CEPA eprint 1447 (EVG-159)

Brief Response to P. R. Masani

Glasersfeld E. von (1993) Brief Response to P. R. Masani. Kybernetes 22(7): 58–59. Available at http://cepa.info/1447
In The Illusion that Man Constructs Reality... (Kybernetes, Vol. 21, No.4, 1992) Professor Masani speaks of “linguistic fog surrounding constructivism” (p.14) and, as an example, quotes some lines from my 1987 book, which begin: “Organisms live in a world of constraints. In order to survive, they must be ‘adapted’ or … ‘viable’.” He goes on to say: “In this the world is mentioned, and also its orderliness, for what are ‘constraints’ if not the Laws of Nature and the structure that Nature has bestowed on the organism…?”
This clearly brings out the non sequitur on which much of Masani’s critique is based. To be viable in an environment of constraints means no more than to have a way of living that has so far not incurred fatal consequences. It does not entail knowing “Laws of Nature” or the “objective” structure of anything prior to its appearance in experience; it may enable one to conjecture to some extent what must be avoided. As Warren McCulloch neatly put it: “To have proven a hypothesis false is indeed the peak of knowledge” (1965, p.154).
The radical constructivism I have expounded never denied ontological reality – it merely argues that there is no way of knowing it. Our cognitive activity cannot transcend our ways of perceiving, conceiving, and constructing the world of our experience. This in no way precludes the faith that seems so dear to my critic, but it does preclude apodictic claims such as: “The earth, crib, milk, nipple and the infant are all there before the infant begins experiencing” (p.16).
The purpose of constructivism is precisely to show that we can have an orderly experiential world without assuming that the objects, the regularities, and the systematic orders we construct must be what they are and reflect an ontology independent of our ways and means of knowing,
References
Glasersfeld E. von (1987) The construction of knowledge. Intersystems Publications, Seaside CA.
Masani P. R. (1992) The illusion that man constructs reality. A retrograde trend in the cybernetical movement. Kybernetes 21(4): 11–24. Available at http: //cepa.info/3656
McCulloch W. S. (1965) Embodiments of mind. MIT Press, Cambridge MA.
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