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Vygotsky vs reality

  1. Feb 12, 2011 #1
    What evidences support or contredict Vygotsky's philosophy of mind? I'm interested specifically in the experimental evidences supporting or contradicting:

    1-that self-awareness in human is the result of language
    2-that any "higher mental abilities" is the result of language and cultural evolution.
    3-that chimps can extrospect, but they are not introspective - able to have thoughts about their thoughts.

    As an example of the kind of response I'm looking for

    I'm not very familar to Vygotsky's work, so if there exists even more interesting claims AND experimental evidences to support it, thanks for sharing your knowledge. Please number the claim to facilitate the discussion.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
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  3. Feb 12, 2011 #2


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    Re: Vygotski vs reality

    No evidence, but 1 doesn't seem restricted to humans. Animals use language too, and find their place with it (particularly other mammals)

    Of course, in say, ants, roles seem more biologically determined. But is that solely the case? Or will ants breed more workers when they need more workers?
  4. Feb 12, 2011 #3
    Re: Vygotski vs reality

    Sure, but that's apeiron's words thus not self-awarness as you and I would understand it. It's supposed to be some specific self-awarness specific to humans. Maybe a clearer (for you and I) way of reformulating the claim would be:

    1'-that human language makes human self-awarness different from animal self-awarness.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2011
  5. Feb 13, 2011 #4
    Re: Vygotski vs reality

    I think that if you wish to understand Vygotsk'y ideas, you shouldn't start a thread on the subject, but rather pick up "Thought and Language" and read it.

    This is the reason why you shouldn't start a thread, because (nothing against anybody) views are thrown about based off of misinterpretations. Vygotsky completely agrees that language is found in other animals and even cites language-like relations in ant colonies and the like. Vygotsky does not wish to identify thought with language at all, this is something he argues against. Vygotsky's position is that the emergence of specifically human higher mental functions comes about through the changes in the functional interrelations between the langauge function and the thought function.
    He dedicates an entire chapter to "The Genetic Roots of Thought and Speech" (keep in mind, he doesn't mean genetic as in gene theory) I will quote a summarization of 6 points from this chapter

    I suppose to be nitpicky we'll say this, maybe I'm silly I just kind of assumed that coming from a psychologist, concerned with development, art, culture and human higher functions this was evident.

    The general idea is that the human "I" and human self-reflective capabilities come about through the evolution of language and social interaction. The development of speech is intimatley related to our socialization, language is taught to children and they associate the word with the scenario it represents. Speech becomes manifest as a social function, and is entirely external, the egocentric coefficient measured by Piaget can be experimented upon by putting children through various tasks and puzzles and seeing how external egocentric speech is related to their awareness and problem-solving capabilities. Younger children put through these experiments show an increase in ego centric speech (which is the measure of ego-centric statements to total statements---for more information see "The Language and Thought of the Child-Piaget)--as older children are put through similar experiments they are found to sit quietly and look at the problem, being asked to say what they are thinking their speech is startlingly similar to the younger childs external egocentric speech. This leads Vygotsky to suppose that the function of egocentric speech is that it serves as a mediator between socialized speech and its internalization for personal speech.From here personal speech becomes a psychological tool for problem solving, its relation to human self-awareness is that our personal awareness emerges by viewing ourselves from the perspective of how others view us. This internalizing of an originally socialized function, and its growing interrelation with problem solving leads to higher mental forms.
    In the light of ideas about mirror neuron discovery, I do not think this is at all controversial, or should be.

    Also, for a slightly similar perspective from a different point of view see Wilfrid Sellar's ideas particularly "The Myth of Jones" http://www.iep.utm.edu/sellars/

    In fact, see how similar Wilfrid Sellar's reasoning regarding how Jones comes to make inferences about other's behaviours and how people come to make inferences regarding their own behaviours to the aformentioned ideas about problem-solving
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2011
  6. Feb 13, 2011 #5


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    Discussing this seems a waste of time as you just appear to want to score points rather than put any effort into studying the arguments or providing proper citations.

    But briefly, the example of the chimps is about complex trains of thought scaffolded by the immediate situation.

