| Von Glasersfeld's answers - JULY 2002 |

 
 
 

 

 

Dear prof. Von Glasersfeld,

(Thank you for replying; I hope you will soon be in business as usual, after  the fire. I send my message to the oikos address as well.)

Reading your "Piaget's Legacy: Cognition as Adaptive Activity" in "Does representation need reality?" a question came up, perhaps related to a matter of phrasing.

How does radical constructivisme explains viability of constructed knowledge without admitting any kind of correspondence? In the screen-metaphor, the  screen admits what falls through and discards what does not, and the things  that fall through are then the viable things. Causes or correspondences  then, with regard to viability, seem to be not existing or irrelevant.

Or differently put: how to bring on the one side the screen-metaphor and  your "(..) concepts cannot grasp ANY (capitals RK) ontological reality  posited as independent of the human experiencer" in agreement with on the  other side your "I want to point out that I am not saying sensory signals  have no cause" and the viable construction in physical knowledge that states  that physical things exist independent of our thinking of them and  independent of our experiencing them?

Did perhaps your phrasing stretch constructivism too far, or not yet far enough?

Yours sincerely,
Rob Kooijman


Dear Mr. Kooijman,

I am sorry about the delay in answering your questions but recovering from the fire takes more time that we expected. I will be brief but - I hope - clear enough.

The concept of viability does NOT entail any kind of "correspondence". It is  equivalent to what one can call "functional fit". A grain of sand manages to  fall through the gardener's sieve because it fits the constraints of the  mesh; but the fact that it managed to get through gives it no indication of what constraints there were.

My answer to the contention that it is a "viable" construction in physical knowledge that physical things exist independent of our thinking of them and independent of our experiencing them is simple: no explanation that cannot be experientially demonstrated has more power than the one that God created us so that we experience the world as we experience it. In short, such  explanations are metaphysical fictions and useless in a rational model of  cognition. The people who assert (as the great physicists have never  asserted) that their theory describes things as they "are", should have to  tell us HOW they know this.

The root of your misunderstanding constructivism lies, I think, in your  reluctance to relinquish the notion that knowing must at some point lead to  the knowledge of a knower-independent reality.

Best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld


Dear prof. Von Glasersfeld,

Thank you for replying.

First of all, with regard to your "The root of your misunderstanding constructivism", I think it's either a matter of difficulty of phrasing constructivism properly, or of not stretching constructivism far enough, as  I am inclined to think RC is doing. There is no reluctance from my part to say it is us who construct knowledge.

Somehow I did not get my point across. The point is that when one says  'knower dependent reality' one seems to say there is a physical dependency:  in constructivism the construction of knowledge seems to entail the physical  construction of the world, not only our knowledge. There is no physical  knowledge that states that the existence of physical things depends of our  thinking of them and depends of our experiencing them: whether or not I  think of them (the cause of our sensory signals or whatever) is of no  importance.

Please again: how to bring "(..) concepts cannot grasp any ontological  reality posited as independent of the human experiencer" in agreement with  your "I want to point out that I am not saying sensory signals have no  cause"? Does this cause exist whether or not we experience it and think of  it? Physicists believe it does, I presume.

Yours sincerely,
Rob Kooijman


Dear Mr. Kooijman,

This discussion should be on the oikos website; please send your questions there. I will answer your message when I receive it from Rome. In the meantime let me ask you a question: what exactly do you mean when you say "physical" or "physical knowledge" - does that relate to physics? Or do you mean, as i would, to refer to the class of constructs we want to distinguish  from the "mental"?

Ernst von Glasersfeld


Dear prof. Von Glasersfeld,

Please keep in mind, for the time being I presume it is a matter of  difficulty in phrasing (radical) constructivism.

"Physical" or "physical knowledge" - refers to the knowledge physicists have, an 'object' exist physically whether or not one thinks about it or is experiencing it: the 'cause' of our sensory signals.

As you, I refer to the class of constructs we want to distinguish from the  "mental". Popularly phrased: the image of for example a car we have in our  head is obviously not the physical car outside our head, because it wouldn't  fit physically in our head. It that context it is awkward to say we construct reality.

Regarding putting our exchange of thoughts on the Oikos-website I would like to propose to put it there when it has an accesible fashion, presented as clear cut as possible.

Regards,
Rob Kooijman


Dear Mr. Kooijman,

I do not agree with your plan to edit our exchange before putting on the website. The site was started to record spontaneous questions and spontaneous answers. Thererfore, once more, I ask you a query: you say that  the difference between the "physical" car and the car in your head is  "obvious". I suggest you ask yourself how you come to make this distinction.

I hope you'll send your pieces to oikos.

Best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld


Dear prof. Von Glasersfeld,

(regarding the website: I hope we can leave asides aside)

Therefore, once more, I ask you a query: you say that the difference between the "physical" car and the car in your head is "obvious". I suggest you ask yourself how you come to make this distinction.

"Obvious" was, as said, popularly phrased as was "the car doesn't fit physically in my head". I could refer to Piaget's notion of 'epistemological  decentering'. But my answer is that is has presumably the same reasons as  your distinction in 'cause of sensory signals'. Isn't this 'cause'  outside our head? How did you arrive at 'cause' and how to assert it is a 'viable'  construction?

RC seems to be saying that we create in our act of knowing this (physical?) cause ('physical' as physicians up to now understand 'physical'). That seems, again, awkwardly phrased to me.

Yours sincerely
Rob Kooijman

 

 

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