| Von Glasersfeld's answers - January 2003  |



Dear Dr. von Glasersfeld,

I'm not sure if the following is really worth of your attention, but I wanted to say that I deem your ideas, as well as the work by Maturana and Varela, very useful and seminal in many fields, including the apparently  marginal field such of the theory of art, of creativity in general, and musical creativity in particular.  My main concerns in the area of music theory, or anyway music related philosophical speculations, are:
(1) to dismantle the predominant view of the "musical mind" depicted in cognitive science based on "problem solving" and related computational  paradigms; in general, to criticize the reductionistic ontological scenario  where human beings first "solve their survival problems" and hence find  spare time to enjoy mimesis and "art". Based on the Maturana-Varela model of  cognition, as well as on your and other constructivists' work, it would be possible to clarify a different role of art making (techne) as a primary,  more fundamental domain in which "cognition" happens and "consciousness"  emerges: in short, I would mantain that creativity (= "problem raising") is  more fundamental than "problem solving" in the domain of interaction of  self-organizing systems installing and preserving their identity; curiosity  of the world and manipulation of objects and symbols enter the scene before  all enemies have been safely guarded off; artists do not make their work  after reaching a "safe" position in society. The unfortunately widely  cognitive-reductionistic view of art is, volens nolens,  instrumental to (or  is it  a by-product of?) the modern socio-cultural context of "art consumerism",  not to  say that it inadvertantly justifies and legitimizes what I call the  "privilege of  aesthetics" in all artistic and related technological efforts. Nowadays (in a  thoroughly estheticized world) we need, and art needs, less aesthetics than  ethics.
Unfortunately, Kant's wrongly understood focus on aiesthesis as the "pure appreciation" is still dominant (notwithstanding much relevant "experimental" art, along the XX century), i.e. the idea that we can better  enjoy human made objects or processes when we don't know anything about it,  and have no "interest" in it.
(2) to highlight the relevance of the hermeneutic exchange and interaction between "ideals" and "material conditions", between "imagination" and the historically determined working environment where art is made (created,  replicated, appreciated). Art making could be deemed as the only domain of  human  affairs where almost everybody would accept the macchiavellian notion that  "the ends justify the means". Yet things are not so (except maybe for l'art pour l'art), as all art making implies (has implied across the centuries,  across the continents) a very deep dialactical involvement with the very  means and tools (all art is a destructuration, restructuration and  reinvention of preestablished codes and technologies). Art is  made by inventing the means of art making. At all levels, in the experience  of art the means are not neutral, quite the contrary: they are what is  worked out, they constitue meanings, and the very tools by which interaction  with the medium can be consciously elaborated.
As to my personal endeavours in sound art and musical composing, I tend to  implement small "audible ecosystemic niches", based on a variety of  exchanges (structural coupling) between a "system" (a body of algorithms of  sound signal synthesis and processing, that I design for myself) and its  surrounding (the real, material space where this system is placed - "no  virtual  reality", no "virtual space" is simulated). In such artworks, all  interactions among the "system" and the surrounding ambience take place in  the medium of sound, i.e. the medium to the "system" is sound (acoustically,  psichoacoustically, ecologically viewed). The aim is to eventually highlight  the listener's experience of  his own acoustic-ecological relationship to the medium and other  observing/observed systems in the medium of sound. (I should stress that I  am  speaking no "poetic" metaphor, here: I take - as far as I can - the  system/medium structural coupling, and the organizational closure etc, as a  practical, implementatory, or "operating" metaphor, not as a device to  create a symbolic document as a representation of something, i.e. musical  score to be played by some instruments, or sung, etc. - "presencing" in this  endeavour is more important than "representing")
I wonder if you share the view that the autopoietic theory of cognition can  foster a different view on creativity and on its development in artistic  experience. And if you have ever heard of implemented models based of  autopoietic systems in the realm of sound or other.   I would be grateful if you find time to answer,   Agostino Di Scipio

Dear Mr. Di Scipio,

You clearly have absorbed a lot of Maturana's writings and perhaps not very much of mine. I say this because I have stated in many places that I consider art to belong to the domain of the mystical, a domain that is not accessible to raison.

to (1) I like your idea that creativity is something  like'problem raising'. It fits in well with a quotation I took from Hersh & Davis, who used it to refute the notion that mathematics is nothing but symbol manipulation; they said it is like music: the music is there before the score. - Where the music comes from, I do not know. I am not sure that, for many artists, art may serve to solve a social problem: it makes possible an immersion in the social texture with almost no actual social interaction.

