Robert Martin’s Paper Proposal

Reframing Society’s View of Self, and Responsibility, and Science

The following ABSTRACT is associated with the following two traditions of Cybernectis (as listed on the website):

Experimental epistemology, constructivism, philosophy of science; Foerster, Glanville, Glasersfeld, Kauffman, McCulloch, Umpleby, Whitaker

Education and conversation: Lewin, Martin, Pask, Scott


This paper draws together threads from cybernetics, radical constructivism, and the biology of cognition to show that:
1. How we view knowing is a key understanding that can contribute to how teachers view and practice teaching and, through example and design, how learners understand and teach one another.
2. How we view ourselves as state-determined entities can contribute to understanding the need for individual responsibility for individual action and for both individual and collective responsibility for the design of environments that influence individual responsibility, including and especially teaching/learning environments.

Language is circular in at least two ways:
1. An explanation is a description of what is explained in another domain (von Foerster). Another way of saying this: All explanations are metaphorical, that is, one experience is partially mediated by other experience (Lakoff and Johnson). As opposed to a truth-based understanding of the world, a metaphor-based understanding of the world is circular.

2. Every word is defined by other words that in turn are defined by the original word. In other words, all definitions are circular.

Given that explanations, language, and experience are circular, the universe will appear as circular in our perceptions/understandings.

In a truth-based, object-based view of the world, truth is objective and privileged. In a view of the world where knowing is based on experience and language, truth is based on experience and on trust (Maturana and von Foerster).

While putting aside the concept of a truth-based, object-based world may seem to many to be a threat to stability, responsibility, and ethical behavior, I believe that the concept of a world based on the circularity of language and of experience is a better fit to the tasks of caring for self, others, and the planet.

Cybernetic traditions:

  • 3) Experimental epistemology; constructivism; philosophy of science
  • 5) Education and conversation

2 thoughts on “Robert Martin’s Paper Proposal

  1. klaus krippendorff

    hi robert, just a brief comment:
    if you settle on a substitutional theory of language (definitions replace one expression with another) then indeed all definitions remain within language. however, this closed systems view is a rather limited conception of language from which one can hardly conclude that we see the world circularily.
    there are operational definitions which relate words and narratives with replicable actions, for example, time is defined in terms of what a clock does, or political freedom in terms of voting on particular actions. than language is no longer circular
    there is the romantic view of language according to which all utterances express cognitive and emotional states, which ties language to the psychology of mind and the history of language to the development of minds within a culture.
    personally i am more interested in wittgenstein’s notion of language as a collection of diverse language games (or coordinations among speakers) in the context of actions being performed, like building a house. hear language is related to what it does, not what it refers to, and the meanings of words are not necessarily defined but equal to the history of their uses in particular contexts.
    i think the latter is a more cybernetic conception of language as it reflexively engages other human beings in the language game currently performed, and it addresses the expectations that speakers of a language have of each other including concerning the actions resulting in changing the environment in the context of which a language game is played.

    1. Peter Cariani

      RE: Klaus’ remarks on language, which are very useful here.

      Why isn’t a psychological account of language compatible with interactive, cooperative Wittgensteinian language games?
      Many of our cognitive states are related to what we need to do/say in order for our fellow human beings to help us (build houses) and meanings of words and phrases are mostly built up at first from histories of uses in concrete situations and then from inferences about how others are using them. Social cooperation, playing the language game, necessarily involves cognitive representations and operations. It helps enormously to have both empathy for and internal models of other minds. What we end up saying out loud is the outcome of all those processes, which include all of our previous experiences, desires, contexts.

      I am always struck by how automatic and fluent our speech is — our words flow about as fast as we think.


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