Context: At the conference “The Ethical Meaning of Francisco Varela’s Thought,” which took place on 28 May 2011 in Sassari, Italy, Humberto Maturana, Michel Bitbol, and Pier Luigi Luisi participated in two discussions. Purpose: In this edited transcription of the discussions, the participants talk about several aspects of autopoiesis, the observer, ontology, making distinctions and distinguishing different domains, perception and illusion, and transcendence. Results: The discussions shed light on how constructivist concepts are perceived by individual authors. Concepts such as “transcendence” and “objectivity” are understood in different ways. Constructivist content: The concepts discussed are highly relevant for constructivist approaches.
The first part of this paper examines the differences between Piaget’s constructivism, what Papert refers to as“constructionism,” and the socio-constructivist approach as portrayed by Vygotsky. All these views are developmental, and they share the notion that people actively contribute to the construction of their knowledge, by transforming their world. Yet the views also differ, each highlighting on some aspects of how children learn and grow, while leaving other questions unanswered. Attempts at integrating these views [learning through experience, through media, and through others] helps shed light on how people of different ages and venues come to make sense of their experience, and find their place – and voice – in the world. Tools, media, and cutural artifacts are the tangible forms, or mediational means, through which we make sense of our world and negociate meaning with others. In the second part of this paper, I speak to the articulations between make-believe activities and creative symbol-use as a guiding connection to rethink the aims of representations. Simulacrum and simulation, I show, play a key role besides language in helping children ground and mediate their experience in new ways. From computer-based microworlds for constructive learning (Papert’s turtle geometry, TERC’s body-syntonic graphing), to social virtual environments (MUDing). In each case, I discuss the roles of symbolic recreation, and imaginary projection (people’s abilities to build and dwell in their creations) as two powerful heuristic to keep in touch with situations, to bring what’s unknown to mind’s reach, and to explore risky ideas on safe grounds. I draw implications for education.
Context: The problems that are most in need of interdisciplinary collaboration are “wicked problems,” such as food crises, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development, with many relevant aspects, disagreement on what the problem is, and contradicting solutions. Such complex problems both require and challenge interdisciplinarity. Problem: The conventional methods of interdisciplinary research fall short in the case of wicked problems because they remain first-order science. Our aim is to present workable methods and research designs for doing second-order science in domains where there are many different scientific knowledges on any complex problem. Method: We synthesize and elaborate a framework for second-order science in interdisciplinary research based on a number of earlier publications, experiences from large interdisciplinary research projects, and a perspectivist theory of science. Results: The second-order polyocular framework for interdisciplinary research is characterized by five principles. Second-order science of interdisciplinary research must: 1. draw on the observations of first-order perspectives, 2. address a shared dynamical object, 3. establish a shared problem, 4. rely on first-order perspectives to see themselves as perspectives, and 5. be based on other rules than first-order research. Implications: The perspectivist insights of second-order science provide a new way of understanding interdisciplinary research that leads to new polyocular methods and research designs. It also points to more reflexive ways of dealing with scientific expertise in democratic processes. The main challenge is that this is a paradigmatic shift, which demands that the involved disciplines, at least to some degree, subscribe to a perspectivist view. Constructivist content: Our perspectivist approach to science is based on the second-order cybernetics and systems theories of von Foerster, Maruyama, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, coupled with embodied theories of cognition and semiotics as a general theory of meaning from von Uexküll and Peirce.
Robert Stecker has posed a dilemma for the constructivist theory of interpretation: either interpretations consist of statements with truth values or they do not. Stecker argues that either way, they cannot change the meaning of an artwork. In this article, I argue contra Stecker that if interpretations consist of meaning declarations rather than statements, they can change the meanings of the objects toward which they are directed, where whether they so consist is largely a function of the interpreter’s intentions. Hence, the second horn of Stecker’s dilemma is defeated.
This paper has a dual purpose. On the one hand, it suggests ways of making autopoietic theory more precise and more operational for concrete communication analysis. I discuss concepts such as distinction, system, bound- ary, environment, perturbation, and compen- sation. The explication of the concepts is ba- sed on catastrophe theory, and in order to make them operational I emphasise their affinity to traditional semiotics and communi- cation theory. On the other hand I propose changes to the semiotic tradition in order to incorporate insights from autopoietic theory, namely that the human condition is characte- rised by the phenomenon of self-reference and therefore also by the unavoidability of para- doxes. Firstly, this means that truth cannot be a basic semiotic concept; instead the notion of stability is suggested. Secondly, in order to act in a paradoxical context, we need to unfold the paradox in time, which again calls for a dynamic theory of meaning.
