| Von Glasersfeld's answers - December III 2005  |

 
 
 


QUESTION:
Dear Professor Von Glasersfeld,
 
In your september answer regarding the use of "accepted protocols of data
analysis" and "an existing theoretical framework for the analysis of
observations and interviews" I would like to stress that these methods -
in particular inferential statistics - are based on a false (untenable,
unviable) image of the method in the natural sciences e.g. physics.
Natural sciences proceed by explaining an unexpected finding (unexpected
experience), and when this explanation holds empirically (is tenable,
viable) it is accepted as a theory, as long as not a new unexpected
finding comes up.
 
Radical constructivism seems in agreement with this practice in as far
you say "to explain experiential data" - it must be "to explain
unexpected findings (unexepected exeperiences)". But it is not in
agreement with this practice when you say "thinking up of models to
systematize experiential data"! To adhere to accepted protocols of data
analysis, to adopt an existing theoretical framework for the analysis of
observations and interviews paralyzes new theorybuilding for it does not
take into account unexpected findings as a starting point for
theorybuilding. These standard protocols are not constructed as or out of
an explanation of an unexpected finding, on the contrary. Their method is
a kind of a stray jacket. Systematization as such never lead to insight,
knowledge. So, their epistemological status must be discussed,
immediately. The question must be raised why to systematize the way it is
done? Is the legitimatization for this systematization empirically
tenable?
 
Piaget was a master of new theory building in psychology: his whole
theory, all his ideas started from explaining unexpected findings.
 
Do you share these comments of mine?
 
R. Kooyman
The Netherlands

 

 

 
ANSWER:
 
Dear Mr. Kooyman,
 
Whether a conceptual structure or theory is considered viable or not
depends on the context and the purpose for which it was constructed.
Some expressions in your letter make me think that you are looking for
something like absolute viability, which would make it all too similar
to ontological truth.
 
As long as a way of systematizing experience allows you to achieve your
purpose in similar situations , the systematization is viable and can be
considered "knowledge". You are right in saying that it can never lead to
"insight", if by this you mean a glimpse of "how things are".
 
As long as you are surveying land for farmers in areas of relatively
limited size, the "flat earth theory" is viable and you don't need to
use spherical geometry. Unless a child of one of those farmers becomes
interested in philosophy or psychology, there is little point in
bothering him or her with epistemology.
 
In our society, some awareness of the relativity of theories and methods
seems necessary because politicians and their subservient "media"
constantly claim to know absolute truths.

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld
 

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