Constructivism and Ethics: An Interview with Dr. Leon Tsvasman, Part 3

In the third final installment of our engaging series, we delve deeper with Dr. Leon Tsvasman into the intricate web of human cognition contrasted against the mechanistic algorithms of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Dr. Tsvasman, with his expertise in constructivism and cybernetics, provides a nuanced understanding of human cognitive processes, highlighting the unique confluence of belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior—elements conspicuously absent in AI’s objective, data-oriented methodologies. Through scenarios such as the everyday occurrence of misplacing keys, Dr. Tsvasman exemplifies how human knowledge is not passively acquired but actively constructed in interaction with our environments, thereby accentuating the pivotal role of ethical considerations and human-centric oversight in the evolution of AI technologies. This dialogue not only distinguishes the inherent differences in knowledge acquisition between humans and AI but also champions a collaborative model that amplifies human potential without undermining the ethical and existential depth of human cognition.

The dialogue begins by exploring the dynamic realm of human knowledge acquisition, illustrated through the common predicament of misplaced keys. This scenario serves as a metaphorical lens to dissect the complex interplay of cognitive and affective components within the human psyche, as seen through both constructivist and cybernetic perspectives. It underscores the intricate dance of our mental faculties, where beliefs direct our pathways, desires fuel our quests, values prioritize our endeavors, decisions arise from our lived experiences, and behaviors materialize our cognitive constructs. This in-depth analysis accentuates the active, vibrant nature of human comprehension and adaptation, starkly contrasting with the static, input-output model of AI knowledge acquisition.

Reflecting on the scenario of a person misplacing their keys, this example marvelously encapsulates the sophisticated interplay of belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior in the sphere of human knowledge acquisition. The act of misplacing keys transcends a mere inconvenience, unfolding into a rich narrative of cognitive engagement and environmental interaction. Here, belief is not merely speculative but informed by a tapestry of past experiences, anchoring our actions in a sea of familiarity. Desire transforms from a simple intent to a complex motivational force, imbued with the essence of our human condition that seeks to reconcile our physical actions with our mental aspirations.

The value attributed to the keys extends beyond their physical utility, mirroring our capacity to imbue objects with subjective significance, thus highlighting the interdependence of human emotion and rationality. Decision-making emerges as a manifestation of this intricate web, a cybernetic feedback loop that continuously refines our actions through the lens of our subjective realities. Behavior, in this context, is the physical enactment of this cognitive symphony, a tangible expression of our internal states in the external world.

Dr. Tsvasman’s insights reveal a compelling portrait of human cognition as an emergent phenomenon of communicative experiences, suggesting that the conventional categories of belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior, while useful, may not fully encompass the richness of human interaction with the world. By emphasizing the communicative essence of human experience, Dr. Tsvasman offers a more nuanced understanding of knowledge construction and action, advocating for a paradigm that appreciates the complexity of navigating and making sense of our world.


Reflecting on the scenario of a person misplacing his or her keys, how does this example illustrate the complex interplay of belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior in human knowledge acquisition?

Before delving into the specific scenario and concepts you’ve mentioned, it’s crucial to take a step back and consider the broader context of communication and knowledge acquisition. Drawing inspiration from Jürgen Habermas, we understand that communication fundamentally arises from collective action. It’s important to differentiate between the concepts of practical know-how, which are rooted in the realm of shared action, and the know-why, which pertains to meaningful knowledge or understanding. The terms we use (borrowing the ancient Greek term “Logos” to recontextualize this concept for clarity) are inherently linked to our shared world of action—a simplified reality we construct through collective engagement to make sense of our world.

In my interpretation, cybernetics offers a glimpse into the complexity that lies beyond this simplified actuality, bridging the gap between the pragmatic knowledge of “how” and a glimpse into the “why” — the elusive understanding of reasons and purposes. Thus, the concepts you’ve outlined pertain more to the “how,” keeping us within the bubble of our current reality, while the “why” remains somewhat inaccessible. To strategically orient ourselves towards the true unfolding potentials of reality, we must move towards an inner, meaningful understanding where traditional constructs begin to dissolve.

