Context: The idea for this article sprang from a desire to revive a conversation with the late Ernst von Glasersfeld on the heuristic function - and epistemological status - of forms of ideations that resist linguistic or empirical scrutiny. A close look into the uses of humor seemed a thread worth pursuing, albeit tenuous, to further explore some of the controversies surrounding the evocative power of the imaginal and other oblique forms of knowing characteristic of creative individuals. Problem: People generally respond to humor, i.e., they are inclined to smile at things they find funny. People like to crack jokes, make puns, and, starting at age two, human infants engage in pretense or fantasy play. Research on creativity, on the other hand, has mostly scorned the trickster within. Cognitivists in particular are quick to relegate wit, whimsy, and even playfulness to the ranks of artful or poetic frivolities. Method: We use the emblems of the craftsman, the trickster, and the poet to highlight some of the oblique ways of knowing by which creative thinkers bring forth new insights. Each epitomizes dimensions intrinsic to the art of “possibilizing.” Taken together, they help us better understand what it means to be playful beyond curious, rigorous beyond reasonable, and why this should matter, even to constructivists! Results: The musings characteristic of creative individuals (artists, scientists, children) speak to intelligent beings’ ability to use glitches intentionally or serendipitously as a means to open up possibilities; to hold on to a thought before spelling it out; and to resist treating words or images as conventional and arbitrary signs regardless of their evocative power. To fall into nominalism, Bachelard insisted, is a poet’s nightmare! Implications: Psyche is image, said Jung, and when we feel alive we rely on the imaginal to guide our reason. Note that image is not here to be understood as a picture in the head or a photographic snapshot of the world. The imaginal does not represent, it brings forth what we understand beyond words. It does not lock us into a single mode. Instead, it is a call to be mindful, in Ellen Langer’s sense: in the present, mentally alert, and on the outlook for our psyche’s own surprising wisdom (sagacity. Constructivist content: Debates on the heuristic function and epistemological status of oblique ways of knowing have long occupied constructivist scholars. I can only guess whether my uses of Jung’s imaginal or Bachelard’s anti-nominalism would have amused or exasperated Ernst! I do know that, on occasion, Ernst the connoisseur, bricoleur, and translator allowed the rationalist-within to include the poet’s power to evoke as a legitimate form of rationality. He himself has written about oblique knowing as legit!
The aim of this paper is to reconsider some of the stakes involved in the dialogue between sciences and between scientists, considering it as a complex and critical learning process. Dialogue – as conversation, expression, performance and negotiation – can be conceived in several ways. It carries both an epistemic and an experiential side. It involves simultaneously heterogeneous theories and identities. Because it involves fragmented scientific languages, it also requires a shared vision. But above all, what seems critical to acknowledge is that dialogue is a matter of transformation. And because transformation is also a matter of learning, the promotion of dialogue between sciences should be perceived as a virtuous spiral involving: instrumental learning (to dialogue), communicational learning (what we mean by dialoguing) and emancipatory learning (to challenge our core assumptions about dialogue and sciences). Considering the evolution of sciences as a double process embedded in the production of knowledge and the self-development of researchers raises the question of how to conceive simultaneously the relationships between these two major stakes. From a practical point of view, considering scientific dialogue as a lifelong learning process would finally suggest the management of forums like the World Knowledge Dialogue (WKD) as a privileged educational opportunity to be designed following what is known about science as a social practice and about researchers as adult learners. Based on the first edition of this forum, four suggestions are finally considered: favoring heterogeneity; valorizing formal knowledge as well as lived experience; acknowledging the learning dimension involved in the process of sharing; and confronting professional experience with knowledge produced about sciences. Inspired by Edgar Morin’s constructivist and non-dualistic position, this paper explores its practical stakes by revisiting the practice of transdisciplinary research and by considering the relationships between the process of knowledge construction and researchers’ self-development as a lifelong learning process.
