These are some answers to questions concerning the Interactive Model that were posed on the Interactivist Forum in Fall, 2000

1. What theoretical/metatheoretical propositions (say three or four) lie at the heart of interactivism?

The interactive model has a number of levels, ranging from the metaphysical to particular theoretical models for particular phenomena. At the broadest level, interactivism involves a commitment to a strict naturalism. By naturalism is meant (roughly) a regulative assumption that reality is integrated; that there are no isolatable and independent grounds of reality, such as would be the case if the world were made of Cartesian substances; that there is no ultimate barrier to further questioning and potential understanding, such as would be the case if the world were made of Empedoclean earth, air, fire, and water. In such a case, for example, (as well as for the Cartesian version of a substance metaphysics) it would not make sense to ask Where does earth come from? or Why is water stable? Such basic substances are the limits of understanding. The grounds for naturalism are at least two-fold: 1) the history of science seems to show that there are no such barriers to further understanding - we now have naturalistic understandings of, for example, fire, heat, life, magnetism, and so on - and 2) the assumption of any such barriers at this point would itself be without warrant (in spite of Chalmers, among others) and a pointless obstruction to investigation.

Closely related to this naturalism is a process metaphysics: the fundamental nature of the world is organizations of process. Again, there are several grounds for this: 1) the history of science involves a progressive replacement of substance models with process models - e.g., phlogiston with combustion, caloric with thermal heat, vital fluid with self maintaining and self reproducing organizations of process, and so on - 2) our best science tells us that there are no particles, only the processes of quantum fields, 3) there are serious conceptual flaws with a strict particle metaphysics, and 4) emergence is only possible within a process metaphysics, and emergence a) has clearly occurred, and b) only by taking emergence seriously can we account for such emergent phenomena as life and mind (and representation) (Bickhard, 2000; Campbell and Bickhard, in preparation).

The name interactivism derives from the model for representation that developed within this framework. Roughly, representation emerges in the presuppositions of anticipatory interactive processes in (natural or artificial) agents. The first dubbing of the model as Interactivist was by Rita Vuyk who called the model “Radical Interactivism” in Vuyk (1981), and I decided that the term captured the spirit of the model well.

The general interactivist model also includes models of virtually all other mental and some social phenomena, such as learning, emotions, consciousness, language, perception, memory, motivation, neural realizations of mental phenomena, the nature and emergence of social reality, the nature and emergence of human sociality and the social ontology of the person, development, personality and psychopathology, rationality, and so on. It also addresses phenomena such as normative biological functionality, the rationality of realism, truth, progressiveness, and “induction” in science, the emergent evolution of the biosphere, and so on. (See Bickhard, 1978, 1980b, 1992c, 1992d, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1999, in preparation, in press, in press-b, in press-c, in press-d; Bickhard & Campbell, 1996; Bickhard & Christopher, 1994; Bickhard & Terveen, 1995; Campbell & Bickhard, 1992b; Levine & Bickhard, 1999.)

This architecture of metaphysical commitments and models is not a deductive system; you cannot begin with the metaphysics and deduce the models. Instead, it is a nested hierarchy or lattice of constraints, beginning with the metaphysical and reaching deep into the theoretical, within which ever more specific modeling, and constraint discovery can take place. Explorations into the social or biological, for a slightly different example, proceed by adopting the broadest possible set of constraints that apply, and exploring for their implications and for any further constraints that might be found. The model of the nature of language does not pose relevant strong constraints for exploring the nature of evolutionary species, for example, but the model of emergence does. The general approach, then, can be extended horizontally (e.g., into the biological or social) as well as vertically (e.g., deeper into the mental).

2. To what extent are these propositions different from, or reducible to, previous theories (e.g., Piaget's theory, Piaget's interactionism and constructivism).