A viable approach to addressing your scenario, in my view, comes from the insights of Gerold Ungeheuer, who notably influenced the academic environment that formed my supervising professors in Bonn and Essen during my studies and Ph.D. research. Ungeheuer’s contributions spotlight the dynamic construction of knowledge via communicative experiences, urging us to move beyond the immediate and the pragmatic towards a richer interaction with the complexities of our engagements and the creation of meaning. This shift towards a deeper comprehension encourages a reevaluation of our interaction with the world, positing that our actions and decisions extend beyond mere reactions to the apparent realities of our collective actions. Instead, they are intricately linked with our endeavors to understand and navigate the profound undercurrents of meaning that underpin our social life.

Reflecting on the scenario of a person misplacing their keys, this example illustrates the complex interplay of belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior in human knowledge acquisition. In this context, belief (the assumption the keys must be somewhere they’ve been before), desire (the wish to find the keys to proceed with one’s day), value (the importance placed on the keys for their functional role in daily life), decision (choosing a strategy to locate the keys), and behavior (the actual search process) all come into play as cognitive and emotional components orchestrate a nuanced process of knowledge acquisition and action.

However, preconceived concepts such as these can sometimes be seen as redundant. This is where the remarkable approach of Gerold Ungeheuer, who significantly influenced my academic teachers in Bonn and Essen, offers an exciting explanation. Ungeheuer’s work can indeed be connected with constructivist approaches, emphasizing the construction of meaning through communicative experiences. According to Ungeheuer, communication and knowledge are not merely transmitted from one entity to another but are actively constructed in the interaction between individuals and their environments. This perspective challenges the straightforward application of belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior as isolated factors guiding human action.

In Ungeheuer’s view, the process of looking for misplaced keys is not just a simple causal chain of cognitive and emotional states leading to action. Instead, it is a communicative act embedded in a context of individual world theories—where the person’s entire understanding of their world, including their spatial orientation, habits, and the significance they ascribe to their possessions, plays a crucial role. The person engages in a dialogue with their environment, interpreting signs and cues based on their previous experiences and expectations. This dialogical process is where knowledge is constructed—not just acquired—through an ongoing interaction that reshapes the individual’s world theory.

This constructivist lens highlights the fluidity and dynamism of human cognition and action, suggesting that our responses to the world are not just reactions to internal states (like belief or desire) but are part of a continuous process of making sense of our surroundings. The act of searching for the keys becomes a moment of engaging with the world, where the outcome (finding the keys) is not just the fulfillment of a desire but a reaffirmation or revision of the individual’s understanding of their environment.

Ungeheuer’s perspective, therefore, offers a nuanced view of knowledge and action as emergent properties of communicative experiences. It suggests that the categories of belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior, while useful, might not fully capture the complexity of how we navigate and make sense of our world. Instead, focusing on the communicative nature of human experience can provide a richer understanding of how we construct knowledge and act within our social and material environments.

To address your question more concretely, I encapsulate the previously outlined perspectives within my conceptual framework, which thoughtfully ignites consideration and sufficiently contextualizes without overwhelming with levels of complexity. This leads to a practical and viable attempt at explanation as follows.

When keys are misplaced, the initial belief about their possible location is not a random guess but an orientation— a cognitive map sculpted from prior experiences and habitual interactions with one’s environment. This belief system functions as a guiding schema, demonstrating how past interactions and constructed realities shape our immediate responses to situations. It reflects a constructivist view where knowledge and understanding are not passively received but actively built through interaction with the world.

The desire to locate the keys transcends mere retrieval. It is deeply rooted in the embodied nature of our cognition, where the physicality of our actions and interactions with the world around us informs our desires and motivations. This perspective emphasizes the non-dualistic nature of mind and body, highlighting how our physical engagement with the world is a critical component of knowledge construction.

The value attributed to the keys is multifaceted, encompassing their practical utility and the broader implications of their loss on our daily routines. This valuation process is tied to the concept of viability in constructivist theory— the adequacy of our actions and understandings in facilitating effective navigation and interaction within our world. The urgency and methods employed in the search are thus a reflection of the values we assign, based on the perceived impact on our ability to act within our environment.

Decision-making in this context is an exemplar of structural coupling, where the individual’s actions are both constrained and enabled by their historical interactions with their environment. This aligns with the cybernetic principle of systems being both open to influence from their environment and closed in terms of their operational processes. Decisions are thus emergent properties of this dynamic interplay, illustrating the complex, recursive nature of human cognition where our choices are both shaped by and shape our lived reality.

