conversation — don’t you think? Is anyone here approaching “obuchenie” in any of these ways?

    Thank you for any insights, thoughts, or experiences (even unsuccessful ones).


  18. Aaro, I feel bound to correct myself, and concede that my answer to your challenge: “Process is a change of something, not what is changing,” was inadequate.
    Vygotsky said: “A concept is a system of judgments which involves a relation to the entire, broader system.” (Vygotsky 1930, LSVCW v. 3, chapter 6, On Psychological Systems)
    This same idea can be expressed in a more “materialist” fashion by saying “a system of actions,” in other words “an activity,” a system of actions directed at a common object. It is in the nature of the “concept” that the question can be validly answered in activity, logical or psychological registers.
    Likewise, when I claimed that a concept is a process of development (of human social activity) this captured that (1) concepts arise from processes of development, and (2) concepts represent processes of development, (3) we must study processes of development in order to properly grasp a concept, and (4) concepts of different types are distinguished by their paths of development. But a process of development can only be grasped when we can grasped it in terms of a unity of two contradictory judgments. It is this contradiction which drives the development which is at the heart of a concept and is at the very core of what a concept is.
    Thank you for picking me up on this. I will strive to be more precise in future.

  19. Hi Anthony et al-

    I am popping up here owing to the comments about xmca and its future. I was
    thoroughly enjoying the discussion and thinking how great it was to read a discussion
    like this all in one place with none of the simultaneous cross-discourses in between when questions about xmca appeared.

    Waaaaay back in the documented past we had a lot of subdiscussions on xlchc (xact,
    xgrad…… It became impossibly entangled; the computer systems supporting the
    discussions were not up to the task. Today those same systems are more ubiquitous and enable new ways of creating a discourse community. At the same time, the meaning of print editions of publications is shifting as ebooks and hybrid forms of communication proliferate. Not everyone on xmca is interested in a video about concepts, of if interested, has time to do more than stop and take it in. Those who
    have the time and interest can choose other discussions to initiate and those who
    are interested can look in or join in. At least, that is the idea.

    Today I asked the culturalpraxis collective where to send job adverts? The ability
    to pass along such information as a community service was one of the early crowd sourced activities that added to xlchc and then xmca’s .

    Urgent prior obligations that prevented me from seeing this conversation until now will limit my time to take up other issues, but I certainly hope to return to Aaro’s criticism of my conception of culture in relation to Vygotsky’s. I was really happy to a return to LSV’s 1929(?) article. I have been thinking about precisely those passage brought back to live discussion.
    PS– My self critique of translations of obuchenie is somewhere on an lchc webpage.
    Its a lesson that never loses its relevance.

  20. Hello all,

    I still think it is noteworthy that my questions did not get any answer. Vygotsky described his epistemology in sufficient details. And followed these principles also. If this fact is ignored, we lose Vygotsky’s theory also. We get another theory, even if that theory is illustrated with quotes from Vygotsky’s texts.

    Of course it is possible that Vygotsky was simply wrong. But, in my opinion, more and more evidence is emerging after Vygotsky’s death, that is in accordance with his theory. For example, Vygotsky assumed that child development recapitulates cultural development (in a certain sense, only in terms of the principal structure of the word meaning; not in content and also not in the level of elaboration, i.e. in the level of within-stage development). Today this idea is rejected. But, if to apply Vygotsky’s epistemology to his understanding of psychic development, the only possibility is that these two lines must be similar. And, I am repeating, there is a lot of evidence to support the idea.

    Let us take another example. Anthony got exactly to the point with his last question: definition of what concept is and how it develops underlies teaching practices (another issue is that often teachers even do not realize that they have a certain theory; the theory is implicit). I do not know, how Vygotsky would define what concept is according to his own epistemology. I think the reason for that is that in his time there was not sufficient understanding of what he called “natural” processes; biotically emerging processes that ground the development of higher or cultural processes. But Vygotskian way to define a concept would be different from all four we can find in the video we are discussing here (Not five, because Huw wrote he did not answer this question). When reading all the definitions Anthony put nicely next to each other, I would say it becomes also evident that it is hard to turn them into practice. Mostly because none of the definitions really defines, what it is what is expected to develop. Vygotsky’s epistemology (with its materialist ground; that is important) calls to achieve undrstanding what a studied thing or phenomenon IS. (We should not define concepts or words in science; definitions must be about the things and phenomena; definition of a gene in biology is a nice structural-systemic example of how a definition should look like also in Vygotskian theory).

    David – I agree that I call to get definitions “right”. But not from the outset. It is impossible. What a thing or phenomenon is is something that needs to be discovered in science. Such discovery, however, requires necessarily a definition from the beginning, before the studies. But in the beginning the definition is a hypothesis, that is checked with studies. Explicit definition can be rejected and replaced with a better one. Implicit definition cannot be rejected and therefore no understanding can also emerge Look, for instance, back to last 30 years of studying what consciousness is. Following Crick, it is assumed that the understanding just will happen, when neural correlates of conscoiusness are discovered. I would say, this program is nonsense: how we can know that neural correlates of consciousness have been discovered, if we cannot (hypothetically, in the beginning!) say what consciousness is? 30 years of studies have been wasted.

    Andy – I see many points of agreement now. Yes, I also think that concept is something that emerges in development. I also see, how concepts can represent this process: concepts as realizations of their developmental path necessarily represent this path; different paths end up in different things, as you also write. I also fully agree that the only way to understand concepts is to study their development (I even wrote a book chapter (2009) on why developmental approach in strustural-systemic epistemology is the ONLY possible path to understanding). As to “contradiction” – this term can be understood in too many different ways. Hegelian idea in the context of thesis-antithesis-synthesis cycle is too abstract; if to bring it to materialist understanding, it makes a lot of sense. All novel structures emerge only in the synthesis of minimally to to-become-parts of the new whole. So, in such synthesis, there is always something and something else, not-this-something.

    Mike – I am looking forward to your comments.

    With best wishes,

  21. Vygotsky explicitly rejected the view you impute to him, Aaro. See his comments on the “biogenetic” approach in Pedology of the Adolescent. Or else his comments explicitly rejecting Hall, Buhler, and other recapitulationists. See the whole first part of “Tool and Sign”. YOU, on the other hand, are certainly recapitulating! For example, your first paragraph simply repeats what you said at the beginning of this thread, and does not engage with Andy’s comment that Vygotsky’s epistemology is that of Lenin’s “Materialism and Empiriocriticism”.

    That involves a kind of “salto mortale”, you know. As Vygotsky says in the notebooks, you begin a biology lecture with “You must believe me that there is something there is something called ‘life’, even though we cannot define it. Later, we will see what it is….” This “salto mortale” is necessary because the concepts you need to define a science are only really available once the science is (historically) underway. And the way in which a science gets underway is not theoretical speculation or epistemology but rather, as the name of this site suggests, a form of cultural praxis.

    That goes doubly and triply and even quadruply for the concept of “consciousness”. I think that for most of modern European history, the object of study for what we now call psychology was the “soul”. This was replaced (around the time of Spinoza) with “mind”, which at least recognized the finiteness and mortality of human thinking. Now, as you say, the fashionable term is “consciousness”, which unlike “mind” is the product of evolution.

    But there is no reason to take “consciousness” as our defining term either. Certainly not in its present form, anyway. I think part of the significance of the Cultural-Historical trend is that the next step is to take as the object of study some form of consciousness which is not only defined by mortality and by evolution but also by cultural history. But cultural history doesn’t recapitulate evolution; it’s really truer to say that it reverses it: we don’t consider societies more successful when they are able to exterminate their aged and infirm. And the same thing is even more true in ontogenesis: we don’t consider children more successful when they are able to globalize and colonize others, you know.

  22. David, all

    David – I fully agree with you: Vygotsky did reject application of the biogenetic law to child development. I totally agree also that cultural history does not recapitulate evolution of life.

    But if you take a look at what I actually wrote, you find that I did not suggest anything like that also. I was not talking about BIOgenetic recapitulation. I wrote: “child development recapitulates cultural development”. I suggested that CULTURAL development of the child must proceed through the same stages as the development of culture. This is not about biological evolution; rather it is what Vygotsky discussed under the term “historical development”. There are quite many places where Vygotsky suggests that the development of specifically human, semiotically mediated thought proceeds through the same stages in the history of the development of human kind and in child development.

    I was even more specific, I suggested that I am talking about the stages of word meaning structure development. Vygotsky clearly distinguished three, but in some places hints that there are four stages: syncretic concepts, complexes = everyday concepts, “scientific” concepts, and “true” conceps (sometimes he was not clear about the distinction between the last two). Most of his works in that perspective are related to child development. But take this: “It is at this stage of thinking in complexes that the primitive man primarily stands . His words are proper or family names, that is, signs for individual objects or signs for complexes. The primitive thinks not in concepts, but in complexes . This is the most essential feature that distinguishes primitive thinking from ours.” (“Etjudy po istorii povedeniya”/”Studies on the history of behavior”) In his “Tool and symbol” the same parallel of the development of human culture and a child is also implied (e.g., Conclusions: The use of tools in animal and human behavior). So “primitive man” and a child both think with complexes/everyday concepts before scientific/true concepts develop.

