Re: requesting assistance

Gary F. Blanchard (
Thu, 20 Mar 1997 09:17:49 -0800

This is a multi-part message in MIME format.

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

Dear Mike-

Good to hear from you. Thanks for the comments about my "live in
language" quote:

"We come to others and they come to us, in language.
"Without language,we have no relationships.
"In language we are faithful and we betray;
contract marriage, and file divorce.
"In language we raise children, and bury our dead.
"In language we sing, dance, and make love.
"In language, we forgive, celebrate and commit.
"We live in language."
-Fernando Flores,PhD,author,Ontological Design Course;
and (w/ T.Winograd,PhD),"Understanding Computers & Cognition."

> Hi Gary:
> A very evocative poem! But..
> > "Without language,we have no relationships.
> What about early attachment relationships, which begin around 6 months
> of age and earlier, between infants and adults -- would it be fair to say
> that babies don't have relationshps with their parents?

I have wondered about this as well, Mike. But what I have come to
realize is that I was attaching a conventional, Objectivist
interpretation to the term 'language' --- namely, that there IS
someTHING, some entity, which we call 'language.'

But is there? What evidence is there for it?

I have concluded, after long study, discussion and reflection, that I
can locate no such evidence. I am left with the conclusion that we use
the term 'language' to denote a metaphor, or a linguistic
distinction/concept, but not a demonstrable 'reality.' In the final
analysis,then,the traditional Objectivist interpretation of language is
thing-oriented, static, and potentially misleading and illusory.

However, if we join noted Biology of Cognition scholar Humberto
Maturana, we can reframe or reconstruct our interpretation of 'language'
to a view which I believe is more in keeping with Constructivism (see
Attachment). We can begin to think in terms not of a thing, but of a
dynamic action process of languagING, in which we
coordinate action with ourselves and others, continuously, publicly and
privately, throughout all the conscious days of our life.

How is this accomplished? Through our collaborative, social performance
of a basic repertoire of five Speech Acts (a la John Searle):

-Requesting (would you get me a...) and Promising (sure / in a minute)
-Asserting (claiming 'facts') and Assessing (offering 'opinions'),and
-Making Declarations ('I declare you man and wife.'/'I find you

While we normally perform these Speech Acts, or performative verbs, via
the mode of 'speaking' or 'writing'(if our culture provides us with
both), we also can and do often use other modes: gestures, expressions,
shrugs can do it---actions which infants can and do produce naturally.

One of the most interesting points here is that it is not the
originator's action that is THE action,so to speak. For, as Maturana
points out, we can TRIGGER others, but we cannot SPECIFY their
reaction;only they can do that. Only they can specify their
interpretation/REaction to our trigger/action). And it is the REACTION,
or interpretation, of the other that is the strategic consideration in
producing action that is consistent with the triggerer's

For example, a person issuing the most carefully-spoken request is
likely to be ineffective communicating with a deaf person, especially if
the deaf person is not looking directly at them. Obviously,the deaf
person lacks the capacity to observe (hear) and thus interpret / respond
to their request. Similarly, a baby may cry in the night, and only the
mother hears it, forms an interpretation, and takes appropriate action.
Not because the father does not care as much, but because he is not
equipped by nature/nurture to observe (hear) and accurately interpret
the baby's cry.

Mike, I think I'll stop here and see how I'm doing in responding to your
concerns, before continuing on to other of your points. RSVP, will
you? And anyone else out there who wants to be part of this
conversation, please join in. I don't have all the answers, but I'm
comitted to the search to find some.

Best, Gary Blanchard

Content-Type: text/html; charset=iso-8859-1; name="CONSTRUC.HTM"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
Content-Disposition: inline; filename="CONSTRUC.HTM"
Content-Base: "file:///C|/NETSCAPE/A/!LANGUAG/CONSTRU


Epistemological Constructivism

Author: F. Heyl= ighen,
Date : Jan 13, 1997 (modified); Aug 3, 1995 (created)
Parent Node(s):

