Sensory Experience, Abstraction, and Teaching
Ernst von Glasersfeld
Scientific Reasoning Research Institute University of Massachusetts and Institute of Behavioral Research University of Georgia
One of the basic assumptions underlying Piaget's theory of cognitive development is that the living organism, be it animal or human, will have a better chance of survival if it manages to establish regularities in its experience. The reason, on the simplest level, is that an organism that acts as if things that happen are likely to happen again can at least try to avoid situations it does not like (because they hamper or hurt) and to make those situations recur that it does like. As philosopher David Hume stated in the 18th century, if we do not believe that the world we live in repeats itself, we cannot draw inferences of any kind.
From the outset of his investigations, Piaget was therefore interested in finding a way to explain how we come to establish regularities. He saw clearly that it was not at all sufficient to assume that the world we live in is a world that runs according to rules and "natural laws." When we make decisions about how to act, we make them on the basis of what we know, not on the basis of what the world might be like in itself. In other words, the only rules and regularities we can use are those we have somehow found and come to trust in our own experiences. Therefore, the question is not what the world might be like, but rather what it is we know and how we came to know it.
When we say that we know something, we tacitly imply that the knowledge we are referring to has some kind of permanence and is likely to apply not only at the moment but also for some time to come. We also assume that if other persons had experiences similar to our own, they would be in