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This central item, the experiencer himself, remains mysterious.  +
Hence, mention of “steps” in subsequent paragraphs does not imply a chronological but a logical sequence. There are certain steps that are logically indispensable prerequisites for others. But the logic is our logic, an observer’s logic, and as such it applies to a model the observer is building.  +
Hence we may safely assume that attention can also shift between items when some or all of them are representational.  +
For example, the visual experience that we consider an instance of a specific object is different every time. The object’s shape changes according to the angle, and its size according to the distance from which it is seen. Its color changes according to the illumination, and other parameters are no less variable according to changes in the context. What, then, constitutes the invariant object which the organism recognizes?  +
The second development made possible by the introduction of the representational use of invariants is that they can now be used as building blocks for conceptual constructions that move further and further away from the raw material of sensory or motor signals. This shift constitutes one of the salient characteristics of all the “higher,” more sophisticated mental operations and it has consequences for epistemology far beyond the scope of this chapter.  +
The rep- resentation, therefore, will have to be no more and no less than a hypothetical model of functions, entities, and events that could “explain” regularities in the organism’s experience. And as a cyberneticist would expect, there is no way to match the model against the “real” structure of the black box.  +
When an infant, for instance, assimilates some visual elements to the invariant pattern that, for him, constitutes a rattle, and grasps and shakes a piece of wood that happens to be within reach, then the absence of the auditory element expected to ensue may cause a discrepancy that cannot be eliminated by assimilation. In that case, attention is likely to be focused on any of the formerly disregarded visual or tactual elements by means of which the piece of wood could be discriminated from the rattle. Once the discrimination has occurred, the new elements, with or without some of the old ones, can be associated in an act of accommodation to form a novel scheme. This novel scheme, from then on, will serve as a relatively independent invariant for the assimilation of future experiences.  +
The indispensable limitation of this hypothesizing is that the organism can operate only with its own proximal data, i.e., with signals that can be supposed to originate within it rather than with “information” originating in what from the observer’s point of view is the organism’s environment. I would also like to emphasize that this analysis is provisional and lays no claim to being definitive, let alone exhaustive.  +
The child who stands in front of a looking glass, sticks out his tongue, and contorts his face into all sorts of grimaces gets a constant confirmation of this causal link. The mirror image is as obedient as his own limbs and can, thus, be integrated with the body percept, expanding it by providing visual access to otherwise invisible aspects. And like the body image, it is a visual percept, an item that is experienced not the item that does the experiencing.  +
A well-fed brother whom one has not seen for 20 years may be bald and scrawny when he returns; he may have a different accent, his likes and dislikes may have changed, and what he now says about politics, art, and women may be incompatible with what one remembers of him. Yet one could still accept him as the self-same individual.  +
The simplest learning system, thus, will have a repertoire of several different activities and at least one sense organ and one comparator that generates an error signal whenever the sensory signals do not match the reference value. What it has to learn (i.e., what is not determined by fixed wiring), is to make the error signal trigger the particular activity that is likely to reduce it.  +
In Piagetian terms, this active imposition of invariance on instances of experience that are always different in some way is the ubiquitous process of assimilation.  +
