Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reading :: A Dynamic Theory of Personality

A Dynamic Theory of Personality
By Kurt Lewin

Yes, I actually read a book that wasn't written by a Soviet psychologist. But don't worry, there's a direct connection: Lewin and Vygotsky were familiar with each other's work, Vygotsky quoted Lewin, and some of Lewin's students worked with Vygotsky and Leontiev. Yasnitsky even claims that activity theory is a mutant or hybrid of Vygotsky's and Lewin's works, although Lewin was not credited for political reasons (although Yasnitsky only sketches this thesis rather than substantiating it).

In any case, this book is a collection of articles by Lewin, published in 1935, the year after Vygotsky's death. The source material had been published during Vygotsky's life, including the lead essay, "The conflict between Aristotelian and Galileian modes of thought in contemporary psychology" (1931). Commentators have said that this essay impacted Vygotsky. (Currently I'm reading Vygotsky's Development of Higher Mental Functions, which mentions Lewin, but characteristically does not provide a cite, and the mention is brief enough that I can't tell whether this lead essay is the one being discussed.)

I'll spend most of my time on this lead essay, which is essentially a manifesto for the development of psychology. Lewin uses the analogy of physics. Aristotelian physics, he says, was anthropocentric, inexact, and normative. It classified phenomena in terms of values: perfect and imperfect. Similarly, he argues, psychology currently draws a value distinction between "normal" and "pathological"; thus it "separated the phenomena which are fundamentally most nearly related" (p.3).

In contrast, Galileian physics changed the interpretation of classification. Whereas Aristotelian physics differentiated dichotomously by class, Galileian physics used continuous gradations and functional rather than substantive concepts (p.5).

Similarly, Aristotelian physics expected things to have a "tendency": it looked for regularity, and peculiarity was understood entirely in historical terms (p.7). It has a notion of "lawfulness," which has a historical or temporal significance set against the sweep of eternity (pp.8-9). In contrast, Galileian physics tends toward quantification, not just because of clocks, but because of a new concept of the physical world (p.10). It relies on the homogenization of the world (p.10)—treating all things with the same laws rather than assuming that things of specific classes had specific tendencies.

Lewin charges that psychology is currently more Aristotelian than Galileian in this sense as well. In terms of lawfulness, it divides cases into common and unusual (p.13). It understands lawfulness in terms of frequency (p.14). It overrelies on class and essence: "Whatever is common to children of a given age is set up as the fundamental character of that age" (p.15; cf. Vygotsky, Leontiev re the same argument). Psychology's use of statistics is Aristotelian, intensifying the tendency to classify cases as common vs. unusual (p.17). Psychology doesn't regard exceptions as counterarguments if they're infrequent (p.19).

This state of affairs does not please Lewin, who wants a Galileian revolution for psychology. "Even psychological law must hold without exception," he argues (p.23). Specifically, he notes that dynamic problems are foreign to Aristotelian physics (and psychology), while they are central to Galileian physics (and psychology) (p.27). Aristotelian physics is teleological, with vectors determined by the object; Galileian physics recognizes that a vector depends on mutual relations of physical facts (p.28). That is, like Vygotsky, Lewin wants to understand the mutual interaction of the object and environment; we can see Leontiev's turn to labor as a general explanatory principle for such a system.

Also like Vygotsky, Lewin believes that a Galileian psychology should not try to control all factors in a series of experiments, but rather it should "comprehend the whole situation involved, with all its characteristics, as precisely as possible" (p.31; compare the bare sketches of experiments that Vygotsky conducted and his discussion of method). And "Instead of a reference to the abstract average of as many historically given cases as possible, there is a reference to the full concreteness of the particular situations" (p.31). (Compare Luria's detailed case studies and his "Romantic science.")