    It is important that Vygotsky did not say that child development and the development of the human culture are identical. This is exactly, what I wrote also: “not in content and also not in the level of elaboration, i.e. in the level of within-stage development”. I would add to it, that children develop in a cultural environment and their development is therefore mostly based on internalization of cultural already existing “extracerebral connections”. Cultures can develop on the opposite basis; first the novel form is created by someone and externalized; after internalizing that novel form by others, it becomes a a new aspect of the social-cultural environment.

    But the general stages of these two lines of historical development are the same for cultures and individuals; both begin from syncretic concepts and develop until true concepts.

    However, David – I do disagree with you in this: “And the way in which a science gets underway is not theoretical speculation or epistemology”. There are two aspects:

    (1) Science does not begin with theoretical speculation, you say. I think science begins with a question: could it be that things are in this way? Question, it does not matter whether explicit or implicit, is absolutely necessary. This is so because the world can be described in infinitely many ways. A way to understanding has to begin from selecting what is assumed to be relevant and important. Such selection is grounded in the scientific questions, hypotheses, if you like. First questions-hypotheses must be speculative. So science does begin with theoretical speculation.

    (2) Science does not begin with epistemology, you say. I think it does. But not from explicit epistemology but implicit. Science cannot, and does not accept all kinds of descriptions as scientific knowledge. If knowledge is based on authority, for example, and not on justification, it is not scientific. “Einstein said” is not sufficient for his statements to be scientific. Only part of what Einstein said about the world became scientific knowledge; it is the part where statements were justified. Distinction between scientific and nonscientific knowledge was there since the beginning of science; this is implicit epistemology. If we were in the beginning of science, we would be justified not to have explicit epistemology. But explicit epistemology – theory of what is (scientific) knowledge – was created already long time ago. We are not any more in the beginning of science. Vygotsky could describe what kind of knowledge he thought must be discovered in scientific studies in just a few sentences. (Wundt did the same. And many other continental European psychologists of the late 19th-early 20th century.) And he/they aimed at discovering exactly these kinds of knowledge in answering specific questions about psyche. Why it is so hard for you to formulate similar sentences?

    I insist that without epistemology there can be no scientific knowledge. For example: I tell you (following Münsterberg) that Milky Way is a big vegetable. I suggest that it is a scientific fact BECAUSE I find this idea funny and I like funny ideas. Could you reject this “well-justified” statement about Milky Way as scientific without epistemology? How?

    With best wishes,

  23. I think that the reason why it is so hard for me to formulate what you are thinking in the way that you are thinking it is very well summed up by your reference to Munsterberg: the vegetable nature of the Milky Way is a matter that has nothing to do with my interests; we humans, for better or worse, do tend to set ourselves only the problems for which the solutions are within our reach if sometimes beyond our grasp.

    So I am afraid that I’ve spent most of my career training my teachers to avoid the kind of game of “Guess What the Teacher Is Thinking” that you are proposing here. If we know one thing about how concepts are formed, we know that it is not a guessing game, and it does not take place through trial and error.

    This is, I think, the biggest single difference between the sociogenesis of concepts and their ontogenesis: the former is an evolved process and quite subject to wrong turns; the latter is more or less designed and directed, with the “finished, ideal” type directly available in some form in the child’s environment, assuming the teacher is mildly competent and not utterly devoid of without empathy and insight.

    Yes, Jaensch, Thurnwald, Stern and especially Spranger argued that ontogeny recapitulates sociogenesis–in particular, they were convinced that adolescence was a recapitulation of “medieval” thinking and this explained the “chivalry” and “courtly love” of young people. It was a popular German Romantic idea, and most of those who espoused it became ardent Nazis (Jaensch) or Nazi fellow-travellers (Thurnwald, Spranger). Stern did not–he was Jewish.

    Vygotsky ruthlessly criticizes them for precisely this idea (n Chapter Four and Chapter Five of Pedology of the Adolescent, and throws in Groos, Bernfeld and Freud for good measure (although with the Freudians it is more the Haeckelian idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny). I think the question of whether Vygotsky ever held a sociogenetic recapitulationist view of concept formation or whether it was only that of his co-author Luria is moot; if Vygotsky did hold it, he certainly changed his mind (c.f. “Problem of the Environment” in the pedology lectures).

  24. Hi David,

    So I am right about the Milky Way? 🙂
    My question was not about Milky Way and whether it is vegetable or not. My question was about thinking, knowledge and science. I thought that these subjects are close to you.

    I think we need to take a closer look at the two Vygotsky’s works, you refer to, Pedology of the Adolescent and Problem of the environment.

    First, the Pedology. Yes, Vygotsky criticized in Chapter 4 of that book certain views of recapitulation. But already the second line of that chapter makes it clear, that this critique is irrelevant to our question: He criticized theories of BIOgenetic parallelism. (see also p. 55, 4th para, where he makes it clear that he disagrees with biogenetic parallelism). I never wrote that I or he supported this view. I am talking about what Vygotsky discussed under the term HISTORICAL development and its parallelism to child development.

    In this book when he discusses historical development, his views are in agreement with what I have proposed. For example:
    (1) In primitive societies, “standing at the lowest level of cultural development”, the period of the sexual maturation marks the end of (cultural) development of an adolescent (p. 73).
    (2) It is culture that creates the developmental crisis in puberty; “It is culture, it is historical development of the human kind that breaks biological harmony of maturation …” (p. 75)
    (3) A child from a working class passes a shortened path of the cultural maturation, because his life tasks are different; it does not arrive at the highest level of cultural development, the latest acquisition of the humanity (p. 164); A child belonging to the bourgeois class does not need to work for survival and can extend his/her period of development (p. 165)

    So: culture develops and depending on the level of the development of a culture, child’s cultural development may stop either because there are no higher forms available in the culture, or they are accessible to only a part of the society.

    If culture develops – historically – then it has to be parallel to child development. Why it is so, can be also explained with the help of the “Problem of environment”. From there the following ideas are relevant (The Vygotsky Reader, 1994):
    (1) in child development that which it is possible to achieve at the end and as a result of the developmental process, is already available in the environment from the beginning (p.347-348) (He calls it “final or ideal form”; child’s own form, in the beginning of development, is “rudimentary”)

    The key question is, how this ideal form came into being?
    (2) Could one imagine, in the context of human development, that when the most primitive man had only just appeared on earth, a higher final form already existed, a man of the future as it were and that this ideal form could somehow directly influence the first steps the primitive nnn was taking? One cannot imagine this. (p. 349)

    Therefore, culture had to develop.

    Perhaps the development of culture proceeds through some other stages (because Vygotsky clearly has rejected the idea that development can be only quantitative)? But:
    (3) … the environment’s role in the development of higher, specifically human characteristics and forms of activity is as a source of development. (p. 351)

    We know that children develop to achieve, in the end, thinking in true concepts. The source of it is the cultural environment that has developed historically. So it is cultural environment that is the source of the development for thinking in true concepts. As we saw above – in primitive cultures the cultural development has not achieved this level and so children also do not develop further; they remain at the level of their own “primitive” culture.

    (4) Humanity created it [speech] during the entire course of its historical development. … I mastered this power of speech following the historical laws of my development and through the process of interaction with the ideal form. (p. 352)
    So: individual development follows the laws of HISTORICAL development.

    Altogether: Child development proceeds over four hierarchical stages towards the highest ideal form available in its culture. In the primitive cultures and also in more developed cultures with limited access to the highest ideal form, the ideal form attained by a child does not reach the level of true concepts. Central-Asian adults with no access to formal education, for instance (Luria’s expedition), achieve only thinking in complexes/everyday concepts. Because this developmental stage is available in their culture.

    I think Vygotsky has bee quite consistent in assuming parallels in cultural and child HISTORICAL development also in the two works you mention.

    With best wishes

  25. Vygotsky is discussing why “cultural historical” is NOT an adequate name for his approach on p. 122 of van der Veer and Zavershneva’s selections from Vygotsky’s notebooks (Springer 2018, also available in Russian). He notes that “history” applies to natural history and to ontogenesis as well. Then he says:

    ‘Why does not “cultural” do? It is at the same time narrow and too broad (for not all cultural development is covered by our doctrine but [just] the most important. In connection with that, there are two points:
    (1) How, then, is the part of cultural psychological development that we study (=the theory of the higher functions) different from cultural development as a whole (where is the distinguishing characteristic)? After all, essential is what distinguishes this part from all the other parts;
    (2) Psychological development in history is not simply a part of cultural development as a whole (labor + everything that is not nature) but stands in another relationship to cultural development as a whole than as its part (for example, [it is] partly a pre-requisite).”

    I think it’s also worth noting that although Vygotsky rejects parallelism in many places (including psycho-physical parallelism in Spinoza) he does accept an “analogy”.

    For example, p. 18 of HDHMF (Vol. 4 of the English CW):

    “In the development of the child, two types of mental development are represented (not repeated) which we find in an isolated form in phylogenesis: biological and historical, or natural and cultural development of behavior. In ontogenesis both processes have their analogs (not parallels). This is a basic and central fact, a point of departure for our research.” (Russian CW, Vol. 3, p. 30)

  26. David,

    Yes, Vygotsky never (as far as I know) suggested that the development of higher psychological functions in general, and word meaning structure/concepts in particular, is identical to the development of culture. In the “Pedology of the adolescent” he also mentioned that there are “formal” similarities between the certain moments of the development of the species and the development of an individual (p. 58).

    I do not (I also did not) suggest that these two lines of development are the same. As I wrote, there is difference in content, difference in the level of within-stage development. Also, actually most importantly, there is very clear difference in the mechanisms of development. “Ideal form” is present for children since thay are born, but in cultural development it has to be created. So the former can be based on the processes of internalization whereas the latter requires externalization of discovered novel cultural achievements by the creators before such discoveries/creations become an ideal form.