Take a finger of your right hand and run it along your left forearm: the tactual signals originating in your finger will be a homogeneous “continuous” succession because the receptors from which they come remain the same; the tactual signals originating in your left arm, instead, will constitute a sequence of different signals because they come from different receptors. If you consider this second set of signals as a sequence of different locations with which your finger establishes and terminates contact, you will conceive of your finger as moving. If you consider them equivalent units linked into sequence by the continuous signals from your finger, you will conceive of them as points or “moments” in time. In this second case, the finger of your right hand supplies what is perhaps the closest sensory-motor analogy to the continuity of the experiencing subject that we call our ““self.”  +
Hence, from the organism’s point of view, to assimilate means to modify a present experience so that it fits a hereditary or acquired scheme, i.e., a perceptual or motor pattern that already has, in some sense, the character of an invariant. In other words, invariants create repetition as much as repetition creates invariants.  +
Both the concept of the object as prototype, with regard to which experiences may be considered equivalent, and the concept of object permanence, as a result of which two or more experiences may be considered to derive from one identical individual, involve a form of invariance. But the invariance is certainly not the same in both cases.  +
One can say that such an organism will learn only as a result of disturbance, and it will give up or modify something it has learned only when this again leads to disturbance. This mode of functioning, as we shall see later, fits very well into the Piagetian conception of the complementary processes of assimilation and accommodation.  +
Under the heading time, I said that continuity and sequence both spring from the juxtaposition of two successions of signals that are separate in the experiential field but interrelated by attention.  +
The invariant the system achieves can, therefore, never be found or frozen in a single element because, by its very nature, it consists in one or more relationships—and relationships are not in things but between them.  +
Thus, although we can visually distinguish birds, coffee cups, tables, and hands from the rest of the visual field and from one another, it seems clear that a naive organism (i.e., an organism such as an infant that does not yet have a great deal of intermodally coordinated experiences) cannot visually discriminate between a hand and his own hand.  +
((46)) Beide Operationsweisen sind wichtige Elemente im Aufbau der Begriffswelt. Indem wir Klassen bilden, ersparen wir es uns, jeden Gegenstand, den wir erleben, als Neuerscheinung zu untersuchen.  +
Ein Thermostat zum Beispiel bewirkt nur dann eine Tätigkeit (Heizen oder Kühlen), wenn die wahrgenommene Temperatur nicht mehr mit dem festgelegten Sollwert (Referenz) Ubereinstimmt.  +
Kurz, alles, was überlebt. war schon im Vorhinein an die Bedingungen und Beschränkungen angepaßt, durch die die natürliche Auslese nun das Nichtangepaßte vernichtet.  +
((58)) Auf Grund dieser epistemologischen Voraussetzungen lassen sich einige Schlußfolgerungen ziehen: - Der Konstruktivismus leugnet keineswegs eine ontologische Realität, doch er behauptet, daß wir sie nicht rational erfassen können. - ‘Wirklichkeit’ ist die Welt, die wir erleben, und aus ihr allein leiten wir, auf die uns eigene Weise, Ideen und Dinge ab, sowie die Begriffe der Beziehungen, mit denen wir Verbindungen hersteilen und Theorien aufbauen, die es uns erlauben, mehr oder weniger viable Erklärungen und Vorhersagen in unserer Lebenswelt zu formulieren. - Der Begriff der Viabilität ersetzt jenen der ontischen Wahrheit; das heißt, die Bestätigung des Wissens wird nicht in einem unmöglichen Vergleich mit der Realität gesucht, sondern in seiner Brauchbarkeit angesichts der Hindernisse, denen wir beim Verfolgen unserer Ziele begegnen. Daraus folgt, daß die Lösung eines Problems nie als die einzig mögliche betrachtet werden darf; es mag die einzige sein, die wir zur Zeit kennen, aber das rechtfertigt niemals den Glauben, unsere Lösung gewähre uns Einsicht in die Struktur einer von uns unabhängig existierenden Welt. - Dieser letzte Punkt betrifft notwendigerweise auch den Konstruktivismus selbst. Wie alle Theorien, beruht er auf Voraussetzungen, doch er hütet sich, diese Voraussetzungen, seien sie bewußt oder unbewußt, als ontologische Gegebenheiten zu betrachten. Sie werden als Annahmen gedacht, um Modelle zu bauen, die sich in der Welt des Erlebens bewähren sollen.  +