    What would be thoughts about thoughts in the human language scaffolded sense would be if a chimp went off and later that afternoon was known to be sitting there, thinking over the tactics it employed, perhaps cursing a wrong decision, considering what might work better next time - then drifting off into daydream fantasies about a pretty bonobo he saw, etc.

    JDStupi gave a clear general answer with plenty of supporting refs. So if you really want to pursue a fruitful conversation Lievo, you have to be prepared to answer specific questions as they are raised and be able to back your assertions with examples drawn from the relevant literature. And you can't keep asking for sources then saying it is too much like hard work to read them (though of course you will :frown:).
  7. Feb 13, 2011 #6


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    Thank you for clarifying JD. I do not have time for Vygotsky currently, but I don't want to argue for his wrongness, only to understand the position better.

    This all seems straightforward. Wernicke's area is unique to humans of course. So to be clear, there's no statement equivalent to "No such equivalent tool exists in non-human animals"?
  8. Feb 13, 2011 #7


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    As the quotes from Ramachandran show, there are still a lot of people who expect to find unique brain areas underlying higher human mental abilities, yet the trend is for such differences not to be found in the gross morphology of the primate cortex.

    For instance....




    And of course others argue the other way....


    So this is still a fluid area of research. But generally the findings, in my view, show that there is surprisingly little that is different about human brain architecture.

    Which of course is another line of evidence for the Vygotskian position that the invention of symbolic language was the big jump.

    The crucial biological change was perhaps just the redesign of the human throat to allow rapid syllabic utterances. Probably for refined emotional vocalisation - the singing ape hypothesis. This then enforced a serial utterance constraint on the brain, a fruitful constraint that quickly allowed full blown grammatical speech to evolve (evolve socially that is).

    There would have been brain adaptations to - but more a host of minor tweaks, or reasonably major ones of maturation schedule. And also a major one of more "top-downness" in neural connectivity.

    One of the actual striking difference between apes and humans is that human primary visual cortex is much more foveally-dominated, for instance. We devote more space to mapping the centre of vision presumably because we are much better at being able to anticipate where our vision most needs to focus in any moment.
  9. Feb 13, 2011 #8


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    So the question is can we socialize self-consciousness in apes then?

    And perhaps we can, eventually (in a way that is meaningful to humans, I mean; which I don't know how we'd measure that in apes); I know there are some interesting projects underway, but I haven't reviewed them in any depth. I know we can teach them language and they can make their own word combinations in meaningful ways (watermelon = "candy fruit")

    But do we ever see apes sitting alone signing to themselves (allegedly pondering) or are they only particularly interested in language during seeking behavior?
  10. Feb 14, 2011 #9
    Re: Vygotski vs reality

    Fair enough. But you did not get the idea of starting this thread. Up to now, I'm absolutly not interested in Vygotsky ideas. Or, more properly said, I don't think it's worse spending the time, and time is a very acute limite.

    So what I'm looking for here, is reasons to change my mind. All one need to do is to present some interesting statement plus the experimental evidences that support it (by fairness, contradicting evidences should be looked for too). I started with three interesting claims apeiron made because he already suggested it was evidence based and easy for him to provide a bunch of reference. Still waiting.

    But the question would hold irrespective of apeiron's behavior: if there is anything that you think may correspond to what I'd like to see, that would be a pleasure to discuss it.
  11. Feb 14, 2011 #10

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    It seems like there could be some confusion between the ideas of Vygotsky and the ideas of apeiron from another thread. I know that apeiron loves Vygotsky, but I don't know if his assertions are identical or if there is some extrapolation.

    It also seems like this thread is more about the question of metacognition in animals than anything else.

    Which way would we like to go here?
  12. Feb 14, 2011 #11


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    In fact this has been observed with Kanzi, the bonobo that learnt signing from infancy. It was said to sign to itself in private monologue during idle moments.
  13. Feb 14, 2011 #12


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    Clearly Lievo started the thread asking the world to prove something to his satisfaction. He also PMed me politely so I gave him a couple of reference packed links that addressed his questions. If he wants to dispute some of that evidence publicly, this could be his next legitimate move. Provided of course he can rustle up some sources to back anything he may claim.

    In the meantime, to legitimate even opening the thread, he supplied a single putative counter-example. To which I replied, pointing out the error in logic. He can either let my explanation stand, or refute it - with sources.