    I think when Vygotsky denied parallels in two lines, he was talking about such differences. But still, there must be a similarity. I am suggesting, based on Vygotsky’s works, that this similarity is in the development of the word meaning structure. In this (and only this?) aspect, both lines must be similar.

    Vygotsky has written in several places about “primitive cultures” (I use his term; no value attached to it; just signifying less developed form). Primitive culture is different from developed culture qualitatively, not quantitatively (e.g., people in primitive cultures think in complexes). A child born into a primitive culture develops to the level of the ideal form of that culture. I do not know a single place, where Vygotsky would have suggested that this less developed stage in child development is not about the syncrets-complexes-scientific-true concepts stages (but he was not always specific that it is). Ideal form for children exists in social-cultural relationships. Word meaning structure is about relations between words (or linguistic signs in general). Therefore, ideal form in that respect has to be expressed with relations between words as they are used by more developed individuals in the environment of the developing child. If these forms have not existed since the beginning of culture (they are not, otherwise there would be no primitive cultures), then these forms had to develop also. And they had to develop over structurally the same stages, because child development corresponds to what can be learned in the interaction with the social-cultural environment.

    As far as I remember from reading Vygotsky, he provided here and there (mostly in Ape, Primitive …; where he wrote two first chapters, but not the last) explicit parallels in that respect attributing thinking in complexes to primitive cultures and, in addition to this form, thinking in scientific and true concepts to more developed cultures. Or, sometimes he was not specific, but nevertheless explained the reasons why the development of an individual stops at an earlier stage (!) with lack of the ideal form in the environment of the developing children.
    I do not know a single place, however, where Vygotsky would have written that cultural development proceeds over a different sequence of stages or any other kind of qualitative steps. And he definitiely rejected the idea that development can be just about quantity, about more knowledge but all the same kind in psychic structure.

    So, altogether, I think Vygotsky was quite consistent in this: both cultures and individuals pass through the same hierarchy of stages of word meaning structure development. In that respect, the individual development recapitulates the cultural development.

    With best wishes,

  27. If we take “word meaning structure development” as a criterion, it is easy to demonstrate that English is a primitive language. So for example, English has case relations only in the pronominal system, while Russian has case relations developed throughout the system of nouns. English expresses general concepts with a plural form: “I like apples” means the apple in general and not lots of apples. This is complexive thinking par excellence.

    But perhaps you just mean that a primitive language is one that offers few choices at a grammatical node (so for example in English we have thirteen possible forms of “to be” but only two for “to work”, so we would say that being is a more grammatically differentiated word meaning than labor). Non-primitive languages would then be highly lexicalized, while primitive languages would have to rely on grammaticalization to eke out their impoverished and undeveloped vocabularies.

    By this standard, English is far more primitive than almost any Bantu language you could name, and certainly more primitive than a Semitic language like Arabic or Hebrew. But then the most undeveloped language on earth is precisely the one that has been in most continuous development: Chinese has no morphological inflection at all.

  28. Erratum:

    Semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew would be “primitive” languages, because of their elaborate grammaticalization system for eking out tri-consonantal roots into a vast array of vocabulary.

    But you can see just from this error that this criterion for determining “development’ is arbitrary–it’s like Descartes explaining to the Princess Elizabeth that a full stomach causes the emotion of happiness but an empty stomach makes you sad. When Elizabeth, possibly after overindulging, objects, Descartes just says well then it must be the other way around….

    The distinction Vygotsky refers to in the final chapter of Thinking and Speech–the distnction between pointing, naming, and signifying–is even more useless in comparative linguistics. There are no languages that do not point, name or signify. Whether what they signify are complexes or concepts is likewise a matter of intra-lingual and not inter-lingual variation. “Development” applies to registers (e.g. scientific English vs. everyday English). But it doesn’t apply to whole languages any more than it applies to accents.

  29. David,

    I see that I was not sufficiently precise with my expressions – it is only partly correct to say: “Word meaning structure is about relations between words”. It is more complex.

    Vygotsky’s theory about word meaning structure is not about grammatical structure of a language. Not that these two aspects are independent. Grammar is necessary for certain more developed forms of word meaning structure. Syncretic concepts, for instance, are essentially words used one at a time. There is no grammar. Everyday concepts/complexes require rules of language to encode and express relationships between things and phenomena in the sensory-based world.

    However, the main point is that Vygotsky’s theory is about INTRApsychological relations, his theory is about word MEANING structure. All words, according to him, are generalizations. The central question is, what is generalized. Everyday concepts are generalizations of sensory-based experiences. A word “dog” signifies a category that is essentially a generalized “image” of a dog. In “scientific” concepts, however, the concept is a generalization of not direct sensory images but words (that signify generalized categories of images). That is how we get “mammal” for instance – this category, composed on the basis of individually necessary and collectively sufficient attributes, includes members that are different both in appearances and in situations where they can be experienced. Here we put together bears, whales, bats, etc.

    Vygotsky suggested that such relations we have learned in the interaction with our social-cultural environment. And there what is important is not some formal aspect of language as if independent phenomenon; it is about how words are USED. Vygotsky’s perhaps most important book is not “Thinking and Language”, it is “Thinking and Speech”. I think it is very important difference. When we communicate with language, when we speak, we always signify something with our words. So in a living speech there are always meaning relations; these are the social-cultural relationships that constitute an ideal form available in a given culture. Relationships between words are only one aspect of more complex relations.

    I think here we find also the reason, why logical concepts (I prefer this term instead of “scientific” concept; because even though all concepts of science must be of this kind, there can be many “scientific” concepts that are not related to scientific knowledge at all) cannot develop at the same time with complexes/everyday concepts. The latter generalizes sensory experiences, the signifieds are sensory-based categories. The former generalizes the generalizations, words that generalize sensory-based experiences. Therefore the latter is impossible before sufficiently differentiated everyday conceptual systems have emerged.

    With best wishes

  30. Erratum:
    I got lost with the last sentence. “The latter” must be “the former”: “Therefore a logical concept is impossible before sufficiently differentiated everyday conceptual systems have emerged.”

  31. Looks like there are errors in the wordpress formatting. My previous message was formatted. As there is no option to delete, I’ll refrain from resubmitting.

  32. Aaro, and others

    Here is a lengthy reply to the issues raised:

    1a. Regarding my epistemology, this can be said to be morphogenetic, e.g.: there is no such thing as a uni-direction process; there is no complete separation between ‘things’; forms are processes and vice-versa; “what something is” is merely an inaccurate way of referring to how something comes to arise; objects are construed; it is our distinctions (and their emergence) that are the basis of construal, identification and determination of “what something is”. See [1].

    1b. The strategy of the agent comprises the strategy by which I studied him or her. We may look at their method, the parts of their method, how the parts have enduring forms of organisation, how the morphology of the parts changes with respect to their activity, how the enduring organisations embedded in the activity increase in organisation complexity and scope with respect to the coordination of parts making up the activity, how this organisation itself may change over time with respect to projected forms of development. See my study of active orientation [2].

    1c. Certain complexities of epistemology must be catered for when studying the development of agents’ activity (psychology). Not only is it relevant to consider the researchers epistemology, it is necessary, too, to consider the epistemological contribution to the agents’ ontology and scope of interpretation as a developmental trajectory. Therefore the epistemology of the researcher must accommodate the developmental possibilities of the agent, whilst, of course, also catering to the possibility of changes arising from their own personal insights. See [2].

    1d. We should also heed the fairly obvious case that we come to understand our activities after initially undertaking them, see [3]. Exceptions might apply to logically familiar activities, i.e. that can by synthesised in the imagination. Our epistemological assumptions are therefore liable to incompleteness, as was Vygotsky’s with respect to his naivety of and subsequent learning about systems.

    2. Regarding the rhetoric around research question with respect to epistemology (which, as per 1d above, is self-limiting when applied as a research axiom of “Define your terms!” we not only need to cater for our own search (and development) but given the epistemological assumptions around heterogeneity (which is cognate with morphogenetics, see [1]) we should recognise that questions may sometimes form a mesh rather than a linear hierarchy and it would be incongruent and self-limiting to treat them so. See [4].

    3. Regarding “why active orientation?”, this caters to the need to accommodate the agent’s interpretation of situations and the disposition for actions in relation to their cognitive capabilities. Simply put, it is the interpretation aspect of the triad sign-interpretation-action. As Vygotsky shows, the relation sign-action pertains to stimulus-response processes and can be ascribed to processes of automatic (autonomic) behaviour. The active orientation can be shown to express the agent’s unit of analysis for their own determined activity (i.e. not the activity that the researcher might seek to impose). Active orientation therefore pertains to a unit of a unit of analysis (of behaviour or activity).

    4. Regarding HMF and LMF. Much of this, for me, largely consists of a fairly naive approach to systems which attempts to shoe-horn facets of psychology that have piqued reachers interest into a system. Hence we have shopping lists of functions that supposedly form a system as if they were akin to organs making up an an organic system. I do not have the references to hand, though I recall research explicating the development of (so called) lower mental functions which appeared to contradict LSV’s claims. For me, the useful distinction was between conscious (interpreted) use of signs and non-interpreted use of signs which, as unconsciously applied, may still play a role and may undergo movement within the ‘stream’ of an activity. See [2].

