Context: The constructivist approach to the definition (or analysis) of the fundamental meanings of language in Ernst von Glasersfeld’s work. Problem: Has this approach achieved better results than other approaches? Method: Review of a book chapter by von Glasersfeld that is devoted to the analysis of the concepts of “unity,” “plurality” and “number.” Results: The constructivist approach to the semantics of the fundamental elements of language (some of which are fundamental for sciences too) seems to have produced positive results; moreover these are in a field where other approaches have produced results that do not objectively seem satisfactory.
Open peer commentary on the target article “Arguments Opposing the Radicalism of Radical Constructivism” by Gernot Saalmann. First paragraph: I appreciate Saalmann’s recognition that “there are considerable differences amongst the authors” and that these “have changed their opinions in the course of time” (§3); but given this, what are the consequences for an outline of the theses of radical constructivism (RC)? Which approach is best for outlining a theory of knowing under these hindering conditions? My suggestion would be to use a method specifically developed for this kind of situation and to present it explicitly, or, if it does not yet exist, to develop one.
Purpose: Yerkish is an artificial language created in 1971 for the specific purpose of exploring the linguistic potential of nonhuman primates. The aim of this paper is to remind the research community of some important issues and concepts related to Yerkish that seem to have been forgotten or appear to be distorted. These are, particularly, its success, its promising aspects for future research and last but not least that it was Ernst von Glasersfeld who invented Yerkish: he coined the term “lexigrams,” created the first 120 of them and designed the grammar that regulated their combination. Design: The first part of this paper begins with a short outline of the context in which the Yerkish language originated: the original LANA project. It continues by presenting the language itself in more detail: first, its design, focusing on its “lexigrams” and its “correlational” grammar (the connective functions or “correlators” and the combinations of lexigrams, or “correlations”), and then its use by the chimpanzee Lana in formulating sentences. The second part gives a brief introduction to the foundation of Yerkish in Silvio Ceccato’s Operational Methodology, particularly his idea of the correlational structure of thought and concludes with the main insights that can be derived from the Yerkish experiment seen in the light of Operational Methodology. Findings: Lana’s success in language learning and the success of Yerkish during the past decades are probably due to the characteristics of Yerkish, particularly its foundation in operational methodology. The operation of correlation could be what constitutes thinking in a chimpanzee and an attentional system could be what delivers the mental content that correlation assembles into triads and networks. Research implications: Since no other assessment or explanation of Lana’s performances has considered these foundational issues (findings), a new research project or program should validate the above-mentioned hypotheses, particularly the correlational structure of chimpanzee thinking.
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. First paragraph: Issues such as social interaction and communication play an essential role in my recent approach to knowledge management called “Knowledge Cooperation”, conceived as “the participative cultivation of knowledge in a voluntary, informal social group”. Radical Constructivism (RC) provides a substantial support to the foundations of this approach, which aims at equilibrating intellectual and social capital. So I warmly welcome Ernst von Glasersfeld’s clarification of the constructivist position in regard to “society.”
Open peer commentary on the target article “How and Why the Brain Lays the Foundations for a Conscious Self” by Martin V. Butz. Excerpt: Avoiding the term “representation” would make the article much more consistent with a radical constructivist way of thinking. It would also open up unexpected opportunities for realizing the potential of some of its most interesting ideas, such as the connection between anticipatory drive and attention (§31).
Context: Meeting Ernst von Glasersfeld for the first time in 1985, when about 70% of his work had still to be conceived, written and published, was a great stroke of fortune for me; it was based on my collaboration with Silvio Ceccato that had started in 1981 and it profoundly influenced my contributions to radical constructivism in the following 25 years of our friendship. Problem: Presenting the details of how it all began can shed a light on the development of constructivist ideas. Method: Anecdotes from 1979 to 1985 about how I came to meet Silvio Ceccato in Milan in 1981 and the influence of these events on preparing the 1985 meeting with Ernst von Glasersfeld, also in Milan. Results: The article describes the timeline of 50 years of publications by von Glasersfeld, an anecdote about a connection between Ceccato and the University of Zurich in the 60s, the attempt to present Ceccato’s ideas as compatible and complementary with the neuroscience discourse in 1985, von Glasersfeld’s opinion about this attempt, and this attempt’s potential influence on the emergence of a new concept in neuroscience, “EEG microstates.” Implications: The events and facts reported in the article help us to understand some aspects of an early phase in the development of radical constructivism, especially the relationship between Ceccato, von Glasersfeld and other members of the Italian Operational School such as Bruna Zonta, Felice Accame, and the author himself.