Selbst wenn die fürsorgliche Mutter eine Tasse vom Tisch hebt und zur einjährigen Tochter sagt: „Schau, Marie, das ist eine Tasse, eine Tasse.“, muß Marie zuerst den Gegenstand in ihrem Gesichtsfeld isolieren und den Wortlaut von anderen gleichzeitigen Geräuschen trennen, bevor sie zwischen beiden eine semantische Verbindung hersteilen kann.  +
((12)) Die Schlagkraft dieser Aussage beruht auf der Einsicht, daß die Richtigkeit oder 'Wahrheit' eines Weltbildes nur durch einen Vergleich mit der Welt an sich bestätigt werden könnte und daß dieser Vergleich für uns ausgeschlossen ist. Wir können unser Weltbild nur mit anderen Vorstellungen vergleichen, die wie die erste auf unserem Erleben beruhen und somit durch unsere Art und Weise des Wahrnehmens und Begreifens gebildet wurden. Alles Wissen unterliegt dieser Bedingung, denn was immer wir auch tun, wir können aus unseren Formen des Erlebens und Denkens nicht aussteigen.  +
Wir können unser Weltbild nur mit anderen Vorstellungen vergleichen, die wie die erste auf unserem Erleben beruhen und somit durch unsere Art und Weise des Wahrnehmens und Begreifens gebildet wurden. Alles Wissen unterliegt dieser Bedingung, denn was immer wir auch tun, wir können aus unseren Formen des Erlebens und Denkens nicht aussteigen.  +
Man braucht mindestens zwei, zwischen denen man einen Unterschied feststellt. Nehmen wir an, ich sehe, daß der Apfel, den meine Frau mir vor zwei Tagen auf den Schreibtisch gelegt hat, nun angefault ist. Das Diagramm dieser Änderung sieht so aus: ((53)) Um zu sagen, daß der Apfel „X“ sich verändert hat, muß ich annehmen, daß er in beiden Beobachtungen derselbe war; wäre er es nicht, so müßte ich ‘Austausch’ denken, nicht ‘Veränderung’. Ist der Apfel an eine andere Stelle des Schreibtischs gerollt, so setzte ich statt der Eigenschaften im Diagramm die zwei verschiedenen Ortsbestimmungen ein, und dann zeigt es die ‘Ortsveränderung’ an. ((54)) Wenn ein Objekt im Laufe mehrerer Erlebnisse in gewisser Hinsicht unverändert bleibt, so kann ich die Fortdauer seines Zustands durch zwei einander folgende, aber ansonsten gleiche Momentaufnahmen anzeigen und so den Begriff der Dauer nahelegen. Verbinde ich das Element der Fortdauer an einem Ort mit der Beobachtung des identischen Individuums an einem anderen, so erhalte ich den Begriff der räumlichen ‘Ausdehnung’. ((55)) Daß die in diesen Diagrammen angedeuteten mentalen Operationen zumeist nicht bewußt registriert werden, läßt sich mit Hilfe von zwei ganz banalen Aussagen zeigen. Einmal sage ich zu einem Besucher: „Der Zug geht direkt von hier nach Boston“, ein andermal,.Diese Straße geht nach Boston.“ Normalerweise wird weder mir noch ihm dabei bewußt, daß der Zug nur jeweils an einem Ort sein kann, während die Straße als an beiden Orten zugleich gedacht wird.  +
((27)) Auf der kognitiven Ebene geht es nicht direkt um Überleben, sondern um 'Aquilibration', das heißt um inneres Gleichgewicht, und die Auslese ist darum weniger drastisch. Ziel der Anpassung ist hier das Vermeiden von Hindernissen und das Ausgleichen von Störungen.  +
((60)) Für mich liegt das wichtigste Anwendungsgebiet des Konstruktivismus im täglichen Leben. Mit dem Verzicht auf objektive Wahrheit verliert alles Rechthaberische seinen Sinn. Wenn man keinen Grund mehr hat zu behaupten, man wisse wie dies oder jenes ist, versteht man leichter, daß andere ihre Wirklichkeit nicht so sehen müssen, wie man die eigene sieht. Man kann zwar darüber diskutieren, ob die eine oder andere Handlungs- oder Denkweise voraussichtlich zu dem gemeinsam erwünschten Ziel fuhren wird oder nicht, aber man bleibt sich der Tatsache gewahr, daß die Frage letztlich nur in der Praxis entschieden werden kann.  +
Wenn der ‘intelligente’ Organismus nicht auf Stimuli der Umwelt, sondern lediglich auf Unterschiede zwischen Wahrnehmungen und vorbestimmten Sollwerten reagiert, um sein internes Gleichgewicht zu erhalten, dann gewinnt der Organismus kein objektives Wissen von der Außenwelt. Er kann bestenfalls lernen, sein Gleichgewicht angesichts der Perturbationen, die er wahrnimmt, einigermaßen aufrecht zu erhalten.  +
Kurz, man kann die allgemeine Regel formulieren, daß Akkommodationen und somit Lernen dann zustande kommen, wenn ein gewohntes Schema ein unerwartetes Resultat hervorbringt.  +
((18)) Diese Bedingung der Aufeinanderfolge ist besonders wichtig, denn sie bringt die grundlegende Tatsache ans Licht, daß eine Folge nur gewußt werden kann, wenn wir ein Ding nach dem anderen erleben.  +
Diese Beziehung des Hineinpassens läßt sich vielleicht am besten durch die Metapher klar machen, die einige Biologen formuliert haben: Der Vorgang der Auslese, die nur Angepaßtes überleben läßt, ist mit der Funktion eines Siebs vergleichbar, das alles durchfallen läßt, was irgendwie durch die Maschen schlüpft. Was durchfällt 'paßt', besitzt aber keine Eigenschaften des Siebs - es ist nur so beschaffen, daß es durch die Beschränkungen des Siebs nicht beinträchtigt wird.  +