    5. Regarding the comments about AT being uni-directional, I can only infer this to be a reference to issues such as those highlighted by Alexander Surmava [5]. Rather than get into this, I may simply state that if a unit of analysis is good for you as a researcher, then why is not appropriate for the agent? To brush off a whole collection of research because of philosophical uncertainties does not seem to me a productive response. Again, first we find things that work, then we find out why (we think) they work. To impose the reverse is not very productive (although we may imaginatively and logically build upon what we have confidence in). Besides, the projected development of organisation of activity that I used was sufficient for my purposes and fits my bi-directional notions of relations between activity-based requirements and their (psychological) organisation, as befits the movement ‘upstream’ of signs in activity etc.

    6. Finally, regarding epistemological issues, I am no stranger to this as a social problem and I believe you would be correct to assume that many Western practitioners would benefit from deeper reflection on this. My brief account in my introduction to my study [2] refers to such problems. These were sufficient to necessitate that I undertook my work independently, having to abort the process I experienced within a UK university with their (nigh on UK-universal) fixation on methods of description and statistics in the social sciences, which of course are unsatisfactory for developmental studies. If anyone reading this would like to see this study formally published as part of accepting them as a PhD, please let me know.

    I trust this is sufficient explanation.

    [1] Maruyama (1978) Heterogenistics and Morphogenetics: Toward a New Concept of the Scientific. https://www.jstor.org/stable/657025
    [2] My studies of active orientation:
    https://www.academia.edu/42233037 A_Study_of_Active_Orientation_Part_2_Basis_for_an_Experimental_Study_of_Active_Orientation_Focused_Upon_the_Formation_of_Handwriting_Skills_of_Letter_Formation
    [3] Wertsch (2011) Saying More than You Know in Instructional Settings. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4419-7582-9_9
    [4] De Landa (1997) A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History
    [5] Surmava (2005 in Russian) LIFE, PSYCHE, CONSCIOUSNESS

  33. Huw, all

    Your points are quite interesting. To go into detailed analysis of them requires much more than fits in this format of discussion. So I just make some short comments on them. I follow your points.

    1a. Morphogenetic epistemology – Maruyama seems to be a little out of date with it. He suggested in 1978 that “recent advances in several fields of science indicate … increase in heterogenization …” Well, Karl Ernst von Baer was there more than a century before and he understood processes of the emergence of heterogeneity very well. And the epistemology followed by Vygotsky (and many others of his time) already included a developed version of reciprocal causality (and also so-called downward causality) already a century before Maruyama – in their epistemology there can be no unidirectional causality at all. Efficient causality is part of this epistemology, but as part, it has qualitatively different meaning as compared to Cartesian linear cause-effect causality.

    To say forms are processes and processes are forms does not make sense to me. Objects become into being indeed, but then they become physically distinct (not necessarily separable). Or I simply do not understand what is process for you and what is form. I think physically objects can exist without processes, but the opposite is impossible; there can be no process without something.

    1b. Here I have ontological problems, it is too abstract for me to understand, what you declare to exist. Already the beginning of the first sentence is confusing to me: “The strategy of the agent comprises the strategy …” Strategy comprises the strategy – what is strategy that can comrpise something, i.e. other strategy? As I understand the term strategy, it is a characteristic of a process, but not something that can comprise something else.

    3. You write: ” As Vygotsky shows, the relation sign-action pertains to stimulus-response processes and can be ascribed to processes of automatic (autonomic) behaviour.” I have no idea how this relates to Vygotsky’s theory.

    And what is “the active orientation” that can express something (the agent’s unit of analysis)? Here I have an ontological issue again: active orientation became in your understanding into something that can express something.

    4. What you say about HMF and LMF does not make sense in Vygotsky’s theory. For him these two are structurally different; HMF has parts (linguistic signs) the LMF does not have. New part in a structure causes (I am referring to structural-systemic, not linear causality) the change of the properties of the whole. The LMF as a whole is qualitatively different from HMF as a whole. Consciousness is one of the emergent properties of the HMFs. It is not a separate something; for Vygotsky to use a linguistic sign is to be conscious – there is no separate consciousness that can make a difference in sign use. Unless you use the term consciousness differently from Vygotsky. So, what it is, you signify bu the term “consciousness”?

    You declare Vygotsky and the others following the same epistemology were naive. I would like to have better arguments than your statement here. The same epistemology was formulated already by Wundt. Where did he and the others go wrong? What is naive in their understanding? Luria’s neuropsychology of HPFs is very powerfully demonstrating that the systems/structures Vygotsky was talking are organically grounded and there are psychic organs distinguishable in the brain. Exactly the same general structural way as there are biotic organs in the living body or organelles in a cell. If you call such an approach “naive”, I think you need to show also that Luria was also wrong.

    5. I agree that I am “brushing off a whole collection of research [in AT]”, but I disagree that it is because of philosophical uncertainties. I think there is a very good ground to prefer one (which was also Vygotsky’s) epistemology over the others (in addition to several articles/chapters, I wrote even a small book on it: https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783030314484). Research in AT is asking questions that are not supporting the development of understanding of what is studied (psyche, society, culture, etc) and relies on methods that are methodologically problematic also. Actually, there is no justified and coherent methodology in AT I am aware of (methodology should not be confused with methods). So I do not see anything that really advances scientific (structural-systemic) understanding in such studies.

    With best wishes

  34. Aaro,

    Reference to “Vygotsky’s Theory” suggested to me that there was, in existence, a little pamphlet going by the same name in which all the fundamental points are laid out and the document is signed “The Real Vygotsky”. But alas, I have yet to stumble across this artefact and have only the translated works in which changing opinions and conclusions are expressed, and where fundamentals of the theory are scattered about here and there. Evidently, “Vygotsky’s Theory” is something one has to dig for, piece together, and scrutinise oneself.

    In faithful response to your further questioning, I offer the following responses. Hopefully this clarifies things for you.

    1a. Maruyama’s paper expresses the points simply. It clarifies the relevance of the label ‘epistemology’ whilst also connecting it with the contents of my draft papers.

    The comparison between forms and processes are similar, if not equivalent, to ‘systems’ and ‘functions’. But for this one might need to go further back in history.

    1b. Strategy: method; the structure of a process intended for obtaining an outcome.

    3. On p.79 of English (1997, Plenum) Vol.4 of the collected works (the chapter “Analysis of Higher Mental Functions”) we have a diagram showing the connections A-B and A-X-B. On p.80 we have: “Stimulus A elicits a reaction that consists in finding stimulus X, which in turn acts on point B. Thus, the connection between points A and B is not direct, but mediated. This is what the uniqueness of the selection reaction and all higher forms of behaviour consist of.” and (next paragraph) “With a neutral formation of a connection, a direct conditioned-reflex connection is established between the two points A and B.”

    For clarity, I shall re label these terms: the relation A-B can be re-labelled (S)stimulus – (R)response or S-R; the relation A-X-B can be relabelled (S)timulus-(I)nterpretation-(R)response, or S-I-R. Now we can again assign CHT terms to these labels and consider S-R as sign – (Re)action and S-I-R as sign – interpretation – action. Without conscious interpretation, the meaning of the sign is outside of the control of the agent.

    These relations are also discussed in vol.3 (Problems of the Theory and History of Psychology), ch.5, p.86, “The Instrumental Method on Psychology”.

    The expression “active orientation became in your understanding into something that can express something” does not make sense to me, but perhaps my answers to the remaining points will help.

    4. LMF as a collection of “natural processes” are not, for me, a productive way to proceed. Hence my previous reference to a “shopping-list” of functions: memory, perception, planning, speech, naturalistic thinking, emotion, etc. For me, with respect to ‘mental functions’ it is productive to distinguish: attention, movement, and emotion; or more precisely: attention, attention to movement, and attention to emotion — there is simply a variety of forms of attention.

    i) Perception manifests as a “pre-perceptual” field which is attended to. The act of attention informs what is seen (corroborated phenomenologically, e.g. by visual illusions or ambiguities). The “pre-perceptual” field is a given, it is always present and is not a “psychological function”.

    ii) Similarly memory is always present, it is “built in”. Memory is “exercised” by attention. Hence we can improve our memory in manners similar to how we can strengthen a muscle. However we can form specialised memorising “functions”, such as the action of taking notes etc.

    iii) “Speech” (as a pre-verbal “LMF”) is simply particular movements, achieved by certain forms of attention.

    iv) “Naturalistic thinking” is a combination of signs (attention) movements, and affective response.

    v) “Planning” according to my schema is a developed “function”, in fact a key part of cognitive development. This is to be expected when I predicate much upon the agent’s strategy or method of undertaking actions / activity.

    4.1 With respect to these LMFs we should note that most of them are not “real” in that they do not manifest in pure form. There is no such thing as “pure memory”, “pure planning”, “pure perception” etc, yet as I understand it LMF is supposed to be grounded in “elements”.

    4.2 There is a close correspondence between attention and signs. The act of attending for the purposes of action entails the making of a sign. This was used, for example , by Gal’perin in which the action of “checking” was interpreted as evidence for attending.

    4.3 Instead of “LMF” I posit nothing. Hence, for me, there is no “Higher” mental function. Rather there are functions that are undertaken consciously (called “actions” in line with AT) and that implicate interpretation and planning (qua S-I-R), and functions undertaken unconsciously (called “operations also in line with AT) implicating S-R (unless overridden consciously, hence autonomic). Also in line with AT, concomitant with conscious interpreting and planning that is deemed to take place with actions, these ‘functions’ generally take place sequentially. Operations, on the other hand, may take place concurrently. This distinction is also quite significant with respect to developmental processes.

