Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Constructivism, Perspectivism, Panpsychism, & Correlationism

Constructivism Definition
Constructivism is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences. Home » About Learning, Content, Theories » Constructivism

Constructivist theory
Formalization of the theory of constructivism is generally attributed to Jean Piaget, who articulated mechanisms by which knowledge is internalized by learners. He suggested that through processes of accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences. When individuals assimilate, they incorporate the new experience into an already existing framework without changing that framework. This may occur when individuals' experiences are aligned with their internal representations of the world, but may also occur as a failure to change a faulty understanding; for example, they may not notice events, may misunderstand input from others, or may decide that an event is a fluke and is therefore unimportant as information about the world.

In contrast, when individuals' experiences contradict their internal representations, they may change their perceptions of the experiences to fit their internal representations. According to the theory, accommodation is the process of reframing one's mental representation of the external world to fit new experiences. Accommodation can be understood as the mechanism by which failure leads to learning: when we act on the expectation that the world operates in one way and it violates our expectations, we often fail, but by accommodating this new experience and reframing our model of the way the world works, we learn from the experience of failure, or others' failure.

It is important to note that constructivism is not a particular pedagogy. In fact, constructivism is a theory describing how learning happens, regardless of whether learners are using their experiences to understand a lecture or following the instructions for building a model airplane. In both cases, the theory of constructivism suggests that learners construct knowledge out of their experiences. However, constructivism is often associated with pedagogic approaches that promote active learning, or learning by doing. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theory associated especially with Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), who named it, Edward Sapir (1884-1939), BENJAMIN LEE WHORF (1897-1941), Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000) and Thomas Samuel Kuhn (1922-1996).
Perspectivism says that there can be radically different and incommensurable conceptual schemes (ultimate ways of looking at the world) or perspectives, one of which we must (consciously or unconsciously) adopt, but none of which is more correct than its rivals.

For Sapir and WHORF our own scheme is dependent on the language we use. Like some other forms of relativism, perspectivism is open to the objection that it cannot cater for itself: is the view that there are different conceptual schemes itself something arising only within one, non-mandatory, conceptual scheme? Also see: indeterminacy of reference and translation, though it has been claimed that this is inconsistent with incommensurability.

Perspectivism is the philosophical view developed by Friedrich Nietzsche that all ideations take place from particular perspectives. This means that there are many possible conceptual schemes, or perspectives which determine any possible judgment of truth or value that we may make; this implies that no way of seeing the world can be taken as definitively "true", but does not necessarily propose that all perspectives are equally valid... This view is outlined in an aphorism from Nietzsche's posthumously-assembled collection Will to Power.
In so far as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings.—“Perspectivism.”
It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm.
– Friedrich Nietzsche; trans. Walter Kaufmann , The Will to Power, §481 (1883-1888) [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Perspectivism and Truth in Nietzsche’s Philosophy:
A Critical Look at the Apparent Contradiction
By Nate Olson

“There are no truths,” states one. “Well, if so, then is your statement true?” asks another. This statement and following question go a long way in demonstrating the crucial problem that any investigator of Nietzsche’s conceptions of perspectivism and truth encounters. How can one who believes that one’s conception of truth depends on the perspective from which one writes (as Nietzsche seems to believe) also posit anything resembling a universal truth (as Nietzsche seems to present the will to power, eternal recurrence, and the Übermensch)? Given this idea that there is no truth outside of a perspective, a transcendent truth, how can a philosopher make any claims at all which are valid outside his personal perspective? This is the question that Maudemarie Clark declares Nietzsche commentators from Heidegger and Kaufmann to Derrida and even herself have been trying to answer. The sheer amount of material that has been written and continues to be written on this conundrum demonstrates that this question will not be satisfactorily resolved here, but I will try to show that a resolution can be found. And this resolution need not sacrifice Nietzsche’s idea of perspectivism for finding some “truth” in his philosophy, or vice versa. One, however, ought to look at Nietzsche’s philosophical “truths” not in a metaphysical manner but as, when taken collectively, the best way to live one’s life in the absence of an absolute truth.
By looking at one of Nietzsche’s specific postulations of perspectivism, we can get a better idea of precisely how this term applies to his philosophy and how it relates to the “truthfulness” of his other claims. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche begins with a chapter entitled “On the Prejudices of Philosophers.” Almost immediately he begins to tear into the lack of integrity on the part of traditional philosophers who present their ideas as the product of pure reason.