to (2) I don't agree with: Art is made by inventing the means of art making. Clay was used to solve problems of the kitchen (or cave) long before sculptors played with it; and the voice was presumably used for shouting before singing began. In discussing a philosophy of art it is, I think, important to anticipate at the outset what definition of art should be considered. In this country there is a permanent confusion because no distinction is suggested between craft and art.The distinction need not exclude that the two may be related. A Ferrari, for instance, may be appreciated as a machine, as the product of a craft, and as a work of art; but I would insist that the criteria of the three domains must be kept apart. I would suggest that you communicate with Felice Accame (email address: centrostudi.cov@figc.it), director of the Società di Cultura Metodologico-Operativa, who could direct you to parts of Silvio Ceccato's work that would, I think, be of interest to you.

Best wishes, Ernst von Glasersfeld

Dear Professor von Glasersfeld,

thank you very much for answering my question put up in August. As I've got farther ahead now in my studies of radical constructivism, I have learnt a lot about Prof. von Foersters ethic imperativ and the relativity principle, which anyway does not solve my problem of how individuals can get along with each other (In my opinion putting up "ethic" principles which everybody has to pursue means creating a meta-individual reality again.)
As well have I read about your opinon on how knowledge is created (I preferably appreciate your theory of interaction of re-presentation and individual identity). And I try to follow your advice in teaching (this term it is "crisis management", which nearly perfectly meets the requirements of constructivism, as any crisis equals an innovation and thus is a construction of its own.)
There is one thing I would like to draw yout attention to, it is Saint-Exupérys "Little Prince", which has been accompanying me for years now and perfectly expresses the fundamental staments of constructivism (as a whole, but particularly in its second chapter), see below (I suppose you'll prefer the original version, English or German version are available from the web, too)
Thanks again for your answer,

With my kindest regards

Ulrike Gelbmann
Dr. Ulrike Gelbmann
Institut für Innovations- und Umweltmanagement
Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz
Universitätsstrasse 15/G2
A-8010 Graz
Fax: ++43(0)316/380-9585
E-Mail: ulrike.gelbmann@uni-graz.at

J'ai ainsi vécu seul, sans personne avec qui parler véritablement, jusqu'à une panne dans le désert du Sahara, il y a six ans. Quelque chose s'était cassé dans mon moteur, Et comme je n'avais avec moi ni méchanicien, ni passagers, je me préparai à essayer de réussir, tout seul, une réparation difficile. C'était pour moi une question de vie ou de mort. J'avais à peine de l'eau à boire pour huit jours.

Le premier soir je me suis donc endormi sur le sable à mille milles de toute terre habitée. J'étais bien plus isolé qu'un naufragé sur un rideau au milieu de l'océan. Alors vous imaginez ma surprise, au levé du jour, quand une drôle de petite voix m'a réveillé. Elle disait:

-S'il vous plaît... dessine-moi un mouton!


-Dessine-moi un mouton...

J'ai sauté sur mes pieds comme si j'avais été frappé par la foudre. J'ai bien frotté mes yeux. J'ai bien regardé. Et j'ai vu un petit bonhomme tout à fait extraordinaire qui me considérait gravement. Voilà le meilleur portrait que, plus tard, j'ai réussi à faire de lui. Mais mon dessin, bien sûr, est beaucoup moins ravissant que le modèle. Ce n'est pas de ma faute. J'avais été découragé dans ma carrière de peintre par les grandes personnes, à l'age de six ans, et je n'avais rien appris à dessiner, sauf les boas fermés et les boas ouverts.

Je regardai donc cette apparition avec des yeux tout ronds d'étonnement. N'oubliez pas que je me trouvais à mille milles de toute région habitée. Or mon petit bonhomme ne me semblait ni égaré, ni mort de fatigue, ni mort de faim, ni mort de soif, ni mort de peur. Il n'avait en rien l'apparence d'un enfant perdu au milieu du désert, à mille milles de toute région habitée.
Quand je réussis enfin de parler, je lui dis:

-Mais qu'est-ce que tu fais là?

Et il me répéta alors, tout doucement, comme une chose très sérieuse:

-S'il vous plaît... dessine-moi un mouton...