    4.4 Consciousness (in the sense of Mental, cognitive) is attention, it is frequently entailed in sign use, i.e. to employ things or impressions as signs (but not necessarily artefacts named as signs like sign posts etc).

    4.5 Re systemically naive:

    i) The “shopping list” approach to mental functions.

    ii) Vol.3 Problem of the Theory and History of Psychology, ch. 6 On Psychological Systems
    p.91: “I would like you to bear in mind that however primitive and simple we may have interpreted the higher psychological functions, we nevertheless resorted to some more complex, more integral concept of the personality… Hence it is understandable that as the work moved forward we had to fill that gap, to justify the hypothesis and gradually transform it into experimentally verified knowledge.”
    P.92: “Its main (and extremely simple) idea is that in the process of development, and in the historical development of behaviour in particular, it is not so much the functions which change (these we mistakenly studied before). Their structure and the system of their development remains the same.”
    And p.107: “We must take interest in systems and their fate — it seems to me that for us the alpha and omega of our next work must reside in these four words.”

    iii) Luria’s and Vygotsky’s distinction between function and system. They treat these as two separate kinds of structures, whereas once the “LMFs” have been cleared away, they may be seen as two perspectives upon the same logical organisation, i.e. there is no necessity for merely two levels, the ‘function’ or ‘system’ can be applied hierarchically and recursively, whilst retaining the dialectic relation between parts (sub systems) and “whole” (larger system).

    iv) These systemic views can be further refined, however I won’t get into that here.

    5. I would expect that much applied work employing AT may not be concerned with development issues and might therefore simplify the functions such that the dialectical relation (if that is your concern) between functions was either discounted or approximated for in other ways (e.g. one function being substituted for another after time trials etc). Certainly from what I have seen with SSAT, which has its own particular focus and problem-tasks in relation to industrial psychology, developmental issues do not seem to be a primary focus. This does not necessarily invalidate the approach, however, it depends upon its application.

    In addition to these points there are others that I bring in to active orientation, for example Gordon Pask’s “p-individual” which recognises the “conversations” that can take place between sub-systems or perspectives (quo orientations) that extend the sense and architecture of social distribution and help explain developmental processes via the synthesis and reorganisation of systems. Most of the work was undertaken a few years ago so it is not quite level with my current understandings. Nevertheless, you might find the papers interesting.


  35. See the Selections from Vygotsky Notebooks published by Zavershneva and van der Veer in 2018, p. 141. Vygotsky is putting together some notes for his talk on psychological systems (1930):

    “perhaps, therefore, the term “function” is incorrect. Actually, I’m sure it is. A function is an organ in action.”

    His point is that attention, memory, and thinking are not the result of the activity of one part of the ‘mind/brain
    or another, the way that eating is the result of using your mouth and digesting is the result of using your stomach.

    If anything, it’s the other way around: an organ is, in evolutionary theory, the result of an organism doing a particular activity for millions of years.

    So not only is it difficult to separate functions ‘vertically’ (because ‘higher’ functions are really only higher in the sense of including ‘lower’ ones as subordinate moments), it’s not really possible to separate functions “horizontally”.

    Attention and memory not distinct in the way that seeing and hearing (or even smelling and tasting) are distinct.

  36. Dear all,

    It seems this discussion has come close to the end. It goes in new directions that are only very remotely related to the question I asked in the beginning. I had two related questions. First was about epistemology – what kind of information should a definition contain? This question can also be expressed in this way: What kinds of information science is aimed at achieving? There was a reason why I asked the question: All five scholars in the video expressed ideas that were suggested to be related to Vygotsky’s theory. But clearly these answers (and also publications and other lectures given by the same scholars) did not correspond to Vygotsky’s understanding of the aims of science. From there came the second question – Why the scholars rely on an epistemology that is different from Vygotsky’s?

    Huw came closest to answering the questions but still with no justification as to why rely on morphogenetic epistemology (which looks flawed to me, but this is another story). So, altogether, it seems that Vygotsky’s epistemology is abandoned. But Vygotsky’s theory, I suggest, becomes something qualitatively different, if grounded on another epistemology. It is not his theory any more.

    It would not be a problem in principle. Vygotsky’s theory will be soon a century old. He might have been wrong. The problem to me is that I think he was not wrong. His theory is not ready. There are many questions he did not ask but that must be answered. I would say a new theory is needed. But that new theory can be built in large part to the basic ideas he formulated.

    Vygotsky’s program was clear: he aimed at building a unifying theory of psyche. I think a theory of the psyche, if it is to be satisfactory for understanding psyche, must (!) follow certain principles.
    First, this theory must rely on justified epistemology. Why? – because there are several different, partly nonoverlapping and sometimes not overlapping at all, epistemologies. If to assume that world is organized and knowable (otherwise science makes no sense), then all epistemologies cannot be justifiable because epistemology must correspond to the world as it is.
    Second, acceptable theory of psyche must be simultaneously based on at least three psychological approaches: study of the history of the human culture, developmental psychology of the child, and neuropsychology (together with so-called cognitive psychology). Why? – because mind is a wholistic phenomenon that emerges in the interaction of an individual and his/her environment. History of culture grounds understanding how the specifically human environment emerged and how it is organized. Neuropsychology is needed to understand the individual, biological ground, the potential for the development of the human mind. And developmental psychology is needed to understand emergence and further development of the human mind in the interaction of the cultural environment and the individual.
    Third, the studies are by necessity always conducted from very particular perspectives; there is no way to study everything at the same time. So every study must be designed with clear understanding how it relates to the psyche as a whole.

    Vygotsky’s theory is the only theory I am aware of that explicitly followed these general principles. Nikolai sayd in one of his interviews that Vygotsky’s theory should be taken as a whole. I fully agree. But so far I have not seen theories that would have done it – with one exception. Luria did it and also ended up in advancing important aspects of Vygotsky’s theory. All other approaches (in the limits of my knowledge, obviously) that are related to Vygotsky’s name, are partial at best. In that sense I would say none of them is Vygotsky’s or even vygotskian. These theories are created after Vygotsky, so it might be that they are better. But this needs to be demonstrated, not just declared. This demonstration, I think, must begin with explaining, why Vygotsky’s epistemology was wrong. Because these new approaches, with no exception (in the limits of my knowledge) do not rely on that kind of epistemology.

    Altogether, I think there is a lot to discover in Vygotsky’s theory – I think it has huge potential not realised yet.

    With best wishes

  37. “Epistemology must correspond to the world as it is”. Yet how one sees the world is contingent upon one’s epistemology. Hence the necessity of including a theory of the development of epistemology (and cognition).

    In addition to underpinning and undermining psychologies by a general theory, one can also build bridges between them. On that basis, I would invite you again to look at the draft paper I wrote on active orientation, which might be considered as a palatable approach to the “object of activity” amongst other things. The theoretical part is here:



  38. Any thoughts and/or tips are appreciated ~

    Based on the discussion above (or not), how might the following concept be effectively taught/learned/developed: the concept of “impression management”?

    In the context of my classroom, ‘impression management’ refers to the way writers try to create a near-match between their own intentions and between readers’ perceptions. It also refers to a reader’s intention to understand texts as the writer intended them to be understood. [This works with other mediums or artforms as well, but my class mainly deals with writing/reading.]

    Developing this concept can be quite generative, with big payoff, but my approaches have been hit or miss over the years. So I’m asking for ideas, either specific or generic. It’s worth a shot.

    So thank you.

    P.S. Also, based (I think) on the discussion above, Andy has talked a bit more about whether concepts are more ‘verb’ than ‘noun’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ6GM1KtD_4

  39. Huw, Anthony, all,

    Huw – I read the paper and it seems we are talking about different things. And in different languages. The text contains ideas from many authors, often with mutually exclusive approaches. Vygotsky’s way, for instance, does not fit with most other approaches the theory is built. It also means that the theory becomes open for criticism from all different perspectives.
    Epistemology is mentioned there also many times, but I was not able to understand, what is meant by the term. Epistemology is theory of knowledge to me. I could not find what theories of knowledge are discussed in the paper. Perhaps it is so because of the epistemology I have accepted. Not every definition would be definition from structural-systemic perspective.

    But your point is important: “Yet how one sees the world is contingent upon one’s epistemology.” This is usually so, but not necessarily. Epistemology is usually understood as an area of philosophy. For me it must become into the realm of science (the difference between philosophy and science was well expressed by Dewey: “The objects of both science and philosophy obviously belong chiefly to the secondary and refined system. But at this point we come to a marked divergence between science and philosophy. For the natural sciences not only draw their material from primary experience, but they refer it back again for test.”).

    Scientific theory of knowledge belongs to the area of psychology. It is a question of correspondences between the structure of the world and knowledge supposed to represent it. Essentially epistemology is a theory of the organization of the world at the most general level of analysis. Therefore all specific scientific theories about the world can be used to test it. We can constantly question whether our epistemology, our way to see the world, corresponds to what is known (or believed/supposed/assumed to be known) about it. I would say, we can (and should) take a metaepistemological perspective, to study different epistemologies and see whether they correspond to what is known. (This I have also done in my book linked above). Metaepistemological perspective opens epistemology for modification. But this needs explicit, conscious theory about epistemologies.

