Constructivism (Konstruktivismus)

Constructivism is the term used to describe a somewhat heterogeneous group of theoretical approaches from various disciplines (e.g., biology, neurophysiology, cybernetics, psychology). They share the assumption that knowledge does not rest on a correspondence with the external reality, but exclusively on the “constructions” of an observer. Knowledge is the discovery (Entdeckung) of reality — not in the sense of a progressive revelation of pre-existing objects, but in the sense of “inventing” (Erfindung) external data.

A crucial landmark for constructivism is Heinz von Foerster’s research, which highlighted the relevance of some results of neurophysiology for the theory of knowledge. One is the so-called principle of undifferentiated encoding, according to which nerve cells encode only the intensity and not the nature of a perceptual stimulus. The brain uses the same operations (electrical stimuli) in order to see, hear, smell, taste and touch, and creates internally the corresponding qualitative differences. Differentiated perceptions according to different senses are based on an internal interpretation of undifferentiated external stimuli. The world as we perceive it — with all its variety and diversity — is the result of internal processes.

A further central element of constructivism has been formulated by Humberto Maturana as the principle of →autopoiesis. According to this principle, at the level of organization, every living system operates under conditions of closure without any input from the environment. The system never comes into direct contact with the environment and knows only its own internal states.

From these and other considerations, constructivists conclude that all knowledge is an internal construct of a system. At the same time, however, they refuse to describe their position as idealistic and assign to reality a critical role in the regulation of the operations of systems. Constructivists do not negate the existence of reality, but claim that there is nothing in it that corresponds to the categories of knowledge. There are no negative and no […]