Re: "Reality"

Jones, John WEN (
Mon, 16 Dec 1996 0:24

From: Robert Parks
To: pcp
Subject: Re: "Reality"
Date: Sunday, December 15, 1996 12:08AM

In response to Vic Jones' invitation to dialogue about "reality" and its
significance in a constructivist framework, while I don't have answers to
defend, I would like to tack on a question and a possible direction for

>Could it be productive to take "reality" as an hypothesis about precisely
>the sorts of things we "must" adapt to, the things that are irretrievably
>(or inconceivably) beyoond our control? If we look at life as a process,
>then even "things" must be taken as only relatively stable facets of that
>process. We may never be able to determine definitively what aspects of
>thing-processes are beyond influence. But we can operate within the rough
>confines of the parts of the world we can influence, and are therefore
>responsible for.

If I understand you correctly, your view of reality as a "hypothesis" sounds
similar to Popper's view of tentative knowledge or tentative hypotheses. In
trying to integrate what I perceive as bi-polar opposites in absolutism (or
objectivism) and radical relativism, I think Popper's non-justificationist
view of knowledge comes to be the closest fit for me. According to Popper,
we can make knowledge claims about reality, but those claims (theories,
World 3 statements) are always tentative and never justified (i.e. having an
objectivist foundation) once-and-for-all. However, he claimed that we
could say that at a point in time, some theories seem to be a "better"
explanation of the "stuff" out there than others. But tomorrow is another
point in time, and that may no longer be the case. Other theories will
challenge present theories, and all theories will eventually be overthrown.
They are always tentative. I think this approach can integrate very well
with a constructivist approach.

>If this provides some direction for response, then my question is: could we
>consider "language" as an hypothesis about those aspects of meaningful
>social life that are to be taken as beyond control of the current social
>processes? In other words, could we take "language" to be an hypothesis
>about those aspects of interaction that must be stable and unmanipulable in
>order to communicate?

Theories (World 3 language statements) for Popper are hypotheses about the
world. I'm not sure about the "must be stable and unmanipulable in order to
communicate." It seems like the flux will never be stable, and that's why
theories are tentative. Communication would seemed to be based on similar
and contrasting phenomenal experience of the flux or the process that we
have labled "reality." I have a frame of reference and you have a frame of
reference. Where our frames of reference are similar, we can readily agree
(communicate). Where they differ or contrast, we have to flesh out our
understandings. I hope I responded to your statement in a meaningful way.
Very interesting stuff. I look forward to your response.

Vic Jones

PCP Collegues
>I would like to perhaps start a dialogue in response to a statement by Dr.
>Mancuso a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to get to this a little sooner,
>I needed some time to formulate my own thoughts. I particularly would like
>Dr. Mancuso's response and others as well. I'm trying to debate here or
>play the devil's advocate. I'm trying to come to grips with this myself,
>and I feel a dialogue would be really helpful.
>A couple of weeks ago in response to another message, Dr. Mancuso stated
>that we should not get wrapped up in talking about "reality." As a
>constructivist, I agree that we construct our "personal realities." One of
>the issues I struggle with however, is what statements we can make about a
>"reality" that is out there. Whar are we construing when we say something
>is "real", and does that carry meaning beyond personal meaning to society
>and our culture in general?
>There are several reasons why I'm struggling with giving up the concept of
>"real." One is evolution and adaptation. Although I agree that our mental
>representations of "reality" are probably not a one-to-one correspondence,
>can we claim that those representations have to be close enough that
>our survival? If not, would we be here? Is there "something" out there to
>which we must adapt, and isn't that "real"? What I'm not proposing is some
>absolutistic stance. I tend to agree with Popper about knowledge being
>tentative and non-justifiable. However, can we not make knowlege claims
>that are "better" than others or propose theories that, at least in a point
>in time, seem to offer "better" explanations than other theories? Is
>quantum physics an "improvement" over Newtonian physics? And if so, why?
>I may be asking the "wrong" kind of questions, or forming my questions in a
>way that is not fruitful. I'm aware of the critical and radical camps in
>constructivism, but I'm not totally clear on the differences and/or
>similarities. Is it possible to integrate Popper's critical realism into a
>constructivist approach without it being viewed in aboslutistic terms? And
>is it possible to hold a constructivist epistemology without holding to a
>radical relativism?
>I would be interested in any input from others and perhaps beginning a
>dialogue on these issues and see where it takes us if PCP collegues believe
>it's interesting enough to follow up on.
>Vic Jones

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