| Von Glasersfeld's answers - June 2008  |


  • Dear Ernst von Glasersfeld
    I am about to end 4 years at the Systemic Inst. for Family therapy, and now preparing for more examination in may.

    I understand that knowledge, from the constructivism’s point of view, is constructed cognitively in a ‘closed system’ and my simple question goes:

    Does that mean that cognitive constructions are made without any social association at all or is that where the influences of the surroundings comes in – so you let yourself influence/associate when you think/construct?

    It’s just that I cannot find any constructions that outlet the social association; so maybe I just need to be lifted to a higher level of understanding here (-:

    Yours faithfully
    Anette Christensen

    ANSWER 1:
    Dear Ms. Christensen,

    The concepts and conceptual relations we employ in the building of 'knowledge', i.e. the constructs that we find viable in our living, are, indeed, personal, cognitive constructions. But the domain in which they have to prove viable includes not only the physical objects we have constructed, but also 'others' in whose construction we are now more free than in the construction of the wall through which we cannot walk. We do live in a world of constraints and 'others' are among those that generate the most
    painful bruises.

    Only people who have never understood Radical Constructivism will write or tell you that it disregards the importance of social interaction.

    Best wishes,
    Ernst non Glasersfeld


    Sehr geehrter Herr von Glasersfeld

    Ich habe soeben Ihr Buch „Unverbindliche Erinnerungen“ gelesen und danke Ihnen, dass Sie mir als Leser Gelegenheit gegeben haben, an einem Teil Ihres sehr interessanten Lebens teilzuhaben; viele Stellen haben mich sehr berührt. Ich bekam den Eindruck, dass Sie eigentlich ein Künstler sind. Statt zu malen oder musizieren, denken Sie. Das war sehr inspirierend!

    Ich wünsche Ihnen alles Gute. Mögen mehr Menschen denken wie Sie, zum Wohle von uns allen!

    Mit herzlichen Grüssen vom schönen Zürichsee
    Wolfgang A. Haas, www.energyclinic.ch

    ANSWER 2:

    Dear Mr. Haas,

    Thank you for your heart-warming message (which, of course should have been in English for this web site!). I looked at your home page and can only tell you that anything you can do to teach and encourage people to develop their self-reliance and self-responsibility is in agreement with the way of thinking I have been working on.

    Best wishes,
    Ernst von Glasersfeld


    Dear Prof. Glasersfeld,

    please allow me to ask a quite general question. I am interested in the connection between the history of technology and the history of philosophical thinking. After reading some of your (and Silvio Ceccato's) papers on machine translation I had the strong impression that there might be a systematical link between MT and radical constructivism. Although the following example is from 1969, sentences like these made me think about it: The "Platonic view of the world  [...] was possible and workable as long as the use of language was restricted to organisms [...] With the advent of digital computers the situation was radically changed".

    The point seems to me that computers have to translate something meaningful from one language to another without having a profound concept of "Lebenswelt" (which human translators usually have). This might be an analogy to sucessfully communicating or doing research  without having a concept of "objective reality".

    Am I on a completely wrong track, or do you think that your work in machine translation was some kind of fundament for your later
    elaboration of a constructvist epistemology?

    With best wishes from Vienna
    Claus Pias

    ANSWER 3:

    Dear Mr. Pias,

    As far as I am concerned, there is close link between Ceccato's thinking and mine. He was the first to generalize Pery Bridgman's notion of 'operational definition' to all linguistic items,  a notion that is fundamental in Radical Constructivism.

    As for the passage you quote, I don't know where it comes from and it surprises me. For Ceccato the "Platonic view of the world" ceased to be possible long before he became involved in computational linguistics. It is correct, however, that the idea of constructing a machine "that perceives and thinks" became one of his goals in the mis-fifties and deepened the rift between our thinking and traditional psychology.

    I am sure there are connections between the history of technology and that of philosophy, but it might be good to remember that there are constructivist suggestions as early as the Pre-Socratics and quite definite constructivist
    beginnings in Vico and Kant,long before technology as we know it took off.

    Best wishes,
    Ernst von Glasersfeld


    Dear Professor von Glasersfeld

    I am a PhD student at the University of Queensland in Australia. I am looking at designing 'mental model' elicitation techniques to be used within the domain of natural resource management. I am interested in capturing how different people, or groups of people, understand a given system or environment.

    If you are familiar with the theory of mental models, how does this theory relate to RC?

    Natalie Jones

    ANSWER 4:

    Dear Ms. Jones,

    I am afraid I have not heard of any specific "theory of mental models". If you tell me who is behind it and send me a brief paper or summary, I may be able to see how it relates to Radical Constructivism.

    Best wishes,
    Ernst von Glasersfeld



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