I claim that concepts such as competition, evolution of the fittest and regulation through hierarchical constructs are all attributions we make to nature based on our culture. I think these concepts, and others of like ilk, are the results of a particular manner of emotioning, sensing and acting that is now common to most of our modern cultures. Once attributed to nature, we use these concepts as grounding premises, or as justification, to continue the manner of emotioning, sensing and acting which gave rise to them. I see this as a disquieting circularity, a blindness, that results in a way of being that we do not want, but feel compelled to. However, since we have the ability to reflect on our beliefs and to consider whether we want the consequences of maintaining them, I also see the possibility of living in a manner that we find more ethical and more pleasurable.
The unsolved problem of induction is closely linked to “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences” (Wigner 1960) and to the question “why the universe is algorthmicly compressible” (Davies 1960). The problem of induction is approached here by means of a constructivist version of the Evolutionary Epistemology (CEE) considering both, the perceived regularities we condense to the laws of nature and the mathematical structures we condense to axioms, as invariants of inborn cognitive and mental operators. A phylogenetic relationship between the mental operators generating the perceived and the mathematical regularities respectively may explain the high suitability of mathematical tools to extrapolate observed data. The extension of perceptional operators by means of experimental operators, i.e., by means of measurement devices) would lead to the completion of the classical world picture if both the cognitive and the physical operators are commutable in the sense of operator algebra (quantitative extensions). Otherwise the physical operators will have invariants which no longer can be described in classical terms, and, therefore, would require the formation of non-classical theories (qualitative extension), exceeding the classical world picture. The mathematical analogon would be the algorithmic extension of elementary mathematical thinking exceeding the axiomatic basis previously established according to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. As a consequence there will be neither a definitive set of axioms in mathematics, nor will be there a definitive theory of everything in physics.
Excerpt: Concluding that cognitive structures and instruments are unconditional or arbitrary because they are not, and cannot be derived from external boundary conditions, is mistaken, since internal boundary conditions must also be taken into account. Firstly, there are the developmental constraints of cognitive evolution itself; cognitive as well as organic evolution is subject to what has been evolved before. Cognitive evolution in our time, therefore, would find rather limited degrees of freedom. Further, cognitive instruments exert themselves in continuous co-evolution with organic instruments for meeting organically defined needs and requirements. This means that cognitive systems cannot be explained by reference to what is called their object, but only through their organic genesis. This justifies efforts made to look for a closer relationship between cognitive and organic evolution.
The purpose of this paper is to offer a critical approach to the theory of autopoiesis in order to see how it challenges mainstream Darwinism. In the first part of the paper, I characterize Darwinism from the concepts of natural selection, heredity, reproduction, and evolution. This characterization is absolutely schematic, and I hope not controversial at all, since my aim is to provide a general background for the discussion of the rest of the paper. The second part presents the main tenets of the theory of autopoiesis, also paying special attention to the concepts of natural selection, heredity, reproduction, and evolution. The third and final part considers some criticisms that have been directed against the theory and suggests some new ones. As I said, my intention is to offer a critical approach, so that I pretend to assess neither autopoiesis nor Darwinism. The assessment, it seems to me, would be a matter of scientific debate – not properly of philosophy. Therefore, given that my approach attempts to be a conceptual clarification, my contribution to the contemporary debate about Darwinism is twofold. On the one hand, I show that conceptually autopoiesis constitutes an important challenge to Darwinism, but on the other, I also show that some fundamental aspects of the theory appear to be both epistemologically and empirically problematic, which perhaps helps to understand why autopoiesis is not widely accepted in mainstream Darwinism.
Excerpt: The term embodiment suggests a return to the body (or to a physical or perceivable realm) of something that was (but should not be) previously separated from it. This phenomenon can be found in a wide range of contexts; for example, abstract entities, such as computer programmes, may acquire dynamics when executed in material devices; theoretical ideas can become operative when put in relation to practical or contingent situations; or, similarly, when considered as properties of bodies (including brains), mental capacities recover a physical nature. The return we refer to has an explanatory character: it is motivated by an assumption that embodiment may throw light upon areas where disembodied explanations are unsatisfactory. Many scientific and philosophical traditions have postulated privileged realms (e.g. Platonic worlds) deprived of materiality, dynamics, interactions or praxis for explanation, but they priorise the know that in front of the know how and may thus side-step the more complex problems. This is the reason why it is important to explore a differently motivated epistemology, one able to approach phenomena in their original embodied situations. Then, a claim for embodiment would not be a demand for a restitution, but an urge to start from the beginning, from the things themselves.
