Lev Semënovič Vygotskij’s anti-dualism

Blow Your Mind
At the beginning there were Cognitive Sciences, which promise to solve once and for all the so-called mind-body problem. Mind, this was the core of the promise, is to software such as body is to hardware. This proportion is the power of an image and an extraordinary research project: human mind is a function of neural circuits. It seemed that the mind-body dualism was overcome. But the result was the creation of new – and at the beginning unnoticed -dualisms: internal vs. external, thought vs. action, mind vs. environment. Perhaps the most serious of all dualisms created by Cognitive Sciences is the individual mind vs. community dualism. If mind coincides with the activity of a single brain, then mind doesn’t need society and social relations to exist and function. This is the reason why, for a long time, Cognitivism embraced Chomsky’s innatist thesis: if mind has an innate structure, it doesn’t need relationship with external environment. Chomsky’s innatism, that spread out in Cognitivism in 60s and 70s, now come up again through the reductionist ideas of contemporary Neurosciences, and it has a long story: as the same Chomsky clarified in Cartesian linguistics (1966) this setting of human mind, which is provided with faculties whose functioning is unconnected with historical and cultural context, dates back to Descartes.

There was no more than one answer to solve these problems, that is to try to widen individual mind’s tight boundary. It was born this way that which seemed a new model of mind: the theory of extended mind. The mind extends up to include external instruments, scaffolds that complete and widen the internal capacities of our mind. This paradigm, genuinely, is not new at all, on the contrary it is but the incomplete and unaware resumption of the theory of one of the most important psychologists of  the last century, the Russian Lev Semënovič Vygotskij (1896-1934). Vygotskij has been the first psychologist to suggest an overall description of human mind as social and historical entity. Vygotskij’s anti-dualism is more radical than the anti-dualism of extended mind, for which human mind is a natural entity, and it cannot be understood if we abstract from the social and historical relationships in which it is necessarily and naturally involved in.


On the contrary, Vygotskij’s thesis is radical: human nature is not closed into individual body, because in reality it coincides with the set of historical and social relationships that the body keeps up with its environment. This is a complete overturning of Cognitivist paradigm. We think that there isn’t, to this day, a naturalistic description of psychology of human animal more consistent than that of Vygotskij. In effect, cognitive scientists that recognize and appreciate the heritage of Vygotskij (for example Andy Clark and Michael Tomasello) were wholly unable to exceed the dualistic prejudice (between mind and body and between individual mind and society) that is the trademark of Cognitive Sciences. Accordingly, the point is not how much we are disposed to extend the boundary of individual mind, rather than how we intend to put at the first place the naturalistic notion of social relation.


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