Context: Public universities in South Africa are currently facing the challenge of decolonising knowledge. This change requires a review of curriculums, as well as teaching and learning with the goal of embracing the epistemology of the learners, addressing issues such as social justice and transformation. Problem: Human communication is subject to several perceptual errors in both listening and seeing, which challenges the success of the communication in the education system. The ability of the teacher and the learners to effectively communicate with one another is a factor for the success of each reaching their goals. The teacher imparts her knowledge in the classroom, but according to von Foerster, “[i]t is the listener, not the speaker, who determines the meaning of an utterance,” for the listener contextualises this information based on her own past lived experience. Thus, the student’s epistemology and her expression of her understanding is integral in the classroom context and should be actively included into the education system. Method: I present a cybernetic approach to the teacher-learner system, challenging traditional ideas about the role of each actor within the system, with special attention given to Pask’s conversation theory. Results: Early empirical findings suggest that a conversational contextual approach results in higher student involvement and better memory retention among the learners. Conversational approaches that are epistemologically inclusive diffuse social problems where the student groups require their individual worldviews to be reflected within the curriculum. This reduces the friction of competing epistemologies within the education system, moving toward a co-created contextually-driven knowledge system. Implications: Many educators would like deeper engagement from their learners but have not found a way to successfully engage the student group. A cybernetic approach is one method that can be adopted to remedy this. This is particularly useful in contexts where there is cultural diversity and impending social change. Constructivist content: I address von Glasersfeld’s points on human cognition, linking it to Austin’s speech acts.
Open peer commentary on the article “The Banathy Conversation Methodology” by Gordon Dyer, Jed Jones, Gordon Rowland & Silvia Zweifel. Upshot: I compare two closely related methodologies: the Banathy Conversation Methodology (BCM) and Structured Dialogic Design (or Structured Democratic Dialogue, SDD.
This paper aims to provide principles and to give a case study of the application of Bateson’s ideas to promote epistemological change in organisations to deal with problems which many governments currently attempt to address by control through detailed performance indicators and top-down monitoring. It suggests that epistemological change requires an approach that goes beyond rational argument and provides an example of the way that emotional engagement and story telling can be built into action research based on cybernetic ideas. Bateson stresses the need for an epistemological change to embrace an understanding of the implications of circular causation to underpin our approach to problems and policy making. The case study shows how research using systemic principles can address epistemological change at all its stages including data collection and dissemination. In this way the research aims to become a conversation in which participants can reflect on the epistemological assumptions that underpin their actions. Relevance: Following Maturana and Bateson it is found that a reflexive conversation that engages participants through emotion and story telling as well as demonstrating reflection on the researcher’s own assumptions can powerfully engage participants in changing how they see problems and what they do. Whilst rational argument can be used to develop and expand a rational domain, including the rational domain of cybernetics, the paper suggests that the introduction of a systemic or cybernetic understanding to newcomers instead requires aesthetic seduction that can be achieved by promoting reflection on epistemological assumptions through story telling and emotional engagement.
Context: Radical constructivism claims that we have no final truth criteria for establishing one ontology over another. This leaves us with the question of how we can come to know anything in a viable manner. According to von Glasersfeld, radical constructivism is a theory of knowledge rather than a philosophy of the world in itself because we do not have access to a human-independent world. He considers knowledge as the ordering of experience to cope with situations in a satisfactory way. Problem: Von Foerster and Krippendorff show that the central goal of a constructivist theory of knowing must be to find a way of putting the knower into a known that is constructed so as to keep the knower, as well as the knowing process, viable in practice. Method: The conceptual and philosophical analysis of present theories and their necessary prerequisites suggests that such foundation for viable knowing can be built on the analysis of what the ontological prerequisites are for establishing viable observing, cognition, communication and observer-communicators, and communication media and vehicles. Results: The moment an observer chooses to accept his/her own embodied conscious presence in this world as well as language, he/she must accept other humans as partly independently existing conversation partners; if knowledge and knowing has to make sense, he/she must also accept as prerequisites for our observation and conversation a pre-linguistic reality from which our bodies come and which our conversation is often about. Furthermore, we can no longer claim that there is a reality that we do not know anything about: From being here in conversation, we know that the world can produce more or less stable embodied consciousnesses that can exchange and construct conceptual meanings through embodied conversations and actions that last over time and exist in space-time and mind, and are correlated to our embodied practices. We can also see that our communication works through signs for all living systems as well as in human language, understood as a structured and progressively developed system of communication. The prerequisite for this social semiotic production of meaning is the fourfold “semiotic star of cybersemiotics,” which includes at least four different worlds: our bodies, the combination of society, culture and language, our consciousness, and also an outer nature. Implications: The semiotic star in cybersemiotics claims that the internal subjective, the intersubjective linguistic, our living bodies, and nature are irreducible and equally necessary as epistemological prerequisites for knowing. The viable reality of any of them cannot be denied without self-refuting paradoxes. There is an obvious connectedness between the four worlds, which Peirce called “synechism.” It also points to Peirce’s conclusion that logic and rationality are part of the process of semiosis, and that meaning in the form of semiosis is a fundamental aspect of reality, not just a construction in our heads. Erratum: The paper erroneously refers to “pleroma.” The correct term is “plemora.”