Das, worauf es ankommt, ist, wie der Organismus die gegebene Situation wahrnimmt. Solange sie mit dem Erkennungsmuster vereinbar ist, das der Organismus ererbt oder sich gebildet hat, löst sie die assoziierte Handlung aus. Das ist die ontogenetisch erste Manifestation dessen, was Piaget 'Assimilation' genannt hat.  +
So kann zum Beispiel eine Frau ihrer Freundin entrüstet von einer Party berichten: „Stell Dir vor, die Irmgard kam in demselben Kleid wie ich!“; und der Sohn kann der Familie auf einer Ferienfahrt erklären: „Das ist das gleiche Auto, das uns schon vor dem Mittagessen vorgefahren ist.“ - Im ersten Fall sind es zwei Kleider, die sich in Bezug auf die Eigenschaften, die da maßgebend sind, nicht unterscheiden; im zweiten Fall hingegen handelt es sich um ein und dasselbe Auto. Anders ausgedrückt: Im ersten Fall wird auf Grund eines Vergleichs die Zugehörigkeit zweier Gegenstände zu einer bestimmten Klasse behauptet, im zweiten wird dem Gegenstand zweier zeitlich getrennter Erlebnisse individuelle Identität zugeschrieben.  +
Die Antwort liegt nicht in den wahrgenommenen Dingen, sondern im Bereich der Operationen, die der Wahmehmende ausführt. Um eine Mehrheit zu konstruieren, muß man merken, daß man ein und dieselbe Erkennungsprozedur, die einem den Gegenstand „Tasse“ liefert, mindestens zweimal ausgeführt hat. Die Pluralform des Wortes bedingt diese Wiederholung, denn sie bezieht sich nicht auf Elemente der sinnlichen Wahrnehmung, sondern auf die Art und Weise, wie man Wahrgenommenes verbindet.  +
auf Grund einer einzigen Beobachtung kann man keine Änderung konzipieren.  +
((42)) Die Sozialpsychologen haben also völlig recht, wenn sie sagen, daß die Bedeutungen von Wörtern in der Gesellschaft ‘ausgehandelt’ werden. Wichtig ist jedoch die Einsicht, daß das letzte Ergebnis dieses fortlaufenden Handels Vereinbarkeit ist, d.h. Kompatibilität im Sinne der Anpassung, und niemals eine absolute Gleichheit. Denn selbst wenn ein Lehrer oder ein Wörterbuch uns den Gebrauch eines Wortes erklärt, so beruht die Bedeutung, die wir uns aufbauen, doch auf der Interpretation unseres eigenen Erlebens. Diese Bedeutung wird dann zweifellos im Laufe sprachlicher Unterhandlungen geschliffen, verfeinert und weiter angepaßt, doch das Material aus dem sie besteht ist und bleibt das Material der subjektiven Erfahrung.  +
From that angle, then, it becomes clear that, in the autopoietic organism also, “expectations” are nothing but re-presentations of experiences that are now projected into the direction of the not-yet-experienced.  +
In Maturana’s edifice every point arises out of the preceding one – much as when, in thick fog on an Alpine glacier, one places one foot in front of the other without ever seeing what lies further ahead or further behind one; and as sometimes happens in such a fog, after hours of walking, one realizes that one is walking in one’s own footsteps. The fact that one has begun the circle at a specific point could be perceived only from a higher vantage point – if the fog had lifted and made possible a view. But the fog that obstructs our view of ontic reality cannot lift, because, as Kant already saw, it is inextricably built into our ways and means of experiencing.  +
For that reason, a meticulous investigation such as Maturana’s, can only show that, regardless of where we step into the circle, we can neither come to an end of the path, nor, if we retraced our steps, to a beginning.  +
In my terminology that means the observer must be capable of reflection.  +
To observe oneself as the maker of distinctions, therefore, is no more and no less than to become conscious of oneself.  +
We know that we can reflect, but we do not know how.  +
The case of the mollusks may serve as an example. It is as though a growing mollusk could notice that the water around it flows quickly, and that the shell it is building had therefore better be flat, so that it offers less resistance. From an evolutionary point of view, such a notion is even worse than the Lamarckian heresy.  +
