Evald Ilyenkov and The End of Stimulus – Respond Paradigm - Jimdo

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Nov 14, 2013 (3 years and 7 months ago)

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Evald Ilyenkov

and The End of Stimulus


Respond Paradigm

Freedom

is the
central
problem

of
psychology

Lev Vygotsky

In
his recently published manuscript “To the notion of “human
body
”” Evald Ilyenkov
sharply argues against Ivan Pavlov’s idea of
sygnalness (arbitrariness) of
psyche. His
sentence to Pavlov’s
theoretic approach sounds firmly and uncompromisingly:


HUMAN psyche treated from positivist and conventionalist
(arbitrary) position… Hopeless Cartesianism without a tiny
hint on Spinozian escape from the dead end in the
comprehension of secrets of THINKING.”







(
Ilyenkov, 2008
)

vs

There is nothing especially unexpected in this statement.
It is known that Ilyenkov was
skeptical
enough about the
expansion of Pavlov’s teaching into psychology. Less
known is the fact that elementary logic demands to
extend this diagnosis to so called cultural
-
historical
psychology of Lev Vygotsky.

Pavlov’s theory about the
second signal system
(1932) and cultural
-
historical approach of
Vygotsky with his idea of
mediation of the basic
stimulus
-
response
relation with arbitrary
sign not only appeared in
the same time but were
based on the same
mechanistic or
“conventionalistic” logic.

Stimulus

Respond

Conventional sign (word)

Pavlov’s

“Second signal system”

theory



Vygotsky’s

Idea of

“Sign mediation”


It's a matter of fact that
Vygotsky who was eager to be
a Spinozist could not accept
Cartesian dualism and from
the very beginning tried to
find a way to overcome this
dualism.

But
in the same time he never
even questioned the very basic
Cartesian idea


the idea
about life as a mechanical,
stimulus
-
respond (S
-
R)
process, the idea of reflex
circuit as the basic relation of
each animal. As the majority
of his contemporary he
regarded S
-
R relation as
something firmly established
by biology and physiology.

S
timulus

R
espond

The basis of common

Vygotsky and Pavlov’s

Conventionalist

Approach

Thereby Vygotsky stayed blind to the fact
that in the origin of his discourse he
made an assumption that cancelled all
his late attempts to find a way to
freedom, that his train of thought
unwillingly led him to quid pro quo, to
substitution of the subject of his analysis.
Instead of searching for solution of the
problem of human freedom as “the
central problem of psychology”

he
in
fact
responded
to
quite another
question, a senseless one: how
“freedom” of stimulus
-
response
automaton is possible
?

It’s easy to
explain how wooden Nutcracker acquires
a soul in
Goffman’s

fairy tale but it is
impossible in real life.

A “free” automaton means broken
automaton, means

an
automaton
which needs repair or
utilization.
We want to highlight that this
quid pro quo is typical not only for
Vygotsky but for the absolute
majority of psychologists and
philosophers both 100 years ago
and now.

“ Free” automaton

The first definition of psyche formulated by Vygotsky is the
following: “the act of thought, the act of consciousness is in our
opinion not a reflex, that is, it cannot also be a stimulus, but it is
the
transmission mechanism between systems of reflexes”.
(Vygotsky).
Vygotsky’s logic is evident: so far as a reflex or system of reflexes is
nothing but mechanically determined respond to an external
stimulus, it is something forced from
the
outside
and entirely not
free. Thus we can’t be satisfied with a reflex as an explanation of
human psyche. Surely if we don’t equalize a human and a robot.
Thus we have to remove reflex from our explanation or to assign
it
a lower
part
-

leaving space
for freedom. Vygotsky couldn’t reject
the idea of reflex because he sincerely believed that it is a
necessary structural element of scientific physiology and
psychology.

Unambiguously he declared that he
entirely stays
“Within the general
relationship stimulus
-
response
(stimulus
-
reflex), proposed by natural
scientific methods in
psychology…”(Vygotsky, 1982, p. 105).
In this condition he had only to
connect reflexes
so
that the very
method of their connection sublated
their determined, mechanical
character and enabled us to escape
being pulled by string wires of Nature
and society and “master” our own
behaviour
. Vygotsky suggests
conventional sign or so called
“psychological tool” as such mediating
link.

Baron
Munschgausen

dragging out
himself and his horse from the
swamp

by pulling himself by the hair.