The question of whether or not evolutionary explanations are, in fact, logically of the same type as explanations in, say, mechanics or physics has hardly been touched upon. I shall argue that they are not of the same type, that they are based on a different conceptual framework, and that the relationship between sociobiology and the “remainder of science” is, therefore, a peculiar one.
Learning and adaptation are conceptually distinct and refer to different processes. Both concepts are incorporated in Piaget’s genetic epistemology and in the more radical constructivist model of cognition that has sprung from it. Misinterpretation of the different roles the two terms play in that theoretical model is one of the reasons why the constructivist approach has often been misunderstood by educators. In this paper I shall lay out the use of the two terms in the constructivist theory and give some indication of its application to learning and the practice of teaching.
Context: Ernst von Glasersfeld’s radical constructivism (RC) develops two positions that are, for the founder of RC, necessarily linked: (1) all accessible realities are perceived realities, (2) perceived realities are “constructed” by “individuals.” Purpose: Von Glasersfeld refers quite often to the theory of evolution. Despite this frequent referring, he uses an evolutionary approach primarily when discussing the viability of constructs. Furthermore, although this use of evolutionary thinking is already restricted, it plays an even smaller part in the reception of RC. The first goal of this paper is to show that as a result of this restriction, individuals as “constructors” do not have enough properties to explain the production of behaviors that we observe. The second goal is to open a perspective on the much richer picture of human cognitive activities that results from the abolishment of this restriction. Approach: Starting with the difference between the interest of philosophers in the problem of “reality” and the problems that organisms have to solve in coping with their needs in varying environments, it is argued that, from an evolutionary perspective, only the perceived or “constructed” realities matter because they are the ones that allow organisms to survive, find partners, cooperate, etc. Hence, both the position of RC and the perception of the environment from an evolutionary perspective are compatible, as claimed by von Glasersfeld. Looking then at the individual, it is argued that RC mainly looks at the construction of realities as ontogenetic processes. Findings: As a result, the constructing individuals do not have enough properties to explain observable behavior or to predict the results of their cognitive constructions. Taking von Glasersfeld’s references to evolutionary theory seriously, it is argued that all organisms, and of course humans, have an evolutionary history that influences their construction of realities. Due to this broadly common background, all humans share an important number of inherited dispositions that influence the constructive processes of individuals. As a result, communication is possible, though not perfect, and there are transcultural (near-)universals and individual dispositions for solving reoccurring problems of social life, as shown by references to current research. Implications: The construct of the constructing individual in RC needs conceptual and interdisciplinary enrichment.
Von Foerster has suggested the Mobius strip as a topological representation of the kind of logic pertaining to self-referential cybernetic systems. The Mobius strip offers the conceptual categories of an outside interior and an inside exterior. It is suggested that these categories are realized in natural cybernetic systems through semiotic loops integrating self-reference and other-reference. Autopoiesis and semiosis are supplementary categories. Living systems may be seen as consisting essentially of surfaces inside other surfaces. The closure of a membrane around some autocatalytic chemical reaction system is an attractive candidate for a first step towards the origin of a living system. A spheric surface defines an inside-outside asymmetry and opens the possibility for communicative activity across the membrane. If some modest kind of co-operation arose in populations of closed surfaces these surfaces might become interfaces for real communication. Two further steps would be needed for these surfaces to become true anticipatory biological systems. The surface and its internal autocatalytic system would have to produce a written (digital) record of its own components, and the surface would have to devise means for controlling the translation process whereby components are produced. Only in this way can the surface become a temporal being, an autonomous agent capable of making distinctions and engaging itself in future-oriented internal or external modification. Such a system has been termed a code-dual system (Hoffmeyer and Emmeche, 1991).