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
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.
- 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