    Anthony – is your question about how to teach to understand the concept, or how to teach writing on the basis of that concept? First is easy – you almost did it already in your letter: Texts can be read differently and therefore writer’s intentions may not be understood. This should not be hard to understand.

    But to write in this way is another issue. There are two problems. One is that there are different ways to read depending on the experiences, the personality of the reader. “One way fits all” is therefore impossible. The other problem is that writers may not realise what their intentions are.

    From this the teaching strategy emerges: a student must learn what the different ways to read texts are, and to learn to reflect on own intentions as a writer. And then the student has to learn, how to write so that writing matches the readers’ perception.

    So, superficially it might look easy. But if to think about the content, I am not sure necessary knowledge exists today. So this knowledge needs to be created first. Teaching does not have to wait until full understanding is achieved (I am not sure whether it would be even possible; likely not). But it is possible to improve teaching together with advancement of knowledge. As human kind has done over many millenia already in other areas of knowledge and skills.

    With best wishes

  40. Dear all,

    I listened to Andy’s talk about “whether concepts are more ‘verb’ than ‘noun’” Anthony referred to. So, what would it mean to say that everything is a process? We grasp things as processes? As Andy says, it cannot be strictly correct. I think it is strictly incorrect :-). It seems to me that what Andy says supports what I just wrote; Andy says that in process there is one state, then process and then another state after the process; one state turns into another. If things were processes then, I think, the world should be a continuous flow of processes, every next moment new and new states emerge none of them fixed. But to create a narrative to grasp things as processes, there must be beginning, the state 1 and an end, the state 2. How to distinguish states, if the world would be a continuous process? I think it would be impossible. Every moment comprises a state and could be taken as the beginning state of a narrative; so where to start? And where to stop, if every next moment a different state would emerge? Narrative about the thing-process would be a process itself, it would turn continuously and constantly from one state to another, that is different state, a different narrative. If a process and narrative about that process are both processes, then how narrative could remain a narrative about the narrated process?

    The whole situation becomes immediately understandable and definable, if we understand that states are actually things as materially stable units, structures of matter, and processes are dynamic changes of things, the ways how one thing becomes another.

    There is still an interesting problem. To know what a thing is can take place only in a process of a study. We can know what something is only by studying its development, coming into being and ceasing to exist. If a thing is not in a process, it cannot be known. But it does not follow that there are no things. It follows that we need a methodology (!) to understand how to analyse processes into things and their (changing) relationships. Physics and biology have succeeded in this, psychology is still struggling, today even more than in Vygotsky’s time; in his time psychologists were better in analysing than today. But physics and biology also prove that it can be done in psychology, because, as Vygotsky (among others) put it: “mind is a property of highly organized matter” (Notebooks, p. 144 (Russian)/108 (English)). Thus, there is always matter, there are always distinguishable (not necessarily separable!) things; process is dynamics of interactions of those things. The process cannot be understood in principle without knowing things that are in the process. This is so because things have to be qualitatively different, not everything can become anything else. Concept, in that sense, has also to be a thing.

    With best wishes

  41. Anthony–

    I think you can see from the discussion thus far that this format (like xmca, like the two minute videos you produce, like the idea of “five levels of explanation” that you put forward) has some strengths, but also a lot of weaknesses. Here are three shortcomings that seem obvious to me at this point in the discussion.

    a) The initial topic (which was TEACHING concepts) quickly got lost in attempts to respond to the initial response (trying to guess what Aaro might accept as Vygotsky’s “real” epistemology). This happens in conversations too, of course: it accounts for both their longevity and their apparent lack of direction. The price you pay for eternal life is eternal lack of conclusiveness.

    b) Each thread is self-isolating. At several points, it seemed that it might benefit from the OTHER thread that you started, on explaining complex concepts in simple terms. It seems to me (last time I checked) that this thread in itself is not really going anywhere, partly because the idea of simplification is just too simple–e.g. Peter seems to think that anything written in short sentences is a simplification! But it would definitely benefit from some of the issues that Aaro has raised here. Consider the difference between a process and a movie. Or a movie and a three panel comic strip. You can see, in slow motion, what Aaro is trying to do when he reduces a real, sensuous process to a “narrative”: he’s simplifying, and in a good way! So I think that getting threads to MEET is sometimes more productive than isolating them, and I note that this was a little easier on xmca than it is here.

    c) The dynamism of the discussion means that it’s hard to “turn language back upon itself”. Aaro tried to do this when he wanted to “wrap up” the discussion because we had all failed to guess what he wanted. That sounded petulant–and it was ignored–but there is actually a positive side to it, because it’s only by turning a conversation back on itself that you can really turn it into a perezhivanie. Conversations are, after all, processes and not things; it is only by turning language back on itself that we can convert a conversation from a process to a thing.

  42. David,
    I thought this discussion arrived to the end. But now you write things that seem to distort or misrepresent (the main thread) of the discussion her.

    1. The initial topic was not only about “teaching concepts”. If to scroll this page up, the topic is there: “What are concepts, and how they might be taught?”
    My question was about answers to “What are concepts” part of the topic. I also think that it does not make sense to discuss how to teach “I have no idea what” or “I cannot tell what”.

    2. My question was not addressed to just anybody. My question was addressed to “five speakers, each deeply versed in Vygotsky’s theory”. So it was not meant to be a guessing game. I also did not ask about some peropheral questions that have no pervasive meaning in Vygotsky’s theory. In addition, the Vygtosky’s work I was particularly (implicitly, in the beginning) referring to is among the most important he has written. Zavershneva and van der Veer (not me alone!) put it this way: “”Problem of the cultural development of the child” (1928), which can be called a manifesto of cultural-historical psychology.” (From Russian version).

    3. You suggest that I asked you to guess what I would accept as “Vygotsky’s “real” epistemology.” This statement in the current form is just a demagogy. If you suggest that I am wrong, then demonstrate it. I see several porribilities how I could be wrong:
    3.1. Vygotsky did not mean what he wrote about analysis-relations-whole structural epistemology (he did it in more than one work).
    3.2. Vygotsky did not follow this epistemology. (I suggest that, implicitly, this epistemology pervades his whole oeuvre).
    3.3. Vygotsky actually had another epistemology.
    3.4. Vygotsky did not have any explicit epistemology. (Somebody else wrote the passages I cited as well as others with similar content?)
    So far, I have provided evidence that Vygotsky had epistemology and this is real (not “real”): his what I have called structural-systemic epistemoloogy was expressed in several of his works and applied in others quite consistently.

    4. I really cannot understand, why my questions sounded “petulant”? I am sorry, if they could be interpreted as such. Why it is petulant to ask a question – What is your epistemology and why it is different from Vygotsky’s? Especially, if the question is about one of the most important works of Vygotsky and I am asking it from speakers deeply versed in Vygotsky’s theory?

    With best wishes

  43. The reason I am referring Aaro to a diagram (which I don’t seem to be able to attach here), is that this diagram is schematic of much of the work I was involved in in tracing a developmental process by way of exploring “active orientation”. This diagram depicts four particular concerns which can easily be mapped onto what I believe Aaro is concerned about, namely contemporary realisations of Aristotle’s dialectics (not formal logic as is often attributed to him).

    Then there is much in the theoretical section (part 1) which goes into details about how larger organs (qua perspectives) can be formed from simpler varieties. Notably it doesn’t (IIRC) go into “dialectical connections” between these functions, but it does demonstrate this dialectical relation through the deployment of signs, which reveals the connection in support of the feedback process depicted in the diagram.

    It so happens that this study helps me to answer assertions attributed to the video clip concerning my description of good ways of achieving conceptual understanding, which thereby are indirectly about definitions of concepts in the sense of how personal concepts can arise. The study helps because it pertains to a study of “active orientation” and it is active orientation which I claim is critical for the appropriate engagement of agents (students etc) to acquire conceptual appreciation.

    It so happens, additionally, that this sketching out of active orientation posits a version of “the object of activity” which allows us to modestly re-import much of the work that Aaro considers must necessarily be swept aside. This study also posits “operations” as elements (rather than LSV’s LMFs). Going by Aaro’s avoidance of this point above (the extensive answer to which was requested from me, but was not responded to) suggests that this is a sensitive area. But all this is really saying (or pointing to) is that LSV posited theoretical aspects that themselves didn’t sit particularly well with the / a “meta theory” and its requirements.

    Regarding the meanings behind “epistemology”, there is, of course, bound to be different senses at play. But these senses are not divorced from each other, and by pointing to particular parts of this study I think this helps to show that these concerns are being taken into account. I am happy to take these up further off line.

    I think Aaro has excellent contributions to make. The issue, it seems, is his means of trying to communicate them. Invoking guessing games, pinning his forceful language on un-elaborated words, throwing in some rhetorical questions, and casting dispersions — apparently I am seasoned, and an expert, but according to the institutions for which “expert” was invented, I am sadly lacking in basic qualifications. It seems to me that when Aaro is answering his questions he is doing good work. Perhaps it is simply that his devotion to this cause has not given much scope for refining skills in “how to win friends and influence people”, for which I have some sympathy, but less so for the rhetoric.

    Now, given that I was pulled into this thread by “mischievous”, albeit accidentally, circumstance, it may be that I can now withdraw.

    By-the-by, I would suggest that any new sub-topics or side topics be placed in their own thread.


