| Von Glasersfeld's answers - July II 2009 |



Dear Prof. Glasersfeld,

I'm working in the field of Geographic Information Science - an applied informatics concerned with geographic data and phenomena like navigation systems and google maps.
Our group is working on the problem that users of such data - because the particular context in which the data was produced is stripped away in information environments like the web - need to know (or reconstruct) its intended meaning.
We came to believe that the constructivist perspective is promising  for a method that allows to describe such data in terms of basic human operations (very similar to Bridgman's operational definitions, like the symbol "1m Length" being decomposable into a description of how to arrive at such an observation).
This operational approach in our view should encompass mental operations as well as physical measurements (which are - of course - just mental operations in disguise ;-) ).
Are there any formal descriptions of Ceccato's or your attention model available that could be used for such a purpose?

But methodologically, the open point for me is how to practically arrive at an inter-subjective interpretation of such descriptions (because, they are -in the end - only symbolic descriptions of the actual operations). This is were I think your idea of  "mutual adaption of individual constructions" (in so far as I managed to understand it)  would need some concretization in order to be put to the test. In my current view, one essential element here must be the basic human act of ostension (someone else coordinating your attention to something by pointing at it). This is at least how W.V.O Quine explained how humans reach an agreement about what he called "observation sentences".  And this is obviously the way how measurement standards are introduced (by referring to a commonly observable phenomenon, like the platinum bar "Metres des archives").

My ideas about this are not settled yet and I would appreciate any comments as well as any hint to literature.

Vielen Dank dass Sie mir ihr Ohr leihen ;-) !

Simon Scheider

Münster Semantic Interoperability Lab (MUSIL)
Institut für Geoinformatik
Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

Dear Mr. Scheider,


Your question involves more than one. I am going to give you brief answers in  the hope that you will come back with more specific queries.

1.  Ceccato's gross description of his ideas about attention is in his un Tecnicpo fra i Filosofi, vol.2 (Marsilio, Padova) 1966. A fulller exposition in La mente vista da un ciberneticoo. Torino, 1973.
Ceccato  analyses only the  "attentional" form of concepts, i.e., the combinatorics of attentional moments without any reference to their application in sensorimotor experience.
I have done very little in that direction. My paper: An attentional model for the conceptual construction of units and number,. J. for Research in Mathematics Education, 12 (2), (1981) 83-94. and the Sketch "Gedanken über Zeit und Raum" in Unverbindliche Erinnerungen are the only things I have written about attentional moments. Neither of these pieces may be of much help to you in your research; but they'll show you that, unlike Ceccato, I am interested in an application to sensorimotor experience.
2. The question of "ostension" is very complicated from a constructivist point of view: If you don't believe that things exist as you see them, it's clear that no one can point to them. One can only point to where one believes one is able to construct them.   I have recently come across the work of Rizzolatti and his colleagues on Mirror Neurons (http//www.scholarpedia.org/article/Mirror_neurons) (1981), and I think that it would be very useful in working out how we "understand" someone's pointing to something in his or her experiential field. This is highly complex.  If you think it might be useful to you, let's discuss it the next time - if you ask  the specific question.
3. I don't remember or maybe never knew, how Quine deals with the problem of ostension without assuming that there are objects we can all point to - in which case he descends into naive realism.
I would certainly like to continue this correspondence, but  need questions about specific concepts.

Best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld



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