Von Glasersfeld's answers
October 2001









Dear Profesor von Glasersfeld,

Hello there. I think it's wonderful that you spend time answering queries about radical constructivism. I find radical constructivism to be very interesting. I would like to ask (from the perspective of radical constructivism):
1.What is the difference between perception and conception?
2. What are the similarities/differences between conception and
concept? I do hope you can e-mail me your answer. Once again, thank you for your time.

Best wishes,
Suzie A.R


Dear Ms Suzie A R,

I take your second question first: a "concept" is the product of conceiving; "conception" should mean the act or operation of conceiving, but like all nomina action is borrowed from Latin, it can also mean the execution of a single act of conceiving and as such may include its result. It is similar to the way "surgery" is used in the US: Mr. Smith "does surgery" if he's a surgeon, and he can "have surgery" if he is the patient. 
"Perception", in my way of thinking, is the process of generating sensory patterns and images by cutting and coordinating pieces out of the unordered flow of experience.
"Conception" is the abstraction of generalizable patterns from percepts and
sequences of mental operations. Your concept of "lily" is what you have abstracted from a number of lily-experiences (Plus presumably the fleur-de-lys). Your concept of "number" is what you have abstracted from a variety of counting-experiences.
Let me know if you are not happy with these answers.

Best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld


Egregio Professore,

qual'e' il ruolo dell'errore nell'interpretazione dei processi cognitivi sviluppata dal costruttivismo radicale? Se la conoscenza non puo' essere intesa come rappresentazione di una realta', intesa in senso ontologico, l'errore e' inevitabile e "fisiologico" in quanto una completa corrispondentra tra rappresentazione e oggetto rappresentato e' a priori impossibile; se mai esistono diversi gradi di errore nelle nostre "costruzioni", alcuni dei quali non raggiungono la consapevolezza, e quindi restano inavvertiti e per cosi' dire subliminali, mentre in altri casi si impongono e invalidano le nostre conoscenze. Leggendo il suo ultimo libro tradotto in Italiano, di introduzione al costruttivismo radicale, ho ricavato l'impressione che l'errore di base, fonte di altri piu' perniciosi a valle e a cascata, sia il concetto stesso di rappresentazione mentale. Infine un quesito operativo: come accorgersi dell'errore "subliminale" prima che produca concreti effetti avversi?

Grazie per le risposte e buone vacanze
Dott. G. Belleri
Medico generalista


Dear Dr. Belleri,

As you refer to answers I have given in the past, I take it that you read English. If not, let me know, and I'll give you this one in Italian. It seems to me that you are using "errore" in two different senses. At the end of your letter you speak of the impression that the fundamental error consists in the notion of "mental representation". If by this you intend representation of an independent "reality", it is indeed an impossibility from the constructivist point of view. There is no cognitive access to a world beyond our experiential interface. That is one reason why I use the term re-presentation, to indicate that it intends the presentation of a prior experience. It is these re-presentations that constitute our experiential worlds in which we can and do make "errors" (2nd sense); but these errors concern our acting and thinking and are relative to the goals we have chosen. In this sense, errors are crucial in cognitive development, because it is when we discover that a particular way of acting or thinking does not lead to the desired goal, that we are inclined to learn.

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld

Dear Prof. von Glasersfeld,

whenever I read an article or a book con constructivism I wonder why WvO Quine is not mentioned. Surely, at firt sight Quine is a realist. But this does not make it impossible to read his theory from a constructivist point of view. This may as well be the reason that Quine and Piaget where interested in each other's work. So are there any attempts to bring Quine's relativism and radical constructivism together?

Dr. Reinhard Oldenburg


Dear Mr. Oldenburg,

Throughout the history of philosophy there are thinkers who have thought seriously the sceptics' arguments. To my knowledge Vico is the only one who  has fully accepted them with regard to rational knowledge and consequently concluded that humans cannot rationally know the real world; but they do know the world of their own constructions, i.e., their experiential world. Today, I believe that van Frassen probably comes closest to this view, but I have not read him. I do not know Quine very well either, but I don't think he would agree that our knowledge has nothing to do with ontology. 
I am sure there are others who could be related to constructivism, but one's time for reading others gets less as one grows older.

Best wishes,
Ernst von Glasersfeld





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