Excerpts: Syncretic Thought Process - Jean Piaget

Reasoning ignorant of the logic of relations, of logical classes (juxtaposition being constantly chosen in preference to hierarchical arrangement). Thought proceeds neither by amplifying induction nor by an appeal to general proposition, but that it moves from particular to particular by means of a reasoning process which never bears the character of logical necessity.

Logical activity is not the whole of intelligence. One can be intelligent without being particularly logical. The main functions of intelligence, that of inventing solutions, and that of verifying them, do not necessarily involve one another. The first partakes of imagination, the second alone is properly logical. Demonstration, search for truth, is therefore the true function of logic. "Ludistic" [fantasy, play] tendencies, the inability to distinguish between fabulation and truth and immediate belief in his own ideas are inherent in children. The child assimilates everything he hears to his own point of view and has the greatest difficulty in entering into anyone else's point of view.

The child sees things in terms of the momentary perception which is taken as absolute and, in a manner of speaking, hypostasized. He therefore makes no attempt to find the intrinsic relations existing between things. Explanation takes on the character of a narrative. Appeal to a general proposition is lacking. The child seeks neither to establish a proposition by means of successive inductions, nor to postulate it for the purposes of deduction. (Moreover) if we are to make him aware of a general rule, we shall find that it is by no means the rule for which we were prepared.

Understanding undergoes a process which is unanalytic. A sentence heard is not broken up into distinct terms, but gives rise to a general schema which is vague and indissociable. Any two phenomena perceived at the same moment become caught up in a schema which the mind will not allow to become dissociated, and which will be appealed to whenever a problem arises in connection with either of these two phenomena. The relationship of cause and effect is distorted.

Hers is an example: The sun does not fall down "because it is very high up". Explanations given will often be a simple description of what has happened; but because of "syncretism" this description will possess explanatory value.

For by the term "reasoning" should be understood the work of verifying and proving hypothesis, which work alone creates conscious implications among judgments. Claparede has distinguished with great clarity three distinctly separate moments in intellectual activity: question, the invention of hypothesis, and verification.

  • The question is only the manifestation of a desire;
  • the hypothesis is framed by the imagination to fill up the gap created by the desire.
  • Reasoning, therefore appears only at the moment when the hypothesis is verified. Up till then there has been no logical activity. The sole function of this level of thought is to give immediate and unlimited satisfaction to desire and interests by deforming reality so as to adapt it to the ego. For reality is infinitely plastic for the ego.

For adults...it is chiefly in relation to other people that we are obliged to verify our beliefs, and to place ourselves in different planes those that are not compatible with each other or that we gradually build up within ourselves a plane of reality, a plane of possibility, a plane of fiction, and so on. The hierarchy of these planes is therefore determined by their degree of objectivity.

The child's egocentric thought processes do not lead him to try to prove whether such or such of his ideas do or do not correspond to reality. When the question is put to him, he evades it. It does not interest him.

Vygotsky on Piaget:
His conception of the prevalence of egocentrism in childhood leads Piaget to conclude that egocentrism of thought is so intimately related to the child’s psychic nature that it is impervious to experience. The influences to which adults subject the child
are not imprinted on him as on a photographic plate: They are “assimilated,” that is to say, deformed by the living being subjected to them and become implanted in his own substance. It is this psychological substance of the child or, in other words, the structure and the functioning peculiar to child thought that we have endeavored to describe and, in a measure, to explain [Judgment and Reason in the Child, p. 338].
Between the years 7-8 and 11-12, there is awareness of implications when reasoning rests upon beliefs and not upon assumptions. The child cannot reason from premises without believing in them. Or, even if he reasons implicitly, from assumptions which he makes on his own, he cannot do so from those which are proposed to him. For what prevents the child from reasoning from data that he does not agree to but is asked simply to "assume", is that he is untutored in the art of entering into other people's point of view. For him, there is only one comprehensible point of view - his own.

