In my article, I propose to discuss constructivism and realism in terms of actions instead of doing that in a usual way, in terms of theories, philosophers or general positions. To enable this, I offer two conceptual tools. First, I use modified model of four types of knowledge introduced by Andrzej Zybertowicz. It approaches any knowledge-building process as a cultural game, and recognizes reproduction, discovery, redefinition, and design of a new game. Second, I use Stanislaw Lem’s model of three types of geniuses. I illustrate my approach briefly using examples from Plato, Spinoza and Berkeley.
Context: The enactivist tradition, out of which neurophenomenology arose, rejects various internalisms – including the representationalist and information-processing metaphors – but remains wedded to one further internalism: the claim that the structure of perceptual experience is directly, constitutively linked only to internal, brain-based dynamics. Problem: I aim to reject this internalism and defend an alternative analysis. Method: The paper presents a direct-realist, externalist, sensorimotor account of perceptual experience. It uses the concept of counterfactual meaningful action to defend this view against various objections. Results: This account of experience matches certain first-person features of experience better than an internalist account could. It is fully tractable as “normal science.” Implications: The neuroscientific conception of brain function should change from that of internal representation or modelling to that of enabling meaningful, embodied action in ways that constitutively involve the world. Neurophenomenology should aim to match the structure of first-person experience with the structure of meaningful agent-world interactions, not with that of brain dynamics. Constructivist content: The sensorimotor approach shows us what external objects are, such that we may enact them, and what experience is, such that it may present us with those enacted objects.
Upshot: I offer responses to the commentaries on my target article in five short sections. The first section, about the plurality of lived worlds, concerns issues of quite general interest to readers of this journal. The second section presents some reasons for rejecting “enabling” as well as “constitutive” representational approaches to understanding the mind. In the remaining three sections, I clarify aspects of sensorimotor direct realism relating to the self, qualia, counterfactuals, and the notion of “mastery.”
Context: Direct realism is a non-reductive, anti-representationalist theory of perception lying at the heart of mainstream analytic philosophy, where it is currently generating a lot of interest. For all that, it is widely held to be both controversial and anti-scientific. On the other hand, the sensorimotor theory of perception (which is a specific development of Gibsonian approaches to perception) initially generated a lot of interest within enactive philosophy of cognitive science, but has arguably not yet delivered on its initial promise. Problem: I aim to show that the sensorimotor theory and direct realism complement each other, and that the result is a philosophically radical, but fully scientifically realised, theory of perception. Method: The article uses (non-reductive) philosophical analysis and discussion. It also draws on empirical evidence from the relevant cognitive sciences. Results: Direct realism can be augmented by sensorimotor theory to become a scientifically tractable alternative to the mainstream, representationalist research programme within cognitive science. Implications: The article aims to further clarify the philosophical importance of the sensorimotor approach to perception. It also aims to show that the apparently radical claim that we perceive objects themselves is amenable to normal scientific study. Constructivist content: Objects are analysed as a kind of collaboration between the world and the perceiver. On this account, we can never perceive outside the categories of our own understanding, but we do perceive genuinely outside our own heads. Thus, the approach here is not exactly constructivism, though it shares many goals and results with constructivism.
Diverse forms of constructivism can be found in the literature today. They exhibit a commonality regarding certain classical positions that they oppose – a unity in their negative identities – but a sometimes wild multiplicity and incompatibility regarding the positive proposals that they put forward. In particular, some constructivisms propose an epistemological idealism, with a concomitant relativism, while others are explicitly opposed to such positions, and move in multifarious different directions. This is a potentially confusing situation, and has resulted in some critics branding all constructivisms with the charge of relativism, and throwing out the baby with the bath water. In addition, since the epistemological foundations of even non-relativist constructivisms are not as familiar as the classical positions, there is a risk of mis-interpretation of constructivisms and their consequences, even by some who endorse them, not to mention those who criticize. Because I urge that some version of constructivism is an epistemological necessity, this situation strikes me as seriously unfortunate for philosophy, and potentially dangerous for the practice of education.
Excerpt: My purpose in this paper is to show that the two major options on which the current debate on the interpretation of quantum mechanics relies, namely realism and empiricism (or instrumentalism), are far from being exhaustive. There is at least one more position available; a position which has been widely known in the history of philosophy during the past two centuries but which, in spite of some momentous exceptions, has only attracted little interest until recently in relation to the foundational problems of quantum mechanics. According to this third position, one may provide a theory with much stronger justifications than mere a posteriori empirical adequacy, without invoking the slightest degree of isomorphism between this theory and the elusive things out there. Such an intermediate attitude, which is metaphysically as agnostic as empiricism, but which shares with realism a commitment to considering the structure of theories as highly significant, has been named transcendentalism after Kant. Of course, I have no intention in this paper to rehearse the procedures and concepts developed by Kant himself; for these particular procedures and concepts were mostly adapted to the state of physics in his time, namely to Newtonian mechanics. I rather wish to formulate a generalized version of his method and show how this can yield a reasoning that one is entitled to call a transcendental deduction of quantum mechanics. This will be done in three steps. To begin with, I shall define carefully the word “transcendental,” and the procedure of “transcendental deduction,” in terms which will make clear how they can have a much broader field of application than Kant ever dared to imagine. Then, I shall show briefly that the main structural features of quantum mechanics can indeed be transcendentally deduced in this modern sense. Finally, I shall discuss the significance, and also the limits, of these results.
Context: Radical Constructivism is an issue that deeply divides the cognitive science community: most researchers reject it, but an increasing number do not. Problem: Constructivists stress that our knowledge starts from experience. Some (“ontic” constructivists) deny the existence of a mind-independent world, while others (“radical” constructivists) claim merely that, if such a world exists, we can know nothing about it. Both positions conflict with scientific realism. It is not clear that the conflict can be resolved. Method: This paper uses philosophical argument to ask whether constructivism can be rationally preferred over realism in science. Results: Ontic constructivism cannot be disproved by any knock-down argument. Nevertheless, it is irrational to accept it, because it ignores the strategy of “inference to the best explanation”: realism is the best explanation of the successes of science. Radical constructivism, too, fails to explain these successes. Some radical constructivists have tried to offer theories more sympathetic to realism. For instance, Ernst von Glasersfeld sees science as a coherent ordering of experience, and appeals to Piagetian psychology as support. There are close similarities. But Piaget was also caught in a constructivist anti-realism, despite his attempt to evade it. Implications: The constructivist’s claim that scientific concepts and theories are generated by human minds is correct. But this important insight should not be used to deny realism, which is the best explanation of the many undeniable successes of science and engineering.
In this paper, I describe what I consider to be some of the similarities between semiotics and second-order cybernetics. Particular attention is paid to the importance of interpretation and recursion in both fields. A distinction is made between the concept of representation in representational realism and representation as the stand-for relationship. Two models derived from cybernetic theory, ‘a recursive theory of communication’ and ‘levels of experience, ’ are discussed from a semiotic perspective and possible educational implications are described
Excerpt: In the present essay I will be concerned with the dispute between constructivism and realism. I have three aims: to articulate the best arguments for realism against sophisticated versions of constructivism, to explore the implications of those arguments for our understanding of the issue of conventionality generally, and to explore some broader issues of philosophical method which are raised by the dispute between realists and constructivists.