AboutConstructivism

This page is written from a critical perspective towards constructivism. Take this as a subjective effort in search for an objective treatment, with a grain of salt. The slightly broader topic “on reality” could turn into a book eventually. – HelmutLeitner

Note that this is not about constructivism in the arts, which means something quite different (a new start, parting from traditional form languages). This page is about constructivism in philosophy/worldview, a broad phenomenon that has many facets. The common denominator is the denial of the concepts of a “a reality that exists separated from the human mind” and of truth. Paraphrasing Foerster: “without the word truth the world would be a better place”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But there are side-effects of this medication.

Later Clarification: The problem starts, when we detach from reality by saying, that this is something purely subjective, and use this as a justification to set a mind-reality above the real-reality.

There is one philosophical form at the core that can be addressed easily, that is usually named “radical constructivism” according to a book of the same name, written by ErnstVonGlasersfeld, one of the main proponents. The other main proponents are: JeanPiaget (the originator, the genuine scientist in child/learning psychology), HeinzVonFoerster (the propagandist), PaulWatzlawick (the infotainer), HumbertoMaturana and FranciscoVarela (the socialists). Note that there can be no non-radical constructivism: a compromising view about reality would just be common sense. All constructivism is radical.

There are many everyday forms of constructivism, many intellectual positions that lead into forms of constructivism. For example modern marketing of products and politics that hold “selling the product” much more important than “the real quality of the product”. Or all esoteric “message to the universe” books, that suggest that the individual mind is the origin of everything and can effect everything, if it is only self-convinced enough.

The most extreme form of constructivism is solipsism (which existed earlier and independently). The solipsistic view says that the world exists only in the human mind and without the mind there is no world. There is a common agreement in the scientific and philosophical community that solipsism is a no-no. So philosophical constructivists usually deny to have a solipsistic view, but it is not easy to see where they should be able draw a senseful boundary in discussions. If weapons of mass destruction would eradicate all humans from the globe, no world, no reality according to the definition of the constructivists can continue to exist.

the context of constructivism

The context of constructivism is one of the most fundamental contexts of all: how we as individuals relate to the world that we experience. What model we use, consciously or unconsciously, to put the world, ourself, our peers as individuals or as a society, in a relationsship. This model is the foundation of all acting and interacting.

Constructivism:

Some alternatives to constructivism are realistic:

Constructivism and creativity

Constuctivism is not about the creative process, it is epistemology and interpretation of the human experience.

To be critical towards constructivism does not mean to be critical towards creative processes. Realism: creative processes bring something new into the world (music, architecture, literature, …) that is real.

linguistic philosophy and constructivism

The reduction of “in mind” to “the conscious mind” or even the “reflecting mind, put in language form”. Paraphrasing Wittgenstein: “the boundaries of your language are the boundaries of your world”.

Helmut Leitner: Wittgenstein and his followers are imho fools. They neglect that an individual without language also can live in a conscious world and they deny that subconscious parts of our mind play any role. They exclude that a Zen-like philosophical position may hold any truth. This position is unholdable, but still very popular, maybe even mainstream in philosophy. I call this language-solipsism (real is only that, which is in language form; outside of language there is no world) or language-positivism (we only accept things that are in our mind in the form of sentences).

positivism and constructivism

Positivism and constructivism are antagonists, although they share the apodictical attitude.

Positivism: real is only that, what we can see or measure. We methodically deny phenomena that science has not yet the means to prove existing, although we will accept them, if they are proven. Positivists are typically either scientists/technicians without a trace of fantasy, or they are from fields very far from natural science, so that they do not understand how limited the knowledge of natural science still is and how much remains to be explored. Sokrates is anti-positivistic: “I know that I know nothing”.

Constructivism: real is only that, what is in our mind. We methodically deny to talk about anything that as outside of our mind, we deny that it may be given any name legitimately.

natural science, Popper, constructivism

It’s clear that the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, …) are anti-constructivistic. Scientists use either the model of a naive realism or the model of hypthetical realisms (Popper; critical rationalism).

Popper has a positon, that goes a long way to integrate valid constructivist positions:

correspondence theory

There is a long philosophical war about the so-called “correspondence theory”.

YES position: perception and reality are somehow related. We have perceptions, images, models of reality in various forms and of varying quality. We may accept that any image or model is wrong to an arguable degree, but we hold that it may contain a true aspect of reality.

NO position: There is no such correspondence, because there is no direct access to reality, everything is mediated (e. g. through the senses). As there can be no valid information about reality, one must deny to talk about it. This is Constructivism.

communism, many alternative movements and constructivism

Change comes from agreement in a social construction, not by functional understanding and getting to a working society.

One can see this at work in countless programmatic initiatives towards a new society or new currencies, that all define the surface of a black box, but never how its internals work. Constructivist refrain from functional thinking.

Mostly in this field we see a “social constructivism” that assumes that the individual is a product from society. Therefore society has to change before the individual can change. Every necessary knowledge is already in understanding this collective nature and there can be no interesting innovation on the individual level.

If we see alternative movements as the critical potential and the possible source for a change that we need towards a sustainable society beyond “shark capitalism”, then it is a pity that this movement restricts its potential by “non-functional”, and “social” constructivism.

Christopher Alexander would say: design processes offer thousands of alternative transformations and billions of possible sequences. Only the valid individual decision - that is done to increase the living quality of the system in question according to the needs of the affected individuals - will give good design process, an unfolding of life. Envisioned gigantic transformation projects do not succeed because they are statistically extremely improbable, they can only succeed step-by-step where each step makes sense and can be judged and reversed if necessary. So PatternTheory is in direct contradiction to social constructivism: any change to the better originates from the individual, guided by its needs and the integration of form&function in holistic systemic feeling.

Looking at this it seems to me that those people that desire the change more than anyone else, are the stongest obstacles to actually initiate the change.

pros

Piaget’s foundation in child learning psychology and neurophysiology. He notes that all we know comes from neoronal data, that are not images of reality, and pattern-like cognition and recognition. Basically correct (early form of modern neurophysiology, as desribed by 2002 Nobel prize winner Eric Kandel in “In Search of Memory”). There is construction work in our mind and shared construction as cultural context. This is undeniable. But, the question is, whether this is totally unrelated to an external reality.

Watzlawiks observations, how much we can err in our assumption of the real. Human perception and thinking is not reliable. Correct. But this is not a unique position of constructivists. Popper makes a word from this: fallism (see above).

The principle denial of “traditional truths” demanded by religious and other authorities. A steps towards the liberation of the individual. Thisfits into the historical process of enlightenment. In this respect it doesn’t add much new. But people can’t hear often enough, that external standards and restrictions are to be taken invalid.

cons

Abandon the search for truth, the comparision of intellectual models and reality, because this is considered impossible. Counterproductive.

The denial that one can judge concepts on the results they give. Concepts are not wrong, they are just not-accepted or not-yet-accepted. This can easily lead into pure propaganda.

facit

Constructivism as a personal tool allows to defend any position on the basis of a personal relativism. It frees the person from oppressing external truths that come from doubtful authorities. But it also disarms the individual because it deprives the person from refering to reality in conflict with more powerful institutions (Galilei against the Church doesn’t have an argument that holds in constructivism).

Social constructivism let’s the individual feel not responsible for neither the situation of society nor the change of society. If we assume - contrary to constructivism - that any change starts with the imagination of an individual, this hinders change and innovation by a misconception about who has the initiative. If we accept the social construction as a method above reality then we can’t even criticize the Nazi propaganda in substance, only that it failed to persist.

Constructivism is an apodictical position that is also paradoxical: one must not talk about truth or reality - this is assumed true. There can be no model of reality, but the constructivist model stands as given.

Discussion

Wow! That’s a lot.

Helmut, I’m still not sure I understand, the idea; Here are some questions that arose for me as I read.

:question: Do you mind my hyperlinking the text?

I would like to link:

:question: The common denominator is the denial of the concepts of a “a reality that exists separated from the human mind” and of truth.