Panpsychism from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro
In my last book, I wrote that Whitehead’s position, that all entities have a “mental” as well as a “physical” pole, needs to be distinguished “from the ‘panpsychism’ of which he is sometimes accused” (page 28). I now realize that this is entirely wrong; such a distinction cannot be made, because Whitehead’s position is, in a very classical sense, a panpsychist one. Moreover, panpsychism is a respectable philosophical position, and not something that anyone needs to worry about being “accused” of.

I come to this new understanding from reading David Skrbina’s work on panpsychism — the philosophical doctrine that “mentality” is in some sense a universal property of all entities in the universe, or of matter itself. Skrbina’s book, Panpsychism in the West, both argues for panpsychism as a philosophical doctrine, and gives an extended history of this doctrine. Skrbina shows that panpsychism has been a leading strand in Western thought for 2500 years, from the pre-Socratics through Spinoza and Leibniz, on to William James and Whitehead a century ago, and up to many thinkers today. The idea that everything in the world thinks, in some fashion, is far more prevalent than its “crackpot” reputation might lead us to assume.

Skrbina’s companion edited volume, Mind That Abides, contains essays on the possibilities of panpsychism by a variety of contemporary philosophers, ranging from analytic philosophers (among whom Galen Strawson is probably the best-known), through post-Whiteheadian process-oriented thinkers, to “speculative realists” along with other non-analytic metaphysicians (there are contributions from Graham Harman and Iain Hamilton Grant). Together, these volumes make a powerful case for the plausibility of panpsychism, as well as making it clear that Whitehead’s contention that all entities have some sort of incipient mentality is a central expression of the panpsychist doctrine. [...]

Panpsychist thinkers propose, against the eliminativists, that mentality is real. Against the emergentists, they propose that mentality doesn’t just come into being out of nothing; it is always already there, no matter where you look. Mind, in some form or other, exists all the way down. Panpsychists argue that mentality, or experience, is itself a basic attribute of matter (of subatomic particles, of quanta of mass-energy, of actual occasions, of minimal differences, etc.). In other words, mentality is not separate from physicality, but coextensive with it.

One might think of this, classicaly, in Spinozian terms (matter and mind are two attributes of the same unique substance) or in Leibnizian ones (every monad is at once material and mental, since it is both a particle of the world and a perspective upon the world). But Galen Strawson, David Skrbina, and others have reconceptualized these arguments in terms that are grounded in contemporary physics. As Strawson puts it, the “ultimates” out of which the universe is composed “are intrinsically experience-involving… All physical stuff is energy, in one form or another; and all energy, I trow, is an experience-involving phenomenon.”

This line of argument intersects in interesting ways with the arguments of the Speculative Realists. For it implies that mentality must be seen as intrinsic to the universe itself — rather than just being a feature of the way that “we” (human beings, rational minds, subjects) approach it. To restrict mentality just to human beings (and perhaps also to some other species of “higher” animals) is an unjustified prejudice, an instance of the “correlationism” denounced by Meillassoux, or the human-centeredness questioned by Harman. (This also accords with Whitehead’s frequent point that the duality of subject and object is a situational and always changing one. Every entity is a “subject” in some conditions or some relations, and an “object” in others).

In Skrbina’s anthology, both Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harman write about the relation between realism and panpsychism in ways that are too complicated for me to do them justice here. Grant argues for “panpsychism all the way down, that is, without exception”; but in doing so, he complicates the whole question of emergence. For his part, Harman is reserved with regards to panpsychism. He sees mentality as an inevitable component of any relationality, or interaction between objects; “objects collide only indirectly, by means of the images they present as information.” But objects are not reducible to the “information” that they transmit to other objects. Harman therefore denies the property of information, or mentality, to objects insofar as they are in themselves, and therefore to objects that do not enter into “vicarious” relations with other objects. And of course, for Harman, relationality is only incidental to, and not constitutive of, the nature of objects. Hence, for Harman, “even if all entities contain experience, not all entities have experience.” Grant’s and Harman’s articles both raise important issues that I do not have the space to pursue right now — I will have to leave them both for another occasion.