In fact, Lewin argues that it's fine to rely on historically unusual, rare, and transitory events, just as a Galileian physics does (p.35). Indeed, in what Lewin calls a Galileian psychology, you can't validate a case by repetition; you have to refer to "the totality of the concrete whole situation" (p.42). This proposition, frankly, would seem quite counterintuitive to me without the examples from the Vygotsky school!

This lead essay was the most accessible and directly applicable for me, so I'll stop here. It's well worth reading, but I'm separate enough from psychology that I can't evaluate it well. I can, however, see strong resonance with the Vygotsky school. And now I have to read more Lewin.

Reading :: Human Brain and Psychological Processes

Human Brain and Psychological Processes
By A.R. Luria

I just reviewed Luria's Higher Cortical Functions in Man, and if you read that review, this book will sound familiar. Luria published this present book in Russian in 1963, the year after Higher Cortical Functions; both books were published in English in 1966. We see many of the same themes, and Luria notes that the present book was also based on his work from 1938-1963.

In the introduction, Luria notes that interrupted higher mental functions such as writing, reading, and speech can be reconstructed along different paths (p.16). Drawing on Anoshkin, he uses the word "function" to "denote a complex adaptive activity of a whole system, and sometimes of a whole organism" (p.17). Again, he credits Vygotsky and Leontiev for their insights into the social-historical origin of human mental activity (p.21). He argues that an animal's behavior is a result of (a) inborn tendencies and (b) direct, individual experience; but humans can also tap into (c) the experience of mankind in general (p.21). This general experience is incorporated into activity, language, work products, and forms of social life. In fact, mediation—and Luria once again uses the example of the knot in the handkerchief—involves changing one's environment to control one's behavior from the outside, deliberately and socially. "All complex forms of voluntary attention and logical memory, conceptual perception and abstract intellectual activity are the result of the assimilation of socially-formulated activity and have a similar, complex structure. ... all these processes must be interpreted as products of social life, passing through a complex period of historical evolution, organized at different levels and carried out by means of highly involved forms of reflex activity, and all established through the conditions of existence of human society" (p.22).

Indeed, he quotes Vygotsky's Development of the Higher Mental Functions to argue that a function, initially social and shared by two people, gradually crystallizes to become a way to organize the individual's mental life (p.23). "The social-historical conditions of life do not abrogate the laws of reflex processes" developed during biological evolution, "but enrich and reorganize these processes, converting them into more complex functional systems, formed under the influence of objective activity, and with the close participation of language" (p.24).

A bit later in the book, Luria discusses functional location, drawing on Vygotsky, Leontiev, and Zaporozhets to argue "that individual behavioral processes are consistently interconnected during development and that in the process of ontogenesis, not only the structure of individual mental processes, but also their relationship to each other may change" (p.56). Interestingly, here he evokes the idea of "the concrete reflection of the outside world," arguing that this "reflection" "serves as the basis for the construction of new and more complex behavioral processes" (p.56). This interests me in that Soviet psychologists incorporated Lenin's theory of reflection, but understood it differently; Luria is using the term "reflection" here to denote senses, but keeping it separate from the construction of higher mental functions. See also p.3, in which Luria seems to say that direct senses are not psychological processes.

In discussing voluntary memory, Luria cites Vygotsky and Leontiev, noting that memory is compensated by the organizational role of the intellect (p.58).

And that's it for this review. The book becomes more complex here and delves into specific disturbances in thinking, which are fascinating but a bit far afield for my purposes. Like Higher Cortical Functions of Man, this book provides us with a good sense of how Luria applied Vygotsky's insights in his development of a new field, and for that reason, I recommend it.

Reading :: Higher Cortical Functions in Man

Higher Cortical Functions in Man
By A. R. Luria

I'm not actually going to review this entire book—the version I read, the 1966 Basic Books version, is massive—but I do want to touch on the framing. The book is based on Luria's neuropsychological work from the 1930s to the time of writing, and it was a landmark book for the neurosciences, exploding the myth that higher mental functions were associated with specific parts of the brain (the reading center, the writing center, etc.). Rather, Luria argues that these higher functions result from the networking together of different parts of the brain. A disruption of that network—say, a gunshot wound in a specific part of the brain—can interrupt that higher mental function, not because it has destroyed the function's brain center, but because that part of the brain is part of a larger chain. Excitingly, that meant that patients could learn to route around the affected area, reconstructing the chain with a substituted brain area. (If you've read The Man with a Shattered World, you have a concrete example of how such rehabilitation might work.)

