Wednesday, July 29, 2015


How regrettable this version of this book is edited but far from the original


This new edition, revised as they say and expanded as they say too, is not complete, far from it, maybe 50% of the full work, though it is better than the first edition in 1962 by the same Massachusetts Institute of Technology that was half the size of this edition, hence something like 30% at most of the original work. No one in the scientific world has the right to reduce the work of any scientist for their own sake, be it to select some ideas or concepts or to save some money. And MIT has still not corrected what is a scientific mistake. This is not a translation. This is a rewriting of Vygotsky central work.

There is though no escape from this work and what it contains about the maturation of a child’s conceptualization power, because it is a power. Piaget some thirty years after Vygotsky’s death declared that he would have changed some of his own ideas if he had known of this work. Unluckily Vygotsky died early in 1934, officially of tuberculosis and he was more or less forgotten for a while due to the emergence of the Stalinist dictatorship in the USSR. What’s more this situation blocked Soviet thinkers and sciences from being presented and introduced to the rest of the world.

The main difference between Vygotsky and Piaget is that Piaget worked with the privileged children of the upper classes in Switzerland. He did not have to bother about the maturation process of the children’s conceptualization power. He could only observe it because their social environment was highly cultural and the children were constantly surrounded by stimulating elements that came naturally around them. Vygotsky on the other hand was dealing with the mass of children, most of who were from environments in which cultural incitation and culture in general, particularly abstract, academic and artistic cultures, were mostly reduced to little or absent. Vygotsky had to take into account the necessity to incite children, to help the same and to make them (to) open up to new elements, develop their conceptualizing power, acquire and develop concepts.

If you want to intervene in that maturation to push it upward and even accelerate it, you have to know very precisely the various rungs on that ladder to always ask the child to consider the immediately next rung upward. If it is under the real level of the children, it is useless. If it is too high as compared to the real level of the child it is unreachable, ineffective. That’s what Vygotsky calls the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky then studied these rungs, and found out three basic phases that I am going to cover here from the book under scrutiny.

“three basic phases.
The first phase of concept formation […] the young child puts together a number of objects in an unorganized congeries or “heap” […] a vague syncretic conglomeration of individual objects that have somehow or other coalesced into an image in his mind […] three distinct stages
[1] the first stage in the formation of syncretic heaps that represent to the child the meaning of a given artificial word […] trial-and-error stage
[2] spatial position of the experimental objects […] a purely syncretic organization of the child’s visual field […] contiguity in space and time […]
[3] third stage […] the syncretic image rests in a more complex base […] elements taken from different groups or heaps that have already been formed by the child in the ways described above. […]
The second major phase […] thinking in complexes […] In a complex, the bonds between its components are concrete and factual rather than abstract and logical […] direct experience […] five basic types of complexes:
[1] associative type […] any bond between the nucleus and another object suffices to make the child include the object in the group […]
[2] collections […] association by contrast, rather than by similarity, guides the child in compiling a collection […] participation in the same practical operation […]
[3] chain complex – a dynamic, consecutive joining of individual links into a single chain, with meaning carried over from one link to the next […] the chain complex has no nucleus […]
[4] diffuse complex […] [any particular analyzed trait or feature among the various objects] complexes resulting from this kind of thinking are so indefinite as to be in fact limitless […]
[5] pseudo concept […] the appearance of a concept that conceals the inner structure of a complex
[The] third phase […] subdivided into several stages
[1] the first step toward abstraction […]the child groups together maximally similar objects, e.g., objects […] small and round, or red and flat […]
[2] the next stage […] grouping on the basis of a single attribute […] potential concepts […] functional meanings […] what the object the word designates can do, or – more often – what can be done with it
“A concept emerges only when the abstracted traits are synthesized anew and the resulting abstract synthesis becomes the main instrument of thought.”

This summary and quick but systematic presentation of the development of conceptualization in children can only work if the children have language at their disposal. I mean the articulated language that Homo Sapiens invented during his emergence from Hominin to Homo Sapiens, modern man. The child receives that language or those languages, because there is no obligation for a child to receive only one language, as soon as he can hear, that is to say as soon as the 24th week of his mother’s pregnancy. And that’s where a difference can be seen between Piaget and Vygotsky.

Let’s take the example of the conservation of volume or quantity such as the volume of liquid transferred from one container to another of different shapes. Piaget tests the children and pinpoints the very moment when a child acquires this capacity. Vygotsky wants to develop the children who need developing, and for him they all need, even if the need is not the same among all children. He will then work on the comparatives and he will find out that the conservation of quantity will be acquired when the comparative of equality which implies the others (inferiority and superiority) are acquired to be able to express the conservation of quantity or volume. When the work on comparatives comes at the proper time for the child it will help him or her to acquire that conservation of quantity. It cannot happen before the proper “age” or “stage” but if it is done properly it may accelerate the procedure and hence this explains why in some culturally stimulant environments children are advanced as compared to children from non-culturally stimulant environments.

In other words a child does not possess language at birth, in spite of the many weeks of exposure during the end of his mother’s pregnancy, and he does not possess the power to conceptualize. Both are acquired and developed and in some circumstances both can be blocked. The point here is that what Piaget considered as natural, leading thus to behaviorism which treats as natural, practically genetic, the influence of the environment on children, Vygotsky considered it as acquired through a process of development and acquisition that adults influence by their speaking to the children, by their inciting the children to discover the world, by their surrounding the children with cultural artifacts and objects, by their encouraging them to speak and express what they experience. All that is natural in a highly cultivated family. But all that has to be developed and supported in most families of average or low cultural content.

We seem to forget that if a child is not properly lateralized in his or her physical dealing with the world extremely early in his life, if a child is not properly trained into an articulated language as early as possible (adults must speak to the children and incite them to speak) the mind of the child, the intellect of the child and at times the physical body of the child might not develop properly; That leads to dyslexia for instance and if that dyslexia is not treated as soon as it appears (it might be the result of a trauma, but also of a simple defective acquisition of balance and lateralized behaviors) then the child might develop very serious deficiencies in his or her conceptualizing power, such as spatial or temporal agnosia, innumeracy, digital illiteracy (or illectronism), and finally dyslogia.

In that perspective Vygotsky is essential and a lot more stimulant than Piaget himself. Many psychologists, but also linguists, are rediscovering Vygotsky because he is a deeply cognitive scientist. He deals with the cognitive procedures by which language is acquired and the mind developed, both moving forward or upward at the same pace, the development of one causing the development of the other as much as the development of one is the result of the development of the other. Mutual development is the only way to understand the cognitive dimension of Homo Sapiens. Maybe Homo Neanderthalensis was a good hunter and some kind of attractive if not sexy hominin but he was only that and his cognitive power never reached that of Homo Sapiens.

Thus it is regrettable that MIT decided to only publish a shortened version of this book, even if they admitted they were wrong since from 1962 to 2012 they doubled the amount of “selected” passages actually “edited” meaning adapted to what they decided was supposed to be revealed. You of course can check the Russian or French full editions. If you read these languages.


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