Let me give you a very simple example. It is a charming anecdote I read, but cannot remember where. A little girl is walking, and every now and then she pushes her ball to roll ahead. As the path begins to go up a hill, the ball, to her surprise, comes rolling back. And she asks: “How does the ball know where I am?.” The little girl’s question demonstrates that she is at least to some extent aware of her experience and can reflect upon it. Only a reflective mind, a mind that is looking for order in the baffling world of experience, could formulate such a question. It is the kind of question that, after innumerable further trials and untenable assumptions, would lead an imaginative thinker with the stamina of Galilei, to an explanatory principle such as ‘gravitation’.  +
To put it generally, an organism must fit, i.e. be viable within the constraints of the environment.  +
If you consider the relative distances of the individual stars it becomes clear that there is only a very small area of the universe (as astronomers have taught us to conceive it) from which the five stars could be said to form a double-u. Move the observer a few light-years to the right or the left, the double-u would disappear. Move the observer 50 light-years forward, and he or she could construct only a triangle with the three stars that remained in front.  +
I can illustrate this by a simple example. English text books of linguistics frequently give “the boy hit the ball” as example of a simple sentence that contains a subject, a verb, and an object. In the British Isles this sentence usually calls forth the re-presentation of a boy armed with a tennis racket or a golf club. In the United States he will be imagined to hold a baseball bat. This is a very minor difference. However, if the sentence has to be translated into German, it turns out to be far more complicated. The translator has to know more about the situational context, because the “simple” sentence turns out to be ambiguous. It would be appropriate in several situations, each of which requires different words in German. Here are the four most likely ones: Fig.6: “The boy hits the ball” If the boy hits the ball with a racket, a club, or a bat, the German verb has to be schlagen; if he hits it with an arrow or a bullet, it would be treffen; if he hits it with his bicycle, it would be stossen plus the preposition auf; and if he hits the ball when falling from the balcony, it would be fallen … auf or schlagen … auf.  +
A striking example are the constellations we all can learn to see, name, and recognize on a clear night. Take the one called Cassiopeia. It has been know n since the beginning human history. The Greeks saw it as the crown of a mythical queen and gave it her name. We see it more prosaically as a “W” in the vicinity of the Polar Star. Fig.4: The Constellation of Cassiopeia If you consider the relative distances of the individual stars it becomes clear that there is only a very small area of the universe (as astronomers have taught us to conceive it) from which the five stars could be said to form a double-u. Move the observer a few light-years to the right or the left, the double-u would disappear. Move the ob server 50 light-years forward, and he or she could construct only a triangle with the three stars that remained in front.  +
Just as, for instance, the Morse code links short and long experiences of beeps to re-presentations of letters of the alphabet, so in language, sound images are linked to concepts, that is, to re-presentations of experiential units.  +
Whatever one assumes to be genetically determined in children, it is they themselves who must actively isolate units in their experiential field and abstract them into concepts.  +
The point I want to make is that it is the experiencer who generates the image, the configuration that becomes the “representation”, and that this configuration is always one of several others that are equally possible within the constraints of the sensory material. This, I claim, goes for all the experiential units or things to which we give names, and it is the reason why I maintain that meanings are always subjective. They are subjective in the sense that they have to be constructed by the experiencer.  +
The point I want to make is that it is the experiencer who generates the image, the configuration that becomes the “representation”, and that this configuration is always one of several others that are equally possible within the constraints of the sensory material. This, I claim, goes for all the experiential units or things to which we give names, and it is the reason why I maintain that meanings are always subjective.  +
The point I want to stress is that from our perspective it is attention and above all its movements that generate the conceptual structures and thus the things we talk about. These items, as I said before, cannot have an existence of their own but originate through the operations of an experiencer or observer.  +