Of specific interest to me at present: Luria lavishly credits Vygotsky for the basic insights on which his work is built (and dedicates the book to him). In the Foreword, Luria ties "higher cortical processes" to the "higher mental functions" that Vygotsky described (p.1). Luria bases the generalizations on observations over "the past 25 years" (which would be 1937-1962, since the Russian version was published in 1962, a date range beginning with Luria's internship at Burdenko Institute of Neurosurgery. Luria notes that he "first began his clinicopsychological investigations of local brain lesions more than 30 years ago under the guidance of his friend and teacher L.S. Vygotskii. Much of what is written in the following pages may therefore be looked upon as a continuation of Vygotskii's ideas" (p.2).

Luria continues that line in Section I, "The problem of localization of functions in the cerebral cortex." After reviewing early conceptions of brain localization (e.g., brain centers), he argues that "no formation of the central nervous system is responsible for solely a single function"—rather, there are networked functional systems (p.27). In fact, as was well known, a brain lesion can disturb voluntary performance while leaving involuntary performance intact; Luria argues that the result of such a brain lesion is not loss but disorganization (cf. Leontiev and Zaporozhets). Indeed, Luria argues that
The principal achievement of modern psychology may be considered to be the rejection of both the idealistic notion that higher mental functions are manifestations of a certain 'mind' principle, distinct from all other natural phenomena, and the naturalistic assumption that these functions are natural properties bestowed by nature upon the human brain. One of the major advances in modern materialistic psychology has been the introduction of the historical method by means of which higher mental functions are regarded as complex products of sociohistorical development. (p.31)
He goes on to cite Vygotsky—specifically his book Development of the Higher Psychological Functions, of courseand Leontiev, and "to a certain extent" Janet and Wallon (p.31). Specifically, he notes Vygotsky's argument that "social contaact between the child and adults always lies at the root of such forms of activity as paying attention or voluntary movement" (p.33). This social genesis "determines the second fundamental characteristic of these functions, their mediate structure"; here, Luria uses the example of an external sign such as a knot or note to organize a mental process. Speech, he notes, "plays a decisive role in the mediation of mental processes," a claim that he supplements with a quote by Lenin (p.33). Indeed, he praises Pavlov for recognizing "the 'second signal system,' which is based on speech" (p.34). And:
The fact that systems of speech connections are necessary components of the higher mental functions makes the cerebral organization of these functions an extremely complex matter. We therefore suggest that the material basis of the higher nervous process is the brain as a whole but that the brain is a highly differentiated system whose parts are responsible for different aspects of the unified whole. (p.35)
He goes on to endorse Leontiev's "functional brain organs," which are "formed in the process of social contact and objective activity by the child" (p.35). The "upper associative layers of the cerebral cortex, the vertical connections arising in the secondary associative nuclei of the thalamus, and the overlapping zones uniting different boundaries of cortical analyzers evidently constitute the apparatus that performs this highly complex task. It is in man that this apparatus of the brain has attained its highest development, sharply distinguishing the human brain from that of animals. We, therefore, agree with the view that evolution, under the influence of social conditions, accomplishes the task of conversion of the cortex into an organ capable of forming functional organs (Leont'ev, 1961, p.38)" (p.35).

