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December 2021

Phylogenetic time and symbol creation: Where do zopeds come from?

Journal/Book: Cult Psychol. 2000; 6: 6 Bonhill Street, London EC2a 4Pu, England. Sage Publications Ltd. 105-129.

Abstract: The data provided by the archaeological record currently lead to the conclusion that modem human anatomy was in place well before the modem species showed its species-typical, symbolically mediated behaviours. This temporal disjunction-between modem human biology and the modem behaviours it supports-poses the question as to how the elaboration of our symbolic behaviours may have occurred. The only field in which there is data as to how symbolically mediated activities are elaborated is ontogeny, both of humans and of language-immersed apes (and possibly some parrots and cetaceans). Here current accounts tend increasingly to draw on Vygotsky's concept of the 'zone of proximal development' (zoped), portraying the socially constructive nature of the process of mastering symbols. However, ontogeny is notoriously difficult to reconcile with phylogeny at the best of times, and it becomes much more so in this traditional Vygotskian context, for a zoped account requires that one member of the interaction 'has' the resources that are being socially transacted to the 'novice'. This possession begs the phylogenetic issue. This paper lays out an account of how a zoped may be created sui generis through the joint actions of equals, so as to provide an essential component in the bootstrapping of symbol systems. Symbols are described as having implicit properties, and it is the 'discovery' of these implications that is the engine of cultural change. These 'discoveries' require both a biology that can accomplish them and certain conditions of joint action to enable them.

Note: Article Lock AJ, Massey Univ, Sch Psychol, Private Bag 11 222, Palmerston North, NEW ZEALAND

Keyword(s): phylogeny; symbol formation; zone of proximal development; MIDDLE

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