Debate 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 as “meaningless”, though I accept this was not intended in any malicious way. Taking this to an extreme renders dialogue impossible or, rather, turns it into a monologue by asserting that only one side is making sense. However, I will make some attempt to deal with the issues raised.

The “progressive historian”. The veracity of the historian was not that important a plank in my argument. Of course all historians tell a different tale but I was simply giving the “progressive historian” the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he did twist the evidence in which case he was very naughty but it isn’t material to the argument. The argument is, and remains, that simply because two people allege different interpretations of an event it doesn’t mean that they are seeing different events or different worlds.

The hot plate. I didn’t assume any brain involvement in the move of the hand from the hot plate. What I was saying is, to put it lyrically, “body and world act in perfect harmony”. When you jump away from a hot plate there is no room for opinions about what the world is like. If the body responds to the world as it “really” is, then why assert that the brain does not? The brain is as much body as the hand and the reflex mechanism. How can the brain not respond to the world as it “really” is? You can, if you wish, postulate some sort of interpretive system but this too is a response of the body to the world.

Heliocentric v geocentric cosmos. Yes, I do think it is important to know which is the correct view. Moreover, I have no problem about saying that there is a uniquely correct view. It may not be a simple view and it may take us a long time to grope painstakingly towards it but that view exists. We can say that the geocentric view is wrong and that Copernicus’ view is a more correct view of the real world. (It still requires refining, as does our current view.)

The fact that for certain applications, the geocentric equations are easier to use and give equally good answers hasn’t got anything to do with it. In a sense all equations used in science are approximations. What matters is getting the best possible picture we can of what the world is like and stripping opinion out of that picture.

Scientists’ questions. caveblogem insists that Constructivists don’t just invent any world they please, saying inter alia “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.'” Why, then, is he so dismissive of the “questions” that scientists ask? Does he not see that these questions are as much derived from data and experiments as he claims his Constructivist enterprise is? A scientist’s questions are not arbitrarily dragged up from his interior world of imagination or from his constructed world view. They are derived as a result of what he discovers from those same observations and experiments. Very often the questions arise precisely because they contradict the scientist’s currently held view.

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Debate on Constructivism 2

  1. caveblogem says:

    Please be assured, SilverTiger, that I did not intend to impugn you or your worldview. Perhaps the word “meaningless” is more problematic that I thought, even in context. This is a difficult conversation, at best. I will try to be more careful.

    I don’t think that I was dismissive of the questions scientists ask. The scientists I know do not ask questions about the “real world.” They do ask questions that are very important. They do ask very complicated questions. They do bring in lots of research funding with their experiments and are highly regarded in their fields. But they tend to see their disciplines similarly to Niels Bohr, who once said “It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.”

    I do see that the questions that scientists ask are as much derived from data and experiments as the RC worldview is (and perhaps more so). I’m confused about why you would think that I do not. I certainly don’t think that there is anything arbitrary about the construction of scientific experiments. Is there something in what I wrote that would make you think that that is my view?

    Since this discussion is about two contending visions of the world it might be inherently combative. And since I tend to hold that “all we can know is what is not,” there is an inherently critical element to the things I write. And I recognize that not everyone agrees with me on this stuff. Indeed, I am certainly the only one in my circle of friends and family that holds these views. So please don’t think that any of these things that I write are meant dirisively or as insults or anything like that. I wouldn’t mock the worldview of a family member. I wouldn’t do that to you either, SilverTiger, or to anyone else who is reading along or participating in this discussion.

  2. SilverTiger says:

    As I said, I didn’t see any malicious intention in your post. Perhaps I was writing in an over-sensitive mood, too.

    There is always going to be a problem where people discuss different views, that of finding common ground from which to conduct the debate. If there are no common concepts, what they say is likely to be misunderstood by the other or not to be understand at all.

    I am not yet sure whether it is the case that “scientific realists” and “Radical Constructivists” see the same world but describe it in different terms (e.g. like two mathematicians, one describing a problem in terms of coordinate geometry and the other is terms of vectors) or whether each actually sees a different world.

    Of course, you can argue that if two people use different descriptions of the world then they are, de facto, seeing different worlds but I would say that since all views are necessarily generated by the same world, then it depends to what degree each acknowledges this fact.

    Did Kepler, for example, see a different world from that which Einstein saw? Kepler’s world contained things that Einstein’s world did not (e.g. the angels who pushed the planets around their orbits) and Einstein’s world contained things that Kepler’s world did not (e.g. curved space). Were their worlds different or did they “merely” entertain different conditional hypotheses about the same world?

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