| Von Glasersfeld's answers - July 2010 |


Dear Prof. von Glasersfeld

I have been a radical constructivist for several years already, even though I discovered this term for it in your work just a couple of weeks ago. Before that, I tried to call it "empirical fictionalism", and planned to write my master's thesis in philosophy on it, where I would present it in outline and trace its history from the ancient skeptics through time, arriving in the end at Vaihinger and Santayana. I'm overjoyed to find that you have already done this work in your 1995 book, and far better than I would have been able to! My question for you regards my revised thesis plan. I would love to hear what you think of it, judging from the explanation below. I tried but failed to keep it short.

My working title is "Virtualism: a speculative metaphysics based on radical constructivism and computationalism". I have seen (here on this Q&A-site) that you are quite comfortable speaking about the experiential reality we construct as a sort of virtual reality. I think this analogy is very powerful, in particular because virtual reality technology is something with which a growing number of people are very familiar, through computer games in particular. I don't expect you to be in this group, but hopefully, this makes a little sense nevertheless.

What I would like to do is go farther than using virtuality as just a rhetorical device for talking about the mind: to explore the metaphysical ramifications of supposing that the brain really is a virtuality generating computer of some sort. This would of course not be metaphysics in the traditional sense, where the pretention is to uncover what the world really is like. Rather, I think of it as just a model, like proposed theories in physics typically are thought of. The connection with radical constructivism is in two places: First, virtualism is in very broad (although not complete) agreement with radical constructivism, and second, radical constructivism is the perfect philosophical foundation for virtualism, or indeed for speculative or hypothetical metaphysics of any kind (or so I will claim).

Given the plausibility as well as popularity of computationalism as a scientific theory of mind, I think it is very useful to map out its philosophical consequences. Of particular interest in this regard is, I think, 1) a fundamental dualism between reality and virtuality, 2) a computational basis for math and logic, and 3) perspectives on both the mythical mind of the past and what the future holds for our computational minds in a world that right now is being transformed by virtual reality technology. Perhaps the most interesting to me, however, is the practical challenge in discovering that 4) our perception of realism is nothing more than a mental state of immersion in our constructed worlds. The ensuing disorientation is, I think, an important problem for philosophy to resolve or at the very least explore.

I would be very grateful for your comment on any of this. 

Finally, let me use this opportunity to thank you for your work. These last weeks of reading your books and articles have been enormously enriching for me. And I am thrilled to find that there has actually been established a small community around a set of ideas I had almost given up trying to find in any thinkers of the present.

Best regards,

Gorm Roedder



Dear Mr. Roedder,
Let me tell you at once that I am delighted to have your e-mail. Radical constructivists necessarily feel lonely within their construction and are overjoyed to have an opportunity to construct a companion.
As you suspected, I know practically nothing about "computationalism", but an investigation of similarities and differences with RC would certainly be very valuable.
A small piece of advice: I would be very careful of the term "metaphysics". Professors of philosophy (and other traditional thinkers) will not be able to realize that you are using the term without reference to ontology and will therefore find stark contradictions in what you say.
I am very curious about the thesis you are going to produce and would suggest that we stay in some form of communication. Needless to say, I shall be available to you if there are points that you would like to discuss.

With my best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld






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