Many adults are still egocentric to their way of thinking. Such people interpose between themselves and reality an imaginary or mystical world, and they reduce everything to this individual point of view. Unadapted to ordinary conditions, they seem to be immersed in an inner life that is all the more intense. Does this make them more conscious of themselves? Does egocentrism point the way to a truer introspection? On the contrary, it can easily be seen that there is a way of living in oneself that develops a great wealth of inexpressible feelings, of personal images and schemas, while at the same time in impoverishes analysis and consciousness of self. In short, the claim is not too bold that we become conscious of ourselves to the extent that we are adapted to other people Our discovery that other people do not spontaneously understand us nor we them is the gauge of the efforts we make to mould our language out of the thousand and one accidents created by this lack of adaption and the measure of our aptitude for the simultaneous analysis of others and of ourselves.

For the construction of the objective world and the elaboration of strict reasoning both consist in a gradual reduction of egocentricity in favor of the progressive socialization of thought. In favor, that is to say, of objective thinking and reciprocity of viewpoint. Truth - empirical truth or formal truth such as forms the subject matter of argument - is obscured by the ego. This level of thought is transductive... that is to say, it is ignorant of the logic of relations (e.g. the relationships and interrelationships between things).

Excerpt from section entitled, Transductions - First Reasonings (Logic of Inference)
Piaget also traces the steps from the “precausal” reasoning of early childhood, which he calls “transduction, to the deductive reasoning of middle childhood. He finds the same characteristics he found in the child’s concepts. The first verbal reasoning is practical and teleological: that’s to say, it is oriented to finding means to a desired end. In this respect it resembles the sensory-motor intelligence it is slowly replacing. One might think that it would be less egocentric than sensory-motor intelligence, but Piaget argues that precisely because representation enables the child to go beyond the perceptual field (what’s perceived here and now), he can now distort reality to suit his wishes, and subordinate it to his ends. Thus we find “the discovery of lying,” which Piaget views as closely linked to the distortion of reality that appears with the “dawn of reasoning.” “Transduction” (which Piaget says Stern described without using the term) is reasoning without the reversible nestings of a hierarchy of classes and relations.
Found on url: http://www.mathcs.duq.edu/~packer/Courses/Psy598/Precursors, Cognitive.pdf

Excerpts from the works of Shapiro and Miller
Examination of the H (histrionic) style of functioning

H cognition is global, relatively diffuse and lacking in sharp focus of attention and detail - in other words, highly impressionistic. In contrast to the OC's active and prolonged searching for details, the H tends to respond quickly and impulsively, and is highly susceptible to what's immediately striking or merely obvious. H's see only forests, never trees; their perceptions and conclusions are based on immediate, emotionally salient impressions, not on active analysis of the situation. Their lack of intense intellectual concentration and their resulting distractibility and impressionability account for the largely nonfactual world - the "fantasy world" - in which they typically live.

For the H, the hunch or the impression is the guiding cognitive process. This explains why H personalities are typically lacking in intellectual curiosity, even the mundane inquisitiveness about events around them that most people display. Inasmuch as most intellectual pursuits require at least some degree of sustained, focused attention, the H, sorely deficient in this faculty, shows a decided disinclination for cognitively demanding work.

H's are often remarkably lacking in everyday factual knowledge that has no immediate emotional impact of practical use. It's not that H's as a group are any dumber than the rest of us in the usual sense; they can learn skills or information when necessary for some particular purpose, like a job or card game. Indeed, they often show reasonably good practical intelligence when it comes to dealing with common, everyday situations or things that capture their fancy. But sustained intellectual concentration and a range of interests that transcend the immediate or personal are alien to them.

At the input stage, there's a failure of analysis, categorization, and cross-referencing of information with other incoming and already-stored data that would provide the necessary context for a stable mental representation. This, after all, is how we ordinarily form coherent personal histories - they evolve and develop as new experience continues to interact with previously formed self-conceptions throughout our lives. But the H's input is amorphous, garbled, unanalyzed, and unarticulated, especially with respect to those forms of input that require any kind of sustained or focused attention.

