Second order con-science

To prepare for the unknown unknown

February 4th, 2007

At the workshop “Nichtwissen in der Wissensgesellschaft” (Ignorance in Information Society), when the discussions eventually boiled down to one of the workshops focal questions — how to deal with the unknown unknownUlrich Müller-Herold gave an illustrative example:

Imagine an aircraft manufacturer has just assembled a newly developed airplane that now is scheduled for its maiden test flight. To minimize all possible risks the airplane has gone through extensive ground testing, and a highly experienced test pilot is chosen.

Still, during the maiden flight unexpected circumstances might arise. So, we may ask what can be done in advance to be able to react as appropriately as possible. For instance, one of perhaps many measures, which the manufacturer may take, is to require the pilot to be completely sober.

What a wonderful example! First, it well illustrates the problem. What can mankind do to stay sober? Second, it even points out a solution. Like we should sharpen our whiskers. Third, and most importantly, it’s flawed.

When I said to Müller-Herold that I found his example very appropriate because it was flawed he told me a story of Heinrich Böll who once calmly replied to a critic that one could reach one’s goal limping, too. (“Herr Böll, der Vergleich hinkt.” — “Ach, man kann auch hinkend sein Ziel erreichen”, here quoted after Joachim Kaiser.)

But, if mankind was not limping probably there would have never been a goal. If an example is to illustrate a flaw it does so well if it is flawed itself. And, indeed, perfectly flawed it is.

Usability of non-knowledge

January 29th, 2007

Knowledge may be defined in many ways. Sure, quite a number of people writing and talking about knowledge do not even care about defining knowledge (sorry no references here in order to protect the innocent). Moreover, one might deny the existence of varying definitions, though, I — personally — would see this as a sign of a view on knowledge differing from my own view.

Apparently, some people take the delicate concept of disfinism a step further: We do not know what knowledge is, therefore, naturally, let’s do research on non-knowledge, respectively ignorance and the unknown. (Mind you, I am not talking of myself I am just a liar.) Of course, this research shall add to the existing (scientific) knowledge (in contrast to existing non-knowledge).

As a side note, here is one more hint on why disfinism is a safe bet: As long as one does not define the concepts one’s work is based on, or the area to which one’s work applies, one can carelessly produce whatever others buy (or even do not buy). And they will, because consistency rules.

But is it of any use? The work? The knowledge? This blog?

You might well ask! As an example, let’s provide a definition for knowledge. Say, knowledge is what can be put into use, and what leads to something useful. In this sense, we may want to define non-knowledge as what cannot be put into use, or is useless (not to mention that this definition could come in useful). Please note that this is only an example of perhaps minor use — depending on your definition of use. Also, you might want to limit this definition’s scope to what is nonphysical.

What happens as you start gathering (useful) knowledge while you try not to accumulate non-knowledge, while you try to separate what is useful from what is useless, while you weed out ignorance, while you warn your fellows of possible non-knowledge, intended ignorance, and the temporally unknown?

Here is an answer by Bill Watterson’s character Calvin:

The more you know, the harder it is to take decisive action. Once you become informed, you start seeing complexities and shades of gray. You realize that nothing is as clear and simple as it first appears. Ultimately, knowledge is paralyzing.
Being a man of action I can’t afford to take that risk.

Is this knowledge useful? It’s hard to decide, isn’t it!?


January 24th, 2007

Constructivism is easy to explain: Don’t!1


The basic assumption (or condition) is that there is you. From this it follows that there’s something which — or somebody who — is not you.2

Getting to know what is not youCorollary

In order to know you need to know about what is not you. Thus, whatever you want to know about what is not you needs to find some way into you.

The English language has a huge number of terms for these “ways”: Learn, observe, perceive, watch, hear, realize, comprehend, get, … you name it. Their essential aspect is that something is happening (on the way). Let’s call this the “process of perception” (but you may call it whatever you prefer).

That’s it.

In other words, constructivism acknowledges that — if you assume that there is you and something or somebody who is not you — there is something in between. For instance, a medium (that needs to be passed), some time (that goes by), an act of observation, sensory receptions, a recognition, maybe a translation, a calculation, or a memorization, and probably some thinking. Or else, you wouldn’t be able to know about what is not you.

The visual system (like of human beings), as well as any other sensory system, or a close look into a human eye illustrates the multitude of processes which is involved with the “process of perception”.

