George Towner

April 2012

The term “constructionism” was introduced in Papert’s system of pedagogy, based on Piaget’s concept of constructivism in human learning. It has also been applied to Berger and Luckmann’s description of social construction. In my usage, constructionism is an ontological theory that describes how life constructs reality so living organisms can know it.

Constructionism, as developed in The Reality of Knowledge, is based on seven principles:

1. Living organisms know only the reality that life constructs.

Life is a distinguishable portion of reality. It consists of the bodies of living things, their behaviors, and the techniques by which they function. What I call “organisms” are the units of life, including individual creatures, species, and all higher taxa. Knowing is a process that every living organism must perform before it can interact with reality. Construction is a process, which life has evolved, by which  organisms build the reality they know.

2. Life constructs known reality by objectification, categorization, and generalization.

Through evolution, life has developed three basic processes for constructing the reality that organisms know. I call these processes “objectification,” “categorization,” and “generalization.” All organisms, from phyla down to individuals, perform them continually. Although organisms are parts of reality, they do not know that reality directly; they know only the reality that they construct from it by means of these processes.

3. Objectification constructs objects by delimiting reality.

Objectification turns a part or region of reality into a specific unitary entity that I call an “object.” It sets boundaries on the result, making it possible for a living organism to distinguish the object as a single thing separate from the rest of reality.

4. Categorization constructs categories by grouping objects.

Categorization performs the process that set theory formalized as set formation: it creates new, independent entities, which I call “categories,” by grouping objects. Objects may be freely chosen for grouping, but however they are chosen the resulting category is a new entity that is distinct from any of them. Among the objects that may be grouped are those formed by objectifying other categories.

5. Generalization constructs models by combining categories.

Generalization performs the processes formalized as logical operations on sets. It constructs groups of objects, which I called “models,” by applying operations such as union and intersection to categories and other models. Models are defined by the categories and logical operations that generate them, not as arbitrary groupings of objects.

6. Categories and models become new objects through objectification.

The power of reality construction stems from the way it builds on itself. Life starts by knowing objects that it delimits in itself and its environment, but living organisms immediately categorize those objects. The resulting categories are then routinely objectified as new objects in known reality. Groups of these new objects become further categorized and generalized, resulting in an endless process of constructing reality. This constructed reality is the reality that living organisms know.

7. In human reality, the largest category objects are physical reality, behavior, and ideals; the largest model objects are space, time, and pattern.

Different species of living organisms know different realities. We human individuals categorize objects as physical, behavioral, or ideal, which I call the “orders” of our known reality. Within those orders, we arrange physical objects in space, behavioral objects in time, and ideal objects in patterns. An important feature of this trifold division is that groups of objects in one order can be “cross-categorized” as new objects in another order. For example, a group of behavioral sensations can be cross-categorized as a physical object. By resolving the mind-body problem, this capability gives human knowledge its unique flexibility and human reality its immense scope.

© 2012 George Towner