When I read this, I thought that you meant something like Berkeley’s "immaterialism," which is pretty close to solipsism.

But when I looked at what wikipedia had to say about “Radical Constructivism,” it seems like ErnstVonGlasersfeld is acknowledging that there is a brain, that there is a world out there; That he’s just saying that, “No, knowledge really is something in the brain.” This doesn’t seem very radical to me, (maybe it was once,) so maybe I misunderstand, but I think this is a pretty ordinary contemporary perspective on knowledge.

In the past, people thought that the mind might be in the heart; But today, people understand, “No, it’s the brain that does the thinking.” The more modern understanding is the one that makes sense to me, and it is this understanding that the “radical constructivists” seem to me to be arguing, as I flip through web pages.

When I read: For example modern marketing of products and politics that hold “selling the product” much more important than “the real quality of the product”.

…I think, “How horrible – if I agree that knowledge is constructed in the brain, then I’m on the same track that argues for insincere selling the product over the real quality of the product..!”

Not that I actually think that, but that the way that the idea of “constructivism” is presented here, it implies (to me at least) a slippery slope between the two. I feel like I lack space in the model created by this word (and the associated presentation.)

I have read your whole article, and have only emitted one or two questions.

I’d like to put more time on this, but I have to leave immediately.

My concern is, “Why make one choose between seeing that ideas are made in the brain, and also with believing (and arguing for and living by) a real world out there?” It seems to me like a false schism.

Lion, please enhance and refactor this page as you feel appropriate.

Regarding the role of Piaget: without his work the radical constructivism would not have been possible. He died 1980, Glasersfeld wrote “Radical Constructivism” in 1997, so it’s probably more correct to see him as a predecessor. It seems that Piaget himself did not deny a reality outside of mind, Most of his writing are in French and therefore not accessible for most of us.

Ideas and knowledge are constructed in our mind, there is nothing wrong with that. The problem starts, when we detach from reality by saying, that this is something purely subjective, and use this as a justification to set a mind-reality above the real-reality. For example, when the talk about “a free society” replaces actual freedom in society, or if the message “consumation makes happy” hinders people to actually find their happiness maybe in satisfying human relationships.

Posted during an edit conflict: Regarding to your question “Why do I need to choose between seeing that ideas are made in the brain, and also with believing there’s a real world out there?” my answer is that you don’t have to choose. Maybe one can understand constructivism as a variation of “everything in the mind has come there through the senses/body (mediated)”.

I agree and understand: “the problem starts, when we detach from reality by saying, that this is something purely subjective, and use this as a justification to set a mind-reality above the real-reality.

I do see the danger in what I read recently at the beginning of the book, RadicalConstructivism?: “It is an attempt to explain a way of thinking and makes no claim to describe an independent reality. … From the constructivist point of view, the subject cannot transcend the limits of individual experience.

Three notes:

  • I fear the other extreme as well, though, which says, “Words mean what we say (or imagine) them to mean; That the world is as it appears to our minds; That our senses do not lie, whether those senses are internal or external.” (For example, the nature of freedom has been debated for ages. Most philosophers get past “Well, if I can do what I want to do when I want to do it” pretty quickly, even though it is the main stream concept that comes first to mind.)
  • I note that the mind reasons and the tongue communicates by way of extremities: By drawing contrast, and making that contrast very wide and deep, like opening a chasm where there was once a crack. This way, we can communicate clearly, rather than by scrutinizing.
  • This is what I think that ErnstVonGlasersfeld has done. I do not think he really thinks that he makes no claims to describing an independent reality, even though those are the exact words that he wrote. For example, in his book Radical Constructivism, he wrote:
Berkeley’s famous dictum esse est percipi has usually been taken as an ontological statement, i.e., a statement about the nature of reality. According to this view, he was saying that being perceived generates the existence of things. If this had been his intention, the many quips made by his critics would be quite justified and one could conclude that it was indeed absurd to …

Well, I can’t read the rest, because it scrolls off into “not included in the Google Reader.”

But it seems clear to me that he does not take “makes no claim to describe an independent reality” as a statement to be taken for a literal description of reality. Rather, I think his paragraphs are saying (perhaps not clearly enough: ) “There is a subjective mind-world that is embedded in our thoughts and language,” and this seems very sensible to me.

ChartOfTheReal

What would be amazingly useful, I would think, is a periodic table of realities.

With such a table, I could point and say:

Each of these definitions clarifies one truth and obscures others, it seems to me. Each makes legitimate claims to the word “reality.”

I would name them, in order, something like:

This is 8 meanings of the term; One day I had compiled a list of 11 meanings of the term. (I’ve misplaced it, and had to start afresh.)

I do believe that we are in a day when we need finer words to describe the real.

It is not clear to me where I need to place what I call the ImagiReal?. An example of the ImagiReal? is, for example, a faithful articulation of a person of their personality.

For example, if I were to hand you clay, and ask you to render your very soul into the clay, – what you end up producing I call “imagireal,” because it is both real and imaginary at the same time. Those statements that say “this is only imaginary, it is real” are committing a grave error (by not seeing your authority, sincerity, and reality,) and those who say “this is real, it is not imaginary” are also committing a grave error (by taking it too literally, and by a limited concept of your nature.)

Perhaps that is meaning #9: the ImagiReal?.

Many of these “reals” reflect off of one another. For example, “The Absolute Real” births “The Universe” which births “The Scientific Reality.” The Universe, to the extent that it births us, births the Social Reality and the Subjective Reality, which in turn influence the Universe agian, and so on.

Helmut, this article seems like a straw man. You describe constructivism as an absurd metaphysics, and you seem determined to make a mockery of it.

In my understanding (after some googling) constructivism makes perfect sense as an epistemology. It explains how we can know about the outside world – by constructing conceptual models and applying them to reality as we experience it. It does not deny the existence of a reality outside of cognition! Where did you get this impression?

In this article, you actually seem to be describing solipsism. And solipsism cannot be a form of constructivism, because constructivism relies on the experiential world – which surely requires an outside source of experience?

Anyway, I really don’t understand why you keep mentioning constructivism. What is the significance?

I don’t mean to answer for Helmut, so take this with a grain of a-synchronicity from the online world’s time quarry, …

I do think that Helmut / you may have mis-characterized constructivism as intended by historical thinkers. I know that when I first encountered constructivism, I thought, “These people are mad.” It was only when, years later, I had to explain how it is that language shapes our thoughts and behaviors, that I found myself saying the very same things that the constructivists were saying, in order to make my points clear. I then realized that they were not mad; Rather, they were ExplainingByStarkContrast?; Further, that they do so, because it actually works to do so.

Two things I notice that I think Helmut is noticing, are:

  • general distrust of reality as a concept – “There is no discernible truth; If scientists say something, it’s just the same as if a New Age person says something, or a Christian,” – focusing on the fact that words are words, rather than that words actually make real statements (that can be judged on merit) – connectible with relativism
  • baseless invention – untested invention that presents itself as something other than untested invention – (I’m actually fond of untested invention, being something of a tinkerer by character, but it is important to know that that is what it is.)

Much of the first, at least, is clearly argued for in terms of constructivist thought.

My approach is not so much to counter constructivism, but rather, to make a more diverse picture; a ChartOfTheReal.

The way you define constructivism seems to stereotype its proponents as narrow-minded. If I ignore your stereotypes, then the broad epistemology of constructivism[1] seems entirely viable to me:

“It starts from the assumption that knowledge, no matter how it is defined, is in the heads of persons, and that the thinking subject has no alternative but to construct what he or she knows on the basis of his or her own experience. What we make of experience constitutes the only world we consciously live in. It can be sorted into many kinds, such as things, self, others, and so on. Bvt all kinds of experience are essentially subjective, and though I may find reasons to believe that my experience may not be unlike yours, I have no way of knowing that it is the same.”

