| Von Glasersfeld's answers - January III 2006  |


Dear professor von Glasersfeld,
Thank you again. May I reply to your December V
answer as follows. Essentially is, that Piaget's
theory on intelligence is constructed totally
abductionwise! He never used any inferential
statistics or any non-abductionwise inferences.

Piaget worked for Simon en Binet who were the
founding fathers of intelligence-tests which are
based on statistical inferences like the
correlation coefficient. Simon asked Piaget to
standardize tests. But what did Piaget do?
Piaget was not interested in good or false
answers - on which psychometrical tests are
based by using statistical means en
standarddeviations - but on the reasoning of
the child in his answers: he looked at the
reasoning of answers of many children to a
particular question. Then it struck him for
example - an unexpected experience of Piaget!! -
that 11 year olds did not have any problem with
part-whole problems, but all younger ones did!
Why is that so, he asked? He was struck again
and again, and finally came up wit his viable
theory of intelligence which you know so well.
And did the sons of the founding fathers came up
with any theory of intellgence? No. All they
came up with was: "intelligence is what this
test measures" - can it more empty? Again, why
is this so? They worked not abductively, but
statistical inferentially. They based their
method on an unviable image of physics - but
physics works abductively all the way, like Piaget.
What is meant by "inferential statistics" is
t-test, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), Analysis
of Covariance (ANCOVA), regression analysis, and
the multivariate methods like factor analysis,
multidimensional scaling, cluster analysis,
discriminant function analysis, and so on.
Your example of "making inferences from the
statistics of observations" i.e. the theory that
all swans are white, is not "inferential
statistics", but if well understood a good
example of abduction! I clarify: one can be
struck by seeing many swans being white; then
one tries to explain this: perhaps all swans are
white; and then one goes to 'proof' it (nothing
absolute implied), that is, one tries to find
more swans and if they are white it is 'proven',
for the time being: the theory becomes acceptyed
as normal fact (nothing absolute implied).
Indeed, it will be no longer viable as,
unexpected in relation to the accepted theory, a
black swan is observed (if the black swan is
observed immediately while trying to 'proof' the
theory, the theory is not viable at any time; viabilty is a
Regarding you reading me as looking for
"absolute" viability; to my knowledge Newton's theory of
gravitation and the structure of the universe is
also perfectly viable for NASA's enterprises: it
has never been shown unviable by any unexpected
finding at the level of unrelativistic speeds
and by classical mechanical measurements! At
that level it undecidable which theory has
'better cards' (not anything absolute implied, I
repeat explicitely): it has not been superseeded on that level.
The flat earth theory needs not to be replaced
for a farmer. For fishermen traveling far it
needs to be replaced, though. But on a
scientific level the flat earth theory is not
viable for it can be disproven (nothing absolute
implied). So, as said, as long as an explanation
holds empirically (is tenable, viable) it is
accepted as a theory, that is, as long as not a
new unexpected finding comes up.
Respectfully, my suggestion is that you reading
me as looking for absolute viabilty is an
unviable 'theory' of yours about what I am
saying. That can happen; we are all in a proces
of constructing, for the time being.
Regarding "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". You must keep
in mind the purpose of a theory - which is to
explain unexpected findings - and applications of a viable theory.
Regarding "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": see above. Did you study the
historical development of these theories? Please
give me references to literature. I exepct your
ideas about this development are unviable.
Regarding "There was nothing unexpected about
air resistance, it is a common experiential
fact". Notice, 'common' it has become: you must
turn to the development of children to
understand how they came to the construction of
such a famliar concept as air resistence. I do
not know in what stage they are when they come
to understand it. Children are surprised all the
time - sometimes they keep asking why and why
and why ... - and surprise us all the time...
Please your respected comments.

R. Kooyman
The Netherlands


Dear Mr. Kooijman,
Here are some brief answers to your recent letter. They will be my last.
Regarding Piaget, it is clear that you have not my read my "Scheme theory
as a key to the learning paradox" in A. Tryphon & J. Vonèche (eds.)
Working with Piaget: Essays in honour of Bärbel Inhelder, (139-146).
London: Psychology Press.
As I said the last time, if people who use the intelligence test find it
useful for their purposes, it's viable for them, irrespective of what you
and I think of it.
What you say about the white swans seems perfectly compatible with what
I said.
The same goes for what you say about the viability of Newton's theory.
But then you contradict it by saying: " the flat earth theory is not
viable for it can be disproven (nothing absolute implied). So,as long as
an explanation hold empirically (is tenable, viable) it is accepted as a
theory, that is, as long as not a new unexpected finding comes up." The
flat earth theory is still perfectly viable for the triangulations in
land surveys - they don't use spherical triangles. And quite a few things
have come up that were not expected by and are not explicable by N's
theory, yet that theory is viable for NASA.
Archimedes developed the mathematics of levers because he and others long
before him had stumbled on the fact that they made lifting things easy;
I don't think it was to "explain" but rather to compile a know-how in
order to use them.
As for air resistence, children feel it when they swing their arms
quickly. It's an experiential fact, like things dropping when you let go
of them. I have no references for the history of earodynamics, but i've
seen some sportscar designers at work. They have some formulas involving
surface area and angle, but they are not very much help. The designers
don't care about explanation; they test models in a wind tunnel. It
wasn't a surprising fact that started that research area, but the desire
to make some vehicles go faster.
In order for children to be "surprised all the time" they would have to
have expectations about everything. I don't see how they could have,
given the narrow range of their experience. Having seen several grow up,
I believe the opposite: there is very little they don't take in their
Best wishes
Ernst von Glasersfeld




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