What speakers of a language have constructed as the meanings of the words they use, is at best compatible in the linguistic interactions with other speakers; but such compatibility remains forever relative to the limited number of actual interactions the individual has had in his or her past. What speakers have learned to mean always remains their own construction.  +
The problem of meaning thus comes down to the problem of how we generate units in our experience such that we can associate them with words, and how we relate these units to form larger conceptual structures.  +
This, I believe, is as close as a constructivist can come to “objectivity”.  +
If knowledge can be considered the result of the adaptive effort of cognitive organisms in their struggle to maintain their equilibrium in the face of perturbations, it does not seem reasonable for them to use this knowledge to compete with one another. On the contrary, it seems that in order to maintain not only their own equilibrium but also that of the planet on which they find themselves living they would have to foster in every conceivable way every kind of mutual collaboration.  +
The salient point in all this is that, since this “reality” manifests itself only in failures of our acting and/or thinking, we have no way of describing it except in terms of actions and thoughts that turned out to be unsuccessful.  +
Scientific knowledge, then, does not and could not yield a picture of the “real” world; it provides more or less reliable ways of dealing with experience. Hence it may be viable, but it can make no claim to “Truth”, if “Truth” is to be understood as a correspondence to the ontologically real world. On the other hand, this way of looking at knowledge, be it scientific or other, makes it immune against the sceptics’ perennial argument. Since this constructivist notion of knowledge does not claim to provide a picture of something beyond experience, the fact that one cannot compare it with such a something, does not detract from this kind of knowledge - it is either viable or it is not. Indeed, as a constructivist, I tend to go one step further: Since we have access only to experience and cannot get outside the experiential field, there is no way one could show that one’s experiences are the effects of causes that lie outside the experiential world.  +
Constructivism, thus, does not deny the “existence” of Others, it merely holds that insofar as we know these Others, they are models that we ourselves construct.  +
This, of course, is the reason why the best teachers have always paid more attention to the sources of mistakes than to the how of students’ correct answers.  +
That is to say, teachers must try to infer, from what they can observe, what the students’ concepts are and how they operate with them. Only on the basis of some such hypothesis can teachers devise ways and means to orient, direct, or modify the students’ mental operating. This is a context in which the constructivist approach and its analysis of conceptual development seemed promising.  +
Thus the inside becomes ‘self’, the outside the individual’s ‘universe’.  +
If a prediction, made on the basis of imputing to another person a scheme of acting or thinking that one has found to be viable for oneself, turns out to be correct, then that scheme and the conceptual structures it involves achieve a level of experiential reality that cannot be reached without the social context. Indeed, this kind of ‘corroboration’ produces the only objectivity that is possible in the Radical Constructivist view.  +
In other words, the self we come to know and the world we come to know are both assembled out of elements of our very own experience.  +
The models of another’s conceptual operating that one can build on the basis of observable behavior, thus, are and remain hypothetical;  +
To know, thus, is not to have ‘correct pictures’ but, viable procedures or, as Maturana said (1988: 53), ‘to operate adequately in an individual or cooperative situation’.  +
I claim that we cannot even imagine what the word ‘to exist’ might mean in an ontological context, because we cannot conceive of ‘being’ without the notions of space and time, and these two notions are among the first of our conceptual constructs.  +
The experiential environment in which an individual’s constructs and schemes must prove viable is always a social environment as well as a physical one. Though one’s concepts, one’s ways of operating, and one’s knowledge cannot be constructed by any other subject than oneself, it is their viability, their adequate functioning in one’s physical and social environment, that furnishes the key to the solidification of the individual’s experiential reality (von Glasersfeld, 1985).  +
