Language, constructs, reality, constructivism

Thierry Melchior (
Sun, 09 Jun 1996 11:35:43 +0200

Dear Members of PCP,

I'm new in this mailing list, so let me introduce myself a little bit. I'm a belgian
psychologist in Brussels Free University (i've studied philosophy as well), and i'm
working as psychotherapist mostly in the frame of Ericksonian psycho- and hypnotherapy.
For me, "constructivism" is a word which was primarily linked to the work of the Palo
Alto School initiated by Gregory Bateson (P. Watzlawick and others, and the works of Von
Foerster, Von Glaserfeld...). I have been a bit surprised to discover that it seems that
no mention to them is ever made of this School in PCP. As a matter of fact I also must
admit that I had never heard of Kelly's work before (it seems to be totally unknown in
belgian faculties of Psychology).

A question which comes to my mind when I read the messages exchanged in PCP, deals with
the relationships between "constructs" and "reality".
As far as I understand (but maybe my understanding is wrong) it seems widely accepted
that constructs are used to construe an already existing external reality. As I work
everyday with hypnosis, I am very interested by the relationships between what's in mind
and reality.
It seems to me that the dichotomy between "representations", "concepts" or "constructs"
and "already existing external reality", which is at first sight very evident for the
common sense does not afford a good way of understanding our relationship to "reality".
I think that it does not take enough in consideration the way we CREATE reality through
the use of language. For instance : are the United-States of America a Kingdom ? The
answer nowadays (1996) is obviously "no". Yet if a consensus between american citizens
was reached to have a king, the answer would become "yes". Of course one could say that
I'm speaking in this case of a "conventional" reality to be distinguished from maybe a
"physical reality". The problem for me is that i don't see where there is a well cut
borderline between what could be called "conventional" and what could be called
"physical". I think that language not only denotes reality, not only refers to it as an
already existing thing, but creates it as well. Some philosophers as John Austin, when
he studied performatives (How to do things with words) went in this direction too. This
creative function of language should also IMHO been viewed in connection with "self
fulfilling prophecies" phenomena, Rosenthal Effect, autorefernce, auto poiesis...

I don't know if these considerations will be relevant or irrelevant in PCP, anyway, I
would be glad to hear some reactions to them, whatever they are.

Constructively Yours