This paper aims at shedding light on what students can “construct” when they learn science and how this construction process may be supported. Constructivism is a pluralist theory of science education. As a consequence, I support, there are several points of view concerning this construction process. Firstly, I stress that constructivism is rooted in two fields, psychology of cognitive development and epistemology, which leads to two ways of describing the construction process: either as a process of enrichment and/or reorganization of the cognitive structures at the mental level, or as a process of building or development of models or theories at the symbolic level. Secondly, I argue that the usual distinction between “personal constructivism” (PC) and “social constructivism” (SC) originates in a difference of model of reference: the one of PC is Piaget’s description of “spontaneous” concepts, assumed to be constructed by students on their own when interacting with their material environment, the one of SC is Vygotsky’s description of scientific concepts, assumed to be introduced by the teacher by means of verbal communication. Thirdly, I support the idea that, within SC, there are in fact two trends: one, in line with Piaget’s work, demonstrates how cooperation among students affects the development of each individual’s cognitive structures; the other, in line with Vygotsky’s work, claims that students can understand and master new models only if they are introduced to the scientific culture by their teacher. Fourthly, I draw attention to the process of “problem construction” identified by some French authors. Finally, I advocate for an integrated approach in science education, taking into account all the facets of science learning and teaching mentioned above and emphasizing their differences as well as their interrelations. Some suggestions intended to improve the efficiency of science teaching are made.
The Tree of Knowledge, by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, is a landmark attempt to integrate biology, cognition, and epistemology into a single science, reversing the dualism of fact and value, and of observer and observed, that has haunted the West since the seventeenth century. The authors see perception as a reciprocal and interacting phenomenon, a “dance of congruity” that takes place between a living entity and its environment. This, they argue, implies a relativity of worldviews (there are no certainties), as well as the existence of a biology of cooperation going back millions of years. Recognition of a lack of absolutes, and of the nature of perception itself, they assert, make it possible for us today to change things for the better, as a deliberate and conscious act. What is overlooked in this discussion, however, are the origins and nature of conflict. By being pointedly apolitical, the authors wind up implying that one worldview is as good as the next. Cognitively speaking, the substitution of Buddhism for politics is a serious error, leaving, as it does, too many crucial questions unanswered. It is thus doubtful whether the biological argument being advanced here can stand up to serious scrutiny, and whether the dualism of modern science has indeed been overcome. Yet The Tree of Knowledge remains an important milestone in our current efforts to recognize that science is not value-free, and that fact and value are inevitably tied together. We are finally going to have to create a science that does not split the two apart, and that puts the human being back into the world as an involved participant, not as an alienated observer.
In this paper we introduce the concept of Knowledge Cooperation, a participative approach to Knowledge Management based on a constructivist knowledge model. We then present its implementation in the weak ties knowledge network CoRe, a distributed Community of Practice of researchers (“Community of Research”) supported by an online platform that implements a Web 2.0 approach based on MOODLE.
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.
Excerpt: The Origin of Humanness, written in the early 1990s, brings together two strands of research: Maturana Romesin’s research into the origin of humanness and Verden-Zöller’s research into the rise of self-consciousness in the child during early mother-child play relations. The authors’ core claim is that the human species has evolved by conserving love as a fundamental domain of cooperation expressed through the basic emotions or moods of mutual respect, care, acceptance and trust (Homo sapiens-amans) rather than competition and aggression (Homo sapiens aggressans or arrogance). In this, they do not declare an ethical imperative, but rather situate ethics in biology, since, in their view, a responsible concern for the well-being of the other (human, species, biosphere, etc.) arises naturally from a manner of living in the biology of love. This is what they propose as a way for conserving the existence of social human beings (and what they call “social consciousness”) and for countering the dominant culture of domination, submission or indifference in Western society. Ethics, in this sense, is a choice of emotioning on an individual basis that in relation to a social community defines how a particular manner of living is to be conserved over the coming generations.
