In this article, the author provides a brief introduction to a completely new theory in Semantics, Operational Semantics (OS), which concerns the meaning of the basic linguistic elements that are indispensable for any linguistic expression, i.e., the fundamental “grammatical” words and morphemes. Even if in the text there is no explicit reference to constructivism, OS could be relevant for constructivist approaches, since its fundamental presupposition is that the meanings of these linguistic elements are mainly sequences of elemental mental operations (amongst which those of attention play a key role) that are actively carried out by the subject.
Context: The constructivist approach to the definition (or analysis) of the fundamental meanings of language in Ernst von Glasersfeld’s work. Problem: Has this approach achieved better results than other approaches? Method: Review of a book chapter by von Glasersfeld that is devoted to the analysis of the concepts of “unity,” “plurality” and “number.” Results: The constructivist approach to the semantics of the fundamental elements of language (some of which are fundamental for sciences too) seems to have produced positive results; moreover these are in a field where other approaches have produced results that do not objectively seem satisfactory.
Models of cognition and language currently in use as frameworks for computer applications present a clear disequilibrium: they neglect productive mental activities, as for instance synthesis, and over-estimate receptive ones, as analysis. The paper focuses on the Kantian concept of object-synthesis as a basic mental mechanism and underlines its importance for an equilibrated model of cognitive processing. Integration of the Kantian approach with Ceccato’s model of mental operations could allow to implement synthetic operations in computer applications. A syntactic parser (von Glasersfeld and Pisani, 1970) which implements Ceccato’s approach to cognition, semantics and linguistics is reproposed to the attention of AI researchers: it could be used as a basis for a modern implementation of object-synthesis in knowledge representation and natural language processing.
Two aspects of Vico’s constructivist epistemology are germane to contemporary cognitive developmental psychology. These aspects are Vico’s account of cognitive operations and of the limits to human knowledge of the world. Drawing on Vico’s epistemological treatise, and on contemporary commentary on Vico, it is argued that this eighteenth-century constructivist epistemology is useful in two ways. First, by being a consistent, and so radical, constructivism it may be helpful in clarifying the meaning of the environment in Piaget’s theory. Second, the description of mental operations may provide a way of overcoming objections to the overly formal quality of Piaget’s basic concrete-operational structures.
This article reports on results from a study that quantitatively tested hypotheses arising from Les Steffe and John Olive’s Fractions Project. It affirms their work and scheme theory in general. For example, the study showed that additional mental operations are necessary for middle school students to generalize their partitive conceptions from unit fractions to other proper fractions.
When Silvio Ceccato began to collaborate with D’ARS in 1963, in his first article, “Cybernetics and Art” (No. 2 March-May), he concluded that perhaps a new chapter of pedagogy in the field of art had opened. Although he was aware of the innovative strength of his ideas, he could certainly not predict the promising results that would have been achieved later with the experimentation in teaching and in particular in the context of aesthetic enjoyment. Even though schools were able to profit from his advanced ideas, the most important indication coming from his research certainly concerns its contribution to robotics. The model of mental operations that he designed from the sixties at the Center of Cybernetics and Linguistic Activities of the University of Milan can still help tackle the problem of artificial intelligence, which is, of course, controversial, but of compelling actuality.
Context: Ernst von Glasersfeld collaborated with the Italian Operational School from the early 1960s when the project on the mechanization of higher human activities began. Problem: To analyze the cognitive processes in terms of a mnemonic-attentional dynamic and to study every thought content in light of the interdependence between observer and observed. Method: The project comprised two research areas: the linguistic translation, in which von Glasersfeld participated; and the semantic analysis of words, in which I participated. The common basis was the analysis of attentional dynamisms. This allowed the syntactic complexity of a sentence to be transferred to the correlational structure of the thought. The semantic analysis, especially of the observational words, was based on the attentional dynamisms used for the categorization, perception, and representation processes. Results: The analysis of visual processes led to the “constitutive structures.” These structures allowed me to establish an operative didactic based on the awareness of mental operations. Implications: The comparison between von Glasersfeld’s and my experiences revealed the equivalence of some analyses, which was due to the common presumption that the experiential units depend on the operation performed by the perceiver.
Purpose: In the paper, I discuss how Ernst Glasersfeld worked as a scientist on the project, Interdisciplinary Research on Number (IRON), and explain how his scientific activity fueled his development of radical constructivism. I also present IRON as a progressive research program in radical constructivism and suggest the essential components of such programs. Findings: The basic problem of Glasersfeld’s radical constructivism is to explore the operations by means of which we assemble our experiential reality. Conceptual analysis is Glasersfeld’s way of doing science and he used it in IRON to analyze the units that young children create and count in the activity of counting. In his work in IRON, Glasersfeld first conducted a first-order conceptual analysis of his own operations that produce units and number, and then participated in a second-order analysis of the language and actions of children and inferred the mental operations that they use to produce units and number. Further, Glasersfeld used Piaget’s concept of equilibration in the context of scheme theory in a second-order analysis of children’s construction of number sequences and of more advanced ways and means of operating in the traffic of numbers. Research Implications: The scientific method of first- and second-order conceptual analysis transcends our work in IRON and it is applicable in any radical constructivist research program whose problem is to explore the operations by means of which we construct our conceptions. Because of the difficulties involved with introspection, conducting second-order conceptual analyses is essential in exploring these operations and it involves analyzing the language and actions of the observed. But conceptual analysis is only a part of the research process because the researchers are by necessity already involved in creating occasions of observation. The “experimenter” and the “analyst” can be the same person or they can be different people. Either case involves intensive and sustained interdisciplinary thinking and ways of working if the research program is to be maintained over a substantial period of time as a progressive research program.