Published Special Issues
Find below an overview of the 25 special issues Constructivist Foundations has published so far, arranged alphabetically by title. Clicking on the title takes you to the web page of the special issue.
This special issue contains 26 articles and commentaries focussing on the research program called neurophenomenology that was launched by Francisco Varela 20 years ago. This program aims at developing a science of consciousness that includes, as active and explicit components, methodologies that account for the, so far neglected, subjective aspect of experience. Thus neurophenomenology proposed to incorporate an experiential approach into scientific research, based on techniques that allow the first-person exploration and account of experience, such as phenomenology and meditation practices. In addition, this program also proposed a conceptual shift from representationalism to an “enactive” view, passing from the vision of a pre-existing world that is independent from the observer, understanding cognition as the computation of symbols that represent the outside world, to a vision that places the subject as an active agent that participates in the emergence of his world, which adheres to the co-dependency and co-determinations of subject-object. Since its release, it has been contested, defended, and it has matured. The special issue explores the current state, the challenges and the possibilities of neurophenomenology (and related disciplines) as a proposal for building a science of experience.
Since the late 1980s, radical constructivism has been receiving a lot of attention in educational science and in the literature and media sciences, not least due to the boost it got in German-speaking countries, where it has been amalgamated with the second-order cybernetics of Heinz von Foerster and the biologically-motivated theory of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. Today, the literature is populated by a large number of different theories that are often in mutual disagreement, that all label themselves as some variety of “constructivism.” Despite the apparent popularity of constructivist thought, and its unconventional answers to many traditional philosophical and scientific problems, radical constructivism has never succeeded in mainstream philosophy. In this special issue we want to deal with the questions: Why isn’t everybody a radical constructivist? Why hasn’t radical constructivism become a mainstream endeavor?
With Ernst von Glasersfeld one of the most important if not the most important proponents of constructivist philosophy has passed away on 12 November 2010. The journal Constructivist Foundations, in which von Glasersfeld himself published several articles, wants to carry on and extend the legacy of this great philosopher and scientist. For many, he had a profound influence on our intellectual and private life. In this special issue Constructivist Foundations documents his significance and impact.
This special issue explores constructivist alternatives to the conventional paper presentation format of academic conferences. How can a conference be organised so that it can be an active place of questioning and exchange where new research questions can be composed and addressed? How can exploratory conversations be central rather than peripheral to the programme? In what ways do constructivist approaches to fields such as education or science also suggest possible rethinkings of academic practices more generally?
Much of the work being done in constructivist approaches progresses conceptually. As in general philosophy, claims and arguments appeal to the intuition of the reader or listener. Such contemplative work is certainly a powerful and typical human instrument for acquiring new knowledge, or at least guiding us in unknown areas. However, “[j]ust as you cannot do very much carpentry with your bare hands, there is not much thinking you can do with your bare brain” (Dahlbom & Janlert). There are reasons to assume that much more progress could be made by complementing the bare brain with computational tools to explore “the properties of mathematical models where analytic methods are unavailable” (Paul Humphrey). Computational methods have not only been applied in the context of general philosophy and philosophy of science but also in constructivist approaches such as Francisco Varela et al.’s computational autopoiesis from the 1970s. The goal of the special issue is to set “computational constructivism” in motion by presenting (a) Computational models of constructivist concepts and processes (such as sensorimotor constructions, systems inspired by second-order cybernetic processes, autopoietic systems, etc.), and results from conducting experiments with them, and (b) (Meta) (critical) assessments of the philosophical and conceptual significance of computational tools.
The 45 target articles and open peer commentaries in this issue show that constructionist learning is an appropriate method for learning computational thinking.
Constructionism is an epistemology, a theory of design and a theory of learning. It addresses constructivist learning in individual and social environments where bricolage with digital expressive media plays an important role. This special issue was inspired by the discourse and productions of the “Constructionism 2014” conference in Vienna, “Constructionism and Creativity.”