This has nothing to do with metaphysics/ontology. Instead this constructivism questions how much we can know objectively, and I think it can have utility if it reminds us that our knowledge is constructed:

  • in a social setting;
  • involving power relationships;
  • at a specific place and time;
  • motivated by personal interests;
  • within the constraints of our language; and
  • so we should allow scope for different worldviews.

It is still compatible with beliefs in the material reality on which our constructions are grounded, or belief that it’s worthwhile to work towards shared constructions of the world. Are there any constructivists who really deny this? You mention Foerster’s rejection of ‘truth’, though I can’t find any substantial quotations, so what did he mean by this?

I mentioned before, in SocialAutonomy, that I believe absolute truth is un-knowable – and this doesn’t mean my worldview is reduced to relativism or solipsism. I recognise my view is my own construction, and I hope it is self-consistent, and continues to be validated by my experience of the real world. It is absurd to claim (as you do) that constructions can only be validated by consensus! Which constructivists have made this claim?

It also seems clear that, from a constructivist point of view, the concept of constructivism is also constructed! Since the constructivism you present here is such a ridiculous caricature, I wonder how you have constructed it yourself. Do you view this concept as a threat or danger? Do you think it needs to be challenged for some reason? As I asked above, what is the significance?

Jam, nowhere have I suggested that constructivists are narrow-minded. In exaggerating my description you build a straw-man, to tear it down easily.

I think that you feel offended by the connection to SocialAutonomy and my criticism of that idea. It had nothing to do with the creation of this page, although I admit that it fits.

The assumption (your citation) that mind is an empty space that is filled with experience, is an over-simplification. Kant noticed that there are a priori concepts given (e. g. space and time) and evolutionary epistomology makes us understand, that these things are a posteriori of the biological evolution. There are also many concepts of knowledge that can’t be seen different (for example the numbers 1, 2, 3) or general concepts like “size” or “direction”. There is no reason to believe that such concepts are subjective.

While there are, of course, a lot of subjective experiences, it is unfounded to assume that everything in our mind is a subjective construction. It may be a given construction. It may be an unavoidable construction.

The negative significance of constructivism is twofold:

  • from the view of purely subjective constructions follows a relativism (there is no truth, especially no moral truth)
  • it follows that the world is mainly a subjectively constructed world in our mind and we can change it by changing these subjective constructions somehow independently from physical-reality (for example create a money without transaction costs - “why shouldn’t this be possible?”)

Both are misconceptions that limit the abilities to deal with the real world, to make new and better things happen.

The world is a functional, cybernetical, systemic world. Thousands of aspect have to fit together, to make a simple thing like a car work. Or a clockwork. Change one essential element in an unfunctonial way and it will stop working. One can not just imagine things and expect them to work (not even if “work” only means “work socially” as a concensus for a group).

You say “nowhere have I suggested that constructivists are narrow-minded”, and yet you write “As there can be no valid information about reality, one must deny to talk about it. This is Constructivism.”“then we can’t even criticize the Nazi propaganda in substance, only that it failed to persist.”“Abandon the search for truth, the comparision of intellectual models and reality, because this is considered impossible.”

This characterisation of constructivism is simplistic, and the fact that experience is subjective doesn't mean it's completely independent of material reality, so I think your worries are misplaced.

Surely nobody now claims that the mind is a tabula rasa? It’s no surprise if we instinctively have a grasp of time and space. The constructivists claim that our knowledge is learnt, by construction, through experience, and this doesn’t deny the instincts that we’ve evolved.

You take the numbers 1, 2, 3 as examples of knowledge that ‘cant be seen different’. Actually I think these are constructions too; though of course we naturally construct similar knowledge about the natural numbers, because it is instinctive for us to count. However, I do wonder whether prehistoric man would’ve had any abstract concept of ‘3’. He might have recognised 3 women, or 3 enemies, though would he have recognised the multiplicity that they have in common?

Anyway, the reason I defend constructivism is that it seems like common sense. It seems to be backed-up by evidence about how our brains work. Of course I don’t defend the solipsism that you strongly associate with constructivism – and I don’t know where you found these ideas – can you give any quotations for the argument that external reality doesn’t exist?

Jam, if constructivists reduce their claims to - now obvious - neuronal results, in a common sense context, I’m the first to agree. But then, what would justifies the self-description an “-ism”? What is their “big thing”?

Where does Foersters “campaign against truth” come from?

Of course I can/could look up citations from various authors that go against external reality, but much more important for me is the constructivism that I meet in everyday discussions. Of people that do not even know what constructivism is, but still act/think in the attitude of constructivism.

Don’t you think that it is true that “the earth is a planet that cycles the sun”?

Don’t you think that is is true that “the things of our daily experience consist of atoms and molecules”?

BTW (“prehistoric man”) I didn’t argue that any person has the concept “3”, I only argue that if a person has understood the concept “3”, then it is not a subjective construction.

Jam, if you type into Google “Heinz Von Foerster truth,” you’ll find his “campaign against truth,” as Helmut puts it.

I could care less whether we define it from a correspondence-theoretical, consistency-theoretical or whatever perspective. To be honest, the notion of truth is a chameleon in the history of philosophy. It just takes on whatever color the user wants it to have. Descartes gave the notion spots, Kant gives it stripes, and Schopenhauer gave it dots. It seems to me that a definition, and this one is so difficult anyway, is not a very good starting point for a discussion. I would prefer to eliminate the notion of truth altogether, because the way it has been used has led to so much misery. It gives rise to lying; it separates people into those who are right and those who are not right. As I have said before, truth is the invention of a liar.
I mean that truth and lies give rise to each other. When you speak about truth, you turn the other person into a liar, whether you do so directly or indirectly. The two notions are part of a category of thinking that I would like to remove myself from in order to get a brand new view of things.

But then, what would justifies the self-description an “-ism”? What is their “big thing”?

Helmut, I researched this. [http://anti-matters.org/ojs/index.php?journal=am&page=article&op=view&path[]=71&path[]=64 This article says]:

Radical constructivism, then, is radical because it breaks with convention and develops a theory of knowing in which knowledge does not reflect an “objective” ontological reality, but exclusively an ordering and organization of a world constituted by our experience. The radical constructivist has relinquished “metaphysical realism” once and for all, and finds himself in full agreement with Piaget, who says: “Intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself.”

I think what they mean is --

Traditionally, people talk about knowledge in terms such as “justified true belief.” That means that – if you think you know something (belief,) and it happens to actually be true (true,) and it wasn’t just a good guess – that there’s a real reason you know the truth (justified,) then you are said “to know.”

The image is of a line being drawn from the reality “out there” into the mind “in here.”

What is radical about radical constructivism seems (I think) to be that it is about mental self-organization, and there is never a time where a ray is drawn from external reality into internal knowledge.

The constructivists still believe that we learn about the objective reality, but they are questioning how this happens, and they are focusing very strongly on how the organizing in the brain happens.

Roughly, they say, (it seems to me,) that the mind is self-organizing in order to keep things consistent as possible.

I am now remembering a book I read recently, [Conceptual Revolutions, by Paul Thagard, It basically explains how we understand things (both individually and socially) by minimizing the number of exceptions required to explain things – by drawing greater coherence between all experiences. This seems in keeping with radical constructivism.

We end up with the result that the mind is (eventually) reflecting the real world, (as science does,) but it isn’t because the world has magically intervened in our brains and set our knowledge straight.

I think that’s what’s considered “radical” in radical constructivism – it’s a model that has no “taint” of “the world sets your brain straight.” Rather, the brain sets itself straight - the only “taint” is experiences coming in.

Honestly, I don’t think that “constructivism” is our target.

The problem is inappropriate conclusions from partial understanding of / from the constructivist school.

When you say, “…much more important for me is the constructivism that I meet in everyday discussions. Of people that do not even know what constructivism is, but still act/think in the attitude of constructivism. …”

…I think the thing to do is to label that which you find in everyday discussion, and separate the criticism of that from criticism of constructivism.

