Yesterday I was reading again Von Foerster’s book and there were certain fascinating parts.

The problem I have with Bakker’s theory is that I cannot fully grasp it in its entirety. It’s kind of elusive and frustrating. It’s like every time I manage after a struggle to focus on one aspect I lose everything else. Every step in a direction makes me lose track of progress I previously made. Despite all reductions and simplifications I’m always lost and every problem seems to exist on its own without letting me use a constant frame of reference.

The first idea is that, in Constructivism theory, there’s no “confirmation” of reality. No certainty of it. What you do instead is “correlate” your sense experiences. “I see the pencil and I hold the pencil”. So “my sensation of touch, in correlation with my visual sensation, generates an experience”.

This simply to say again that we only construct a world we perceive, but we can’t say how much or how faithful is our model. Or not at all.

Quote from Physicist Sir Arthur Eddington:

Consider how our supposed acquaintance with a lump of matter is attained. Some influence from it plays on the extremity of a nerve, starting a series of physical and chemical changes which are propagated along the nerve to a brain cell; there a mystery happens, and an image or sensation arises in the mind which cannot purport to resemble the stimulus that excites it. Everything known about the material world must be inferred from these stimuli transmitted. . . It is an astonishing feat of deciphering that we should have been able to infer an orderly scheme of natural knowledge from such indirect communication.

Or maybe an astonishing pretense. A lack of humility.

The interesting aspect is that the book addresses the problem of “science” as we discussed it. Why believe in science? Because it works. That’s one of the postulates that sustains Bakker’s theory and that make science “authoritative” over religion, spirituality etc…

Constructivists say:

1- Knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge, IS USEFUL IF it allows us to predict, i.e., to bring about or avoid a certain phenomena.
2- When knowledge no longer serves the purpose it becomes questionable and eventually devalued.

And it all sounds like an act, a choice that is made like a political opinion to me. As if we don’t believe in what is true, but in what is “convenient”. Maybe science has the same place of every other self-serving delusion? Well, as long the delusion doesn’t come crashing down on you.

But then the book goes also to explain some experiments about how perception develops after we’re born.

“Newborns do not have object constancy, the capacity to distinguish stable objects. They cannot compute equivalence, a logical operation that must be performed to perceive an object which changes its structure or position in space as the same object.”

“Developmental studies of children, conducted by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, show that we learn to perceive object constancy. It takes about 18 months.”

“Sensorimotor intelligence organizes reality by constructing broad categories of action which are the schemes of the pertinent object, space, time, causality…”

The book continues explaining that if you show rows of coins to a five year old, all rows having the same number of coins but with one row more widely spaced, and so longer, the kid will say that the longer row contains more coins.
But if you then repeat this experiment with a kid at seven he would say the question is stupid, as it is very obvious that all rows have the same number of coins.

“The older child takes a self-evident, or a priori, what only a few years ago he did not know existed. Once a concept is constructed, it is immediately externalized so that it appears to the subject as a perceptually given property of the object and independent of the subject’s own mental activity. The tendency of mental activities to become automatized and for their results to be perceived as external to the subject is what leads to the conviction that there is a reality independent of thought.”

Toward science, this is the defying stance of Constructivism:

The technological advances show “one” of many possible ways to bring about a result or make a prediction. A proven scientific theory is a successful means for reaching a goal.

It merely means we know one viable way to a goal that we have chosen under specific circumstances in our experiential world.

“A key fits if it opens the lock. It describes the capacity of the key, not of the lock.”

“Scientists rely heavily on mathematics, a system constructed to generate necessary answers to its questions. Necessary answers generate certainty.”

Although here I’m lost because it’s where Constructivism goes metaphysical:

“Radical constructivism maintains that operations by means of which we assemble our experiential world can be explored, and that an awareness of this operating can help us do it differently and, perhaps, better.”

“We can invent keys that unlock our problems, but these inventions only tell us about the key, not about the lock. Although certainty is lost, choice increases.”

But to me ALL this only flows very naturally and coherently into Bakker’s theory. That’s maybe the scary part.

The key (science) really only tells more about us than the world. We strain to see, but we can only see our own reflection. Our science only explores and describes the limited horizon that we see (are), but nothing of what’s outside.

And this seems telling if one considers that:

“only living organisms qualify as observers”

“Scientists obeyed to this rule of separation because, under certain circumstances, when the observer included himself in his description (observations) it led to paradox, like the paradox one finds in the statement: I am a liar.”

Now THIS specific pattern of “paradox and recursion” IS the very thing that “Gödel, Escher, Bach” describes as the ORIGIN of conscience, or the difference that triggers it as emergent.

So it’s as if EVERYTHING simply leads back to this kind of loopy paradox that defines both reality (within the blind box) and ourselves (the loop of conscience, and the limited horizon).

Happy New Year.


  1. “only living organisms qualify as observers”

    “Scientists obeyed to this rule of separation because, under certain circumstances, when the observer included himself in his description (observations) it led to paradox,…”

    Looks to me like the paradox is simply the result of flattening the necessarily third person, non-introspective plurality of (organisms qualified as observers) into a first person reflexive pronoun called “HIMSELF”, which recursively keeps trying to look over its own shoulder to observe its observing while observing everything else.

    • The paradox is not the result, it’s the condition.

      The first person that at the same time observes and becomes the observed object is the central problem/principle of system theory, Niklas Luhmann.

      This particular issue has been already analyzed on this blog. More (but not most) recent entries. (I think)

      I actually remember having written about this specifically, but it’s likely in a comment over at Bakker’s blog. I should eventually fish it out…

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. By » Black Glass Looping Wor(l)d on 01 Jan 2012 at 11:59 pm

    […] own image: knowing the world as an extension of one’s own image. This also is charged with cosmological and spiritual implications, but once again I jump over to the personal level. The barrier […]

  2. […] Then I moved to listen about “The Crying of Lot 49″ (that I’m reading) and this is even more interesting because she goes through a number of literary movements and their position in regard to the perception of reality (within the context of language), and it seems that more than talking about that novel she’s now actually talking directly to me. […]

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