Frederic B. Skinner and the Tree of Knowledge

Combine Maturana & Varela, radical constructivists of the first hour, with Skinner, one of the most renowned behaviorists, and you’ll see that radical constructivism does not counteract behaviorism, but expands it on a higher (Batesonian) level.

“Everything said is said by someone.”
– Umberto Maturana & Francisco Varela (1987), “The Tree of Knowledge”, p.27

“I have never faced a problem which was more than the eternal problem of finding order.”
– Frederick B. Skinner (1956), „A Case History in Scientific Method“, quoted in Edward G. Rozycki (1995), „A Critical Review of B.F. Skinner’s Philosophy with focus on Walden Two“

“I have never faced a problem which was more than the eternal problem that every order encountered is someone’s order.”
Combination of Skinner (Behaviorism), and Maturana & Varela (Radical Constructivism).

A cabbalistic riddle

Radical constructivism may find an aesthetic counterpart in beautifully crafted educational narratives used for example in cabbalistic teaching and Zen-buddhism. These short stories are often recursive, layered, or self-denying because of their complex topics (e.g. existence, epistemes, agency), but nonetheless beautiful to behold.

One fine example, though quite concrete, is this cabbalistic riddle:


A young student once asked a renowned teacher about the nature of knowledge. The teacher drew a circle in the sand and explained: Within this circle is that, what we know, and on the outside is that, what we do not know.
We may build our lives on what is within the circle, getting proficient and skilled in the application of what we know. We may also strive to learn what is on the outside, on what we will know one day or may never know at all, becoming proficient and skilled in widening the circle. Or we may think about the thin line of the circle itself, of how it is created, and what its nature and purpose may be.

In a similar three-step-approach, though maybe less accessible and with a different goal, we encounter a short koan from Hui-Neng, taken from „The Gateless Gate“:

Two monks were watching a flag flapping in the wind.
One said to the other, „The flag is moving.“
The other replied, „The wind is moving.“
Huineng overheard this.
He said, „Not the flag, not the wind; mind is moving.“