Interactivism shares with genetic epistemology a pragmatist commitment to process and action as the proper framework for modeling mental phenomena. It shares the entailment from an action base to a constructivism - the only way that action systems can be created is by construction; action systems cannot be created by passive processes such as transduction or induction. But interactivism differs strongly from Piaget in giving a central (though far from exclusive) importance to processes of variational construction and selection. Interactivism borrows freely from Piaget for some particular models, e.g., of manipulable objects. Interactivism is broader than Piaget’s model, addressing, for example, emotions, language, biological normative function, and a number of other phenomena that Piaget did not address with explicit models. The interactive model diverges from Piaget in a number of particular and general ways. Perhaps most important is a rejection of the widespread notion of figurative knowledge in Piaget, particularly, though far from exclusively, in perception. This notion has introduced a vestigial encodingism into Piaget’s models at several points (Campbell & Bickhard, 1986; Bickhard & Campbell, 1989; Bickhard, 1992). The interactive model of representation is different from Piaget’s, as is the model of the epistemology of logical and mathematical necessity, and so on. The developmental model within interactivism has been called neo-neo-Piagetian, and I suppose that is not inaccurate in some respects, though it does not convey the breadth of the model or the divergences from Piaget’s work. It also suggests that the interactive model emerged out of genetic epistemology, but that is historically inaccurate.

More broadly, the interactive model is pragmatist in its process and action framework, in its criticisms of encodingism (e.g., spectator models, as the pragmatists sometimes called them), in its focus on consequences in action and interaction. It differs in its explicit model of representation, among other places: Peirce’s model of representation most resembles external representation rather than mental representation, in this view. The interactive model of representation is more akin to Peirce’s model of meaning. Dewey’s discussions of language sometimes sound very much like the interactive model of language, but he had no real details, and interactivism certainly would not join with Dewey in rendering truth as warranted assertability. The interactive model of perception is much like Gibson’s theory, but some careful work separating Gibson’s theory from his metatheory has to be done before that comment will hold, and even then there are still some differences (Bickhard & Richie, 1983). Many models of language have focused on action and pragmatic aspects of language, including context dependencies, but they all retain an encoding model of representation, usually of propositions (Bickhard, 1980, 1987; Bickhard & Campbell, 1992; Campbell & Bickhard, 1992). And so on: there are many many partial convergences with and borrowings from the literature into the interactive model, but fundamental differences also exist in each case.

3. What empirical findings are explained or better understood by interactivism that cannot be explained or understood within existing theoretical frameworks?
4. Does interactivism make any empirical predictions in any domain of inquiry? If so, what are they? If not, why not?

I combine questions three and four. First, I have a general response comment: the focus of the questions on empirical phenomena is not inappropriate, but it is narrow. The warrant for many of the broader, metaphysical, commitments of interactivism are not empirical in any direct way, but rather derives from the fact that these positions make possible models and understandings that are impossible within alternative frameworks. These commitments avoid fatal problems that alternative frameworks and approaches and models cannot avoid. The millennia old problem of encodingism, for example, if the critique is correct, has never before been dissolved or solved. The interactive model of representation claims to do exactly that for the very large family of fatal problems that are associated with encodingist assumptions (no matter how deeply implicit).

Turning now to some empirical explanations and predictions: The interactivist model of perception predicts that people have no problem estimating relative temporal durations or accelerations, something that is impossible on standard snapshot models of perception. Piaget was among the few who realized that this was a problem, including for his own model, but, if perception is an ongoing temporal process, rather than a file of snapshots, then such estimations are no problem at all, and that is in fact what we find (Richie & Bickhard, 1988; Ramalho, 1990). With respect to perception, the interactive model is closer to Gibson than to Piaget.

The developmental model predicts that there will be an initial domain general, relatively age synchronous stage shift, which is empirically found to occur at about age 3.5-4, followed by non-domain-general and non-synchronous further stage developments. It is the only model to make such a prediction; it made it as early as the early 1970s; and it appears so far to be what we find (in spite of the general refusal to consider domain general changes) (Bickhard, 1992b).

Associated with that change, there should be a neural maturation, probably a myelinization, in substrate neural architecture. At least one part of that architecture is likely to involve a pre-frontal to head-of-caudate to reticular nuclei of the thalamus projection. The caudate to thalamic projection, in particular, is a good candidate. This has not been empirically explored.

The rationality model and the associated philosophy of science model explain a number of phenomena in science, such as the progressivity of science, the rational role of truth and realism in science, and the rationality of apparent induction, that are seriously problematic on standard approaches. The rationality model makes predictions about what sorts of educational and curriculum designs should work best, a prediction confirmed in at least one study (Wu, 1993).