Initiated at the end of the 18th century by Immanuel Kant, the father of modern philosophy of mathematics, constructivism has had a long and prosperous development, the common basis of its different types being that mathematical entities are creations of the human mind. On the one hand – and probably best known in the community of philosophers of mathematics – there are several varieties of constructivism in mathematics, i.e., versions of constructivism that aspire the status of a foundational theory rival to logicism or formalism. These developments were initiated by mathematician-philosophers such as Brouwer, Markov or Bishop. On the other hand – and most likely less known to the same community – there are constructivist theories about mathematics as a research discipline: applications to mathematics of approaches adding to the traditional focus on the individual as diverse as cultural anthropology, social constructivism, systems theory, conventionalism, as well as views from cognitive science such as the embodied and the enactive approach.
The special issues on “Eigenbehavior” contains 35 target articles and commentaries from authors such as Louis Kauffman, Donald Hoffman, Gerard de Zeeuw, and Raul Espejo. It discusses the applicability of the concepts of eigenbehavior and eigenform to a variety of scientific fields including mathematics, physics, philosophy, performing arts, and musicology. In contrast to the intuitive understanding of objects as instances or even evidence of an external reality while subjects refer to an internal subjective world, Heinz von Foerster suggested an innovatively different approach that regards objects as “tokens for eigenbehavior”. This approach internalizes objects into subjects by conceiving both as expressions of structures emerging in the dynamics of complex systems that generate invariances while trying to maintain their operations. Observed, these invariances appear as a system’s eigenforms.
The theoretical and pragmatic presuppositions of recent enactive and neuro-phenomenological cognitive science have been greatly influenced by three intellectual traditions: philosophy of mind (analytic tradition), phenomenology, and radical constructivism. All of these traditions have made important, often mutually enriching, yet sometimes also mutually incompatible contributions. To make these differences more explicit and to potentially address and overcome them, the contributions in the special issue discuss two closely related topics: What is the nature and structure of the subject-world relation? What is the nature and structure of experience?
Radical constructivism (RC) has emerged as one of the most challenging influences on educational research and practice in the last forty years. Methodologically, RC calls for “a conceptual model of the formation of the structures and the operations” that constitute the student’s competence “because it, alone, could indicate the direction in which the student is to be guided.” The goal is to “throw light on how the students, at that point in their development, are organizing their experiential world,” in order to find ways and means of modifying the student’s conceptual structures. Von Glasersfeld claimed that research in this area “could make advances that would immediately benefit educational practice.” Forty years later the contributions to this special issue ask: Has von Glasersfeld’s ambitious program been put to work successfully? Have RC and its epistemological considerations been “dynamite” enough to overcome the “more or less general disillusionment” in educational research since then, and to boost the efficacy of education?
Contributions to this special issues focus not merely on Niklas Luhmann alone but also discuss his relationship to constructivism in general and to radical constructivism in particular. This includes (a) Luhmann’s epistemological understanding in accordance with or in contrast to (radical) constructivism, (b) His understanding of science and truth in accordance with or in contrast to (radical) constructivism, (c) His use and development of typical constructivist concepts such as self-reference, self-organization, autonomy, autopoiesis, second-order cybernetics, observation, and second-order observation, etc. Their conceptual borrowing by Luhmann should be critically examined, and (d) The question of what (radical) constructivism can learn from Luhmann.
In the past three decades, the work of Francisco Varela has had an enormous impact on current developments in contemporary science. His thought was extremely complex and multifaceted, and while some aspects – notably his contributions to the autopoietic theory of living and enactivist approach to cognition – have gained widespread acclaim, others have been ignored or watered down. In the new special issue that was published today 55 target articles and open peer commentaries shed light on Varela‘s contributions to science.
Francisco Varela introduced neurophenomenology as the integration of phenomenological approaches to first-person experience – in the tradition of Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty – with a neuro-dynamical, scientific approach to the study of the situated brain and body. The papers in this special issue addressing questions such as: It is time for a re-appraisal of this field. Has neurophenomenology already contributed to the sciences of the mind? If so, how? How should it best do so in future? Additionally, can neurophenomenology really help to resolve or dissolve the “hard problem” of the relation between mind and body, as Varela claimed?