Personally, what I (and many others) find frustrating to argue with is a perspective that is fundamentally against concepts of ranking, of hierarchy, of morality, of judgement, and of truth statements about reality.

I do not call my criticism criticism of constructivism, but rather, criticism of post-modern weaknesses.

Somewhere in the quest to understand that all people are of equal value, we came into the deluded state of thinking that all value systems are of equal value, and terrified of judgment, because we may be in error. This is combined with our blanket fear of combining (of combining into hierarchies,) and of combinations (of hierarchies, of groups.)

Incidentally, I do think the number 3 (as a concept) is a subjective construction, (because it is a concept that is constructed, and that nobody else can do it for you,) but I also think it’s something that people and animals form fairly early on.

The concept I’m thinking of now is "intersubjectivity" – which is a fancy word for saying, “Well, people actually can agree.”

People actually can share meanings, people actually can talk about the same thing when they say “3,” even though we individually independently constructed them.

Helmut, Jam, Lion, thank you all. I am very glad, that your contributions helped to clarify the term, because otherwise there might have been the danger to use it involuntarily as an irritation, causing frictions and pain, that now can be avoided.

Lion, emotionally I would tend to agree with you, all you say is very reasonable. But from my experience I have to disagree in important points.

The simpler first. You say that “3” is a subjective construction. I disagree. To my understand this is a construction in the individual subject, yes, but still it is not subjective. Because it means the same to everyone and will yield the same results in operations. That’s one of the problems of constructivism that the line is not drawn between a construction that happens in the individual mind and a construction that happens for each individual in a different “subjective” way.

You are right that constructivists found that construction is a fact of the neuronal structure of the brain. They should deal with how our knowledge is constructed, but they never actually do this. They could put different subjective constructions side-by-side and discuss their relative merits, but they never actually do this. So the very promise of constructivism is unfullfilled: they talk about the that and never talk about the how. (except perhaps Piaget and he is neither radical nor recepted).

For a productive counter-example: In PatternTheory each pattern is understood as a cultural invention, a possible construction, inevitably associated with alternative patterns and surrounding patterns. Patterns are thought not to be connected with an objective truth, but with the situative truth of individuals (individual decisions) choosing a pattern in an unfolding process in an always new-and-unique unique context. PT actually does what RC talks about.

What would be the way to go in constructivism: If we recognize that knowledge is constructed again and again in each individual, one could (1) look at these constructions and describe them (2) sort them in various categories (a) subjective (b) inter-subjective - as you suggested (c) objective and may-be (d) recognitive and (e) copylike … maybe there are others. There are lots of details. For example if I meet a person and get to know her look good enough to recognize her at a later time, it makes little sense to qualify this knowledge as subjective or inter-subjective. For example, if I learn a hundred digits from PI (as I once did for fun), one can make this an example of construction, maybe of memno-technique - but this doesn’t make this knowledge is subjective, although the construction is idiosyncratic.

Inter-subjective constructions/knowledge are interesting but not necessarily able to replace the truth (e. g. constructions like “women are inferior” are not necessarily satisfying). So the group aspects are interesting for our society, but they add nothing to the base question of constructions and reality.

Also questionable is, what “metaphysical realism” could mean. Typically one would explain “meta-physic” from starting with “physic” and explain that physics models the world, as far as we can experience and explain it. Meta-physic is then something that doesn’t target to better explain the reality as we perceive it. Meta-physic is detachment from reality, going to statements that are not falsifyiable by experience - angels would be metaphysics or Hegels “world spirit”. – Now, what does it mean that constructivism labels the basis of the term meta-physic, the real as meta-physical? Of course one can say, that realism is not sure (yes, you could awake from a dream in the next moment and have dreamt our conversation). Ok, but that’s the same like hypothetical realism - the sensible interpretation of natural science - that says anyway: “it makes sense to believe that there is a persistent reality”. To the point: constructivism suggests: everything is metaphysical, even physics.

The only logical interpretation of “constructiv-ism” as an “-ism” is - and this becomes visible betweeen the lines - is to define the construction as the given real, and to de-valuate the concept of the real. In doing so, the physical real becomes a remote shadow that is not accessable and that can never be modelled, that influences the constructions only in a remote way (by the “viability” of ideas or their holders). In face of how good our biological systems are to image the world and let us interact, constructivism makes a mockery of itself. It’s true that science has still long ways to go. But what has been reached in understanding of the world/real during the last 500 years is extraordinary. We get nearer and nearer to the fundamentals.

Because constructions are not accessable (the elements of our minds are perhaps 1000x harder to perceive than the leaves on the next plant), constructivist necessarily turn to the next best thing: to language. Here they find a lot of allies: sociologists, philosophers, “creative artists”, politicians, all people whose job it is to work in language. They are all happy when the artifacts they work on get elevated in status relative to a factual/physical/hard reality.

Of course your observation of the relationship of post-modern and constructivism is correct. Christopher Alexander e. g. sees his main enemy in the post-modern architecture that detaches architecture from any reasoning about how architecture should functionally serve humans in a real sense. In his eyes, post-modern architecture is something like the dictatorship of the idiosyncratic arbitrariness over human reason. But in my view the “post-modern” is even harder to address than constructivism. If one attacks the post-modern arts, it looks like one is either attacking art because of being innovative or because of some old-fashioned traditionalism.

But the point is, that these questions are on the inevitable boundary-zone between the real-in-itself and the real-in-our-mind. We will always look for “truth” and we will always argue about the “real”. It makes absolutely no sense to turn our back to that and say “everyting is construction anyway”. People knew/talked about objective and subjective before constructivism, and constructivism added nothing productive to that difference.

Fridemar, you are a nice positive guy. But your praise is devaluated by the fact that you would given the same praise even if all we’ve said were senseless shit.

No offensive meant - you could be seen as an “spiritual constructivist”. You think that the reality follows your thinking. You suggest projects for the real without being interested how the real works in itself. I read about your suggested school project and you obviously ignore what the needs of pupils, teachers, schools are and how these systems work. ( I know, because I’m 30 years the husband of a teacher, and I did wiki projects with about 30 schools, some are ongoing. ) And the same seems true for economy. You have no respect for the real. You replace this by your love for everything, which honors you. But it is not helpful in most situations, to get things done.

It’s great that you’ve come here, so readers can see the phenomenon of individual constructivism as a living example.

Thank you Helmut, that you give me the opportunity to be taken as a living example, how you apply Constructivism, to “call somebody names” :-) However, I allow me to doubt your claims, you made about other people’s and projects’ guessed behaviour.

Helmut, I’ve only had time to skim your response, but I find that it is sound. I look forward to reading it more deeply in the next couple of days, thinking about it, adjusting my thoughts, seeing what I find out, and posting whatever I find.

If we recognize that knowledge is constructed again and again in each individual, one could (1) look at these constructions and describe them (2) sort them in various categories (a) subjective (b) inter-subjective - as you suggested (c) objective and may-be (d) recognitive and (e) copylike … maybe there are others. There are lots of details. For example if I meet a person and get to know her look good enough to recognize her at a later time, it makes little sense to qualify this knowledge as subjective or inter-subjective. For example, if I learn a hundred digits from PI (as I once did for fun), one can make this an example of construction, maybe of memno-technique - but this doesn’t make this knowledge is subjective, although the construction is idiosyncratic.

I think this is really valuable, and want to link it with my ChartOfTheReal.

My response may involve making a new page, (chart-of-the-real,) to include some of these senses. It’ll be in my notebook that I carry with me everywhere, and almost certainly will be referenced in my conversations with people.

I do not understand (d) recognitive and (e) copylike; I think by “recognitive,” you mean things like numbers, but I’m not sure what you mean by “copylike.” (Perhaps “simulacra,” ..?)

Lion, just regarding your last sentence:

“recognitive” is meant as a label for the constructions needed for face-like recognition. (or recognizing a mountain, or place, without that we actually need to know what specific elements allow us to recognize. Two individuals may recognize the same person from different specific characteristics, without that we can attribute it as “subjective” if their recognition is correct).