Luria again credits Vygotsky's insight that "higher mental functions may exist only as a result of interaction between the highly differentiated brain structures and that individually these structures make their own specific contributions to the dynamic whole and play their own roles in the functional system. This hypothesis ... is a thread running through the whole of the book" (p.36). In their early stages, higher mental functions "depend on the use of external evocative signs" (here he cites Leont'ev and Vygotsky), and "Only when this is complete do they gradually consolidate, so that the whole process is converted into a concise action, based initially on external and then on internal speech" (p.36). In fact, we can conclude that higher mental functions's structure "does not remain constant but that they perform the same task by means of different, regularly interchanging systems of connections" (p.36).

The foundations of higher mental functions are in simple sensory processes, so disturbing these senses or their integration will cause underdevelopment. In fact, Vygotsky formulated a rule: in early stages of ontogenesis, a brain lesion will primarily affect a higher center, i.e., a function that is developmentally dependent on the area where the lesion is located. But in the stage of fully formed functional systems, a lesion in the same area will primarily affect a lower center, one regulated by that function (p.37).

We'll stop here. Luria goes on to discuss agnosia, apraxia, and various other issues associated with brain lesions as well as his diagnostic methods. But for we humble non-neurologists, the central insights of the book are in the review above. Luria clearly took Vygotsky's book on the higher mental functions as his starting point, he is unstinting with his praise for Vygotsky's work, and he used it to illuminate a new field. If you are even marginally interested in these issues, or in Soviet psychology, I highly recommend the book.

Reading :: Rehabilitation of Hand Function

Rehabilitation of hand function
By A.N. Leont'ev and A.V. Zaporozhet͡s

What does hand rehabilitation have to do with psychology? More than I expected. In this book (published in Russian in 1945 and in English in 1960), the authors recount experiments in hand rehabilitation from the perspective of Soviet psychology. And in the process, they lay down markers for what would become the dominant framework for Soviet psychology, activity theory.

Let's put this book in context. Leontiev had worked under Vygotsky in the early 1930s, but then took a job at Kharkov along with other members of the Vygotsky-Luria network. Throughout the early 1930s, Leontiev and Vygotsky differed in their ideas of how Soviet psychology should develop: Vygotsky thought that the root phenomenon to study was word meaning or sense, while Leontiev argued that the root phenomenon was actually labor. Vygotsky died in 1934, and the Vygotsky-Luria network (the "cultural-historical school") came under Stalinist attack in 1936-1937 for being insufficiently adherent to the party line. Leontiev's angle of focusing on labor was easier to defend. In 1940, Leontiev defended his dissertation and in his article "The Genesis of Activity," he laid the tenets for activity theory. (He has been accused of lifting these tenets from Rubinshtein, who sat on his committee.)

When Nazi Germany violated its nonaggression pact with the USSR in June 1941, the Soviet Union moved to a war footing. On February 5, 1943, the USSR established a system of rehabilitation hospitals—and, according to the foreword of this book, by Col.-General E. Smirnov, "it was forbidden to discharge officers and men who were capable of rehabilitation" (p.ix). Luria and Leontiev were assigned to head two of these rehabilitation hospitals.

The book at hand was written based on two research cycles, in 1943 and 1944, focusing on rehabilitation of hand function. Both involved Zaporozhets directly, while Leontiev supervised as scientific director; others were involved, including Gal'perin (first cycle) and Rubinshtein (second cycle) (p.xiii). Zaporozhets wrote Ch.4-9, while Leontiev wrote Ch.1-3 and 10.

In Ch.1, Leontiev sets out the task at hand (no pun intended). He begins by noting that people with restricted movements will perform differently depending on the conditions: telling them to "raise your arm as high as you can" gives poorer results when their eyes are closed compared to when they have their eyes open and are against a ruled screen—and the results are even better when they are asked to "take this object" (p.5). Beginning with the basics of activity theory—actions, motives, object, and activity—Leontiev argues that the differences in performance have to do with the meaning of the action. That is, the "same" action will be invested with a different attitude and orientation depending on the framing activity (p.14). Specifically, the person being rehabilitated may integrate the action into an "activity of self-defence" or "an activity with a difficult motive" (p.14). (In a footnote: "The term 'object' is used here, of course, in its widest sense meaning everything towards which the action is directed" (p.14)).