    But I don't yet get the impression that Lievo's real mission here is to understand the pros and cons of a Vygotskean approach to the higher mental faculties.
  14. Feb 14, 2011 #13
    The two references you sent me had nothing to do with experimental evidences, which the topic of this thread. Again, you have strongly suggested that evidences exist that support your claims. But you never show any. Maybe because you confound discussing the pros and cons and exhibiting experimental evidences? Not the same thing!

    And you are right. Again, the 'mission' of this thread is to collect the experimental evidences that supports or contredict Vygotsky's most interesting claims.

    ...or what one may think is Vygotsky's claims. I notice it seems controversial that your claims are truly identical to Vytgotsky ideas. I'm not qualify to judge that. Enough to me it's close to this stream of ideas.
  15. Feb 14, 2011 #14
    Anywhere one can find experimental evidences. Maybe the best move would be to look at what support/challenge the 6 points JDStupi summarized:

  16. Feb 14, 2011 #15


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    More evasion. You put forward a specific example in the OP. I replied with an explanation. Now let's hear your response.
  17. Feb 15, 2011 #16


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    It would still be nice if Lievo responded to the argument against his original example. But in the meantime, here is a test that gets closer to the cutting edge of human/ape differences in social cognition.

    The study concludes that the reason for the failure is 1) it is a specific brain function that just has not evolved in chimps, 2) chimps have less ability to inhibit the wrong choice, or 3) the Vygotskian answer. And they throw in a few concrete reasons for preferring 3.

    Evidence for a Vygotskian perspective comes from a wide variety of sources (which I supplied Lievo as requested) including feral children, deaf/mutes, child development of self-regulation, children's drawing, EEG recordings of throat muscles, cross-cultural anthropology, etc. There is also good negative evidence, such as a lack of marked brain architecture differences, the too rapid emergence of symbolic culture in sapiens, and so forth.

    The metacognition literature is more likely to confuse than enlighten IMHO as you cannot really devise experiments that show what animals are thinking about off-line. You can only create a cognitive task to be performed at that moment. And the abilities of large brain primates to extrospect (or even dolphins, elephants and ravens) is not that much inferior to us. That would indeed be the Vygotskian hypothesis - they would be on an evolutionary continuum. It is only the introspective abilities which are the product of sociocultural learning.

    But anyway, when it comes to experimental evidence - something Lievo says is important to him - clearly it is better to focus on tests that reveal a reliable discontinuity between humans and apes, rather than ones where apes are able to do what humans can do.
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  18. Feb 16, 2011 #17
    Cats' language has been quantified to about 900 different sounds and meanings. Newer studies actually prove that not only chimps, but dumber capochin monkeys can have thoughts about their own thoughts, or introspect. Why pursue such idiotic philosophy of this guy and waste all this time?

    There are even groups of monkeys that run through the jungle together and are of different species, and they all communicate with each other with their own language, making them all bilingual.
  19. Feb 17, 2011 #18


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    SolidGold, you should provide references to your post so that those of us that are interested can look into it more.
  20. Feb 17, 2011 #19
    Okay, first...That doesn't prove anything considering as was said one million times the speech function was never denied existence in other animals, simply the close functional interrelationship between thought and speech.
    Second, from the tone of your post I find everything you say questionable, whether it be blatant lies or mis-interpretations I don't know. As always, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. I'm certainly interested in these alleged experiments that "prove" that monkeys have "meta-representations" of themselves and introspect.

    *edit, haha not "as always I doubt that I'm wrong" but rather "as always I could be wrong, but in this case I doubt it".

    *Moreover, your helping nobody's case as I'm fairly sure that even the thread starter who disagrees with Vygotsky's approach, or at least isn't convinced, would disagree with the verisimilitude of your claims.
  21. Feb 17, 2011 #20
    Well I'm still waiting for a single experimental evidence supporting or contradicting blabla. I saw apeiron repeteadly claiming he was having plenty, none he could cite it seems. Now SolidGold is claiming the opposite and provides exactly the same number of experimental evidence. Honestly, as long as no one tries to support his/her claims, I don't even care to agree or disagree. :zzz:
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