“copylike” is meant as a label for a plain copy of information, a student learning facts by heart, literally, as a transfer of knowledge, exactly what constructivism or constructivist pedagogy denies to be possible. But many people learn that way, some even have an almost photographic memory.

BTW: constructivist pedagogy is (like constructivism in the arts) not connected to the worldview of constructivism. It just favors a learning model different from older learning models (like e. g. the behaviouristic model): knowledge can not be just transferred but is reconstructed in each indidvidual and has to connect with the existing knowledge elements. So it favours a step-by-step learning/teaching process that goes from the simple to the complicated. And it is aware of problems that come from different/lacking backgrounds/contexts of the students.

Fridemar, I knew you would be happy to be helpful. Perhaps you could analyze the necessary steps of collaboration between you and the others, up to the starting point of the project, and put the steps into a probable order. It would be interesting to see, what should happen first and what next, and so on, to get that school project going. Maybe we could help each other to understand the “system school” better.

Just a brief note that I have not dropped this conversation and continue to think about it. I’ve collected some notes on the subject in my notebooks.

What is clear to me is that the language of “subjective” is problematic; Of this, you have thoroughly convinced me.

Some of the explorations I am making right now is:

  • How is the chart of the real related to the chart of the types of knowledge?
  • How do I think about “copylike” “knowledge” ..? Is it knowledge, or is it a tool?
  • What is the ImagiReal?, and how does it connect with these charts?
  • The charts as internally presented appear to downplay the subjective and the inter-subjective; Where is the error in there, and how to make the language reflect that error?

This conversation is applying pressure on idealism (in terms of essence and eventuality; the reality of the within, the WithinNess?) and realism (in terms of scientific reality, the reality of the without) as concepts for me, a pressure that I welcome. I would be surprised if they were seriously challenged, but they are exerting a counter-pressure and shaping the charts and the language that is developing.

I think I’ll have a fuller response in another 2 days, but it is possible that this will require collection for a longer period of time.

How is the “subjective” problematic? I find the abstract classifications of reality subjective in themselves. (I haven’t read the ChartOfTheReal yet though – I’ll read it after I get through all this…)

Helmut, you continue to alternately agree with constructionist arguments and then represent them as a worthless caricature – what is your motivation for this? Based on what you have said, I think you will broadly agree with von Glaserfeld’s work on ‘3’. I found a well written chapter of his book Radical Constructivism (P.160), so here are some extracts:

… there is still a widespread belief that good data has to be objective and, therefore, independent of any observer’s perceptual habits, theories, and beliefs. How, otherwise, could data serve as the material from which a true representation of the environment can be produced? … this belief is not a useful one because it leads to a paradox in epistemology and hence to an unsatisfactory model of cognition. … the constructivist view provides a more promising approach by positing that all knowledge is constructed from subjective experience. This might appear to be quite incompatible with the experiential fact that mathematics produces a host of results that are eminently ‘objective’ in the sense that no individual subject can question them. Clearly, this is a problem that has to be resolved before the constructivist model can claim to be viable.

Through the chapter Glasersfeld develops an analysis of ‘unit, plurality, and number’, which is difficult to sumarise:

What, then, is a number? Maybe Euclid’s clarification is helpful [number is the aggregate of several units] … it is not a characteristic of the individual objects that matters.

Glasersfeld quotes Juan Caramuel a 17th century bishop:

There was a man who talked in his sleep. When the clock struct the fourth hour, he said: ‘One, one, one, one. That clock must be mad, it has struck one four times.’ The man clearly, had counted four times one stroke, not four strokes. He had in mind not a four, bvt a one taken four times, Which goes to show that to count and to consider several things contemporaneously are different activities. If I had four clocks in my library, and all four were to strike one at the same time, I should not say that they struck four, bvt that they struck one four times. This difference is not inherent in the things, independent of the operations of the mind. On the contrary, it depends on the mind of him who counts. The intellect, therefore, does not find numbers bvt makes them; it considers different things, each distinct in itself, and intentionally unites them in thought.

And Berkley is quoted as saying:

‘tis the mind by considering things as one that makes complex ideas of them

So, to concieve of three things as three, according to Glaserfeld:

… separating and uniting are the crucial activities. There must be an operation that creates discrete unitary items, and there must be an operation that takes several such individual items and unites them so they can again be seen as a unit.

Frustratingly, at this point, I start to lose big chunks of the argument, because of Google’s limited preview :) Fortunately I did catch the conclusion (below). In the intervening pages I think he continues to analyse concepts of unit and plurality that tie together to construct an abstract counting system, not based on material things. This book is definitely going on my (rather long) reading list. Please take a look for yourself [2]. For me it looks ideal, since I discover I’m one of the “people that do not even know what constructivism is, bvt still act/think in the attitude of constructivism” that concern Helmut most.

Anyway, the conclusion of that chapter by Glasersfeld:

… in the construction of the abstract concept of number all sensory material is eliminated. Although the numbers ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, and so on, were originally conceived with the help of experiential things, their sensory properties were dropped during the two steps of abstraction, first of units and then of units of units; and when we operate with abstract entities, we do not question that they are indeed abstract and no longer subject to the fallibility of sensory perception. …
The analogy to the certainty of ‘2 + 2’ in arithmetic lies in this: the symbol ‘2’ stands for a conceptual structure composed of two abstract units, to which the number words ‘one’ and ‘two were assigned respectively. …the items in the count are not questionable sensory things bvt abstract units, there is no way it could not end with ‘four’.

Helmut, on another point, I don’t see how you validate this:

The only logical interpretation of “constructiv-ism” as an “-ism” is - and this becomes visible betweeen the lines - is to define the construction as the given real, and to de-valuate the concept of the real.

Please, who gives the impression that they de-value/deny the real? My impression so far of constructivism (and my naive opinion) is that we cannot ever truly know ‘the real’ – only our constructions. So in this context, what does it mean to de-value it? Where would value come from for us to take it away?


Finally, thanks to Radomir’s sheep.art.pl [3] website, I stumbled on this wonderful rewording of the Tao Te Ching with a striking choice of words:

1. The Way
The Way that can be experienced is not true;
The world that can be constructed is not true.
The Way manifests all that happens and may happen;
The world represents all that exists and may exist.

To experience without intention is to sense the world;
To experience with intention is to anticipate the world.
These two experiences are indistinguishable;
Their construction differs bvt their effect is the same.

Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.

And Helmut you say:

We will always look for “truth” and we will always argue about the “real”. It makes absolutely no sense to turn our back to that and say “everyting is construction anyway”. People knew/talked about objective and subjective before constructivism, and constructivism added nothing productive to that difference.

It seems that ancient philosophies incorporated similar ideas long before the constructivists. The reason that constructivism is valuable right now, is that it challenges the supposedly objective, unbiassed science that has become like a religion in our society. On the news regular bulletins begin “Scientists have found…” – and that’s all they need to say to appeal to the Enlightenment faith. Constructivists seem to challenge this hegemony in an extremely irreverent way. They seem to take pleasure in arguing that objectivity is epistemologically flawed – and therefore invalid.

I’m sure that when you equate constructivism with valueless relativism, it is unjustified. However, I admit I haven’t yet understood the constructivist critique of objective science, or your assertion that “constructivism suggests: everything is metaphysical, even physics”.

I guess constructivism will inform a different metaphysics, opposed to the Enlightenment faith in reason, and to the theist faith in the mind of God. I suspect that constructivism denies the existence of a God’s mind, and denies the existence of ‘The Way’, though it does not leave us without faith, hope, and morals.