The behavior enacted in the search for the keys is a manifestation of all the aforementioned cognitive processes. It is here that knowledge is not just demonstrated but enacted, underscoring a fundamental tenet of constructivist epistemology— that knowledge is validated and acquired through action. The search behavior is a tangible expression of an internal cognitive process, embodying the constructivist view that understanding is actively constructed in and through engagement with the world.

This scenario, thus, beautifully encapsulates the essence of knowledge acquisition as seen through a constructivist-cybernetic lens, where belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior are not isolated elements but interwoven strands of a complex cognitive tapestry. It highlights that human cognition and action are deeply embedded in the textures of our constructed realities, embodied experiences, and the continuous interplay between our internal states and the external world.

In emphasizing intersubjectivity as an orientation, I highlight the crucial role of orientation certainty for enabling more genuine intersubjectivity (a strategically meaningful stance) within all life-sustaining, communally action-based, simplified, trivialized concepts of shared action (a tactically pragmatic stance). Without this orientation, a society free from power imbalances and redundancy cannot emerge. This transformation is only achievable through the role of generative AI infrastructures within a fully digitalized “infosomatic” society, as I foresee. In this context, I also stress the mediacy of language as a redundancy-laden tool for communal action, yet counterproductive for meaningful understanding, which is attainable solely within the realm of genuine, creative subject orientation. These concepts form the core of my epistemological, ontological, knowledge-theoretical, and civilizational theoretical frameworks. They underscore the need for a paradigm shift towards embracing intersubjectivity and leveraging digital advancements to foster a society where power dynamics and redundant complexities are minimized, thereby enabling a richer, more meaningful collective existence.

Knowledge becomes simplified when concepts of communicative action – the terms of our language – are acquired through the act of memory. That’s why I assert that true, meaningful knowledge is invented and discovered, not simply learned as a tool for application. It is those who invent mathematics who gain true insight, not those who learn it merely to apply it. When Wittgenstein talks about language games, he refers to the exploratory engagement with the constructs of communal action, which, although still a simplification of complexity, are a step closer to reality. Yet, this still does not reach the level of meaningful, subject-inherent knowledge, accessible only to human geniuses – or potentially to everyone, were it not for the efficiency demands of survival forcing them into trivialization. This compulsion leads to a shortened engagement through practice and rote learning, to later be implemented in divisional processes within a command hierarchy.

This perspective suggests that the deepest form of knowledge and understanding lies beyond mere application of learned concepts. It involves transcending the boundaries of conventional learning and exploring a mode of knowledge acquisition characterized by the active invention and discovery of concepts. This approach to generating knowledge emphasizes the importance of creative thinking, innovation, and profound reflection on the foundations of our understanding and interaction with the world. By engaging with knowledge in this manner, we can reinterpret the constructs of our communal actions, leading to a richer, more nuanced, and ultimately more accurate perspective of reality. 


How does the process of acquiring knowledge differ between humans and AI systems, especially considering the components of human cognition outlined in the keys scenario?

Humans, as embodied entities, immerse themselves in the world through a lived experience, intricately weaving together belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior. This engagement stems from an evolved, physical existence characterized by openness to structural influences and closure in informational processing. Heinz von Foerster’s ethical imperative, “Act always so as to increase the number of choices,” underscores a dynamic, context-sensitive approach to knowledge, prioritizing the broadening of potential actions over the acceptance of static truths. Human knowledge, in this view, arises from self-regulating systems, encapsulating information as the “difference that makes a difference,” echoing Gregory Bateson’s notion. Such systems demonstrate adaptability through bodily self-regulation and communal actions, grounding communication—a medium of collective action—in our embodied nature. We are informationally closed yet structurally open beings, navigating complexity through knowledge as orientation certainty, inseparable from our embodied, subjective human experience.

My stance seeks to clearly differentiate between the practical, symbolically constructed realities of communal action, epitomized by tool utilization (know-how), and the deep, creative, subject-immanent comprehension (know-why) primarily left to the self-orienting subject, shaped by our sensory realities. This differentiation calls for an educational divide: learning practical tools for navigating the immediate needs of a socio-economically condensed world versus cultivating a profound understanding of complexity enabled by genuine human creativity and civilizational support. This latter capability allows for recognizing environmental potentialities and strategically realizing future possibilities—the essence of the real world, a domain of actualized potential.

This perspective advocates for an educational split, addressing both the immediate, practical skills needed for current socio-economic challenges and fostering deep, conceptual understanding and innovation. The former equips individuals with survival tools in a pragmatically condensed action realm, while the latter elevates the individual’s capacity to understand and interact with our complex environment, enriching our world engagement.

