Context: Society is faced with “wicked” problems of environmental sustainability, which are inherently multiperspectival, and there is a need for explicitly constructivist and perspectivist theories to address them. Problem: However, different constructivist theories construe the environment in different ways. The aim of this paper is to clarify the conceptions of environment in constructivist approaches, and thereby to assist the sciences of complex systems and complex environmental problems. Method: We describe the terms used for “the environment” in von Uexküll, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, and analyse how their conceptions of environment are connected to differences of perspective and observation. Results: We show the need to distinguish between inside and outside perspectives on the environment, and identify two very different and complementary logics of observation, the logic of distinction and the logic of representation, in the three constructivist theories. Implications: Luhmann’s theory of social systems can be a helpful perspective on the wicked environmental problems of society if we consider carefully the theory’s own blind spots: that it confines itself to systems of communication, and that it is based fully on the conception of observation as indication by means of distinction.
The paradox of scientific expertise is that the growth of science leads to a fragmentation of scientific expertise. To resolve this paradox, this paper probes three hypotheses: 1) All scientific knowledge is perspectival. 2) The perspectival structure of science leads to specific forms of knowledge asymmetries. 3) Such perspectival knowledge asymmetries must be handled through second order perspectives. We substantiate these hypotheses on the basis of a perspectivist philosophy of science grounded in Peircean semiotics and autopoietic systems theory. Perspectivism is an important elaboration of constructivist approaches to help overcome problems in cross-disciplinary collaboration and use of science, and thereby make society better able to solve complex, real-world problems.
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.
Big data biology – bioinformatics, computational biology, systems biology (including “omics”), and synthetic biology – raises a number of issues for the philosophy of science. This article deals with several, such as: Is data-intensive biology a new kind of science, presumably post-reductionistic? To what extent is big data biology data-driven? Can data “speak for themselves?” I discuss these issues by way of a reflection on Carl Woese’s worry that “a society that permits biology to become an engineering discipline, that allows science to slip into the role of changing the living world without trying to understand it, is a danger to itself.” And I argue that scientific perspectivism, a philosophical stance represented prominently by Giere, Van Fraassen, and Wimsatt, according to which science cannot as a matter of principle transcend our human perspective, provides the best resources currently at our disposal to tackle many of the philosophical issues implied in the modeling of complex, multilevel/multiscale phenomena. Relevance: Many interesting things can be learned about the irreducibly human nature of scientific knowledge in a perspectivist stance (“view from somewhere”) while avoiding futile constructivism vs. realism debates. Qua perspectivists, constructive empiricists à la Van Fraassen and constructive realists à la Giere can cooperate in a profitable way.
In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, constructivist psychology has been criticized for its presumed “anything goes” relativism and passivity. This paper counters such a view, arguing that while constructivism does accept perspectivism, it rejects “anything goes. ” Constructivist psychologists evaluate responses to terrorism in terms of meaningfulness and viability. They suggest that there are an unlimited number of possible responses to terrorism, none of which are precluded simply because constructivists are skeptical that human experience constitutes a mirror on external reality. Believing that human beings invent ways of understanding to guide them through their lives does not preclude constructivists from taking action. On the contrary, it provides the very basis for such action. The implications of this position are briefly outlined.