Volume 6 · Number 2 · Pages 193–203

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Reflections on the Concept of Experience and the Role of Consciousness. Unfinished Fragments

Ernst von Glasersfeld & Edith K. Ackermann

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Context: The idea to write this paper sprang up in a casual conversation that led to the question of how the word “experience” would be translated into German. Distinctions between the German “Erleben” and “Erfahren,” and their intricacies with “Erkennen” and “Anerkennen,” soon led to the conviction that this was a thread worth pursuing.  Problem: Much has been written about the nature of experience, but there is little consensus, to this day, regarding the role of consciousness in the process of experiencing. Although RC acknowledges the significance of tacit or sensorimotor knowledge in the individual’s practical operating, it cannot admit it as a basis to the formation of conceptual structures that, by definition, are conscious. Method: Drawing from our backgrounds in epistemology and psychology, and a shared interest in Piaget’s psychogenetic approach, we investigate the origins and development of human experience, in this case the mastery of space, time, causation, and object-permanency. We focus on how “noticeable encounters” are gauged, reflected upon, and ultimately worked through, consciously or unconsciously, by the “experiencer.” Results: A child’s abilities to enact a certain action pattern in a given situation no more demonstrates a re-presentation of the pattern than does recognition in the case of objects. In his studies with children, Piaget has shown that the Kantian categories of space, time object, and “causality” are co-constitutive of the child’s own motion – and its felt impact – as a means to make the world cohere. Of importance here are the concepts of “effective causality,” felicitous encounters, and agency. Implications: Understanding the circumstances under which some “lived” events, whether self-initiated or striking as if out of nowhere, become noticeable and able affect a person’s life is a daunting task. This joint essay is no more than a conversation-starter and an invitation to further explore the intricacies between agency and causation, sensation and cognition, and, yes, motions and emotions in the making of consciousness itself.

Key words: psychogenesis, space-time, effective causality, empiricism, Immanuel Kant, William James, Jean Piaget


Glasersfeld E. & Ackermann E. K. (2011) Reflections on the Concept of Experience and the Role of Consciousness. Unfinished Fragments. Constructivist Foundations 6(2): 193–203. Available at http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/6/2/193.glasersfeld

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