The model explains the developmental sequence of, in modified Tulving terms, enactive, semantic, episodic, and autobiographical memory (Bickhard, 1992b) - a sequence that makes no sense from standard encoding perspectives. And so on. In general, the model makes contact with the empirical world in many places, though only a few have been empirically tested. (For another, one that initiated a family of research [sorry for the pun], see Wedemeyer, Bickhard, Cooper, 1989.) One that is underway now is the prediction that concepts should be sensitive to dynamic phenomena in ways that are anomalous, if not impossible, in standard models.

People presuppose what seems to me an individual unit of analysis for studying cognition or representation or meaning or identity -- this seems to follow from the Piagetian framework that several people have articulated. But at the same time people are also saying that their views are compatible with situated cognition/systems views of cognition. So here's my question. True systems views would seem to move away from an individual-level unit of analysis, instead saying that the cognition is accomplished by the system (of course, with some individual-level processes or structures as part of that system). So is there a contradiction here, or am I missing something?
I am also curious how the process or functional dimension crosses with the individual/system one. I mean: you are arguing (persuasively) for a shift to a functionalist or a process account, away from more structural or entity/representation accounts. Can that dimension be crossed orthogonally with the individual-unit-of-analysis vs. system-unit-of-analysis dimension, or are the two intrinsically linked in some way?

Again, I combine the questions:

I would argue that cognition is where we find it, at whatever system level. Cognition emerged in evolution in the individual organism, and certainly remains there for most organisms. In social species, however, (and with caveats for various interesting phenomena that occur on evolutionary scales), it becomes possible for cognitive phenomena to occur at the social level, and strictly at the social level. The interactive model, in fact, explains how that is possible: anticipatory interactive processes can occur within social processes without it being necessary that any individual involved has an equivalent cognition. Similarly for other cognitive phenomena. Science is a major epistemological process that occurs socially, but similar points can be made about small groups and families and relationships.

So, I would argue that it is not a contradiction to examine the individual level for cognitive phenomena, and to do so from a systems perspective. It would be simply false, however, to assume that the individual level is the only level at which such phenomena are to be found. The dimensions do cross levels of analysis (though I don’t think I would argue that it is “orthogonal”).

There is, I think, a deeper issue here. That is the issue of at what level genuine normativity emerges. Analytic philosophy broadly, including both Wittgenstein and Carnap, assumed that normativity exists only in the realm of the social - grammar or syntax, as the case may be. Many philosophers and, today, psychologists and sociologists, follow in this framework. If normativity exists only at the social level, generally a level of language, then normative phenomena such as cognition can also only occur at that level. I would argue that this framework of assumptions is false, and is based on bad assumptions - assumptions that stem from Moore and Russell’s reaction against idealism, and their anti-psychologism that went along with that reaction (the story here is much more complex than this, and many of its themes extend far earlier than Moore and Russell; a similar story can be told about so-called “Continental” philosophy). For the general issue of the emergence of normativity, see Bickhard (1998, 1998b, in press).

Every time I glance over this, I find more obviously important points that I have left out, but this is already long, so I will stop here.

several of these are also on my web site

Bickhard, M. H. (1978). The Nature of Developmental Stages. Human Development, 21, 217-233.

Bickhard, M. H. (1980). Cognition, Convention, and Communication. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Bickhard, M. H. (1980b). A Model of Developmental and Psychological Processes. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 102, 61-116.

Bickhard, M. H. (1987). The Social Nature of the Functional Nature of Language. In Maya Hickmann (Ed.) Social and Functional Approaches to Language and Thought. Academic.

Bickhard, M. H. (1992). Piaget on Variation and Selection Models: Structuralism, logical necessity, and interactivism. In L. Smith (Ed.) Jean Piaget: Critical Assessments. Routledge, chapter 83, 388-434. (Reprint of 1988)

Bickhard, M. H. (1992b). Commentary on the Age 4 Transition. Human Development, 35(3)182-192.

Bickhard, M. H. (1992c). How Does the Environment Affect the Person? In L. T. Winegar, J. Valsiner (Eds.) Children’s Development within Social Contexts: Metatheory and Theory. Erlbaum, 63-92.

Bickhard, M. H. (1992d). Scaffolding and Self Scaffolding: Central Aspects of Development. In L. T. Winegar, J. Valsiner (Eds.) Children’s Development within Social Contexts: Research and Methodology. Erlbaum, 33-52.

Bickhard, M. H. (1993). Representational Content in Humans and Machines. Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, 5, 285-333.

Bickhard, M. H. (1995). Intrinsic Constraints on Language: Grammar and Hermeneutics. Journal of Pragmatics, 23, 541-554.