Context: The discipline of knowledge management (KM) begins to understand a) that it should move towards a user-centred, socialized KM and b) which business objectives provide motivation to do so. However, it lacks ideas on how to reach the objective that it suggests and justifies. We contend in this paper that this change requires a more viable understanding of knowledge combined with a suitable model of social interaction, otherwise it will fail. Problem: The problem to be solved is to find a way to blend a model of social interaction and a suitable understanding of knowledge so that together they can contribute to the objective of implementing a “user-centred KM.” In this paper we show a solution articulated in several conceptual and experimental components and phases. Method: We use a systemic and cybernetic approach: systemic analysis of the problem, conception of a cybernetic approach, design of a systemic solution, and its evaluation in an experiment. The main methods used are systems engineering, cybernetic modelling, and knowledge engineering. Results: We propose seven interrelated results: 1. A defect analysis of KM; 2. The concept of knowledge as the “Logic of Experience”; 3. A set of five KM design principles; 4. The principle of “Knowledge Identity”; 5. The model of “Knowledge Cooperation”; 6. The architecture of a user-centred KM system; and 7. Insights from a KM experiment. Implications: Our results are useful for any stakeholder in today’s knowledge economy when they need to understand, design, build, nurture and support an organization’s capacity to learn and innovate for the benefit not only of the company’s financial owners but also of the individuals who work in it. Future research should urgently address the issues of “knowledge identity” and the “knowledge contract” and KM practice should design its next steps for moving towards a user-centred KM in conformity with the principle of “knowledge identity.” The paper links explicitly to radical constructivism and argues in favour of a radical constructivist foundation for KM in which knowledge is seen as the “Logic of Experience.” It also shows how this KM foundation can be extended with a social perspective and by that allow the individual and the social to be conceived of as complementary elements in one single KM system.
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. Excerpt: In the face of modern neuroscience we should give up on constructivism, even more so on radical constructivism, and stick to the physical and psychological reality given in science and daily life, even if it is the brain’s illusion from associative networks. The illusion of constructivism may hurt!
Context: Constructivist teachers who find themselves working within an educational system that adopts a realist epistemology, may find themselves at odds with their own beliefs when they catch themselves paying closer attention to the knowledge authorities intend them to teach rather than the knowledge being constructed by their learners. Method: In the preliminary analysis of the mathematical learning of six low-performing Year 7 boys in a Maltese secondary school, whom one of us taught during the scholastic year 2014-15, we constructed a conceptual framework which would help us analyze the extent to which he managed to be sensitive to constructivism in a typical classroom setting. We describe the development of the framework M-N-L (Mathematics-Negotiation-Learner) as a viable analytical tool to search for significant moments in the lessons in which the teacher appeared to engage in what we define as “constructivist teaching” (CT) during mathematics lessons. The development of M-N-L is part of a research program investigating the way low-performing students make mathematical sense of new notation with the help of the software Grid Algebra. Results: M-N-L was found to be an effective instrument which helped to determine the extent to which the teacher was sensitive to his own constructivist beliefs while trying to negotiate a balance between the mathematical concepts he was expected to teach and the conceptual constructions of his students. Implications: One major implication is that it is indeed possible for mathematics teachers to be sensitive to the individual constructions of their learners without losing sight of the concepts that society, represented by curriculum planners, deems necessary for students to learn. The other is that researchers in the field of education may find M-N-L a helpful tool to analyze CT during typical didactical situations established in classroom settings.