Excerpt: Being grateful to von Glasersfeld for having pointed out to me what I now accept, I have no desire to attack radical constructivism. There are, however, three ways in which I find it seriously, even radically, deficient, and I want in this chapter to set them out in the hope that my doing so will be some use where I, and apparently von Glasersfeld, care most about usefulness, in education. These deficiencies are a lack of due emphasis on the construction of the self, whether over against the world or as a part of it, the denial of the possibility of knowledge of the world, and von Glasersfeld’s ignoring of the massive social assistance in one’s construction of one’s notion of the world. The latter two of these deficiencies have considerable importance for education, and that is my reason for airing my criticisms in this place.
Upshot: Michael Tomasello is Director of the Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology and Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. He completed his PhD with Ernst as his supervisor in 1980. In his reminiscence essay he describes the “total enculturation” he experienced on encountering Ernst von Glasersfeld.
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. Excerpt: In the light of the almost brilliant equilibrium of the author, who manages to compose a resourceful explanation, switching between the notional conditionality and the expected contextual understanding, I intend to focus on the interdisciplinary potential of some suggestions that offer new perspectives on conceiving society, which are driven by a non-analytical and holistic vision.
Context: This paper outlines how radical constructivist theory has led to a particular methodological technique, developing second-order models of student thinking, that has helped mathematics educators to be more effective teachers of their students. Problem: The paper addresses the problem of how radical constructivist theory has been used to explain and engender more viable adaptations to the complexities of teaching and learning. Method: The paper presents empirical data from teaching experiments that illustrate the process of second-order model building. Results: The result of the paper is an illustration of how second-order models are developed and how this process, as it progresses, supports teachers to be more effective. Implications: This paper has the implication that radical constructivism has the potential to impact practice.
First paragraph: In the 1980s I went through a phase of writing limericks during idle moments when I lacked something to read. The result was a set of 27 limericks about cybernetics (Umpleby 1992). I occasionally use the limericks in class to restate a theoretical point. Limericks bring a smile and demonstrate that cybernetics can be approached in a variety of ways. Below are three limericks from this collection. The last was written by Ernst von Glasersfeld. It seems Ernst believed that I was overly concerned with “reality” as opposed to perception, or at least that I had not captured the point that he was trying to make.
Context: Philosophy of science is the branch of philosophy that deals with methods, foundations, and implications of science. It is a theory of how to create scientific knowledge. Presently, there is widespread agreement on how to do science, namely conjectures, ideally in the form of a mathematical model, and refutations, testing the model using empirical evidence. Problem: Many social scientists are using a conception of science created for the physical sciences. Expanding philosophy of science so that it more successfully encompasses social systems would create new avenues of inquiry. Two dimensions could be added to philosophy of science: the amount of attention paid to the observer and the amount of impact of a theory on the system described. Method: My approach is to illuminate underlying assumptions. I claim that there are at least three epistemologies and that they can be combined to form a more robust conception of knowledge and of how to do research. There are at least four models and four basic elements (i.e., ideas, groups, events, variables) being used by (social) scientists. Results: The article identifies the logical propositions underlying second-order science. It suggests strategies for developing second-order science. And it describes several methods that can be used to practice second-order science, including how past theories have not only described but also changed the phenomenon being studied. Implications: The task for members of the scientific community, particularly social scientists, is to practice second-order science and to develop further its theories and methods. A practical implication is to accept methods for acting as well as theories as a contribution to science, since methods explicitly define the role of an observer/ participant. Constructivist content: The paper is an extension of the work of Heinz von Foerster and other second-order cyberneticians.
Upshot: This is a deceptively profound, compact book that can be inscribed in the grand tradition of philosophical dialogue. It confronts naive realism and radical constructivism, arriving at a seemingly workable conciliatory position.