When internal scanning is deficient, one memory blends fuzzily with the next. Scenes and events, thoughts and reactions are comingled in an undifferentiated mental mishmash. Thus, the H gives one version of a story one minute, another version the next - not out of willful prevarication, but because what's remembered is more dictated by the feeling of the moment than by any concentrated effort to produce a factual recall.

The oft remarked-on "naiveté" of H's is also understandable in light of their cognitive style. We've all known people who live in their own little fantasy lands, blithely unconcerned with the realities of the real world around them. Indeed we may marvel at how these individuals can ignore the events and responsibilities that at times press so heavily upon our own lives. Are these people lazy or crazy? Neither, really. The H's inability to become fully aware of unpleasant thoughts or feelings lying at the periphery of awareness is abetted by his incapacity to clearly and sharply focus attention. Typically, the H's recollection is conspicuously lacking in factual detail and one sometimes gets the impression that a sober, dispassionate analysis of objective facts would "spoil" the story.

The relative absence of complex cognitive integration and the quick impressionistic mode of information processing are frequently paralleled by and expressed by raw, elemental emotion. Emotions undergo little mental elaboration.

Neurophysiological research has shown that the conscious appreciation of a particular sensory impression, whether sight, sound, smell or body sense, depends not just on the sensory pathways conveying that sensation, but also on the participation of a separate, collateral system. Called the reticular activating system, this chain of neural structures and pathways is responsible for literally "directing attention" to incoming sensory information at different levels of processing.

Impairment of or damage to this system produces a curious dissociative condition where the sensory areas of the brain process the information normally (as shown, for example, by the EEG), but the person remains subjectively unaware of the stimulus; it simply doesn't "register." Normal sensory perception then, depends on the coordinated activity of the neural systems conveying sensory information and the reticular mechanisms governing appropriate attention to and registration of this information.

Even intense stimuli like the pain from a serious battlefield wound, which under ordinary circumstances would certainly consume all of our interest, may be relegated to the back burner of consciousness of more pressing concerns - like determining how to get the hell out of there - supervene. Also, it's frequently difficult to "pay attention" to some trivial external situation when we're preoccupied by some more pressing inner concern. It is clear that in most circumstances we do have certain flexibility and volitional control over attentional processes. For example, you can "force" yourself to concentrate on unengaging material if you know you're having a test on it tomorrow. In the same way, you can "force" your attention away from something which you know is exceedingly unpleasant, like a recent disappointment of injustice.

H's exhibit an ideomotor schism that renders it impossible for the H to adequately mobilize attention and cannot, therefore, willingly remedy the dysfunction. His approach to experience is one of global, impressionistic, uncritical receptivity.

H's are notoriously poor historians because what they "remember" is dictated more by the whims of the moment than by any systematic search through the memory store. "How it sounds" is the principle that supersedes "how it actually happened."

- Laurance Miller, Inner Natures: Brain, Self & Personality

4.1. Hierarchical organization

When researchers compare children’s categorization behavior with adults or discuss the ways in which children develop toward “adult-like” ways of categorizing, they are generally thinking of taxonomically-related, hierarchically-arranged categories. Clearly, part of category acquisition is a progression toward an understanding of the ways in which a culture hierarchically organizes concepts. Markman (1989) notes that “a heightening of interest in categorical relations … takes place with development” (p. 24). We would further emphasize that this development goes hand in hand with acculturation and language development.

As they come to understand hierarchical organization, children face particular issues related to superordinate categories and mutual exclusivity. Early on, Rosch et al.’s (1976) groundbreaking work established that three-year-old children experienced difficulty sorting objects that are taxonomically related (e.g., cars and motorcycles) because they were unable to recognize superordinate categories (e.g., vehicles). In contrast to objects at Rosch’s basic level, individuals do not interact with superordinate level objects; they cannot form images of superordinate level objects; nor are superordinate level objects explicitly differentiable. Sorting objects at the basic level is easy for even very young children, but sorting objects at the superordinate level poses greater challenges as it requires greater understanding of semantic categories. Even nine- to twelve-year-old children have been shown to struggle with superordinate categories in the Dewey hierarchy to locate categories of interest (Borgman et al., 1995). Lacking facility with semantically organized superordinate categories necessarily limits children’s ability to make use of hierarchically-arranged information.