Quand le mystère est trop impressionnant, on n'ose pas désobéir. Aussi absurde que cela me semblaît à mille milles de tous les endroits habités et en danger de mort, je sortis de ma poche une feuille de papier et un stylographe. Mais je me rappelai alors que j'avais surtout étudié la géographie, l'histoire, le calcul et la grammaire et je dis au petit bonhomme (avec un peu de mauvaise humeur) que je ne savais pas dessiner. Il me répondit:

-Ca ne fait rien. Dessine-moi un mouton.

Comme je n'avais jamais dessiné un mouton je refis, pour, un des deux seuls dessins dont j'étais capable. Celui du boa fermé. ET je fus stupéfait d'entendre le petit bonhomme me répondre:

-Non! Non! Je ne veux pas d'un éléphant dans un boa. Un boa c'est très dangereux, et un éléphant c'est très encombrant. Chez moi c'est tout petit. J'ai besoin d'un mouton. Dessine-moi un mouton.

Alors j'ai dessiné.

Il regarda attentivement, puis:

-Non! Celui-là est déjà très malade. Fais-en un autre.

Je dessinai:

Mon ami sourit gentiment, avec indulgence:

-Tu vois bien... ce n'est pas un mouton, c'est un bélier. Il a des cornes...

Je refis donc encore mon dessin: Mais il fut refusé, comme les précédents:

-Celui-là est trop vieux. Je veux un mouton qui vive longtemps.

Alors, faute de patience, comme j'avais hâte de commencer le démontage de mon moteur, je griffonnai ce dessin-ci.

Et je lançai:

-Ca c'est la caisse. le mouton que tu veux est dedans.

Mais je fus bien surpris de voir s'illuminer le visage de mon jeune juge: -C'est tout à fait comme ça que je le voulais! Crois-tu qu'il faille beaucoup d'herbe à ce mouton?


-Parce que chez moi c'est tout petit...

-Ca suffira sûrement. Je t'ai donné un tout petit mouton.

Il pencha la tête vers le dessin:

-Pas si petit que ça... Tiens! Il s'est endormi...

ET c'est ainsi que je fis la connaissance du petit prince.



Dear Ms. Gelbmann,

Thank you for sending me the chapter of the "petit prince" and thank you for sending it in French. You obviously anticipated my mistrust of translators. It must be more than 60 years that I read it and "vol de nuit", so long that I never connected it with constructivism.

You may be a bit harsh on H.v.F. As I understood him, he said that whatever rules you make, you make them for yourself, not for others; and the only rule he generalized was that of opening new possibilities. It seems to me that this attitude might be useful in any kind of arbitration.

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld

Dr. von Glasersfeld,

Thank you so much for your reply to me! It is my honor to get a letter from  you -- the authority of constructivim.
You have helped me a lot and I still have something puzzling me, and you must be clear about it.
what is the difference between constructivism and struturalism on earth (esp. for its notion)? surely there is sth related to the constructivism and struturalism of Piaget, however, there is still sth diferent in its general meaning. and i guess Piaget is the one who  wanna to connect them, and what about u?
Thanks for your consideration!
Liu Shufeng

Dear Mr. Liu Shufeng,

As you obviously have read some Piaget and some structuralists, I think you should try to formulate differences and similarities for yourself. I can do no more than ask you to look again at what I wrote in my last letter. You have to make a judgment yourself because your interpretation of Piaget, the structuralists, and radical constructivism may be different from mine.

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld

Dr. von Glasersfeld,

Do you consider radical constructivism to be a "heuristic fiction" ?

Thank you for your time.


Sam Hairston


Dear Mr. Hairston,

As far as i know the term "heuristic fiction" was introduced by Hans Vaihinger in his commentaries on Kant (whether he found it in Kant's texts, I do not know). Examples he gave were "the thing in itself", the  concept of "God", and others. They were all things that turned out to be useful in social interactions, especially collaboration. Gregory Bateson   spoke of "explanatory principles" such as the notion of gravity in physics. I  consider those of the same category. They are concepts that are useful in the practical exploitation of theories. But they usually are single concepts. I would go further and say (with the great physicists of the last hundred years) that theories are fictions, and if they turn out be useful, they are heuristic fictions. Consequently radical constructivism, which is a theory of knowing, can be called a heuristic fiction if, indeed, you consider it to be useful.

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld



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