  44. A conversation is a process, not an entity. It certainly does not come to an end because it goes in directions only remotely related to a question you asked concerning only half of the topic. For example, I think that YOU have not answered Andy’s remark about the epistemology of “Materialism and Empiriocriticism” or my remark about the “Salto Mortale” of any complex set of concepts (c.f. Spinoza’s epistemology) or my remark about Vygotsky’s dissatisfaction with “cultural historical psychology”. The discussion has not ended simply because you failed to answer to my satisfaction. Nor did Vygotsky’s engagement with child devleopment come to an end with “cultural historical psychology” or with “The Cultural Devleopment of the Child”.

  45. David, all,

    It is interesting. First you write that I did not answer Andy’s remark. Andy made a remark that the only claims he knows Vygotsky made about epistemolgy were in “Crisis”. There is no question; the remark is clearly about what Andy knew. He also had a question: “It would help if you explained what other epistemology you are imputing to Vygotsky.” This question I answered immediately in my next comment. So, what is your question that I could answer?

    Then you ask about your remark on “salto mortale”. But, again, there was no question. In addition, I could not understand, how it was relevant in respect of the question I asked. Vygotsky died 86 years ago. This particular idea you mention, he wrote in 1927. Soon a century ago. He wrote, indeed, that definitions should be given not in the beginning but after necessary knowledge is created. But it was written when his own psychology was just emerging. A century later we should be much further than in the stage of a definition as a “point of view” in Vygotsky’s words (“первое определение дает точку зрения”). Which also means that we should be far beyond the stage of the development of psychology that was created before Vygotsky constructed most of his theory.

    I would also like to remind that I commented on your ideas that “the way in which science gets underway is not theoretical speculation or epistemology” – I would add now, that you contradict yourself here. Because “definition as a point of view”, that, according to Vygotsky, should stand in the beginning of a science, is essentially the same as “theoretical speculation”. If you agreed with what Vygotsky wrote in this particular note, then why do you disagree with what he wrote in the same note and on the same subject a few words before the quote you brought?

    Third, your remark that, according to Vygotsky, “cultural historical” is not an adequate name for his approach. Actually it seems he wrote nothing about “cultural historical” in this note. He wrote about “historical” and about “cultural”, but not on “cultural historical”. Further, in this note he discussed the question, what could be a correct NAME for his approach (and ended up with “historical theory of higher psychological functions”, p. 161). Your comment was written immediately after the letter where I provided reasons to suggest that Vygotsky found parallels in cultural and child development. Parallels between cultural and child development, which Vygotsky clearly suggested, is one issue; how would be the best way to name his approach according to himself, is another. What was there to respond?

    Finally, you say that Vygotsky developed his theory further from the writings I cited as evidence for his support to parallelism between cultural and child development. It is correct. But where did he explicitly abandon the idea of such parallelism in his later works?

    If you would ask questions, I would be happy to answer. But to respond to remarks that are not related to the subject of discussion may just have led to losing track (what happened anyway).

    1. I do not think I should discuss what Andy (or anybody else) knows.
    2. Almost a century has passed since Vygotsky, in the beginning of creating his theory, suggested that science cannot begin with definitions but rather with points of view on how something could be defined. Humanity knows much more today than in Vygotsky’s time. Time to be satisfied with “points of view” should be left behind.
    3. The question of how Vygotsky was looking for a correct NAME for his science seems not to be related to the question about parallels between cultural and child development I was discussing.
    4. I am happy to be educated about aspects of Vygotsky’s theory I have not discovered yet.

    With best wishes

  46. Dear David,

    Now I have answered quite many questions and also replied on remarks also. I do not know whether it is to your satisfaction, but I did my best. Then I realized that you have not answered to any of my questions at all. I have had an impression that discussion between scholars and examination are not the same forms of conversation. When I initiated this thread, I assumed that it is going to be a discussion, not only a test of my knowledge. So far it seems you have examined me with very different questions, almost none of them related to the question I had. I responded. Even if not to your satisfaction (which means that my grade would be low), I still think that it is not too late to make this thread a discussion on the topic that is, in my opinion, central if we want to understand Vygotsky’s theory, including the question how to define what concepts are.

    I would be very interested to know, why you reject Vygotsky’s epistemology – in my letter from November 4 I described what kind of epistemology I had in mind; I think there can be no doubt that it was Vygotsky’s real (not “real”) understanding of what kind of knowledge he wanted to achieve with his science. So, what is problematic with his epistemology that grounds all his theory? (If you feel that my question is not about the topic – “What are concepts, and how they might be taught?”, then I definitely disagree. Vygotsky’s epistemology defines clearly, what kind of knowledge must be provided in definitions. If you reject his epistemology, your definition of concept cannot be vygotskian.)

    With best wishes

  47. My Dear Aaro–

    I am not sure why you think that I have rejected Vygotsky’s epistemology.

    I certainly agree that nobody should be trying to guess what is in the teacher’s mind. I don’t think that’s how concepts are taught at all. At the same time, I do recognize that simply spelling things out in words doesn’t always do the trick either.

    As you said, an epistemology is frequently implicit. So what exactly is this implicit epistemology of Vygotsky’s that I have rejected?

  48. Dear David,

    Vygotsky’s epistemology is explicit in works, where he described it. In other works the same epistemology is implicit, he just did not write in every paper, what kind of knowledge he is looking for, he just looked for it if it was about studies and relied on it, when described his theories.

    Why I think you reject it? Well, I cannot tell what is in your mind. So I have to rely on what you have said or written. Or what you did not write. I bring just a few examples. You did not write, what epistemology you follow – even though I asked repeatedly. And what you do write or say does not fit with Vygotsky’s elements-relations-whole approach. For example, when you describe in the video in the beginning of this thread what concepts are, you use vocabulary (system, relations) that seems to be Vygotskian. But you actually do not define elements, their relationships, and the whole that emerges. In your letter from November 3, you write”an interest is a shared emotion becoming an idea”. Here is no Vygotskian epistemology left, even though you define interest in a way.
    Further, when you go to the question of teaching of concepts, then this epistemological position seems to fade away even in vocabulary. How spotting logical contradictions is related to elements-relations-whole? I think Vygotskian way here would first go to the study of children’s mind, their conceptual structure; because this is what defines the zone of proximal development. It is children who need to construct a novel concept on the basis of the conceptual structure they have – and in the interaction with the “extracerebral” relationships in their environment (in pedagogical situation these relations are created by the teacher). In your November 6 letter you also seem to separate knowledge from the formation of the concept; I think knowledge is represented in concepts. You disagree in the same letter that a concept is developed by a child. But concepts are interiorized structures; according to Vygotsky there are elements that a child has (as far as I remember, Vygotsky did not say it in this way, but essentially ZPD is defined by what elements are available for the child at any given time and area of knowledge); concept formation is emergence of relations between those elements in the active interaction of the child with his/her environment. So, it seems, all idea of elements, emerging/constructed relations between them and emergence of the new whole concept disappears when you write about teaching process. In your November 18 letter you refer to Vygotsky’s “real” epistemology – even though I made it clear already November 4, just 2 days after I initiated this thread, what epistemology I was referring to. Why “real”? – in this context it seemed to mean that epistemology I was not talking about was not Vygotsky’s epistemology, he formulated himself.

    So, just this – Vygotsky’s ideas are discussed, but epistemologically not in the Vygotskian way. In this way it seems not to be sufficiently grounded to attribute presented ideas to Vygotsky or to Vygotskian approach.

    But – I want to stress – I am interested in discussion. So I present my arguments, my understanding of the situation as I can grasp it. But I can be wrong. If I would not accept this possibility, I would not ask questions.

    Perhaps it helps to reveal, how wrong have I gone: if you agree that science should aim at discovering parts-relations-novel qualities that emerge in the synthesis of the whole (as Vygotsky suggetsed), then what you think would be the elements of concepts? And what would be relations that must emerge between these elements so that concepts could be synthesised?

    With best wishes,

  49. Aaro—
    a) I agreed (and I agree) with Andy. Vygotsky’s epistemology is that of Lenin in “Materialism and Empiriocriticism”, although later he did take on the Lenin of “Philosophical Notebooks”. I did state this early on. I also stated why Vygotsky thought it was not useful to begin with definitions when teaching concepts. Teaching is my principal concern here (and elsewhere).

    b) The excerpt you describe in the video mostly consists of me reading a quotation from Vygotsky’s Thinking and Speech. I do add something to it, because I am trying to explain the key bridge from the pseudoconcept to the actual concept. We usually think of the concept as a generalization of the pseudoconcept (because previous steps from associative to collection to chain to diffuse complexes were all generalizations of generalizations. I was arguing that it is an abstraction (a paring down, a reining in, a limiting of generalization. But the part where you say I am rejecting Vygotsky’s epistemology by not starting with definitions and axioms is actually written by Vygotsky.

    c) Likewise, the distinction between interests and concepts is taken from Chapter Nine and Chapter Ten of the Pedology of the Adolescent. There is, of course, no mention of the zone of proximal development, because the zone does not arise in Vygotsky’s work until 1932, and the Pedology of the Adolescent was written between 1929 and 1930.

    I am very sorry we have disappointed you, Aaro. Vygotsky can be very disappointing sometimes, particularly if you are reading the candle-lit earlier work by the bright daylight of the later work.