Context: Both Luhmann and Pask have developed detailed theories of social systems that include accounts of the role of learning. Problem: Rather than see the theories as competing, we believe it is worthwhile to seek ways in which a useful synthesis of the two approaches may be developed. Method: We compare the two approaches by identifying key similarities and differences. Results: We show it is possible to make useful mappings between key concepts in the two theories. Implications: We believe it is worthwhile for social scientists to be familiar with the two theories and that it is not a case of “either/or,” rather, it is a case of “both/and.”
Open peer commentary on the target article “From Objects to Processes: A Proposal to Rewrite Radical Constructivism” by Siegfried J. Schmidt. Upshot: We largely agree with Siegfried J. Schmidt’s focus on process and his call to look at how the “heavy words” of philosophy – “reality,” “knowledge,” “truth,” and like – are used in our everyday life-world. As communication researchers, we examine two transcripts of conversation to sketch empirically how “the real” is reported in giving directions or used in an account to undermine another’s blame narrative. By this discursive turn we attempt to let the ontological wind of out such terms as “real” and look at its indexical situated uses and how it works in constituting our life-world.
Open peer commentary on the article “Coordination Produces Cognitive Niches, not just Experiences: A Semi-Formal Constructivist Ontology Based on von Foerster” by Konrad Werner. Upshot: The eigenforms of von Foerster, like the concept of invariants in ecological psychology, have proved useful in stimulating both theory and empirical work in the study of perceptually guided action. The target article offers a novel elaboration of the core idea of invariance in flux. I offer two brief sketches that suggest how the novel formalism might provide a useful stimulus to thought in specific domains: the use of names in dyadic conversation and Buddhist accounts of perception.
In the reception of Josef Mitterer’s writings up to now, there are two predominant types of motifs: the radical constructivist background of his philosophy and the ontological and epistemological foundations and consequences of non-dualism. The critics are focused rather on some problematic consequences of non-dualism, ranging from the problem of infinite regress up to the thesis assuming that Mitterer’s philosophy presupposes a world reduced to descriptions. However, these two types of readings are founded on dualizing assumptions which are not coherent with non-dualism. \\Thus, in the present paper I interpret non-dualism in the frame of non-dual-ism, based on non-dualizing assumptions. I argue that non-dualism is a rhetorical project resulting in far-reaching consequences in the field of academic and scientific debates, poetics and practice of negotiations and deliberations, as well as in ordinary discourse. Non-dualism fulfills Richard Rorty’s dream of culture as a never-ending conversation in which the argument of power is successfully replaced by the power of argument. Mitterer makes transparent the rhetorical techniques performed in the dualizing discourse (not only in situations of conflict) in order to present an alternative – the non-dualizing mode of discourse. Mitterer’s philosophy – reread in the context of Rorty’s pragmatism, Foucault’s conception of discourses, Perelman’s new rhetoric – offers the new vocabulary (in Rorty’s meaning) which may change the practice of speaking