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Introduction to Radical Constructivism II January 11, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Constructivism, Education, Other, Philosophy, postmodern, postmodernism, science.

My apologies, SilverTiger, and others who are following this dialogue, for being so long in posting the second of this series.  The following is only a partial response to his second post on the subject.  There is a great deal there, and although I would love to respond to it all, I am thinking that it might be easier to follow this discussion if it is taken in small chunks. 

SilverTiger’s first question is a digression, probably, from the main body of this, since it originated in my personal narrative, which had perched on the razor-thin fence of relevance.  However, I will attempt to answer it, just to be fair to the spirit of this discussion. 

The “progressive historian” quoted by your professor held the opposite opinion but although he sought to interpret history in support of his opinion, do we have any reason to suspect his treatment of historical fact?

Yes.  Of course we do.   We always have reason to suspect a historian’s treatment, as well as the facts they chose, and how they were chosen, and whether they are answering relevant and valuable questions, etc.  Unfortunately, historians don’t agree on these things as a matter of course.  They don’t always agree on facts, methods, important subject areas, or other weighty concerns.  Within the profession there is a tacitly-agreed-upon canon of books and studies that form the basis of what we might call “historical knowledge.”  But every generation new and talented historians decide that other areas need to be included (as, for example, the Middle East becomes more important and the fall of the Soviet Union makes more Ottoman materials available for study).  And sometimes talented historians smash old “truths” and dispute old “facts” as well.

The next question SilverTiger poses is

The description of the pilot flying on instruments is interesting, but what does it really tell us? . . . How true is it, though?

Well, it is a workable, and somewhat functional, start to other important points of which Radical Constructivism is, itself constructed.  It is a model of the way the body and brain seem to function.  Is is true?  I’m not sure this question makes any sense in RC.  But SilverTiger elaborates further down with some additional questions.

More prosaically, the idea that we “only” receive our information about the outside world via the senses, while true, can be overstated. Put your hand on a hot plate and what happens? You move it away pretty damn quick. Are you aware of any “information” coming to you “via the senses” and “being interpreted by the brain”? Nope. You feel pain, you yell and you move, all in one. So much for seeing the world through a TV screen.

This is an interesting example of the difficulty of a scientific, rational, realist worldview.  When you put your hand on a hot plate your reflexes and reactions occur without the intermediary of the brain, pulling your hand from the plate and initiating another series of actions, an adrenaline rush, for example, and possibly an exclaimation.  What the brain does, is reorders these reactions.  You think that you yelled simultaneously with pulling your hand off.  You think that the sensation of pain came before the reaction.  It did not.  In fact, it had to be interpreted as pain, whereas it began as intense sensation along a number of nerves. 

I agree that the whole thing is nothing like seeing the world through a TV screen.  But I’m not sure how that invalidates the analogy or the point I was attempting to make, which was that our brains are locked inside our heads. 

Regarding the next question, about the Newtonian vs. Einsteinian worldviews, you seem to be saying that that I originated that distinction.  I was talking about Ptolemaic vs. Copernican models of the behavior of the Earth and the Sun–a simpler distinction.  Regardless, let me attempt to answer the questions posed below.

I too have heard that when NASA sends vehicles into the reaches of the solar system, they use Newton’s equations, not Einstein’s. What does this mean? Does it mean that the objective real world is inaccessible to us and so we can construct any world we like – or borrow Newton’s or Einstein’s – and use whichever we please because the world is merely what we think it is? No.

I didn’t use my example to demonstrate that “the real world is inaccessible to us.”  I take this as an axiom, a provisional assumption that nobody has really been able to demonstrate false to my satisfaction.  But first they would have to get me interested in the importance of thinking that the real world is accessible to us.  I have seen many of the “real worlds” asserted by others dashed to bits.  Whenever I hear somebody talking about “facing reality” I become wary.  Such a phrase usually means that they have recognized that I do not share their view of a situation and have, thus, become upset by that knowledge.  The assertion that somebody else will not “face facts” or “see the real situation” is what Nietche would have called a “will to power.”

So, does the Earth revolve about the Sun (Copernican), or does the Sun revolve around the Earth (Ptolemaic)?  This is a spurious distinction to somebody who thinks as a constructivist.  RC thinking would go more like this:  Which equations are easiest to use in order to get me up in space and return me safely to Earth? 

Regarding the question of whether we can “construct any world we like . . . and use whichever we please because the world is merely like we think it is,” I’m always a little puzzled by this assumption.  The idea that we construct reality does not mean that we do so arbitrarily.  We rely on a great deal of sensory data, millions of little experiments that we conduct and record, our interactions with others, and perhaps most important, the voices in our heads, to “construct reality.”

Most people, scientists included, will acknowledge, as SilverTiger has, that one shapes questions about the world, which, in turn, shapes the answers one gets about it.  So everyone is “constructing” their own reality.  The important questions, it seems to me, have to do with the amount of our own reality that we are constructing, the proportion.  I won’t assert that we construct all of our own reality, for the simple reason that I assume that is the case.  The more I come to grips with the process by which I am constructing my world, the more control I am able to assert over the construction process. 

I’m working hard on proposition number two.  But in the interests of the give-and-take of discussion, I’d like to ask one question first.  SilverTiger asserts that “the question . . . is whether we can in any meaningful way know this underlying real world.”  For Radical Constructivists, of course, this is not a meaningful question.  Can we know something about this thing that seems so important to you?  I don’t know.  I promise to think carefully about the answer to that, however, as soon as SilverTiger, or anyone else out there, can show me that it is an important question.



1. SilverTiger - January 12, 2007

I am sorry that there will be a delay before I respond as I have family business down in Margate this weekend. I will respond soon, though.

Email SilverTiger

2. caveblogem - January 12, 2007

Have a nice trip, SilverTiger. I was hoping to have a little rest before posting on this again.

3. Kelly - January 12, 2007

Wow, thank you for blogrolling me! :) I also read Life of Pi, count it among my favourite novels of all time. K

4. caveblogem - January 13, 2007

Life of Pi. That seemed to come out of nowhere, kikipotomus. But then here I am, carrying on an intercontinental conversation with, supposedly, a person, whom I know only through the internets as SilverTiger, about the nature of reality, or the lack thereof.

But you’re welcome about the blogrolling thing. I’m searching for community.

5. Debate on Constructivism 2 « SilverTiger - January 16, 2007

[…] on Constructivism 2 I am attempting an answer to caveblogem’s Introduction to Radical Constructivism II with a slight feeling of frustration. This comes from my questions and statements being described […]

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