Ernst von Glasersfeld was born in Munich, 1917, of Austrian parents, and grew up in Northern Italy and Switzerland. Briefly studied mathematics in Zürich and Vienna. Returned to Italy in 1946, worked as a journalist, and collaborated until 1961 in Ceccato’s Scuola Operativa Italiana (language analysis and machine translation). From 1962 director of US-sponsored research project in computational linguistics. From 1970, he taught cognitive psychology at the University of Georgia, USA. Professor Emeritus in 1987. He held several honorary doctorates. Ernst von Glasersfeld passed away on 12 November 2010.
Constructivism rejects the metaphysical position that “truth,” and thus knowledge in science, can represent an “objective” reality, independent of the knower. It modifies the role of knowledge from “true” representation to functional viability. In this interview, Ernst von Glasersfeld, the leading proponent of Radical Constructivism underlines the inaccessibility of reality, and proposes his view that the function of cognition is adaptive, in the biological sense: the adaptation is the result of the elimination of all that is not adapted. There is no rational way of knowing anything outside the domain of our experience and we construct our world of experiences. In addition to these philosophical claims, the interviewee provides some personal insights; he also gives some suggestions about better teaching and problem solving. These are the aspects of constructivism that have had a major impact on instruction and have modified the manner many of us teach. The process of teaching as linguistic communication, he says, needs to change in a way to involve actively the students in the construction of their knowledge. Because knowledge is not a transferable commodity, learning is mainly identified with the activity of the construction of personal meaning. This interview also provides glimpses on von Glasersfeld’s life.
Foerster H. von & Glasersfeld E. von (1999) Wie wir uns erfinden. Eine Autobiographie des radikalen Konstruktivismus [How we invent ourselves: An autobiography of radical constructivism]. Carl Auer, Heidelberg.
Vico’s constructivist epistemology is compared with that of Piaget with a view to clarifying Piaget’s theory of knowledge. Piaget’s interpreters often show a lack of concern with the metaphysical foundations of cognitive structures. Vico’s emphasis on the limitations of human knowledge, therefore, is helpful in avoiding interpretive inconsistency. In Vico’s and in Piaget’s radical constructivism, knowledge is non-ontological in the sense that no claims may be made about the relation between cognitive structures and reality. Structural adequacy is derived from the consistency of the self-referencing cognitive system.
Excerpt: Applying the findings of Professor Ceccato’s “Italian Operational School,” this research group approaches the problem of machine translation on the basis of the operational analysis of thought. […] In the course of research it has become clear that a considerable part (estimated at 40%) of the information normally used in understanding language is not supplied by language itself, but by the experience, previous knowledge, and common habits of readers or listeners.
Glasersfeld E. von (1962) First draft of an English input procedure for mechanical translation. Methodos 14(54): 47–79. https://cepa.info/1295
Accepting Ceccato’s theory of the operational structure of human thought, the author demonstrates the possibility of breaking up the meaning of words into combinations of smaller constant elements (semantic particle) of meaning. Taking as an example a group of related English verbs, the analysis shows that the differences between their meanings can always be accounted for by a difference in the combination of semantic particles constituting their nominata. A comparison with a closely related group of German verbs shows that one can never expect to find an exact interlanguage correspondence between the signification of words, even when they are given as equivalents in traditional dictionaries. The semantic patterns indicated in this essay are the result of a first analysis and may be subject to correction when the research is extented to a larger vocabulary.