Saturday, October 23, 2010

Developmental systems theory - Young minds in social worlds

Nelson, K. (2007). Young minds in social worlds, Chapter 2. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

In this chapter, Nelson begins by noting the failings of cognitive science in the eyes of it's critics. She then considers some of the roots of a different, more pragmatic and cultural-theoretical approach, connecting those strands to contemporary work, evolutionary, developmental, and cultural, with an emphasis on the systems approaches to theories in developmental psychology.

Flaws of the computational model of the mind include:
+ its assumption of universals does not take into account different perspectives and positions (i.e., cultural and history shapes worldviews and perceptions)
+ it leaves meaning and content outside its neutral operations
+ it does not allow for the influence of social and cultural conditions on its operations
+ the computer model is a "top-down" process requiring the a priori stipulation of rules and representations; knowledge of the environment can be assembled in a "bottoms-up" process through action in the environment
+ much of human cognition takes place in terms of social problems solving, where shared or situated knowledge processes are in play rather than individual rule following
+ this model lies outside the natural world; there is explanation of its biological evolution in the form of symbolic representations (Bickhard, 2002) or computations (Hendriks-Jansen, 1996)
+ there is no explanation of its development
+ computers do not grow or change, but children do

Philosophical Pragmatism
+ From the pragmatic point of view, knowing derives from action and remains action oriented
+ "knowledge as use"
+ things are what they are experienced as
+ Pragmatism is opposed to ideas from the dualist and representationalist camps

John Dewey is a critical figure in philosophical pragmatism and developmentalism
+ He asserted that experience is the basis for thought
+ Procedural knowledge (or implicit memory) precedes the capacity for the declarative or metarepresentational knowledge (explicit memory) useful in conscious thought processes such as problem solving.
+ pragmatist's creed: knowing is derived from experience, not a copy of something independent of the experiencer but a function of action, carrying meaning for the individual because of its relation to his or her goals

Pragmatism and postmodernism: they share common themes and great strengths (Kloppenberg, 1998)
+ denial of absolutes
+ its admission of uncertainty
+ a resolute commitment to the continuing vitality of the ideal of democracy as a way of life

Contextualism - rests on the presumption that behavior is modulated by its context, where context may be very small-scale, in terms of a particular discourse, or as large as cultural millieu (p.37)

Developmental systems theory (DST) is a broad conceptual framework for thinking about the development of organic systems and the emergence of new forms, applicable to long-term evolutionary change as well as short-term ontogenetic change. The theory approaches the question of how systems originate and develop by analyzing the development of the process itself in the same way that developmental biologists do.
The key to understanding in this framework is the analysis of process, in terms of multicausal contributors to the system, rather than the product (the organism) of the presumed interaction of static genes and unchanging environments.

Key related concepts: self-organization; emergence

p41: The position that human minds are emergent products of interactions, beginning in infancy and developing with in the environment of communicating adults, as argued by Hendriks-Jansen (1996), is consistent with the DST perspective

P44: One advantage of developmental systems theory is its insistence that many different influences enter into the organization of the organism; thus the phylogenetic inheritance incorporates epigenetic influences, including the inheritance of environments -- particularly the social and cultural environment -- as well as the collectivity of human genes.

p46: In any theory of human development, language must be considered a "core capacity" but not an unchanging one.

p53: Activity Theory: derives from the cultural developmental psychology within the general theory originally proposed by Vygotsky (1962, 1978), and like the pragmatic theories of the past, it places special emphasis on the derivation of knowledge from action  (Scribner, 1985; Stetsenko, 2003, 2004)

p57: Nelson views the process from the child's perspective and from that of individual developmental change. These two aspects may be thought of as the twin constructs of simultaneously "being" and "becoming."
Nelson described the state of being in terms of experience and meaning. These processes must lead to "becoming" something different - older, wiser, bigger, more knowledgeable - all accomplishments of the developmental process

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