Children also struggle with the overlapping nature of hierarchical class-inclusion relationships. For example, in a study by Callanan & Markman (1982), two- and three-year-old children insisted that a doll cannot also be a toy and that a hammer cannot also be a tool. Linguistic perspective is important here too. Markman (1989) suggests that children assume that category terms are mutually exclusive as part of an efficient strategy of language acquisition: novel words must imply some sort of contrast in order to be maximally communicative. However, this view falls short for real-world scenarios. Deák (2000) points out that while mutual exclusivity may be a useful base assumption for acquisition of some concepts, when multiple relations are apparent to the child, mutual exclusivity is less likely to be the default assumption. Language provides implicit cues about the utility of alternative interpretations in different scenarios. New research should explore the role of language in how children come to understand hierarchical relationships.

4.2. Salient characteristics

The availability of different kinds of information leads children to make different categorization decisions. Differences in stimulus have been shown to have significant influence (Daehler, Lonardo, & Bukatko, 1979; Deák & Bauer, 1996). In one study, four-year-olds paired a drawing of a panther with a drawing of a black stallion, but paired a black panther figurine with a Tabby house cat figurine (Deák & Bauer, 1996). With exposure to richer information, children will adjust their preferences for perceptual similarity, becoming better able to discern taxonomic relations.

When a variety of relations are available to a child, how are salient features chosen? Zaki, Nosofsky, Stanton and Cohen (2003) found that during categorization tasks, individuals will pay most of their attention to exactly those characteristics that an item has in common with some family of other items and that are uncommon in other groups. The best fit to observed behavior comes from a model of family resemblance that gives greatest weight to the attributes that carry most discerning power. From an information theoretic point of view, this reduces entropy when deciding between two categories. They argue that the account which satisfies Ockham’s razor is one in which categories are formed simply by paying different levels of attention to certain facets of the things being categorized. On this view, children who have not yet learned to focus on certain categorical aspects of items should select categories based on the more obvious features (such as physical attributes).

As noted above, early work on children’s categorization capabilities from Piaget and others emphasized the primacy of perceptual features in young children’s categorization tasks (Gentner, 1988; Ratterman & Gentner, 1998). Although recent studies have shown that under certain circumstances, children can attend to taxonomic relationships in categorization tasks, researchers have continued to assert that children often prefer to categorize based on perceptual features (Markman, 1989; Nguyen & Murphy, 2003; Tversky, 1985). Clearly, children find perceptual features highly salient for categorization. However the account offered by Zaki et al. does not require us to believe that the child does not understand taxonomies, only that recognizing taxonomic features has something to do with features that are marked in a language.

In summarizing the Whorfian perspective, Lee (2000) argues that language is an inseparable part of how we select what we attend to. “[L]anguage plays a significant role in mediating culturally specific selections and interpretations of essentially non-culture-specific, universally available phenomena, elaborating them into the systems of knowledge and patterns of understanding that constitute and structure the particular social realities of particular speech communities” (Lee, 2000, p. 51). Children acquire from their language a sense of which phenomena are important and the relations by which phenomena should be grouped. Nelson (1977) reaches a similar conclusion: “[T]he present proposal is that the child has many layers of relations, properties, and functions available for any concept at any stage in development. What will be elicited in [the experimental task] will depend upon the salience of particular relationships for a particular word concept” (Nelson, 1977, p. 112). The way a child perceives the evidence for any particular type of category will have everything to do with the culture in which the child was raised and the language of that culture. Future research must be sensitive to the socio-linguistic influences on attention to salient characteristics of categories.

...The child who expresses a preference for one type of category over another is demonstrating something about her knowledge of her own language and culture. As she acquires expertise in her language and culture, she will acquire expertise in new ways of categorizing the world. Seen in this light, understanding the development of socio-linguistic expertise is central to an understanding of the acquisition of categories.