Bickhard, M. H. (1996). Troubles with Computationalism. In W. O’Donohue, R. F. Kitchener (Eds.) The Philosophy of Psychology. (173-183). London: Sage.

Bickhard, M. H. (1998). Levels of Representationality. Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, 10(2), 179-215.

Bickhard, M. H. (1998b). A Process Model of the Emergence of Representation. In G. L. Farre, T. Oksala (Eds.) Emergence, Complexity, Hierarchy, Organization, Selected and Edited Papers from the ECHO III Conference. Acta Polytechnica Scandinavica, Mathematics, Computing and Management in Engineering Series No. 91, Espoo, Finland, August 3 - 7, 1998, 263-270.

Bickhard, M. H. (1999). Interaction and Representation. Theory & Psychology, 9(4), 435-458.

Bickhard, M. H. (2000). Emergence. In P. B. Andersen, C. Emmeche, N. O. Finnemann, P. V. Christiansen (Eds.) Downward Causation. (322-348). Aarhus, Denmark: University of Aarhus Press.

Bickhard, M. H. (in press). “Autonomy, Function, and Representation” Communication and Cognition, special issue on Artificial Intelligence.

Bickhard, M. H. (in press-b). Motivation and Emotion: An Interactive Process Model. In R. D. Ellis, N. Newton (Eds.) The Cauldron of Consciousness. J. Benjamins.

Bickhard, M. H. (in press-c). Why Children Don’t have to Solve the Frame Problems. Developmental Review.

Bickhard, M. H. (in press-d). Function, Anticipation, Representation. In D. Dubois (Ed.) Fourth International Conference on Computing Anticipatory Systems. American Institute of Physics.

Bickhard, M. H. (manuscript, in preparation). Critical Principles: On the Negative Side of Rationality. On my web site.

Bickhard, M. H., Campbell, R. L. (1989). Interactivism and Genetic Epistemology. Archives de Psychologie, 57(221), 99-121.

Bickhard, M. H., Campbell, R. L. (1992). Some Foundational Questions Concerning Language Studies: With a Focus on Categorial Grammars and Model Theoretic Possible Worlds Semantics. Journal of Pragmatics, 17(5/6), 401-433.

Bickhard, M. H., Campbell, R. L. (1996). Topologies of Learning and Development. New Ideas in Psychology, 14(2), 111-156.

Bickhard, M. H., Christopher, J. C. (1994). The Influence of Early Experience on Personality Development. New Ideas in Psychology, 12(3), 229-252.

Bickhard, M. H., Richie, D. M. (1983). On the Nature of Representation: A Case Study of James Gibson’s Theory of Perception. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Bickhard, M. H., Terveen, L. (1995). Foundational Issues in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science: Impasse and Solution. Elsevier Scientific.

Campbell, R. J., Bickhard, M. H. (manuscript, in preparation). Physicalism, Emergence, and Downward Causation.

Campbell, R. L., Bickhard, M. H. (1986). Knowing Levels and Developmental Stages. Contributions to Human Development. Basel, Switzerland: Karger.

Campbell, R. L., Bickhard, M. H. (1992). Clearing the Ground: Foundational Questions Once Again. Journal of Pragmatics, 17(5/6), 557-602.

Campbell, R. L., Bickhard, M. H. (1992b). Types of Constraints on Development: An Interactivist Approach. Developmental Review, 12(3), 311-338.

Levine, A., Bickhard, M. H. (1999). Concepts: Where Fodor Went Wrong. Philosophical Psychology, 12(1), 5-23.

Ramalho, M. G. (1990). Infant’s Perception of Constant and Varying Speed Motion. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin.

Richie, D. M., Bickhard, M. H. (1988). The Ability to Perceive Duration: Its Relation to the Development of the Logical Concept of Time. Developmental Psychology, 24, 318-323.

Vuyk, R. (1981). Piaget's Genetic Epistemology 1965-1980. vol. II New York: Academic.

Wedemeyer, N. V., Bickhard, M. H., Cooper, R. G. (1989). The Development of Structural Complexity in the Child’s Concept of Family: The Effect of Cognitive Stage, Sex, and Intactness of Family. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 150(4), 341-357.

Wu, P. (1993). The Rationality Model and Students’ Misconceptions. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, Department of Educational Psychology.