This approach emphasizes the cultivation of autonomous, innovative thinkers who can uncover and manifest the latent possibilities within our intricate surroundings. It promotes the development of a profound, subject-immanent comprehension that transcends mere survival tool application, advocating for an educational paradigm that values and nurtures the inherent genius in all humans. Invention surpasses mere knowledge acquisition; it is where human wisdom transforms potential into reality, reflecting in AI’s logical frameworks our deepest creative essence. Our goal is to bridge the gap between practical know-how’s necessity and the transformative power of insightful know-why, steering towards a future that wholly embraces the vast potential of human creativity and innovation along the trajectory I term Sapiognosis.

In the context of civilization design, from my perspective, AI’s tactical optimization functions serve as a dialectical complement to the necessity of emancipating human potential for meaningful understanding. This necessity aims to synchronize the current, simplified survival reality with the world of living—characterized by autonomy and self-regulation, much like nature itself. The tactical role involves the automation of sociotechnological self-regulation within the technical infrastructures of the world, making systems interoperable and scaled according to the orientation towards meaningful human understanding in its strategic function. AI, thus, “learns” from human data not as a subject (for it remains subjectless until it merges into the new nature of a biosociotechnological technical subject of the world) but as a tool-like infrastructure for enabling survival, decoupling mediacy as described in my recent works. AI automates the analog logos (the operating system of our civilization) by untangling mediacy and enabling a more genuine intersubjectivity towards real intersubjectivity.

This stance emphasizes the differentiation between the simplified, actuality-constructing symbolic truths of communal action, grounded in tool utility as know-how, and the creative, subject-immanent meaningful understanding of know-why, intrinsically linked to a self-orienting subject due to our perceptual nature. The tactical part—the automation of sociotechnological self-regulation—represents a vital step in achieving a broader, more meaningful reality that aligns with human autonomy and the inherent self-regulating principles of nature.

Educational institutions must also recognize this bifurcation—teaching tools for survival as a necessity for constructing the actuality of communal action, an economically reduced pragmatism of the survival world (not true reality!), and fostering the understanding of complexity through the genuine human subject genius. This genius recognizes the potentialities of our complex environment and can strategically implement future possibilities (the real world, the world of realized potentiality).

In essence, while AI can significantly enhance efficiency, analyze patterns, and predict outcomes, it operates within a fundamentally different realm from the human experience of knowledge acquisition. This distinction underlines the indispensable value of human insight, creativity, and ethical consideration. The integration of AI should augment human capacities without overshadowing the depth and ethical dimensions of human cognition, ensuring that our collective journey into the future amplifies, rather than diminishes, the richness of the human experience.

To address your question directly, reflecting on the distinctions as previously outlined: The process of acquiring knowledge significantly diverges between humans and AI systems, a fact that becomes especially evident when considered in the context of human cognitive components as exemplified in the keys scenario. This comparison not only reveals contrasting operational mechanisms but also underscores the fundamentally distinct experiences and results stemming from the knowledge acquisition processes in humans versus AI. Through the human experience of searching for misplaced keys, we see a rich interplay of belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior—elements deeply embedded in the subjective, emotional, and ethical fabric of human cognition. This intricate system of human thought and action stands in stark contrast to AI’s method of knowledge acquisition, which is rooted in data processing and pattern recognition, devoid of the subjective nuances that characterize human understanding.

Human Cognition in Knowledge Acquisition: In the keys scenario, human cognition engages in a dynamic, multifaceted process that integrates belief, desire, value, decision, and behavior. This process is inherently subjective, deeply influenced by personal experiences, emotions, and ethical considerations. Humans navigate their environment through a rich tapestry of sensory perceptions, emotional responses, and memory recall, which together facilitate creative problem-solving and adaptability. This adaptability allows humans to revise their strategies based on contextual understanding and the outcomes of previous actions, highlighting the experiential, relational, and emotional dimensions of human learning. The complexity of human cognition enables not only the processing of information but also the construction of meaning, drawing on abstract reasoning and a nuanced understanding of context.