Lion said “Personally, what I (and many others) find frustrating to argue with is a perspective that is fundamentally against concepts of ranking, of hierarchy, of morality, of judgement, and of truth statements about reality.” Well I’m pleased to say that I’m vehemently opposed to social ranking, very cautious of social hierarchy, ‘quasi-realist’ when it comes to moral statements, and uncertain about objectivity. I think we’ll get on very well :)

As an unwitting constructivist, I previously recognised that we individually and socially construct faith, and values, imagination, and knowledge, and with this recognition, my constructions must surely be consistently valid against my experience, and be fairly coherent, otherwise I knew I would quickly get bored! For me it’s not interesting or stimulating to let my mind wander nonsensically. In contrast, it’s wonderful to re-envision reality, and learn thought-provoking new constructions that I can use ‘constructively’ in society. I used to have a snappy quotation about this too – I’ll try to dig it up.

Jam, with your own words, you are demonstrating the very associations between constructivism, post-modernism, and the de-valuation of the Real, that we have been articulating.

First, to recognize what I find legitimate in your claims:

  • I share criticism of scientism.
    • However, I do not share (what I perceive to be) your skepticism of science.
  • I agree that hierarchy and ranking/valuing can be dangerous.
    • However, I don’t consider the solution to be the destruction of hierarchy. If you remove hierarchy, you remove social body and making dreams real. If you remove ranking, then you remove the human heart. It is appears like “killing the human in order to save the human,” to me.
  • I like the TaoTeChing?, too.

To answer your points in turn:

What’s wrong with “subjective” ..?

There is nothing wrong with subjectivity (and intuition, and imagination,) itself; The problem is when every type of knowledge, when every type of knowing, is forced into this particular category.

That is, one loses sight of the objective when the insistence is that everything is subjective.

One ceases to be able to see that there is a way of building bridges that truly works, that there are ways that chemicals really interact, that there is such a thing as knowledge about how structures move through space, that men really did land on the moon, and so on, and so forth, because “everything is subjective.”

The argument is not against subjectivity; The argument is against the insistence that everything is subjective.

How could you de-value the real, if it has no value to begin with?

Please, who gives the impression that they de-value/deny the real? My impression so far of constructivism (and my naive opinion) is that we cannot ever truly know ‘the real’ – only our constructions. So in this context, what does it mean to de-value it? Where would value come from for us to take it away?

Again: Exactly. You’re doing it right now.

I tell you, I am typing this to you from my bed. Your argument is that “I’m only constructing the idea of the bed.”

I say “You’re de-valuing the real,” and then you say, “But you never had access to the real in the first place.”

And you’ve made my point for me.

Then you quote the TaoTeChing? at us.

Numbers.

I simply don’t see the point you’re raising about numbers. We make numbers in our head, but we all pretty much agree on what they mean and how they work.

To call them “subjective,” to me, is the wrong word for them. I don’t know what the right word is for them, and it doesn’t particularly strike me as very important, with respect to the conversation we are having.

I mean, we’re talking about hierarchy, about living patterns, about subjectivity and objectivity, and whether scientists have a particular insight into what’s real, – and I don’t see how a conversation about the ontological status of numbers really sheds light.

Lion, you do an excellent job to show the inherent problems of constructivist thinking. I think at that point, at least for you and me, the phenomenon of constructivism is clear and the justification for this page given.

Maybe we could turn ChartOfTheReal into a separate page ChartsOfTheReal?. because I would like to add to that.

Jam, you ask:

Helmut, you continue to alternately agree with constructionist arguments and then represent them as a worthless caricature – what is your motivation for this?

First of all, you are repeating your prejudice “worthless caricature” again and again. I think you overdo, you misunderstand or misinterpret me.

My answer is: constructivism, like each worldview, starts with some valuable observations or arguments. I read Glasersfeld and Watzlawick and often enjoy and agree to them, especially in their criticism of scientism and ideologies (although at that point, they are already far beyond the reach of constructivist theory). But constructivism, like each worldview, tends to generalize its primary findings and makes conclusions that become doubtful constructions, near ideology. I try to make the difference, so I naturally come to to agreement on some points and to disagreement on other points.

There is an AntiPattern of thought, that could be named ConceptWithoutBoundaries. For example: If we appreciate science, we could arrive at the idea, that eventually natural science will explain everything and solve any problem, so we get to scientism. We should think about the limits of natural science and many people have done so (e. g. Popper: any theory remains a hypotheses forever; ChristopherAlexander states the need for a different method beyond mechanistic thinking, to cope with creative processes and to get at the concept of “meaning”). / / The same holds for the concept of “truth”: it is dangerous to jump at truth and be not aware of the boundaries and limits of this concept. One could probably say: “If you have a truth and are unable to doubt this truth, then this may point to a serious problem.” / / You could ask the same questions for any worldview / religion / ideology: where is it convincing or working, and where are its limiting boundaries. There are no simple answers that explain everything. / / For example: Marxism is right in stating social unfairness but wrong in explaining the world from the capital as fundamental evil and expecting to save to world based on this moral position.

The same is true for constructivism.

I want to get to the point of understanding the fundamentals and - by comparing conclusions of constructivism to experience and observations - to be able sense right and wrong (the useful and the useless, the functional and the faulty). My motivation towards constructivism is not different than towards any other idea or concept.

Please Helmut and Lion don’t end this discussion yet. I have many concerns and some questions:


Chart of the real

I was confused by the WikiPageName ChartOfTheReal (I thought it was already a separate page). Please let me contribute by trying to add one constructivist and metaphysical naturalist [4] perspective:

“Over here I concieve of Reality, and my consciousness must be part of it, though I cannot know Reality objectively.”

Does that fit in the existing chart? I think this is one possible message of constructivism.


Expressing and reading boundaries

Helmut, please forgive me for selectively quoting:

I want to get to the point of understanding … to be able sense … the useful and the useless, the functional and the faulty … My motivation towards constructivism is not different than towards any other idea or concept.

I agree. So how can we express constructivism in a useful, funtional way? When I read your descriptions above, the concept still seems invalid by definition. I am not aware of anybody who expounds the philosophy you have described (let alone anyone who describes the ideas as ‘constructivist’). Since you don’t hold, or approve of this philosophy, I think it’s important to show examples of where you observed it: quotations, some art work, behaviour we can observe in the real world.

At the moment your ‘constructivism’ seems like an abstraction created with little experiential evidence from reality, which is then implicitly invalidated. IMO that is an injustice to constructivism, and an excuse to ignore its logic.

You mention ConceptWithoutBoundaries, which (unless I misunderstand) seems extremely naive from a constructivist perspective. Even if we can create ‘objective’ abstract patterns, how can you communicate the boundaries objectively?


Numbers: subjective vs objective

The point I’m raising about numbers is this:

“… the experiential fact that mathematics produces a host of results that are eminently ‘objective’ in the sense that no individual subject can question them.”

That was von Glaserfeld’s observation above (I added the bold emphasis). We recognise that knowledge can be objective in this limited sense (and perhaps sometimes it should). And I agree that “subjective” is not a helpful word to describe numbers, so

“I don’t know what the right word is for them”

The word I would prefer is ‘abstractions’.

“… it doesn’t particularly strike me as very important, with respect to the conversation we are having.”

Yes, the distinction between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ is grey, and I don’t see the importance of any classifications of real – unless it’s just for fun.

“I am starting to wonder whether it is useful/meaning to talk about ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’.”

The significance of the discussion of numbers, which I think Helmut raised first, is that it demonstrates how knowledge is ‘objective’ in a sense, even to a radical constructivist. Equally, design patterns could be seen as abstract and ‘objective’ in a similar way. To create an abstraction, we try to remove the dependence on specific material things, to present them in a way that is intentionally not open to questioning.

This is what we do in arithmetic – we choose not to question the signification of 1+2=3 – this is the sense in which I use the word ‘objective’. However, in this view, ‘objectivity’ is not insightful or meaningful when we talk about expressing ourselves (so called ‘objective reporting’) or experiencing the world (’objective research’). This is how I see us:

  1. We take our experience (observations/feelings/instincts); then
  2. construct models in our mind by abstracting away from details of the material world;
  3. we then express ourselves and otherwise interact with the world, including with others;
  4. hence we socially construct similar abstract models in our minds.

