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Mind and culture – Vygotsky’s view May 30, 2009

Posted by larry (Hobbes) in Culture, Mind, Psychology.
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Culture and mind are closely related, more closely than most of us realize. And the situation has not much altered since Vygotsky’s time – he died in 1934. My summary of Vygotsky’s views are based on his Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes (1978). The mediation that Vygotsky had in mind was not that of either S-R or S-R-S stimulus-response theory so beloved by the behaviorists, but one involving symbolic activity on the part of the person, in particular on sign use. For him, higher complex psychological processes were not reducible to atomistic simple reflexes, as this could not take account of the integrative character of the higher processes. On neural integration, see Goldberg, The Executive Brain (2001).

For the behaviorists, the mediating functions of the brain were considered to be as simple as possible. For Vygotsky, more structure and associated functionality had to be built into our conception of the brain’s activity. Moreover, it was necessary to add brain functioning to descriptions of psychological processes, necessarily at complex levels but also at simple levels when activity other than simple reflexes were involved.

In Vygotsky’s opinion, what was required was a more integrated approach to the analysis of psychological processes that could explain both simple reflexes and the complex higher processes by means of the same framework that did violence to neither. An explanation of complex processes in terms of combinations of simpler processes did justice to neither and was misleading about both. In particular, what needed to be shown was how culture was associated with the higher psychological processes that involved the symbolic activity which was absent in the simpler processes. The reductionist explanations of his time and of ours were, and still are, unable to do this.

Problem analysis vs. Problem solutions January 26, 2009

Posted by larry (Hobbes) in economics, Logic.
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Unfortunately, there is no necessary logical connection between the analysis of a problem and its solution. The two are essentially independent. So, someone could analyze a problem correctly but provide incorrect proposals for solving said problem. In accepting Roubini’s assessment of the problem, we do not need to accept his ideas on how it can be solved or what he thinks might be poor solutions, as his philosophical/theoretical stance will largely determine what he believes to be viable.

This is a problem with a lot of discussions in economics. Lots of assumptions not made either explicit enough or at all. Others introduce ideas that they think are new but have actually been around for years. For example, Soros’s introduction of the notion of reflexivity (a kind of feedback loop in economic behavior) has been a known problem in philosophy and parts of social science for over 50 years. Yet most economists fail to acknowledge this except for Soros and a few others. Neoclassical economists like Stigler and Friedman ignored it completely and possibly weren’t even aware of the issue. Keynes was aware of this problem though he didn’t discuss it in these terms.

Since a solution of a serious economic problem invariably involves a political (policy) dimension, economists aren’t very good at incorporating socio-political policy considerations into their analyses, hence their solutions should be inspected closely.

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