Principia Cybernetica Web

Physical Constructivism

The philosophy of the Principia Cybernetica Project also finds its basis in what we call "physical constructivism". While constructivism is traditionally known in its mathematical context, including the denial of reductio ad absurdum proofs, the existence of actually infinite objects, and the law of the excluded middle{As described more elsewhere , cite{TUV87a} is a constructive philosophy of mathematics from the perspective of Principia Cybernetica.} Cyberneticians especially have championed a broader interpretation that extends to psychology and the general philosophy of science.

Psychological constructivism asserts that knowledge is constructed by the subject, and not a simple "reflection" of or correspondence to reality. Following especially Kant, the neural mechanisms of the sense organs, the cortex, and the entire brain are seen as active mediators which provide the inherent "categories of perception". It follows that perception and knowledge are in fact a model of reality, and not merely a reflection or impression of it.

We can also describe an extreme version of radical constructivism, which is currently fashionable with some cyberneticians, but which we reject. Some radical constructivists approach strong skepticism by denying the existence of any external reality, and simply define reality as our knowledge. This "brain in a vat" view is unnecessarily strong. Instead we take a kind of agnostic view, which is a-realist, not anti-realist. While it is true that knowledge provides no direct and incorrigible access to the world, and it is not justified to make strong inferences about reality on the basis of knowledge, at the same time it is not allowed to make inferences about reality on the basis of a lack of knowledge: ignorance of something does not entail its non-existence.

We accept mathematical and psychological constructivism, but we go further. We call our evolutionary philosophy physically constructive in the sense that systems can only be understood in terms of the (physical) processes which manifest them and by which they have been assembled. This is certainly true for physical and biological systems, but also holds for formal, symbolic, and semantic systems. In particular, we hold that semantics, language, and mathematics must always be understood in the context of the physical basis of their operation---on the physical systems (e.g. sense organs, brains, machines, computers) which transmit, receive, and especially interpret physical tokens.

Copyright© 1992 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn,

Jan 1992


Metasystem Transition Theory

Methodology for the Development of MSTT

Multiple Beginnings, Meta-Foundationalism

Prev. Next


Add comment...