Concepts, therefore, have no iconic or representational connection with anything that might ‘exist’ outside the cognizing system; and the raw material out of which concepts are composed or coordinated cannot be known to have any such connection either. To call the basic elements of our cognitive conceptual constructions ‘distinctions’ is, I think, the least misleading way of speaking about them. From the distinguisher’s point of view, what is actually distinguished depends not on what might be there before the activity of distinguishing is carried out, but on what the organism is able to distinguish and chooses to distinguish in the given experiential context.  +
I am in agreement with Maturana when he says: ‘an observer has no operational basis to make any statements or claim about objects, entities or relations as if they existed independently of what he or she does’ (1988: 30).  +
Assume you have made an appointment with a friend to meet in a certain place on a certain day. When the day comes, a lot of snow has fallen during the preceding night. There is a shorter and a longer way to drive to the arranged place. You know that the longer way is the quicker when there is snow on the roads. You know this from your own experience in your subjective physical environment. But now you use it in your social environment by predicting that your friend will come by that route. If your prediction turns out to be correct and, especially, if your friend confirms that he chose the longer way for the reason that you had in mind, your reasoning will be greatly reinforced and the elements that were involved in it will seem more like an objective reality that is independent of both of you.  +
‘there’s a book in front of you on the table; you know it’s a book, I know it’s a book, and anyone who looks at it would recognize it as a book – why do you keep telling us that the book is not really there?’  +
Language does not transport pieces of one person’s reality into another’s – it merely prods and prompts the other to build up conceptual structures which, to this other, seem compatible with the words and actions the speaker or writer has used  +
From the radical constructivist perspective, “knowledge” fits reality in much the same way that a key fits a lock that it is able to open. The fit describes a capacity of the key, not a property of the lock. When we face a novel problem, we are in much the same position as the burglar who wishes to enter a house. The “key” with which he successfully opens the door might be a paper clip, a bobby pin, a credit card, or a skillfully crafted skeleton key. All that matters is that it fits within the constraints of the particular lock and allows the burglar to get in.  +
Knowledge, thus, is usually assumed to be knowledge of the environment.  +
Pyrrho and his followers had successfully argued that if, say, an apple appears to have a certain color and a certain smell, feels smooth and tastes sweet to us, this cannot give us the knowledge that a real apple possesses these properties, because we have no way of examining the apple other than by seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling it again.  +
For constructivists, then, studying the genesis of the concepts that allow us to organize our experience is not a sin but a necessity; and the way in which that genesis will be studied should undoubtedly be part of psychology, even if the psychological establishment, with the exception of Piaget and his Geneva School, has hitherto not done very much in that direction.  +
It is analogous to asking, say, what the magnification of a telescope might be if nothing that is seen through the telescope can be seen or measured in any other way.  +
In other words, we cannot help realizing that our experience is subject to constraints that are altogether outside our control.  +
Hence, if our senses distort what they are supposed to “convey,” we have no way of ever discovering that distortion.  +
The radical constructivist, therefore, must not be thought to do away with “objectivity”—he merely defines it in a different way. Any concept, event, theory, or model will be considered “objective” if and only if it has proved to be viable not only in one’s own organization of the experiential world, but also in the particular area of conceptual organization that proves to be a viable model for the experiential worlds one imputes to others.  +