Context: Maturana’s views on cognitive processes and explaining have ethical implications. The aim of this paper is to link ethics and epistemology to facilitate thinking about how to promote respect between different viewpoints through mutual understanding. Method: Maturana’s views on ethics are outlined in three domains: the personal, the interpersonal, and the societal. Results: The ethical implications that emerge around the notion of reality with or without parenthesis, the concept of the legitimate other, and Maturana’s conjectures about the origins of human social groups. Social groups in which cooperation is more important than competition are based on love in the sense that others are accepted as legitimate members of the community. An epistemology that responds to the biological origins of human cognition is one that is more open to cooperation, honesty, responsibility, and respect than an epistemology that takes reality as given and the task of human cognition to represent truth. Implications: This framework for thinking about cognitive processes provides a way of approaching disagreements so they become opportunities for discussion rather than for power assertion of one reality over another. In a world where strongly held viewpoints on ethics and reality lead to conflict, promoting viable models of cognitive process that link cognition and ethics may lead to insights that promote tolerance. Ideas from attribution theory in social psychology are presented as a means of facilitating the emergence of the concept of the legitimate other in discussion about disagreements.
This paper presents a constructivist account of the origins of cooperation in society based on Maturana’s biological theory of cognition. On this account we are invited to take responsibility for our thoughts and accept that differences in world view are opportunities for discussion under conditions of common interest. Such shared intentionality, basic to cooperation is proposed as the signal difference between humans and other primates. In the social domain such shared intentionality is basic to theories of social capital and the importance of human associations to the future of democracy.
This article proposes a possible synthesis between the concept of structural coupling with the milieu, derived from the thought of Maturana and Varela, and the concept of semeiosis derived from Peirce. The purpose is to develop a vocabulary and conceptual framework in which to envisage the relationships among autopoietic systems i.e. organisms, against which communication can take place. By showing how the sign emerges from structural coupling, this article hopes to encourage (or reinforce) a gestalt shift in scholars of communication, away from a conduit metaphor of sending and receiving communications, and towards a grounding of communication in the relationships among organisms and their environment(s), which include other organisms. When these organisms engage habitually in what Maturana calls the “coor-dination of coordination of behavior,” and especially when this involves languaging of the human type, then the environment to which they are coupled also involves a system of signs, which, as Peirce demonstrates, is continually changed by the very interpretive actions which constitute it. Human languaging is “the play of signs” because play is a process of “co-imagining” in which organisms generate a repertoire of potential behaviors by placing themselves outside the immediate (‘serious’) context of adaptation/ structural coupling. But within the cooperative domain of human work i.e. the human collaborative structural coupling with its shared environ-ment or milieu, this “play of signs” can pass or fail the test of effectiveness. Humans engaged in cooperative work co-coordinate their structural couplings by way of conversationing, a co-coordination which depends upon their shared encounter with a Secondness or “otherness” with which they grapple together – an “otherness” which can never be known directly, but only approached by the work of fallibilist human cooperation.
Von Bertalanffy stated that, at a certain threshold of complexity – namely when numerous forces are simultaneously interacting – systems” dynamics belong to a class other than causal mechanism, whether linear or circular. My objective here is to develop Von Bertalanffy’s point and to sort out a class of systems, the multilevel web, in which various forces or subsystems interact simultaneously within and across levels. Webs thus exhibit dynamical evolution through the cooperation and co-evolution of processes. I focus on two instances of multilevel web – the human mind, and small groups of people and show that cognitive webs demonstrate creative self-organization, as well as plural self-reference and free-will. I argue that, in multilevel webs, the variety and the complexity of forces interacting simultaneously instantiate inter-influences between connected elements/processes, so complex that they render causality irrelevant as a formalism. Webs’ inter-influences are fundamentally non deterministic, and they reach beyond causal mechanisms. However, simpler mechanisms such as linear cause-effects and circular causality may exist as component processes, enmeshed in the ensemble of interactions of the more complex system. In the first and second sections I present cognitive and social webs and sort out their properties.
I review here my personal and scientific interactions with Francisco Varela, starting from our meeting in 1983 in Alpbach, Austria, a momentous meeting, which was also the place where the Mind and Life Institute and independently the Cortona week were conceived. Later on, the scientific cooperation focussed on autopoiesis and permitted to arrive at the experimental autopoiesis on the basis of the self-reproduction of micelles and vesicles. I then briefly describe how Francisco, based on the complementary notion of cognition, was able to draw the bridge between biology and cognitive sciences. The main keywords here are enaction and embodied mind. From here, and towards the end of his life, Francisco focussed mostly on neurobiology, where he introduced the notion of neurophenomenology centred on first-person reports. However, his seminal work on autopoiesis was instrumental to conceive the new field of research on the minimal cells, which is briefly described. I conclude with an overview of the meaning of the work of Francisco for life sciences at large.