While I think it’s occasionally useful to say that #2 and #4 can involve ‘objectivity’, I believe it’s important to challenge the belief that #1 or #3 can ever be ‘objective’.


knowledge from science

I’m less sceptical of scientific knowledge – because of my experience – than of alternatives, such as ChartOfTheReal.

However, I think it is very important to realise that any act of conducting, expressing and interpreting science is not objective in any meaningful sense. And similarly the media, who report science, are not being objective in a positive sense. We should not ever allow ourselves to be deceived by this so-called ‘objectivity’, because it is definitely not useful and leads to great problems:

If people lack knowledge and desire
Then they can not act;
If no action is taken
Harmony remains.

I have faith that nothing can ever exist outside the objective matter of the universe – as Helmut put it, “atoms and molecules”. The Tao Te Ching suggests there is a nameless Way that transcends the world, and all distinctions, including language. Obviously I disagree, though there is a similarity, which is this: in my (perhaps naive) metaphysical naturalist view, reality ‘transcends’ all our language, thoughts, and classifications we construct – our brains are just material things, and our mind is a phenomenon resulting from interactions in physical matter.

In this sense, everything that exists, including in our minds, emerges from and within objective reality, and at the same time, everything we can possibly know always derives from our subjective experience.

Helmut suggested earlier different categories of constructivist knowledge including recognitive and copylike. I would prefer to draw distinctions between ‘knowledge’, ‘pattern recognition’, and ‘skills’ – I think we can do this based on the way our brains work. For example, I understand that the recognitive is localised within a specific region (this is the first thing I got off google: [5]). I’m sure we can condition our brain to improve skills/abilities by practice and reinforcement, though surely it doesn’t make sense to talk about subjectivity/objectivity, or even knowledge, when it comes to this type of learning.

I am more interested to study how the brain forms concepts, than to build the ChartOfTheReal (though perhaps it’d be less fun). I can see no case where knowledge is ‘objective’ without being abstracted from the ‘subjective’. And unlike Lao Tzu, I like to develop abstractions and take action:

The sage experiences without abstraction,
And accomplishes without action;
He accepts the ebb and flow of things,
Nurtures them, but does not own them,
And lives, but does not dwell.

Nobody. Who says “Everything is subjective”?

Lion, you say:

One ceases to be able to see that there is a way of building bridges that truly works, that there are ways that chemicals really interact, that there is such a thing as knowledge about how structures move through space, that men really did land on the moon, and so on, and so forth, because “everything is subjective.”

Do the radical constructivists ever argue that everything is subjective? It is only that our knowledge must be formed and expressed subjectively.

“I tell you, I am typing this to you from my bed. Your argument is that “I’m only constructing the idea of the bed.”
I say “You’re de-valuing the real,” and then you say, “But you never had access to the real in the first place.”
And you’ve made my point for me.”

Why do you use the word ‘only’? Constructing ideas is important – they are significant – this is partly where value comes from. My idea of a bed may not be the same as yours – actually I fold up my bed every day into a settee, where I could naturally sit to use a computer (I prefer desks though). Alternatively there are: Korean stone beds, mattresses filled with soil, or the east Asian mats (I forget the name) that are rolled out into the main living space. The word ‘bed’ does not objectively specify a class of material things. We have constructed what it means to be a ‘bed’, and what it means to do something “from my bed”. To me, what you are calling the ‘real’ is like a bed. It is an abstraction from a material thing. Although science gives me ideas about it, I cannot ever objectively know reality, I can just conceive of it in different ways.

One other abstract thing we create is value. We create value for ourselves by placing faith and energy into our abstractions – this is what gives us passion – and LaoTzu? would not approve.

I can assume that your bed (perhaps an exceptional four-poster) is a magnificent material thing, made of “atoms and molecules”, and produced with great craftsmanship, that has been passed down through generations – it is a work of art. I’m not suggesting that we can change its material nature by mental construction! However, if the same physical bed is carved from tropical hardwood by destroying a beautiful tree, or paid for with money from the slave trade, then your bed could signify something quite unpleasant to me.

So I do value things in the material world. Particularly people, beautiful trees, and (to a lesser extent) skilfully crafted artefacts. These physical things have value to me; trees should have great value to us; even though what they signify is subjective. Some things are of value to serve our basic needs, at other times we socially develop abstractions to justify the importance of things – this is recognised (and condemned) several times in the TaoTeChing?.


Social ranking

“If you remove ranking, then you remove the human heart.”

Crikey, this sounds like a frightening sentiment, perhaps because I have no clear idea what you mean. When you talk about the human heart, presumably you mean love, not the organ. How can love depend on social ranking?

If you remove hierarchy, you remove social body and making dreams real.

Does the social body strictly need to be hierarchic? My dream is of an incredibly well organised society that no longer needs or accepts SocialHierarchy? – it is a real dream.

How can love depend on social ranking?

I don’t think that the heart so much “depends on” social ranking, as rather, that the heart authors social ranking.

The heart prefers peace to war, beauty to ugliness, truth to falsehood, and so on.

From there, come a great many rankings.

If you argue for anything, you are arguing on the basis of a judgment, on the basis of a ranking. If you resist what I am saying, then you are demonstrating the very ranking behavior I am describing. You prefer a way of life to another way of life. There are some thinkers that you honor, and others that you dishonor. Some that you listen to, and others that you ignore.

Egalitarians seek what is egalitarian and leave what is not. This is itself a ranking behavior. This is not criticism of egalitarianism – I myself count myself as an egalitarian – egalitarianism is good, true, beautiful. But it means that we cannot be simple-minded in our egalitarianism; We must see complexity, structure, ranking, and form.

I used to describe the preferences of the heart (beauty, kindness, and honesty) as ‘our common humanity’. I still view them as aspects of healthy human biology that most of us (though not all [6]) are probably born with a predisposition for. If this is true (geneticists may eventially convince me further) then they are natural preferences (not just nurtured) and do not come from constructed abstraction, or even from society. So in my mind they are not a form of social ranking or social hierarchy, and are not maleable, though they can be focussed or restrained.

The preferences of the heart also don’t need to be rankings unless we construct them that way. For example, beauty/ugliness don’t naturally fall into levels or categories, and the only reason they appear to be a natural binary-hierarchy (beauty on top, ugliness below) is because of our language/culture. In another culture they might naturally consider Beauty/Unhealthy-looking-ness. If you force a load of people with a disposition for DPD [7] to live together, then I wonder what value hierarchies they might construct.

In all societies we do form social rankings, such as subtle prejudices, league tables, and competitions for abstract-prizes (e.g. the ‘greatest’ ‘sportsman’ in the history of our ‘country’) – while some of this is inevitable, I believe it should be resisted, because social ranking creates unhealthy stratification, rivalry, and resentment. I get the impression that the evidence from social science overwhelmingly shows the harm caused (though most of it is locked behind closed-access academic-publisher firewalls and I haven’t studied it).

I try to be egalitarian too – I agree it’s complex – my stategy is to construct social values (a social imagination) that channels or constrains our animal nature. I believe that by evolution we are cooperative social animals; as Dawkins asserted in the Selfish Gene, we are not all selfish animals though some inevitably will be; and we naturally discriminate in favour of our kin.

There are some thinkers that you honor, and others that you dishonor. Some that you listen to, and others that you ignore.

I only ignore people when paying them attention seems futile or counter-productive, though I suppose we must prioritise; we can’t listen to everything. I tried briefly to be a dedicated freethinker (always actively seeking to question my beliefs, valuing the most challenging alternative viewpoints, avoiding a faith position) – I think it is highly respectable. I only gave up when I started reading cultural studies – I still think it’s mostly nonsense. If there are some gems of wisdom in there then I’ll wait until I can read them with less frustration.