Epistemological Constructivism

The epistemology of (second order) cybernetics and of the Principia Cyber= netica Project is constructivist. Ernst Von Glasersfeldt defines radical = constructivism by the following two basic principles:
  1. = Knowledge is not passively received either through the senses or by way = of communication, but is actively built up by the cognising subject.
  2. The function of cognition is adaptive and serves the subject's organi= zation of the experiential world, not the discovery of an objective ontol= ogical reality.
The importance of constructivism is best understood by comparing it with = the opposite, more traditional, approach in epistemology or cognitive sci= ence, which sees knowledge as a passive reflecti= on of the external, objective reality. This implies a process of "ins= truction": in order to get such an image of reality, the subject must som= ehow receive the information from the environment, i.e. it must be "instr= ucted". The naive view is that our senses work like a camera that just p= rojects an image of how the world "really" is onto our brain, and use tha= t image as a kind of map, an encoding in a slightly different format of t= he objective structure "out there". Such a view runs quickly into a host = of conceptual problems, mainly because it ignores the infinite complexity= of the world. Moreover, detailed observation reveals that in all practic= al cases, cognition does not work like that. It rather turns out that the= subject is actively generating plenty of potential models, and that the role of the outside world is merely limited to= reinforcing some of these models while eliminating others (selection).

That construction serves in the first place selfish purposes: the sub= ject wants to get control over what it perce= ives, in order to eliminate any deviations or perturbations from its own = preferred goal state. Control requires a model of the thing to be control= led, but that model will only include those aspects relevant to the subje= ct's goals and actions. In a sense, the subject does not care about the "= thing" to be controlled, only about compensating the perturbations it sen= ses from its goal, thus being able to adapt to changed circumstances.


Constructivism has its roots in Kant's synthesis of rationalism and empir= icism (see Epistemology: introduction), whe= re it is noted that the subject has no direct access to external reality,= and can only develop knowledge by using fundamental in-built cognitive = principles ("categories") to organize experience. One of the first psycho= logists to develop constructivism was Jean Piaget, who developed a theory= ("genetic epistemology") of the different cognitive stages through which= a child passes while building up a model of the world. In cybernetics, c= onstructivism has been elaborated by He= inz Von Foerster, who noted that the nervous system cannot absolutely= distinguish between a perception and a hallucination, since both are mer= ely patterns of neural excitation. The implications of this neurophysiolo= gical view were further developed by Ma= turana and Varela, who see knowle= dge as a necessary component of the processes of autopoiesis ("self-produ= ction") characterizing living organisms.

Constructivist mechanisms are not limited to higher level learning or dis= covery of models, they pervade all evolutionary p= rocesses. The difference between Lamarckian and Darwinian evolutionar= y theory is just that Lamarck assumed that the environment somehow instru= cts an organism on how to be adapted. Darwin's view emphasized that an or= ganism has to find out for itself, by trial and error. A similar conceptu= al transition from instruction to construction took place in the theories= of immunity: the organism is not instructed in any way how to produce th= e right antibodies to stop the invaders, as was initially believed, it = needs to generate all possible combinations by = trial-and-error until it finds a type of antibody that works. Once su= ch an antibody is discovered, the "knowledge" about how to fight that par= ticular infection remains, and the organism becomes immune. The conceptua= l development from instructionism to selectionism or constructivism is we= ll-described in Gary Cziko's book Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution.

Since constructivism rejects any direct verification of knowledge by comp= aring the constructed model with the outside world, its most important is= sue is how the subject can choose between different constructions to sele= ct the "right one". Without such a selection cr= iterion, constructivism would lapse into absolute relativism: the ass= umption that any model is as adequate as any other. The two most often us= ed criteria are coherence, agreement between the different cognitive patt= erns within an individual's brain, and consensus, agreement between the d= ifferent cognitive patterns of different individuals. The latter position= leads to "so= cial constructivism", which sees knowledge solely as the product of s= ocial processes of communication and negotiation (the "social constructio= n of reality"). We reject these positions are unduly restrictive, and tak= e a much more pragmatic stance, where we note that the adequacy of knowle= dge depends on many different criteria, non= e of which has an absolute priority over the others. People can very well= use incoherent models, over which there is no agreement with others, but= which still are valuable for adaptation to a complex world. These criter= ia will include at least subjective coherence, intersubjective consensus,= and (indirect) comparison with "objective" environment.

See also: Constructivism links on the web, Physical Constructivism

= = =
* Next * Previous * Conten= ts * Search * Annotate * Help

URL=3D STRUC.html --------------62C92CD3697-- %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%