Quentin Meillassoux speaking in London on 8 May 2008 Monday, May 5th, 2008
Those of you who have read Graham Harman’s manuscript Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics will know that Quentin Meillassoux’s notion of correlationism features prominently in Harman’s assessment of Latour’s philosophy. Meillassoux will be speaking in London on the topic of “Time without Becoming” on 8 May 2008, at 5:30 pm at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex University. Quentin Meillassoux’s book After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency is now also available in English in Ray Brassier’s translation and with Alain Badiou’s preface from Amazon UK. Further details about the event including directions available here. Tags: , , , , , , Posted in Bruno Latour, Graham Harman 1 Comment » ANTHEM » correlationism

Realism and Correlationism: Truth « Grundlegung 4 Jun 2009 ... This post will take a closer look at Meillassoux's treatment of truth in Kant and correlationism. I think something crucial goes amiss here ... Realism and Correlationism: Some preliminaries « Grundlegung 28 Apr 2009 ... This realism has been contrasted with a correlationist position, which is taken to infect much contemporary philosophy. ...

Meillassoux II: Correlationism and the Problem of Ancestrality ... Correlationism, by contrast, was seen to be the thesis that it is impossible to think being independent of the relation between thought and being. ... Correlationism and the Fate of Philosophy « Larval Subjects . As developed by Meillassoux, the predominant orientation of thought in contemporary philosophy is that of correlationism. Written in a crisp, ...

Amazon.com: Martin M. Rayburn's review of After Finitude: An Essay ... A Great Work of Contemporary Philosophy, June 24, 2008 By Martin M. Rayburn Meillassoux's first book is nothing less than a completely original and meticulously argued philosophical manifesto. Drawing upon the ontology of his teacher, Alain Badiou, Meillassoux aims to prove what was only implicit in Badiou's "Being and Event": the absolute contingency of all being. A writer working largely within the tradition of continental thought--often decried for its putative obscure prose and shoddy methods of argumentation--Meillassoux (unlike Badiou) never sacrifices clarity, and displays a stunning capacity to take down canonical philosophers with implacable reasoning. Although he will doubtless be exposed to criticism as his argument gains a wider readership, Meillassoux has already, in this slim volume, circumvented the many of the critiques that could be thrown his way.

"After Finitude" targets two principal philosophical opponents: the metaphysician and the correlationist. The prime representative of the metaphysical tradition here is Descartes, whose assertion of the absolute goodness of God allowed him to "prove" the existence of an objective world exterior to the human subject. Although Meillassoux is sympathetic to Descartes' attempt to think the absolute--and takes Descartes' metaphysical presumptions seriously--he also recognizes that the metaphysician's reliance on either the principle of sufficient reason or at least one necessary entity (God, atom, history, etc.) hinders any engagement with unconditional truth.

This repudiation of metaphysical dogmatism not withstanding, Meillassoux's primary adversary is the correlationist (Kant and his disciples fall under this category), who subordinates knowledge of the "great outdoors" to its relation with a human being, a thinking subject, Dasein, etc. The correlationist cannot properly interpret the "ancestral" realm that preceded all forms of life. He either rejects the claims of science altogether or qualifies them by confining their truth-value to the world of the scientist and his instruments. Thus, the correlationist "retrojects" this ancestral past and denies its temporal priority with respect to the human present. Meillassoux's most ambitious project in AF is to break the "correlationist circle" whereby human access to the world is hypostatized at the expense of both world itself and thinking as such. Meillassoux shows that the correlationist must either covertly presuppose a world without humans, or "absolutize the correlation" and hence reinstate the dogmatic position he claims to have eschewed.

So what remains to be thought after correlationism? For Meillassoux, philosophy's objective is to reinvestigate ancient metaphysical problems and find new solutions. Meillassoux takes a large first step here by arguing that contingency alone is necessary.

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