| Von Glasersfeld's answers - June 2003  |



Are there limits to Construtivism ? For instance are there limits to Construtivism in its beginning imposed by the Gödel's Theorema ?

Mauro Ostronoff
from Santos-Estado de Sao Paulo-Brazil


Dear Mr. Ostronoff,

Gödel was concerned with the limits of provability and "truth". Such limits cannot be applied to constructivism because it limits itself as a way of thinking that does not claim ontological "truth" but possible utility in your experiential world.

Best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld


Dear Professor,

I am curious about the connections between constructivism as you understand it, and constructive mathematics or "intuitionism" as developed by Brower, Heyting and others. It seems that "mathematical constructivism" shares some affinities with constructivism and radical constructivism, but I have not come across any literature that discusses these connections.

Any comments or pointers to literature on this would be most welcome.
Apologies if this is a well-worn topic.

Dan MacKinnon


Dear Mr. MacKinnon,

There certainly are, but I have never tried to work them out. I should be delighted if you were to look into it.
Brouwer's paper "Consciousness, philosophy, and mathematics, Proceedings of the 10th International Congress of Philosophy, Vol.1, part 2 (1235-1249). Amsterdam: North Holland publishing C., 1949; and the work of Paul Lorenzen (Erlangen School - I don't know how much of this has been translated into English) would be a good starting point. Of course, Piaget & Szeminska's "La genèse du nombre chez l'enfant", Neuchâtel, 1941 is also very relevant (to be read in French, because the English translation is thoroughly misleading!), as well as the book jointly written by Piaget & Beth on epistemology and mathematics.

Best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld


Dear professor Von Glasersfeld,

Your article "The Incommensurability of Scientific and Poetic Knowledge" has inspired me a lot in my historical and philosophical studies concerning the development of mysticism.

Grown up in a cultural environment rich with mystic belief I never could bring in agreement the knowledge the Mystics put forward and the one science did. As if it had to. After having read your article, you have given me a new perspective i.e. the notion of their incommensurability. 

Please allow me to put two short questions to you with regard to the need for mystic or metaphysical knowledge and its character.

I understand you as saying in your article there are several reasons for putting forward mystical knowledge: "we realize that we are not even coming close to the actual cause of our emotional reaction and attachment to the work of art. In the end we can only say: I cannot explain it, but it's out of this world"; the realization that there is an endless flow of experience:

"Our experience is without ends, because as rational observers we awoke only long after it began, and we shall no longer be there when it ceases" and the realization that "in the initial conception of rational models, scientists, too, draw on poetic imagination".

Then my two questions:

1. Does mystical (or metaphysical) knowledge being a-rational or non-rational need to be 'viable' in whatever, perhaps in its own mystical or metaphysical sense?

2. Is it to be or can it be excluded that the realizations mentioned above are possibly answerable rationally?

I hope you have the opportunity to give your thoughts on my two questions.

Yours sincerely,
Li Wang

Mr. Li Wang (Msc)
National Tsing Hua University
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Subfaculty Philosophy
Hsinchu, Taiwan
Republic of China


Dear Mr. Li Wang,

Your two questions are very welcome. Having grown up in a cultural environment with practically no explicit mystical beliefs, my answers to your questions can only be those of an outsider.

1) I have the impression that genuine mysticism has no room for purposive action. The concept of viability has (in my view) two components: on the one hand, usefulness and success in the pursuit of a goal; on the other lack of contradictions with other conceptual structures. Mystics, I believe, can advise you to carry out certain practical actions to help your progress towards wisdom; in that sense they may or not be viable, but they are not part of the wisdom.

Concerning the question of coherence or non-contradiction, the two terms are not applicable to mystical wisdom in the way they can be applied to logical or rational knowing. I think the irreducible metaphors mystics use to communicate with others must be interpreted by each individual to his or her satisfaction.

2) If the three things I have cited as rationally inexplicable could be rationally explained tomorrow, the division I have maintained between the rational and the mystical would collapse. I consider this highly unlikely - but i have been taught never to say never.

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld


Dear Professor von Glaserfeld,

I'm studying cultural work at university of applied sciences in Potsdam and for the moment I'm working on your text "Abschied von der Objektivität". My question: How does radical constructivism influence the development of new media?

Yours Adina Beer


Dear Ms. Beer,

I know nothing about the development of new media. In the existing media that I come into contact with - newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV - there is no awareness of constructivism as an epistemological orientation. Except for the ever rarer broadcasting of a work of art, the producers seem to be naive realists and they are intent on constructing the virtual realities they are paid to construct.
Who is developing "new" media?

Best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld


Dear E. V. G.

I'm interested in the issue "Psychotherapist and Creativity" in the sense of the use of creativity by the psychotherapist.
What do you think about? And do you know some bibliography about? Thank you for help me in the brainstorming I'm having about this issue without more references or details to give you.

D.ssa Clarice Ranfagni - Firenze - Italia


Dear Dottoressa Ranfagni,

The only thing that comes to my mind as an answer to your question is: read David Rosenhan's article in Paul Watzlawick's "Invented reality" which is available in Italian.

Beyond that, you might consult with Vincent Kenny, the director of this web site.

Best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld



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