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.
Problem: First-order scientific research is often not aware of the hidden assumptions provided by an epistemological perspective based upon realism. Beyond philosophical considerations about the epistemological foundations, some practical normative implications deriving from them are crucial: in the field of communication and media studies, some scholars criticize media coverage, e.g., on climate change, as biased and distorted from reality. Method: From a constructivist perspective, the article presents a detailed meta-analysis of the course of argumentation provided by two empirical communication studies that follow an objectivist approach. Result: With the help of a second-order research strategy, it is possible to uncover their ontological assumptions and criticize their normative implications. Implications: Social scientists should be careful with normative suggestions for the system under study (e.g., journalists) unless they are applied within these systems themselves.
Context: The burgeoning field of consciousness studies has recently witnessed a revival of first-person approaches based on phenomenology in general and Husserlian phenomenology in particular. However, the attempts to introduce phenomenological methods into cognitive science have raised serious doubts as to the feasibility of such projects. Much of the current debate has revolved around the issue of the naturalisation of phenomenology, i.e., of the possibility of integrating phenomenology into the naturalistic paradigm. Significantly less attention has been devoted to the complementary process of the phenomenologisation of nature, i.e., of a (potentially radical) transformation of the theoretical and existential underpinnings of the naturalist framework. Problem: The aim of this article is twofold. First, it provides a general overview of the resurgence of first-person methodologies in cognitive sciences, with a special emphasis on a circular process of naturalising phenomenology and phenomenologising nature. Secondly, it tries to elucidate what theoretical (conceptual) and practical (existential) implications phenomenological approaches might have for the current understanding of nature and consciousness. Results: It is argued that, in order for the integration of phenomenological and scientific approaches to prove successful, it is not enough merely to provide a firm naturalistic grounding for phenomenology. An equally, if not even more important, process of phenomenological contextualisation of science must also be considered, which might have far-reaching implications for its theoretical underpinnings (move from disembodied to embodied models) and our existential stance towards nature and consciousness (cultivation of a non-dual way of being. Implications: The broader theoretical framework brought about by the circular exchange between natural sciences and phenomenology can contribute to a more holistic conception of science, one that is in accord with the cybernetic idea of second-order science and based on a close interconnection between (abstract) reflection and (lived) experience. Constructivist content: The (re)introduction of first-person approaches into cognitive science and consciousness studies evokes the fundamental circularity that is characteristic of second-order cybernetics. It provides a rich framework for a dialogue between science and lived experience, where scientific endeavour merges with the underlying existential structures, while the latter remains reflectively open to scientific findings and proposals.
Excerpt: Ernst von Glasersfeld has succeeded in finding a viable fit between the man and the scientist and in embodying a Haltung (attitude) that represents constructivism. He was prepared to get involved with a “different way of thinking” and to deal with a matter that is often “demanding and uncomfortable” for those affected. Ernst von Glasersfeld, in an interview with me on questions of constructivism and school.
Open peer commentary on the target article “From Objects to Processes: A Proposal to Rewrite Radical Constructivism” by Siegfried J. Schmidt. Upshot: This commentary asks if Schmidt’s latest process-orientated philosophy is based on a vicious infinite regress argument. The commentator uses recent literature on the distinction of vicious and benign infinite regresses (from Claude Gratton and Nicholas Rescher) and tries to show that – taken verbatim – there is a serious logical problem in Schmidt’s argumentation.
Excerpt: It is not possible within the scope of this chapter to mount a full-scale philosophical defence of radical constructivism. What is possible is an attack from the radical constructivist point of view using a weapon readily adaptable to a wide range of opponents.
Open peer commentary on the target article “From Objects to Processes: A Proposal to Rewrite Radical Constructivism” by Siegfried J. Schmidt. Upshot: The aim is to show that, although Schmidt’s thesis must in most respects be warmly welcomed, there is an unexpressed implication concerning the dialogic structure of language that, when drawn out plainly, reveals a further valuable move open to the theory. I offer it therefore as a clarification of his theory with which I hope Schmidt may agree. He has already stressed the differences in understanding between one agent and another; it is because of this that, in order to communicate, agents must play without believing the mutual hypothetical projections of “truth,” “sincerity,” “objectivity,” “reference,” and other ideals of social “reality.” In the language process it is faith upon which this rests rather than blind trust. It is argued that only faith can properly take account of the risks of contingency.
This paper discusses different approaches incognitive science and artificial intelligence research from the perspective of radical constructivism, addressing especially their relation to the biologically based theories ofvon Uexküll, Piaget as well as Maturana and Varela. In particular recent work in ‘New AI’ and adaptive robotics on situated and embodied intelligence is examined, and we discuss in detail the role of constructive processes as the basis of situatedness in both robots and living organisms.