| Von Glasersfeld's answers - December V 2005  |

 
 
 


QUESTION :
Dear professor Von Glasersfeld,
 
Thank you. Allow me to reply to your December answer to my question
related to the epistemological status of protocols.
 
First, in as far as "accepted protocols of data analysis" and "an
existing theoretical framework for the analysis of observations and
interviews" are not constructed out of an explanation of an unexpected
experience - for example inferential statistics isn't - they have
never lead to any viable conceptual structure or any viable theory.
Not anyone working by that method has, to my knowledge, come up with a
viable conceptual structure or viable theory. Why not? Because that
method is based on an unviable understanding of the method in the
natural sciences e.g. physics. The method in physics however did lead
to viable conceptual structures or viable theories. Why?
Natural sciences proceed by the method of explaining an unexpected
experience. Just as how Piaget worked.
 
Second, what expressions in my letter made you think that I was
"looking for something like absolute viability, which would make it
all too similar to ontological truth"? I wrote "and when this
explanation holds empirically (is viable) it is accepted as a theory,
as long as not a new unexpected experience comes up". So, I was
neither saying or impliying anything absolute! The expression
"insight" I used was followed by "knowledge" as a synonym, and thus
only meaning 'an explanation of an unexpected experience that holds
empirically (is viable) as long as not a new unexpected experience
comes up" and this makes the whole cycle going round and round again
(endlessly, who knows?): explaining an unexpected experience,
constructung an explanation for this unexpected experience, and
finding experiences (again nothing absolute implied by "finding")
which make this explanation viable, just for now!
 
Third, you wrote "Whether a conceptual structure or theory is
considered viable or not depends on the context and the purpose for
which it was constructed". That purpose cannot but be to explain unexpected
experiences; or do you have
examples of viable conceptual structures or viable theories that did
arise out of another purpose, say, to systematize (in an unexplanatory
sense) experiences?
 
Fourth, I surely do not want to bother someone applying knowledge of
limited viability - like that of the "flat earth theory" - with
epistemology. Did you read that anywhere in my letter? I do however
want to bother scientists who are applying unviable methods to
construct viable knowledge, in particular inferential statistics!! My
question for them is: did it lead to any viable conceptual structure
or viable theory? Is the basis for your method viable?
 
Piaget never and never again used things like inferential statistics.
I hated them.
 
Please respected comments.
 
R. Kooyman
The Netherlands

 

ANSWER :

Dear Mr. Kooijman,

I am no longer sure what you mean by "inferential statistics". I took it
to mean the practice of making inferences from the statistics of
observations. This is a common procedure leading to the formulation of
theories, for instance the theory that all swans are white, which will be
disproven as soon as a black swan is observed.
I don't know much about "accepted protocols of data analysis" and it
never struck me that experimental psychologists should construct them
"out of an explanation of an unexpected experience". It seems to me that
such protocols were established so that different
observers/experimentalists could compare their statistical results more
or less fairly. The inferences they draw from the statistics may or may
not lead the psychologists to formulate a theory and the viability of the
theory then depends not on the statistics, but on its usefulness within
the domain of observations that led to its formulation.
 
The intelligence test is, I think, a good example. The people who
designed it collected sets of questions the answering of which, they
thought, required intelligence. Then they statistically evaluated the
answers of students and produced an "intelligence quotient". The fact
that it does not represent what we normally think of as intelligence
does not impede its use and it will be considered viable as long the
users find it a useful way of classifying students.
 
One expression in your letter of December 8th that suggests you are
looking for "absolute" viability is the following: "when this explanation
holds empirically (is tenable, viable) it is accepted as a theory, as
long as not a new unexpected finding comes up." - Newton's theory of
gravitation and the structure of the universe is perfectly viable for
NASA's enterprises, although it has been superseded by Einstein's theory.
Also when dealing with light, physicists use two incompatible theories as
explanatory devices; both are viable depending on the experimental
context. (That's why I mentioned the flat earth theory.)
 
I do not see how you connect any of this with hypothetical explanations
of unexpected experiences. And I do not agree with your statement that
the purpose for which a conceptual structure or theory was constructed
"cannot but be to explain unexpected experiences". The concepts of levers
and pulleys and the mathematical theories to which they led were
constructed for the simple purpose of moving or lifting heavy objects.
The various theories of aerodynamics used in the building of cars and
planes were developed for the purpose of reducing air resistance, not for
explaining any unexpected events. (There was nothing unexpected about air
resistance, it is a common experiential fact.)
 
When he has an unexpected experience, a scientist will try to generate an
hypothesis of how it could have happened, i.e. he invents or, as Peirce
said,"abduces" a rule; but he can call that rule a theory only when he
has tested it. The results of these tests are inductively produced and
they may well include statistics.

 

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld
 

BACK | TORNA INDIETRO
 

 

Home | Ecology of Mind | Mind-ing Ecology | Co-ordination Page | Search 
Bateson | Kelly | Maturana | von Glasersfeld | Laing | Antipsychiatry | Links
Ecology in Politics | Eco-logising Psychology | Sustainability | Environment & Nature