  50. Dear David,

    What you write is not relevant to the questions I am asking. Vygotsky did have epistemology, he wrote exactly, what kinds of knowledge he is aiming to achieve in scientific studies. My question was about this. Vygotsky’s (structural-systemic) epistemology is rooted in Hegel’s and Engels’ works philosophically; it was clearly formulated in psychology at the time, Lenin was still a child. The first consistent formulation of exactly this epistemology, as far as I know, was provided by Wundt, but I would not be surprised to learn that it could be there already earlier.

    Vygotsky was absolutely clear in one of his most important texts, I cited above, when he defined, what kinds of knowledge he was constructing. No Lenin was needed for that. Now you seem (considering the context of this thread) to declare that Vygotsky changed his mind and abandoned these principles and “bright daylight of his later works” is not based on the same epistemology. As far as I know, Vygotsky died in 1934. The same epistemology is clearly there, in his very last works; he formulated general principles of neuropsychology in 1934 (Psychology and the theory on the localization of the psychic functions). And these principles are very explicitly based on the same elements-relations-whole, i.e., structural-systemic epistemology. Using your own words – in the daylight of his late works as bright as it can be.

    I showed that occasionally you use vocabulary that resembles this epistemology but you actually do not apply it. Now you confirm the same: you use this vocabulary when quoting directly Vygotsky, but you abandon it immediately you leave his texts. So I think my questions are still there to be answered.

    I, following, again, Vygotsky (and his predecessors), know that there is no point to answer all questions. Questions must be justified, at least in science. So I repeat the justification for the questions I have: Vygotsky’s theory is based on clear understanding of what the content of psychology must be: psychology must reveal elements or parts of psyche, describe how these parts are related, in which kinds of connections these parts are, and describe novel qualities of the whole that emerged in the synthesis of the parts. The only way to achieve this knowledge is to study the development of the structures. Vygotsky did it all. Perhaps not to the level of articulation he would find satisfactory himself, but his time was too short. Luria, with his neuropsychology, demonstrated brilliantly how Vygotsky’s theory is in agreement with thousands and thousands of facts about brain-psyche relationships. Luria’s theory could not be understood at all, if his (and Vygotsky’s) theory of the content of scientific knowledge, their epistemology, would be ignored. The same applies to Vygotsky’s theory. If interpreted from the perspective of another epistemology, it becomes another theory, that is qualitatively different.

    Anthony asked from all of you five n the video a question that was also not answered: “Does anyone here deliberately teach concepts in a way that corresponds to any or all of the comments in the video? If so, would you share a few basic words on that?” This question is relevant here. Vygotskian (not necessarily Vygotsky’s, we can move beyond him) way of defining what something is, concept, in this case, would also ground clear strategy for teaching. The essence of development in vygotskian theory is hierarchical reorganization of a structure. Supporting development of concepts requires understanding of what are the psychic elements a student has achieved so far; the way to teach, to organize a student’s environment so that novel relations could be internalized by the student would follow from this analysis. Luria’s neuropsychological rehabilitation is based on the same principles; he applied this theory highly successfully in restoring HPFs in people with localized brain damages. If concepts are defined on the basis of some other epistemology, entirely different teaching strategies would also follow.

    So, Vygotsky’s theory is constructed following clearly defined epistemology. The interpretations of his theory expressed in several videos Anthony has recorded (and texts you have written), seem (!) to follow some other epistemology. That is why I asked my questions. And that is why I think it is necessary to answer them, when Vygotsky’s theory is discussed. Especially when it seems that totally another theory is proposed, but attributed to him, quoting sentences isolated from his theory as a whole.

    So here are the questions.
    1. What is your epistemology, what general kinds of knowledge comprise scientific understanding?
    2. If this epistemology is different from Vygotsky’s, then why?

    Now I got a third question also. You “impute” 🙂 Vygotsky Lenin’s epistemology and force the readers to guess what specifically you have in mind when you say so. I know that such way of asking questions or making statements can be perceived as “platulent” by some. It is not platulent to me, but perhaps there are others who may feel in this way. So it would help if you would tell exactly:

    3. What epistemological principles you refer to when you constrain Vygotsky’s epistemology to that of Lenin’s (as you wrote: “Vygotsky’s epistemology is that of Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism”)?
    (BTW, Andy did not say that this is all of Vygotsky’s epistemology; he said: “So far as I can see, the only claims about epistemology that Vygotsky makes is in the “Crisis” text.” So he did not say that it is the only epistemology; it was the only what he had found. In my response I showed that there were other places where Vygotsky wrote about epistemology, theory of scietific knowledge.)

    Lenin’s book is more than 300 pages long. The idea of materialism is there, and this was grounding principle for Vygotsky indeed, but actually Lenin was not needed to arrive to this. Engels would have been sufficient. If it was only materialism, then it is poor; actually it is not even coherent theory of (scientific) knowledge. So, what more in your opinion is contained in Lenin-based epistemology you suggest Vygotsky was following?

    With best wishes,

  51. Aaro–

    So what do you make of Vygotsky’s criticisms of Wundt? I mean his objection to parallelism in experimentation (HDHMF, and “Tool and Sign”). I have always wondered about Vygotsky’s comment on how Wundt’s experiments cannot be taken out of the laboratory and used in the field with persons growing up in culturally backward conditions. Was this a post-hoc criticism of Luria (and, someone from your neck of the woods, Tulviste)?


    Yes, as Aaro pointed out, I have neglected the concept teaching side. But we are working on it by developing a comic book out of Vygotsky’s teaching on the emotions. So I am very interested in the way in which paintings are used in concept development. Can you explain the painting at the beginning of the video?

    1. Hi, David. It’s an Aleksey Savrasov painting; he’s my favorite painter, and there’s no real reason it’s included in the video. It just felt like a good fit and I liked it.

      More importantly, how about a sneak peak of that comic book!? Or maybe a few more words about that project? Thanks.

      (Also, the idea of a conversation not being a thing but a process — at least until it eventually becomes a thing — is pretty interesting.)

      1. Anthony–
        Great painting–even if it makes you feel like winter is never going to end. I tried to record something about our comic book project for you and sent a link, but to tell you the truth, I’m not sure which of the three files is me jabbering about paintings. Could you find the time to have a look at make sense of it?


  52. Hello all,

    With every next letter I get more and more confused. I asked a question from five scholars who are talking about Vygotsky’s theory. In response came numerous letters that largely fit into two categories:
    1. Discussing issues that are not related to my questions, or
    2. Asking me questions that are not related to my question.
    I responded to questions asked and even to remarks, that were not questions.

    To my last questions (!) I got a response too – it contains a question (!) and no answer. This question is actually also irrelevant – Vygotsky criticized certain Wundt’s ideas, his methodology among them, but never (as far as I know; I have not read about 10% of known Vygotsky’s works) his epistemology.

    I asked my questions from eminent scholars based on my understanding of the word “versed”. I thought that it means something like “knowledgeable about”. English is not my first (or even second) language. The lack of answers, irrelevant comments and irrelevant questions make me to wonder, whether “versed” means something different?

    I feel that I have given my best in my quest for better understanding of Vygotsky’s theory that somehow turned into examination of my knowledge. Never ending questions (!) as responses to my questions (!) indicate that I have not given “satisfactory” answers to the examination committee. And I still do not understand why ideas that are grounded on either implicit epistemology or explicit, but not Vygotsky’s or vygotskian epistemology, are attributed to Vygotsky. Theories cannot remain the same when epistemology that underlies a theory is replaced with some other. It becomes entirely different theory.

    Thank you all! It was most interesting perezhivaniye!
    With best wishes

    1. Dear Aaro and all,

      I’m sorry, I just suddenly realized who I was talking to. I apologize for my initial dismissive response to your queries here. I’d like to thank you all for produce this very stimulating discussion, which should perhaps be an article all its own! I have just started your boo Aaro so I’ll withhold judgement but I find it strange that you think Vygotsky “studied neuropsychology of Higher Psychological/Cortical Functions”, and stranger still, as a colleague of your told me in conversation, that you think The individual means first and foremost his or her nervous system, the brain” but I’m sure all will be clarified by the time I finish these many pages.

      Many best wishes and thank you for the generous contributions above

      1. Dear Kyrill,

        Thank you for your kind words. As to your questions/remarks.
        1. Vygotsky did study neuropsychology of HPFs. He actually did the hardest, he created the general theory of the relationships between brain and mind – the theory of the systemic dynamic localization of the HPFs is his (Психология и учение о локализации психических функций, 1934). All what Luria discovered in neuropsychology (and there is a lot!) began from these principles. In a way, Vygotsky is still ahead of Luria (and both of them are far ahead of the so-called cognitive neuroscience today that regressed almost to phrenology) – Luria did not go much into the “dynamic localization” in ontogenesis (but he relied on this principle in his neuropsychological rehabilitation)
        2. I think indeed that “individual” is from the psychological perspective based on central nervous system, but I fully reject the idea that psyche can be (only) in the brain. First of all, psyche cannot be IN the brain; psyche relies on the functioning of the brain as a whole. More importantly, psyche can be distinguished into two parts, which are both absolutely necessary – individual (living brain) AND “behavioral” (in Koffka’s terms) environment of the individual. In that sense psychic environment is necessary part of the psyche; take it away and psyche disappears. In (Vygotskian) structural-systemic sense, psyche emerges in the unity of the individual (brain) and its behavioral/psychic environment. These cannot be separated, but each of the distinguishable parts contributes qualitatively differently to the whole. If the book you are reading is “Culture, Speech and My Self”, then you will see that I spend a lot of space to the development of the theory of environment. Without such theory, I think, there is no way to understand psyche.
        With best wishes

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