The “preferences” of the heart do not become rankings because we construct them that way; The heart’s direction become ranking because we have to make decisions with finite time and resources.

Thus the prioritization, which, if articulated, goes into “A,” “B,” “C,” categories, and so on. (Or some more complex system, but regardless, there is your ranking.)

If we serve the heart, then we must make our peace with matter; It is not sufficient to live in ideas.

It bothers me that you refuse to see ranking; How many moderators have I met who say, “Moderating is horrible! There are no moderators here, and never will be.” The severest rankings conceal the fact of ranking; I don’t like it.

What bothers me more, though, is the vision of the human being as biological creature. It’s not that we aren’t made of matter – but rather: This is the thinking of the manager, the social engineer, and the master.

I much rather the teaching that says:

Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.

If we were dogs and cats, then it would be sufficient to just make sure that we are all fed and sheltered. This is not to underplay the importance of feeding people and giving people water – these are crucially important.

But it is to say that feeding people and giving them shelter is not sufficient.

The dream of the non-maleable universe in which good is carried out methodically – this is like the Sims, where it is sufficient to make sure people’s “fun” meter is consistently held high enough, or their “social” meter.

My assertion is that the human being is not a gauge that is to be kept satisfied, and any model of the future that is based on such an idea is fundamentally broken, if not downright horrific.

Have you read A Wrinkle in Time? The great evil of Camazotz is that the perfect patterns of living have been determined by Central Intelligence, and have trapped all the people.

It is not sufficient to look only forward, into the future;

We must also look up, into the heavens, into the divine, which we can only begin to graze, by way of the imagination.

Naturalism is no escape from this fact; Someone will wake up and find the criminality of the management you’ve subjected the human being to, and liberate others from the control of the Central Intelligence.

The human being is an always-transcending divinity. There is no final point, no last evolution. There is always a deeper frame of life. Whenever you think you’ve “got it,” you’re wrong, and you’ll be surprised.

I repeat again what I said in PersonIsUniverse, and it may make more sense this time: the human soul is the soul of the universe. The dreams of the human being are the dreams of the Universe. If you say, “My dreams come from matter,” what have you told me – save that matter dreams?

It isn’t that our dreams are diminished, by being made of matter; Rather, it is that matter is expanded, by dreaming. (Or more explicitely, “universe.”)

“The severest rankings conceal the fact of ranking; I don’t like it.”

Yes, I call this the TyrannyOfStructurelessness.

It’s not that we need to embrace ranking or hierarchy, just explicit decentralised structure, with clear agreements and transparency. Perhaps a clear recognition of any temporary compromises that are inevitable – I like the name GodKing, because it reminds us of a potential danger. The words ‘administrator’, ‘system operator’, and especially ‘moderator’ feel too gentle, and conceal hierarchic power, far too much for my liking.

On the Son of Man, I think we must agree to differ. I see myself as one of myriad creatures. We are social animals with exceptional frontal lobes. Because we have these lobes we envision the future and reflect on the past in ways that (to my knowledge) other animals cannot.

“The dream of the non-maleable universe in which good is carried out methodically – this is like the Sims”

Should this be on the ChartOfTheReal?

“My assertion is that the human being is not a gauge that is to be kept satisfied”

I hold a faith that if there is such a conceptual guage then it does not range from 0-100%, and perhaps it is non-linear and multi-dimensional. I assert that we can improve life; we can achieve for others (and for ourselves) more from the life we have.

We must also look up, into the heavens, into the divine, which we can only begin to graze, by way of the imagination.

I do not believe there is such a dimension – or if there is, then it is a construction. Because it is imagination we could continue forever to indulge ourselves in constructions of the real, and that only seems worthwhile to a limited extent. I think we should impose on ourselves a social responsibility to focus on the real – the one we can experience – for all we know, it is the only life we have. It seems irresponsible to base any decisions during life on imagination of what might come afterwards, which we can never know at all.

“Someone will wake up and find the criminality of the management you’ve subjected the human being to, and liberate others from the control of the Central Intelligence.”

I haven’t read Camazotz. If I understand what you mean by ‘management’, then (because I oppose SocialHierarchy?) I would suggest the alternative of autonomous self-management, and anything else should be viewed as an unsatisfactory compromise. Though it may be inevitable, we must still recognise it is unsatisfactory. This is the active recognition that I read in GNL:

71. Limitation
Who recognizes his limitations is healthy;
Who ignores his limitations is sick.
The sage recognizes this sickness as a limitation.
And so becomes immune.

Your last few sentences are particularly hard for me, and most thought provoking:

“The human being is an always-transcending divinity. There is no final point, no last evolution. There is always a deeper frame of life. Whenever you think you’ve “got it,” you’re wrong, and you’ll be surprised.”

From ChartOfTheReal#SubjectiveReality, I can agree that humans each construct concepts indefinitely and never ultimately ‘get it’. Though divinity to me has little meaning. At the end of an individual’s life it seems our material bodies continue in the carbon cycle, along with our brains, and the phenomenon of our personal consciousness might stop – that’s my conservative guess. We cannot know if we are in the Sims or not. We could imagine anything and distract ourselves endlessly. Let us concentrate on the experiences of now that we can validate to improve the one life we evidently do have.

the human soul is the soul of the universe. The dreams of the human being are the dreams of the Universe. If you say, “My dreams come from matter,” what have you told me – save that matter dreams?

I read PersonIsUniverse again later (not today I think, because I want to think about AutonomiWiki again).

If we say ‘that matter dreams’, or the Universe dreams, then it suggests that matter is conscious. I see no reason to believe that.

I say that all our minds/dreams are phenomena that emerge in a material world, and I can see the mechanisms of the brain that presumably lead to this phenomenon. I even suspect that conscious brains serve an evolutionary function, and I guess that is why the organ evolved from a nervous system. So we can experience apparent things in the world to gain confidence in the source of the conscious mind, and by introspection we can see that our own mind exists.

On the other hand, the soul is social imagination abstracted from reality and from experience – it could be anything we want it to be! How can we ever persuade ourselves it is a valid concept?

On the other hand, what is ‘phenomenon’? I haven’t really thought about that in any depth. Perhaps I need to read some of this [8], and perhaps not.

It isn’t that our dreams are diminished, by being made of matter; Rather, it is that matter is expanded, by dreaming. (Or more explicitely, “universe.”)

We seem to be thinking along similar lines, except I don’t believe that phenomena are formed of matter – rather they emerge temporarily during interactions in matter – I suppose these phenomena are another entry on ChartOfTheReal. Apart from this difference, is your view similar to what I said about extending the range, order of magnitude, or dimensionality of the ‘guage of life’?

Our perspectives seem simply too far apart; It gets harder and harder to bridge by conversation, – I think we get to the place where only the passing of time will work.

I will say some things briefly, though, that may follow you.

  • It is not superficial that the human being is thought of as different than the animal.
  • Eschatology not only reveals thoughts about the far future, but further, our thoughts about the universe today. So eschatology is far from impractical.
  • The segregation of the real and the imaginary is a common but mistaken distortion. Of course, the soul is imaginary; But it is also real.
    • What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his very soul?
  • The human being (human society,) can always develop, to further wisdom, love, virtue. (It can also fall backwards, as well…) This stretches beyond what we can imagine. There is architecture, and we need to discover the patterns, but we must be very clear that these patterns are not here to define the human being. A human is not a dog, Humanity is not a kennel.

I meant the myriad creatures as a joke – I too hold humanistic values – I didn’t realise it was such an obscure reference until I googled and struggled to find this translation, which I once read and assumed was popular [9][10]:

Heaven and earth are ruthless,
and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs;
the sage is ruthless,
and treats the people as straw dogs.
...
Much speech leads inevitably to silence.
Better to hold fast to the void.

On which note, I think I should fall silent, and perhaps investigate PhenomeNology?. Thank you Lion and Helmut – I hope you also gained from our dicussion.

Quietism.

(shrug)

Not everything is great about the Tao Te Ching. Take care.

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