And this is why hand rehabilitation comes under the heading of psychology. "The character of a movement is determined not by its own motor task and not by the original orientation of the patients' own personality but by the concrete relationship of the one to the other in the given action" (p.16, his emphasis). This insight leads Leontiev to developing occupational therapy. OT already existed before the Soviets got to it, of course, but it had two virtues. First, it got results. Second, it fit the Soviet focus—and specifically Leontiev's focus—on labor. In later chapters, we'll see how this focus on labor plays out.

In Ch.2, Leontiev examines "the co-ordination of deranged movement" (p.17). He argues, following Anokhin and Sherrington, that in trauma such as gunshot wounds, the motor experience is disorganized, and "even when there is complete anatomical preservation of the central and peripheral system, the co-ordination of the movement may be disturbed to some degree" (p.18). Thus rehabilitation should first focus on restoring coordination (p.18). To improve coordination, the researchers used a kymograph (crediting Luria's work with the combined motor method) to provide feedback to patients as they undertook tasks with the uninjured and injured limbs (p.19; the method is quite vague). When patients had this visual feedback, they were able to smooth out their movements in moments (p.21). The task had been reorganized around different stimuli. (I was reminded of the work Leontiev later published in Problems of the Development of Mind in which he supposedly trained people to detect light with their hands—work that A.A. Leontiev later characterized as parapsychology.) The researchers found that the degree of discoordination was not directly correlated to the range of movement (p.26).

Just a note here. Leontiev's experiments (well, the ones he supervised) were not as elegant and clean as Vygotsky's or Luria's. They involved elaborate mechanisms, sketchy statistics, and in places, endless case studies.

Also in this chapter, Leontiev reports on rehabilitation after Krukenberg's operation — an operation for someone whose hand has to be amputated. Essentially, the radius and ulna are separated and the Pronator teres muscle is wrapped around both, allowing the patient to use the two bones as an elongated pincer. Obviously, this operation requires the patient to substantially reconstruct both motor and sensory impulses. In their experiments, the research team concluded that this reconstruction does not simply involve elementary sensation — untrained patients couldn't tell if they were feeling a cube or a cylinder, while trained patients could. (Notice the implications for applying Lenin's reflection theory—you can see them in Leontiev's application.)

Moving on. In Ch.4, Zaporohets discusses "the problem of motor organization and the restoration of movement" (p.63). Here, he argues that trauma leads to a new functional system to protect the injured organ. This functional system should be temporary, but can become fixed.

Interestingly, Zaporozhets emphasizes the practical importance of the work, especially in its aims of putting people back to work (p.64)—the theme of labor as well as the practicality that characterized Stalinist science. In a later chapter, Zaporozhets lauds "the general tonic and encouraging power of rational work activity" in comparison to gymnastic movements and occupational therapy meant to rehabilitate limbs, but without a framing activity (p.146). He quotes Luria along these lines as well (p.148), and he notes that the motivation of activity has a large impact on outcomes—"casual and meaningless orders" can have a "chilling effect" on recovery, while "more consequential and complicated tasks" can accelerate it (p.149).

Leontiev and Zaporozhets, then, wanted to put the occupation back into occupational therapy. One can see how this line of research would be welcome to the overtaxed war leadership of the USSR: not only can the wounded be put back to work, it was good for them! They even give the example of dispirited patients reviving when they were given the meaningful task of manufacturing "window frames and furniture to replace that destroyed by the Germans at Stalingrad" (p.150). Labor, which had created humanity, could also rehabilitate it.

Interestingly, some occupational therapists have also explored this link, although I haven't had the chance to read that literature.

In any case, I found the book interesting in terms of understanding what Leontiev was up to during the war years and how that experience bore on his development of activity theory. For activity theorists not working in OT, I think the book is primarily interesting for historical purposes, but it's still interesting!