Vygotskian Writings Теоретическая психология Выготскианские тексты

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The functional system

In order to explain the formation of dynamic patterns, we should explain how pieces, none of which in themselves produce a dynamic pattern, can create an organ whose function leads to the appearance of that pattern, even though the connection of those pieces cannot be ensured by a “precise and genetically determined system of wiring”. Szentagothai provides an impressive description which deals, however, with phenoma alone, without really explaining the formation itself of superstructures. He illustrates his point with the stereoscopic perception of paired images used by B. Julesz36. Respectively, before the right and left eyes of his experimental subjects, Julesz placed scatterings of dots. One of these was randomly generated by computer; another was derived from the first set, now assumed to be a collection of points belonging to a three-dimensional configuration, visible to the left eye; and yet another was composed of dots belonging to the same configuration visible to the right eye. When viewing with both eyes, it took about 8 seconds to transform the random scatterings into an orderly three-dimensional image. Szentagothai considers it the fact of a dynamic pattern’ emerging that “anyone who formed if only once (!!) such a pattern, i.e., envisioned their three-dimensional form, may revisualize these shapes within a fraction of a second even after months, without knowing which of the once-seen patterns he will be shown. In other words, if one’s brain even once arranged two entirely meaningless scatterings into the sole possible orderly pattern, [...] then it may re-create this within a few moments.”37

At the opposite end from describing the phenomenon, we find cybernetic speculations on the mechanism. These indicate formal preconditions for organizing a functional system. It is about the organization of such a superstructure that not only performs a new functionning that would represent by its integrity something more than just a sum of functionning of partial structures: the new organization imposes even to these very partial structures a deviation from their original functionning. According to Anokhin’s formal analysis38, any functional system must be made up of constructs whose operation fits the following sequence: afferent synthesis of stimuli entering the system; making a decision on the basis of this synthesis; storing the decision thus made; instruction to act; reporting back on the outcome of action; pairing the report with the already stored decision; and, if necessary, correction in accordance with the result of the comparison.

By Anokhin’s analysis and other similar cybernetic arguments, such functions’ are posited as developing their own organs which target some external factor in the system’s environment in such a way as to synchronize its own state with the state of that target.

In the course of synchronization, changes occur in the system’s state, too, and one of those changes, possibly the most important may well be the development of that very integer superstructure, made up of partial structures whose operation, even when summed up, could not alter the factor of environment to the extent required for synchronization. In other words, altering the factor of environmental factor at issue will be achieved by the newly organized functional system.

On the other hand, organizing the functional system will be the performance of that environmental factor: until this latter emerges, requiring the operation of a superstructure that exists at that moment only in its partial structures, the components of this future superstructure has remained in their unintegrated arrangements, ready for various uses, but unsuitable for functioning in a critical manner.

If we consider the organization and the operation of a functional system as the sequences of the same performance, then we can say about this performance that its organ is an integer superstructure to which both the system that is actually operating and the environmental factors that formerly organized the system out of its partial structures do belong.

From taking into consideration a superstructure that contains both a system and certain factors of its environment we may be inhibited by “the idea of corpuscles that we have taken over from earlier theories and the scientific vocabulary based on it,” concerning which I have already cited Schrödinger’s criticism. The “thought structure containing elements that do not exist in real corpuscles” suggests for a system that its parts are made a priori operational by their spatial connection, and for a factor of environment that it can perform any operation relevant to the system only after having established with it a spatial connection.

This evidence is contradicted by the revelation that the structures’ spatial connection (“their precise wiring”) does not in itself turn them into an operational unit, but this functional system (as the Szentagothai’s model suggests it and shows by the Julesz’ demonstration) must first emerge as a “dynamic pattern” from random connections built on that precise wiring. If this is the case, however, then it would not be absurd to suppose that a functional system can be organized from random relationships that are built only partly on spatial connection.

Such a random relationship exists between all levels of biological organizations and their respective environment. If we do follow Schrödinger in rejecting the logic that would distinguish between a corpuscle considered relevant to a precise function and others that would be considered as being merely its conditions if a connection gets established with them, then we may conceive those structures of allegedly different kind as one superstructure. Thus, for example, when a cell group for its functionning needs a precise tone distribution between cells, then a second cell group that would regulate that tone distribution would not be considered by such a logic to be an external circumstance, but describes the whole functionning as a function of a superstructure that includes both the cell group whose tone is regulated and the cell group performing the regulation.

Such a logic, however, must face the contingency that for the superstructure that is now described as the very organ of the function at issue similar observations can be made. Szentagothai points out for moduls constructed from neurons, “we cannot exclude the possibility that these “superstructures” of neighboring, or conventionally connected, neuron networks gives rise to newer “super-superstructures” of a higher hierarchy.”39 The same interrelation must be established for all levels of biological organizations.

However, what actually has always happened until now was that at one point or another this logic yielded, in further interpretation, to the logic that does distinguish a corpuscle allegedly relevant to the function at issue and those supposed to influence the process according to whether or not they get in connection with the “appropriate” body. Already the interrelations of the central nervous system and the periphery were often interpreted according to the traditional thinking: according to it, the functionning of the central nervous system would be influenced by the periphery as far as stimuli from the latter would be put in by a “precise wiring”, and then this central system (even if it is conceived according to the new logic) would influence the periphery by stimuli put out. In other cases, the logical shift occurs in the interpretation of the interaction between the nervous system as a whole and the organs it regulates. But anyhow it takes place not later then at the moment of focusing scientific interest on the interaction between the individual organism and its environment.

It occurred that for the psychology the basic system of reference in scientific observation has been fixed on the level of individual organism. For biology such a stage has been but transitory which once replaced description in terms of cells only to yield (or share), just in the present period, its position to a molecular biology, on the one hand, and to a population biology, on the other.

Psychology’s fixation to the individual organism as reference must be due to its philo­sophical heritage. It was psychology enframed by philosophy that stated that consciousness refers, on one hand, to an object reflected by it and, on the other, to the individual subject of that consciousness. This philosophical legacy was combined with the new orientation of a psychology emancipating itself from the philosophy by means of turning to the biology, which, at the time just happened to be engaged in describing phenomena at the organism level.

Thus, the Self, the individual subject of consciousness has assumed a material substratum in the individual organism. At the same time, another potential heritage from the philosophy, the one given in doctrine about a supraindividual Spirit, was lost for the psychology, because of a lack of appropriate biological frame of reference.

Yet, if meaning is indeed an interindividual mental phenomenon, as it has been observed above, it must have something to do with issues of a sup­ra­in­dividual Spirit. Thus, conclusions of Popper about a “World 3” might be avoi­ded only in such a way that would be similar to that of Szent­agothai’s rea­soning about “World 2” issues referred to functional “super-super­structures”.

Only this time the functional “super-superstructures” have to transcend the individual organism.

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