Volume 6 · Number 2 · Pages 193–203

< Previous Paper · Next Paper >

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

Ernst von Glasersfeld & Edith K. Ackermann

Download the full text in
PDF (339 kB)

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


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. von & Ackermann E. K. (2011) Reflections on the concept of experience and the role of consciousness. Unfinished fragments. Constructivist Foundations 6(2): 193–203. http://constructivist.info/6/2/193

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Glasersfeld E. von (2005) Thirty Years Constructivism

Gash H. (2011) Remembering Ernst von Glasersfeld

Boden M. A. (2010) Against Constructivism

Riegler A. & Steffe L. P. (2014) “What Is the Teacher Trying to Teach Students if They Are All Busy Constructing Their Own Private Worlds?”: Introduction to the Special Issue

Confrey J. (2011) The Transformational Epistemology of Radical Constructivism: A Tribute to Ernst von Glasersfeld


Ackermann E. (1991) From decontextualized to situated knowledge: Revisiting Piaget’s water-level experiment. In: Harel I. & Papert S. (eds.) Constructionism. Ablex: Norwood NJ: 269–295. << Google Scholar

Ackermann E. (2004) Time, and changes over time. A child’s view in children, play, and time. In: Knoop H. H. (ed.) Essays on the art of transforming stress to joyful challenges. Danish University of Education Press, Copenhagen: 101–113. << Google Scholar

Aristotle (350 BC) Posterior Analytics. Translated by G. R. G. Mure. Available at http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/posterior.2.ii.html

Berkeley G. (1950) Philosophical commentaries, 1706–1708.In: Luce A. A. & Jessop T. E. (eds.) The works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, Volume 1. Nelson, London: 7–104. << Google Scholar

Bringuier J-C. (1977) Conversations libbres avec Jean Piaget. Laffont, Paris. (Quote in the text translated by Ernst von Glasersfeld.) << Google Scholar

Brunschwicg L. (1912) Les étapes de la philosophie mathématique. Alcan, Paris. << Google Scholar

Ceccato S. (1964) Modificazioni e Innovazion. Methodos XV: 43–53. << Google Scholar

Clark H. H. (1973) Space, time, semantics, and the child. In: Moore T. E. (ed.) Cognitive development and the acquisition of language. Academic Press, New York. << Google Scholar

Dewey J. (1934) Art as experience. Perigee Books, New York. << Google Scholar

Forman G. E. (1982) A search for the origins of equivalence concepts through a microanalysis of block play. In: Forman G. E. (ed.) Action and thought. From sensorimotor schemes to symbolic operations. Academic Press, New York: 97–134. << Google Scholar

Glasersfeld E. von (1981) The conception and perception of number. In: Geeslin W. E. & Wagner S. (eds.) Models of mathematical and cognitive development. ERIC, Columbus OH: 15–46. << Google Scholar

Glasersfeld E. von (1991) Abstraction, re-presentation, and reflection. In: Steffe L. P. (ed.) Epistemological foundations of mathematical experience. Springer, New York: 45–67. Available at http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/130

Gruber H. E. & Vonèche J. J. (eds.) (1977) The essential Piaget. Basic Books, New York. << Google Scholar

Hankins T. L. (1976) Algebra as pure time: William Rowan Hamilton and the foundations of algebra. In: Machamer P. K. & Turnbull R. G. (eds.) Motion and time, space and matter: Interrelations in the history of philosophy and science. Ohio State University Press: Columbus OH: 327–359. << Google Scholar

Helmholtz H. von (1867) Handbuch der physiologischen Optik L. Voss, Leipzig. << Google Scholar

Hume D. (2005) An enquiry concerning human understanding. Digireads.com Publishing, Stilwell KS. Originally published in 1784. << Google Scholar

James W. (1905) The principles of Psychology. Volume II. New York: Henry Holt and Company << Google Scholar

James W. (1962) Psychology (briefer course). Collier-Macmillan, London. Originally published in 1892. << Google Scholar

James W. (1976) Essays in radical empiricism. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. << Google Scholar

James W. (1981) The principles of psychology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. Originally published in 1890. << Google Scholar

James W. (1997) The meaning of truth. Prometheus Books, Amherst NY. Originally published in 1909. << Google Scholar

Kant I. (1781) Kritik der reinen Vernunft. First edition. Akademieausgabe, vol. IV. Available at http://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Critik_der_reinen_Vernunft_%281781%29 (Quote in the text translated by Ernst von Glasersfeld.)

Kant I. (1787) Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Second edition. Akademieausgabe, vol. III. Available at http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/kant/krvb/krvb.htm (Quote in the text translated by Ernst von Glasersfeld.)

Kelly G. (1963) A theory of personality. The psychology of personal constructs. Norton & Co, New York. << Google Scholar

Locke J. (1959) An essay concerning human understanding, Volume 1. Edited by A. C. Fraser. Dover, New York. Originally published in 1690. << Google Scholar

Oxford English Dictionary Compact Edition (1971) Oxford University Press, Oxford. << Google Scholar

Piaget J. (1937) La construction du réel chez l’enfant. Delachaux et Niestlé, Neuchâtel. (Quote in the text translated by Ernst von Glasersfeld.) << Google Scholar

Piaget J. (1946) Le développement de la notion du temps. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris. (Quote in the text translated by Ernst von Glasersfeld.) << Google Scholar

Piaget J. (1952) The origins of intelligence in children. International Universities Press, New York. << Google Scholar

Polanyi M. (1967) The tacit dimension. Routledge & K. Paul, London. << Google Scholar

Vaihinger H. (1913) Die Philosophie des Als Ob [The philosophy of as if]. Second edition. Reuther & Reichard, Berlin. (Quote in the text translated by Ernst von Glasersfeld.) << Google Scholar

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.