Pyrrho, a little later, formulated the argument that quickly became and still remains the cornerstone of all kinds of philosophical scepticism. How, he asked, could we ever tell whether or not the pictures our senses “convey” are accurate and true, if the only way they can be checked is again through our senses? The question is, indeed, unanswerable.  +
Given this central notion of fit, the radical constructivist theory of knowledge is essentially a cybernetic theory in that it is based on the principle of adaptation to constraints rather than the principle of causation.  +
That notion, in fact, is no less an ontological assumption than the realist’s assumption that the experiencer-independent ontic reality should have a knowable structure. The character of experiential reality will have to be explained, not as a result of preordained ways of experiencing (Kant’s Anschauungsformen), but as a result of the experiencer’s coordinatory and conceptual operations.  +
The self, thus, is an experiential entity to which the experiencer attributes a number of specific properties, abilities, and functions.  +
This viability is, in principle, the same notion as in the case of the lock and the key.  +
“Knowledge” and the process of cognizing are therefore seen as inseparable. They reciprocally entail one another in the same way as drawing a “figure” entails categorizing the sheet of paper as “ground.” Knowledge, thus, becomes the product of an active, constructive mind.  +
The scenario, in which the knower is supposed to acquire “true” pictures or representations of the real world, is thus inherently unsatisfactory. If the knower can never be sure that the picture of the world which he or she distills from experience is unquestionably a correct representation of a world that exists as such, the knower is cast in the role of a discoverer who has no possible access to what he or she is expected to discover.  +
Similarly, the problem-solver attempts to conceive a method that will successfully open a path to his or her goal. Any method that does this will serve as well as any other, and to the extent that the problem-solver is successful, his or her know-how is functionally adapted to the constraints of unknowable ontic reality. Note that considerations as to how well a method serves its purpose are secondary in that they require reflection on what has been done as well as the introduction of ulterior values, such as speed, economy, ease of execution, compatibility with the methods used for other problems, etc.  +
In other words, one takes for granted that what one has come to know had its own independent existence before one captured it by a cognizing effort. Given that perspective, it is indeed difficult to avoid asking just how well the knowledge one has acquired “corresponds to,” “depicts,” or “represents” what it is supposed to correspond to, depict, or represent, namely Reality.  +
Knowledge, therefore, was knowledge of the things that caused one’s experiences, the things that were given, the data, and it could all be put together as a picture of Reality.  +
It is the same trick that the statistician performs quite openly: when something has recurred a sufficient number of times, it is considered “significant”—which is to say, it is considered probable enough to be taken as a “fact.” The good statistician, of course, does not forget that it was he or she who decided the level of recurrence beyond which things were to be considered “significant.” Like the good modern physicist, he does not argue that, just because the sun has risen every morning for as long as we can remember or have records, we have the right to assume that it must continue to do so in the future. With David Hume, they know that there is no conceivable logical reason why the future should resemble the past. But, for practical reasons, we tend to assume that it will. If we did not make that assumption, we could not draw any inferences at all from past experience, and our attempts at predicting and controlling future experience could not even get started.  +
First of all, it is important to realize that there are several levels of reality that differ largely in the material that is used to construct the items that are then considered “real.”  +
In the cognitive realm of conceptual structures, then, the concept of viability applies to those structures which, in the cognizing organism’s past experience, have led to success.  +
This means that learning is an activity that we, consciously or unconsciously, have to carry out ourselves. In contrast, the basic meaning of adaptation is not an activity of organisms or species.  +