AI Systems in Knowledge Acquisition: AI systems, conversely, acquire knowledge through data processing, pattern recognition, and the application of algorithms. Lacking the subjective experiences that characterize human cognition, AI’s form of “understanding” is rooted in the identification of data patterns and their application to specific tasks. This process is objective and consistent, driven by the volume and quality of input data rather than by emotional engagement or ethical deliberation. While AI can analyze and process information on a scale and at speeds unattainable by humans, it does not possess the capacity for intuition, emotional response, or the ethical consideration inherent in human cognition. AI’s knowledge acquisition is, therefore, characterized by its efficiency and precision in pattern recognition but lacks the depth, adaptability, and contextual awareness of human knowledge processes.

Synergizing Human and AI Knowledge Acquisition: The distinct nature of knowledge acquisition in humans and AI systems suggests the potential for a synergistic approach that leverages the strengths of both. Humans’ capacity for intuitive understanding, ethical reasoning, and emotional engagement complements AI’s efficiency in data processing and pattern recognition. Integrating these approaches could enhance problem-solving strategies, foster innovative knowledge creation, and ensure that AI applications align with human values and ethical standards.  


In summary, while AI systems offer unparalleled capabilities in processing and pattern recognition, they operate within a realm fundamentally different from the human experience of knowledge acquisition. This distinction emphasizes the indispensable value of human insight, creativity, and ethical consideration in navigating the complexities of our world. As technology advances, the challenge lies in integrating AI in ways that augment human capacities without overshadowing the depth and richness of the human cognitive experience, ensuring that the future of knowledge acquisition is both technologically advanced and deeply human.


This interview with Dr. Leon Tsvasman delved into the profound distinctions between human and AI knowledge acquisition, emphasizing constructivist and cybernetic insights. Highlighting the embodied, subjective nature of human cognition, it contrasts this with AI’s data-driven approach, lacking ethical, emotional dimensions. Dr. Tsvasman’s perspective calls for a synergistic integration of AI, enhancing human capacities while respecting our unique ethical and cognitive landscape. The conversation is a testament to the ongoing quest for viable, logos-independent knowledge, inviting readers to explore these complex themes in depth.

Throughout the entire interview, Leon Tsvasman employed references to sources, particularly the works of scientific and intellectual mentors such as Heinz von Foerster, Ernst von Glasersfeld, Jean Piaget, Humberto Maturana, and Gerold Ungeheuer, among others. These references not only underscore the intellectual lineage and inspirations behind Tsvasman’s thoughts but also serve as recommended readings for those interested in delving deeper into the concepts discussed. Below is a list of bibliographically accurate references to the works and authors mentioned, alongside other relevant sources that align with the themes of the interview.

Resources and References

  • Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Chandler Publishing.

  • Foerster, H. von. (2003). Understanding Understanding: Essays on Cybernetics and Cognition. New York: Springer.

  • Glasersfeld, E. von. (1995). Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning. London: The Falmer Press.

  • Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1980). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

  • Piaget, J. (1977). The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures. New York: Viking Press.

  • Roth, G. (1994). Das Gehirn und seine Wirklichkeit: Kognitive Neurobiologie und ihre philosophischen Konsequenzen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

  • Schmidt, S. J. (1994). Kognitive Autonomie und soziale Orientierung. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

  • Ungeheuer, G. (1987). Kommunikationstheoretische Schriften. Aachen: Rader Verlag.

  • Wiener, N. (1948). Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

  • Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J. H., & Jackson, D. D. (1967). Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

  • Wittgenstein, L. (1922). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.

In addition to these foundational texts, Tsvasman’s own publications offer a rich source of insights into his perspective on civilization design, AI, and the emancipation of human potential: 

  • Tsvasman, L. (2023). The Age of Sapiocracy. On the Radical Ethics of data-driven Civilization. Ergon Verlag (Nomos Gruppe), Baden-Baden.

  • Tsvasman, L. (2021). Infosomatische Wende: Impulse für intelligentes Zivilisationsdesign [Infosomatic Turn: Impulses for Intelligent Civilization Design]. Ergon Verlag (Nomos Gruppe), Baden-Baden.

  • Tsvasman, L. & Schild, F. (2019). AI-Thinking: Dialog eines Vordenkers und eines Praktikers über die Bedeutung künstlicher Intelligenz [AI Thinking: A Dialogue Between a Thought Leading Polymath and a Practitioner on the Significance of Artificial Intelligence]. Ergon (Nomos Gruppe), Baden-Baden.

  • Tsvasman, L. (Ed.) (2006). Das große Lexikon Medien und Kommunikation. KompendiumInterdisziplinärer Konzepte [The Large Encyclopedia of Media and Communication. Compendium of Interdisciplinary Concepts]. