Context: During the 1980s, Ernst von Glasersfeld’s reflections nourished various studies conducted by a community of mathematics education researchers at CIRADE, Quebec, Canada. Problem: What are his influence on and contributions to the center’s rich climate of development? We discuss the fecundity of von Glasersfeld’s ideas for the CIRADE researchers’ community, specifically in didactique des mathématiques. Furthermore, we take a prospective view and address some challenges that new, post-CIRADE mathematics education researchers are confronted with that are related to interpretations of and reactions to constructivism by the surrounding community. Results: Von Glasersfeld’s contribution still continues today, with a new generation of researchers in mathematics education that have inherited views and ideas related to constructivism. For the post-CIRADE research community, the concepts and epistemology that von Glasersfeld put forward still need to be developed further, in particular concepts such as subjectivity, viability, the circular interpretative effect, representations, the nature of knowing, errors, and reality. Implications: Radical constructivism’s offspring resides within the concepts and epistemology put forth, and that continue to be put forth, through a large number of new and different generations of theories, thereby perpetuating von Glasersfeld’s legacy.
Context: Meeting Ernst von Glasersfeld for the first time in 1985, when about 70% of his work had still to be conceived, written and published, was a great stroke of fortune for me; it was based on my collaboration with Silvio Ceccato that had started in 1981 and it profoundly influenced my contributions to radical constructivism in the following 25 years of our friendship. Problem: Presenting the details of how it all began can shed a light on the development of constructivist ideas. Method: Anecdotes from 1979 to 1985 about how I came to meet Silvio Ceccato in Milan in 1981 and the influence of these events on preparing the 1985 meeting with Ernst von Glasersfeld, also in Milan. Results: The article describes the timeline of 50 years of publications by von Glasersfeld, an anecdote about a connection between Ceccato and the University of Zurich in the 60s, the attempt to present Ceccato’s ideas as compatible and complementary with the neuroscience discourse in 1985, von Glasersfeld’s opinion about this attempt, and this attempt’s potential influence on the emergence of a new concept in neuroscience, “EEG microstates.” Implications: The events and facts reported in the article help us to understand some aspects of an early phase in the development of radical constructivism, especially the relationship between Ceccato, von Glasersfeld and other members of the Italian Operational School such as Bruna Zonta, Felice Accame, and the author himself.
This article revisits the concept of autopoiesis and examines its relation to cognition and life. We present a mathematical model of a 3D tesselation automaton, considered as a minimal example of autopoiesis. This leads us to a thesis T1: “An autopoietic system can be described as a random dynamical system, which is defined only within its organized autopoietic domain.” We propose a modified definition of autopoiesis: “An autopoietic system is a network of processes that produces the components that reproduce the network, and that also regulates the boundary conditions necessary for its ongoing existence as a network.” We also propose a definition of cognition: “A system is cognitive if and only if sensory inputs serve to trigger actions in a specific way, so as to satisfy a viability constraint.” It follows from these definitions that the concepts of autopoiesis and cognition, although deeply related in their connection with the regulation of the boundary conditions of the system, are not immediately identical: a system can be autopoietic without being cognitive, and cognitive without being autopoietic. Finally, we propose a thesis T2: “A system that is both autopoietic and cognitive is a living system.”
This Introduction is our attempt to clarify further the cluster of key notions: autonomy, viability, abduction and adaptation. These notions form the conceptual scaffolding within which the individual contribution contained in this volume can be placed. Hopefully, these global concepts represent fundamental signposts for future research that can spare us a mere flurry of modelling and simulations into which this new field could fall.
Constructivism rejects the metaphysical position that “truth,” and thus knowledge in science, can represent an “objective” reality, independent of the knower. It modifies the role of knowledge from “true” representation to functional viability. In this interview, Ernst von Glasersfeld, the leading proponent of Radical Constructivism underlines the inaccessibility of reality, and proposes his view that the function of cognition is adaptive, in the biological sense: the adaptation is the result of the elimination of all that is not adapted. There is no rational way of knowing anything outside the domain of our experience and we construct our world of experiences. In addition to these philosophical claims, the interviewee provides some personal insights; he also gives some suggestions about better teaching and problem solving. These are the aspects of constructivism that have had a major impact on instruction and have modified the manner many of us teach. The process of teaching as linguistic communication, he says, needs to change in a way to involve actively the students in the construction of their knowledge. Because knowledge is not a transferable commodity, learning is mainly identified with the activity of the construction of personal meaning. This interview also provides glimpses on von Glasersfeld’s life.
This paper outlines an original interactivist–constructivist (I-C) approach to modelling intelligence and learning as a dynamical embodied form of adaptiveness and explores some applications of I-C to understanding the way cognitive learning is realized in the brain. Two key ideas for conceptualizing intelligence within this framework are developed. These are: (1) intelligence is centrally concerned with the capacity for coherent, context-sensitive, self-directed management of interaction; and (2) the primary model for cognitive learning is anticipative skill construction. Self-directedness is a capacity for integrative process modulation which allows a system to “steer” itself through its world by anticipatively matching its own viability requirements to interaction with its environment. Because the adaptive interaction processes required of intelligent systems are too complex for effective action to be prespecified (e.g. genetically) learning is an important component of intelligence. A model of self-directed anticipative learning (SDAL) is formulated based on interactive skill construction, and argued to constitute a central constructivist process involved in cognitive development. SDAL illuminates the capacity of intelligent learners to start with the vague, poorly defined problems typically posed in realistic learning situations and progressively refine them, transforming them into problems with sufficient structure to guide the construction of a solution. Finally, some of the implications of I-C for modelling of the neuronal basis of intelligence and learning are explored; in particular, Quartz and Sejnowski’s recent neural constructivism paradigm, enriched by Montague and Sejnowski’s dopaminergic model of anticipative–predictive neural learning, is assessed as a promising, but incomplete, contribution to this approach. The paper concludes with a fourfold reflection on the divergence in cognitive modelling philosophy between the I-C and the traditional computational information processing approaches.
Open peer commentary on the article “Homeostats for the 21st Century? Simulating Ashby Simulating the Brain” by Stefano Franchi. Upshot: The target article proposes that Ashby’s investigations of the homeostat and ultrastability lead to a view of living systems as heteronomous, passive “sleeping” machines and thus are in fundamental conflict with concepts of autonomy developed by Jonas, Varela and others. I disagree, arguing that (1) the maintenance of essential variables within viability limits is not a passive process for living systems and (2) the purpose of Ashby’s investigations of the homeostat was to investigate adaptivity, a subject that is related to, but clearly distinct from, autonomy. As such, I find Ashby’s work on adaptivity to be neither in opposition to nor in direct support of modern concepts of biological autonomy and suggest that a productive way forward involves the investigation of the intersection between these two fundamental properties of living systems.
This paper discusses the evolution of a company in Argentina with the support of Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model and the Viplan Method. This company had had a cybernetic intervention in the 1980s and in 2002 went out of business. The authors’ purpose was to revisit the company through the lens of current organizational cybernetics to find new insights from its history. It was found that a representational, functionalist application of the VSM yielded limited insights into viability. However, the assessment of the relationships among actors within the organization and between these actors and environmental agents offered much more valuable results. The particular relationships of interest were those constructing or failing to construct effective recursive autonomy within the company.
Design in software development is viewed, from a constructivist epistemological perspective, as an insight building process linking the worlds of application, of methods, and technology. Design unfolds as a web of distinctions and decisions constructing at the same time the problem and a fitting solution. Design is evaluated based on the coherence of the decisions taken and their viability. Closure and self-organization arise from the feedback of evaluation on design, leading to revisions and further distinctions and decisions. Software design is specific in that it starts from operational form in different areas of human practice and provides auto-operational form to be re-embedded in human practice. Dialogical design seeks deeper insights by taking account of and crossing different perspectives. The consequences of this view on software development methods are briefly discussed.
Faith is a concept that straddles both spiritual and practical domains. We learn to expect things on the basis of experience. Learning involves moving from the known towards the unknown. Faith is always about something we have learned and it is like probability in that we may feel certain about some things and less sure of other things. However, current models of learning show how some of the things we learn may only have quite temporary viability: some of what we learn can be false. In addition, people differ manifestly in terms of both their personal confidence and their comfort with uncertainty concerning events. Further, faith differs in the roles it plays in science and in religion. This paper concurs with the view that some highly publicised attacks on religious faith are based on mistaken views of religion and faith. Relevance: Faith plays a central role in religion and faith also plays a role in science. This paper takes the position that faith needs to be examined carefully before it is put in place to justify beliefs so as to understand its role. In other words we need to move beyond “blind faith.”