Varieties of constructivism

The specifics of the “process of perception” are interpreted and described in varying ways by the many facets of constructivism. Also, some forms of constructivism confine their theories to less general distinctions of you versus what is not you (e.g. social constructivism examines mostly social relations like you and a friend, groups of people, or societies, and how those perceive each other and everything else).

[Radical constructivism] starts from the assumption that knowledge (…) is in the heads of persons, and that the thinking subject has no alternative but to construct what he or she knows on the basis of his or her own experience.
Ernst von Glasersfeld3


Constructivism offers ways of perceiving perception.
If you prefer other perceptions of constructivism, welcome aboard.


1) The presented text is no explanation apart from the fact that you might view it as a plain representation flattened out on a computer screen or paper.
2) If for whatever reason you cannot agree here, either because you think there is only you, or because you think nothing exists independently of you, then you can stop reading since you are already thinking in a most constructivistic manner.
3) Ernst von Glasersfeld: Radical Constructivism. A Way of Knowing and Learning. London: Falmer Press 1995. Page 1.

A “funny game of constructivism”

January 20th, 2007

Andreas Zeuch referred to rattus rattus’ blog as a “funny game of constructivism”, though up until this very entry neither the word constructivism nor construct appeared anywhere in this blog (except for 2 obscure references of construction).

Curiously enough, this is some hint if you consider the fact that many people who by others are referred to as being constructivists never did so themselves. This applies to me as well as to this blog. I shall always happily refer to myself as a liar.

Then again, I do not know what Zeuch means by constructivism. In fact, I cannot know what goes on in Zeuch’s head at all, can I? Heck, I have no idea of what goes on in my own head. Does Zeuch? — Anyway, this not-knowing is part of (radical) constructivism according to Ernst von Glasersfeld who should know (1).

Even if I wanted to avoid using the label constructivism I would have a hard time letting you know. Though, if there is constructivism then it doesn’t matter anyhow. Or so, many think (as if it does matter if it doesn’t).

So, what is constructivism? — It’s a lie! Constructivism is the lie that makes understanding feasible. And because of this, I shall happily explain to you constructivism. Watch out!


1) Ernst von Glasersfeld: “We Can Never Know What Goes On In Somebody Else’s Head”: Ernst Von Glasersfeld On Truth And Viability, Language And Knowledge, And The Premises Of Constructivist Education; An interview conducted by B. Pörksen. Cybernetics and Systems 35 (2004) 4: 379-398.

Knowing that I believe

January 16th, 2007

I prefer to know that I believe rather than to believe I know.

Believe it or not this is a personal quote. Heck, I think I should be glad that it dates way back about 20 years :) Nowadays, this quote puts a smile on my face. And, I don’t even have to replace “believe” with “not knowing” to add to the fun.

Oder wenn jemand schreibt

Ob es einen Unterschied gibt, zwischen »glauben zu wissen« und »wissen zu glauben« ist schlicht eine Glaubensfrage.

komme ich nicht umhin mich zu fragen, woher “die” das wissen.

[G (German)]

Inflationary use^2

December 19th, 2006

Many agree that there is inflationary use of the term sustainability. In fact, there is inflationary use of the phrase inflationary use of the term sustainability.

[G][G (German)]

Partially right, partially wrong

December 5th, 2006

Quotes from no liars taken from an ongoing lecture series on human ecology:

In ecology, anything is partially right and partially wrong, and everything else is also partially right and partially wrong.
Markus Staudinger, 2006-11-28

And, at the end of today’s lecture:

Everything we have said here today is wrong. Wrong in the sense that it has been too short and not detailed enough, though, there is a chance to deal with it more closely.
Alexander Haslberger, 2006-12-05

The translations were done by a liar who is at liberty to quote the original passages:

Wie bei allem in der Ökologie ist es so, dass das Eine teils wahr und teils falsch und das Andere auch teils wahr und teils falsch ist.
Markus Staudinger, 2006-11-28

Alles, was wir hier jetzt gesagt haben, ist falsch. Falsch in dem Sinn, dass es viel zu kurz und zu wenig detailliert ist, dass es aber doch die Möglichkeit gibt, sich damit etwas genauer zu beschäftigen.
Alexander Haslberger, 2006-12-05

Generally, one is better off judging others. But beware of generalizations if you cannot deal with self-reference.

World Jump Day results

December 1st, 2006

We featured the World Jump Day website earlier. The site now presents the incredible results caused by joint efforts of millions of people who took part in the synchronous world-wide jumping in order to stop global warming. A truly trustworthy illustration of human powers.