This paper attempts to establish a systems-semiotic framework explaining creativity in the design process, where the design process is considered to have as its basis the cognitive process. The design process is considered as the interaction between two or more cognitive systems resulting in a purposeful and ongoing transformation of their already complex representational structures and the production of newer ones, in order to ful?ll an ill-defined goal. Creativity is considered as the result of an emergence of organizational complexity in each cognitive system participating in the design process, while it is trying to purposefully incorporate new constraints in its meaning structures. The meanings generated in each system are identi?ed as the contingent and anticipatory content of its representations, and where self-organization is the dominant process in which they are continuously involved. Furthermore, Peircean semiotic processes appear to provide the functionality needed by the emergent representational structures in order to complete the cycle of a creative design process. Creativity originates in the abductive stage of the semiotic process, the fallible nature of which is maintained in the proposed framework by the fact that the respective emergent representations can be mis?ts. The nodal points of the framework are identified and analyzed showing that a cognitive system needs the whole interactive anticipatory cycle in order to engage in a creative design process.
Contemporary research in artificial environments has marked the need for autonomy in artificial agents. Autonomy has many interpretations in terms of the field within which it is being used and analyzed, but the majority of the researchers in artificial environments are arguing in favor of a strong and life-like notion of autonomy. Departing from this point the main aim of this paper is to examine the possibility of the emergence of autonomy in contemporary artificial agents. The theoretical findings of research in the areas of living and cognitive systems, suggests that the study of autonomous agents should adopt a systemic and emergent perspective for the analysis of the evolutionary development of the notions/properties of autonomy, functionality, intentionality and meaning, as the fundamental and characteristic properties of a natural agent. An analytic indication of the functional emergence of these concepts and properties is provided, based on the characteristics of the more general systemic framework of second-order cybernetic and of the interactivist framework. The notion of emergence is a key concept in such an analysis which in turn provides the ground for the theoretical evaluation of the autonomy of contemporary artificial agents with respect to the functional emergence of their capacities. The fundamental problems for the emergence of genuine autonomy in artificial agents are critically discussed and some design guidelines are provided.
This paper attempts to provide the basis for a broader naturalized account of agency. Naturalization is considered as the need for an ongoing and open-ended process of scientific inquiry driven by the continuous formulation of questions regarding a phenomenon. The naturalization of agency is focused around the interrelation of the fundamental notions of autonomy, functionality, intentionality and meaning. Certain naturalized frameworks of agency are criti¬cally considered in an attempt to bring together all the charac¬teristic properties that constitute an autonomous agent, as well as to indicate the shaping of these notions/properties during the development and the evolution of its agential capacity. Autonomy and interaction are proved to be key concepts in this endeavor.
The paper looks at how a society having to deal with the introduction of the computer and its derivatives may differ from earlier societies which dealt with the introduction of language, writing, and the printing press. Each one of the introduction of these media of the dissemination of communication is regarded as a ‘catastrophe ’ forcing the society into new ways to selectively deal with new kinds of surplus meaning. The paper presents a sociological theory having to incorporate aspects of heterogeneous networks and of self-referential action in order to watch how the transformation of modern society into a next society may enfold. It draws a distinction between the structure of a society, ensuring the dissemination of communication, and the culture of the society, enabling it to condense the meaning of disseminated and distributed communication into a form which allows actors to focus on selections of it while taking account of the unmarked state as the other side of any one selection. Niklas Luhmann proposed to consider Aristotelian telos the ancient literal society’s culture form, and Cartesian self-referential restlessness or equilibrium as modern printing press society’s culture form. We add the culture form of boundaries for primitive oral society, and Spencer-Brownian form for the emerging next computer society. The paper will be
Enactivism is an emerging perspective both in cognitive science and in cultural psychology. Whereas the enactive approach in general has focused on sense-making as an embodied and situated activity, enactive cultural psychology emphasizes the expressive and dynamically enacted nature of cultural meaning. This chapter first situates enactivism within a tradition of expressivist thinking that has historical roots both in radical Enlightenment thought and Romantic reactions against the rationalization of human nature. It will then offer a view of our human biology that can be reconciled with an account of meaning as irreducibly normative. By emphasizing the consensual rather than the supposedly shared nature of meaningful conduct, enactivism avoids some of the classical pitfalls in thinking about culture. In the conclusion a genetic enactive psychology will be presented, which understands sense-making not as a mediated activity, but as a competence acquired through cultural training and personal stylization.