For Josef Mitterer, dualism is just an argumentation technique based on the use of dichotomic distinctions such as language and reality, description and object. According to him, these dichotomies are introduced into our discourse whenever conflicts arise; they lead to the perennial problems of philosophy such as the problems of truth, reference and reality. Mitterer’s non-dualism operates without these distinctions. He criticizes the dualistic “paradogma” of philosophy from within a non-dualistic argumentation that neither presupposes nor creates a beyond for regulating and directing discourse. At the core of his philosophy we find this insight: An object relates to a description of the object like a description so far to a description from now on. Every description changes the object into a new object for further descriptions. Can such seemingly counterintuitive ideas expose the culprit behind philosophy’s hard problems? In 16 papers. this special issue explores the potential of this conceptual revision and ask how Mitterer’s way of thinking is related to current debates in philosophy in particular and the humanities in general.
Traditional science excludes the observer in an effort to manufacture objectivity – a strategy that worked well in the age of classical sciences. Many recent research areas such as human cognition and quantum physics, however, call observer-independence into question. Would including the observer in science threaten the firm nature of scientific insight, and is the second-order inclusion of the observer still science? A second motivation for second-order science is domain-specific. Second-order science can be introduced as the science of science or as a science that operates on the products of normal or first-order science. Tests of clinical tests, evaluations of already available evaluations, models of models, cybernetics of cybernetics or sociology of sociology and many other self-reflexive issues can be viewed as the domain of second-order science. This special issue provides a comprehensive overview of the potential of the new set of approaches to second-order science. Its contributions investigate whether well-defined methods and procedures can be defined for second-order science that are both self-reflexive with respect to their domain and observer-inclusive. It is our goal that the research outputs of second-order science can be examined through peer review, just as traditional science can.
Post-conference papers from the 4th International Heinz von Foerster-Congress that took place 12 to 14 November 2009 at the University of Vienna.
In the last few decades, the mainstream view in cognitive science has been challenged by the proposal to recognize the role of the observer and her embodied experience in the generation of knowledge. In particular, Francisco Varela’s enactive approach to cognition provides the opportunity to scientifically study experience. His neurophenomenological research program prompted the dialogue between mainstream third-person approach and the disciplined study of experience from a first-person perspective. The first-person study of experience has already a few well-defined methods but a coherent framework for first-person research is still under construction. The purpose of the special issue published today is to contribute to the formulation of this research program and to explore its possibilities and limitations.
Mitterer is known for his non-dualist epistemology, which he shaped in his books “Das Jenseits der Philosophie” [The beyond of philosophy] (1992) and “Die Flucht aus der Beliebigkeit” [The flight from arbitrariness] (2001). The “non-dualistic manner of speaking” forgoes the categorical distinction between language and language-independent reality. His position earned him wide recognition in the German-speaking countries and in Poland (due to excellent translations). Mitterer’s non-dualism could be of interest to a world-wide audience and, therefore, should be subject to academic discussion in English, prompted by the contributions in this special issue.
For more than 40 years the work and ideas of Humberto Maturana has permeated the academic world and applied disciplines. What began as an answer to the question “What is life?” has become a quite encompassing explanatory network that includes living, cognition, languaging and emotioning. In this special issue, Constructivist Foundations published a collection of papers that show the fruitfulness of Maturana’s work across disciplines including (a) Applications of Maturana’s work in various domains of inquiry an action, including both the humanities and the sciences, (b) Extensions and expansions of notions and concepts implicit in Maturana’s work, and (c) Maturana’s work in historical and cultural perspectives.
This special issue continues an experiment that started with the special issue on “Second-Order Science” (2014). While the majority of the contributions saw second-order science directly connected with the inclusion of an observer, a smaller part viewed second-order science as a genuinely new research domain operating with building blocks from first-order science in a self-reflexive manner. The goal of this special issue is to explore contemporary versions of second-order cybernetics, which originally emerged some 50 years ago by adding self-reflexivity to the first-order cybernetics of observed systems.