Cybernetics & Human Knowing - Thesaurus pilot project
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Knowledge (construction of)








Encyclopedia Autopoietica
International Encyclopedia of Systems & Cybernetics


Principia Cybernetica (web)

no def.

Encyclopedia Autopoietica

"Knowing is effective action, that is, operating effectively in the domain of existence of living beings." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 29)

In contrast with cognitivistic perspectives (wherein "knowledge" is a quantum commodity of symbolizable elements), autopoietic theory defines "knowledge" as a projected evaluation by some observer: "We admit knowledge whenever we observe an effective (or adequate) behavior in a given context, i.e., in a realm or domain which we define by a question (explicit or implicit)." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 174). "The question, 'What is the object of knowledge?' becomes meaningless. There is no object of knowledge. To know is to be able to operate adequately in an individual or cooperative situation." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 53).

"All doing is knowing and all knowing is doing." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 27)


International Encyclopedia of Systems & Cybernetics

The construction of knowledge is basically the acquisition of perceptive and conceptual invariances, "with which to explore, order, and predict experience" (E. von GLASERFELD, 1976, p. 116). According to von GLASERFELD: "If we accept the notion that rational knowledge involves the generation and use of invariances and rules, we cannot help asking how these invariances are generated and what the concern" (p. 119). This is the "prime mover" concept of constructivism.

The subject was also broached early by J. PIAGET, who wrote in his "Epistémologie genetique": "Knowledge should not be conceived as pre-determined, neither within the internal structures of the subject, as they result from an effective and continuous construction, nor in the pre-existent characters of the object, since they become known only through the necessary mediation of these structures" (1970, p. 5). He also stated: "Cognitive processes appear then simultaneously as a result of the organic self-regulation of which they reflect the basic mechanisms, and as a result of the basic mechanisms, and as the most differentiated organs of that regulation within the interactions with the environment" (1967, as quoted by I. PRIGOGINE, 1973 b). It is somewhat diffucult to harmonize these views with the autopoietic view of the observer endowed with perceptual and conceptual organizational closure. This compiler believes that the physiological and nervous capacity to construct knowledge is innate, i.e. organizationally closed, but that it gives the subject the potential for learning and, through learning, create a perceptual and conceptual structure that ends up more and more autopoietic. Such a view is consistent with the progressive stabilization – and eventual sclerosis – of personally and worldview. From a practical viewpoint M. DODDS and G. Jaros make the following distinctions: "Information is decriptive, it is contained in answers to questions that begin with such words as What, Which, Who, How many, When and Where. Knowledge is instructive; it is conveyed by answers to How-to questions. Understanding is explanatory; it is transmitted by answers to Why questions..(while) understanding presupposes knowledge and informationinformation presupposes neither knowledge nor understanding" (1994).