“…all
sorts of conventional
signs”

Vygotsky left us no doubt that
a sign in his theory is a
conventional, arbitrary sign.
Thus he mentioned: “language,
different forms of numeration
and counting,
mnemotechnic

techniques, algebraic
symbolism, works of art,
writing, schemes, diagrams,
maps, blueprints, all sorts of
conventional signs,
etc


as
examples of


psychological tools”.

And how does this sign enable us to master our behavior?

Easily. With
the aid
of old magic triangle of
mediation which even now is very popular
among CHAT psychologists. Vygotsky and
Vygotskians put the S
-
R relation, i.e. entirely
determined, not free relation, in its basis
while “cultural sign” which in some magic way
is capable to interfere into causal chain of
events in the basis of triangle in its vertex. This
magic happens by efforts of “subject” which
understands the meaning of
the sign
and
being inspired with it arbitrarily changes
course of mechanical reactions. The only one
thing remains obscure in this schema


where
did this “subject” jump out of? How does an
instance which can invent signs, understand
their meanings and direct the bodily reactions
appear in
mechanical
S
-
R relation?

Stimulus

Respond

”Cultural”

Sign

Surely the idea of mediation with
arbitrary sign can’t be taken as a
serious hypothesis aimed to solve
psychophysical problem because it
is evidently inferior even to
Cartesian
logic.

If old Rene had
a chance to discuss
the idea of triangle of mediation,
he would probably say that the
proposed idea is wrong and
mediation is impossible because

S
-
R
relation entirely belongs to
“extensive substance”, while
the
meaning
of
a sign
-

to “
thinking
substance”.
Meanwhile any
interaction between different
“substances” is impossible
definitionally
.

On the contrary, following Spinoza and Marx,
Ilyenkov didn’t act on the premise that a
human is a dead automaton, but he starts
from a living, object oriented active subject


an animal or a human. In “German Ideology”
one can read the following words: “The first
premise of all human history is, of course,
the existence of living human individuals.”
(Marx, Engels). We can add that existence of
livin
g i.e. object oriented, active individuals is
sine qua non premise of a psychological
analysis. From the first look it can be
regarded as something terribly banal, but we
can’t help if this banality is obscure for many.

The very subject, the subject per se, emerges
where there is an object oriented activity
instead of operations with arbitrary signs
which in their turn need subjectivity and
even more


human consciousness. To say
that we deal with a subject means to say that
we deal with object oriented activity, with
active, reasonable movement of one material
body according
to the
form of another one.

Just this mental train enables us
finally to overcome the dead end of
old psychophysical dualism. The act
of thought or psychic act doesn’t
start in Ilyenkov’s logic from external
stimulus, and doesn’t finish in
meaningless mechanical response. It
starts from spontaneous directed to
its object activity of living subject. In
the beginning the act is inevitably
abstract, because it inevitably starts
from an abstract schema, given by
Nature (innate) or acquired in the
process of learning. But, being alive,
this activity doesn’t break its object
in conformity with its a priori
schema, but facing the pressure of
its object, it adjusts its first impulse
in order to become similar to the
form of the very object.

Does this process of activity or the process of thinking need mediation?

Of course!
But we need it not for magical
transition from mechanical S
-
R relation to free
human consciousness, but for transition from
abstract life (unicellular or elementary from of
life) to
psychic life
. A living creature can’t
practically act according the shape of its object,
not acting actively in the same time according
the shape of its own body, not relating to it. Try
to
anaesthetise

your legs and say approach the
fridge for a sandwich if you doubt.

Thus activity of creatures which have psyche
has to be necessarily mediated by affect i.e. by
relation to its own body, or by reflexive
relation. The distinction of a human from an
animal is that an animal can relate reflexively
only to its living body i.e. to have
selfsensation
,
while a human in addition can relate reflexively
to its inorganic body which is opposed to him
as an implement i.e. have self
-
consciousness.

It is even unnecessary to say
that such
real
mediation can’t
be organized via conventional
signs or signals
that
imply the
very capability to arbitrary
operations with signs
(something like Hegelian
Namengebungkraft
) i.e.
suppose
human
consciousness
before consciousness. This
mediation can be organized only
via material tools. Not an
arbitrary sign but an implement
plays a role of an instrument of
idealization of the objective
reality. That is the central idea
that resulted from Ilyenkov’s
Spinozian reflections. That is his
fundamental impact to Marxist
philosophy
.

Thus being carried through Ilyenkov’s dialectical logic
not
only opens a
possibility of scientific, i.e. monistic explanation of nature of human
thinking, of his psyche and consciousness, his affects and his personality
but
also
finishes old false approach to understanding of life and psyche and
sends popular S
-
R paradigm to its proper place, to the junk shop.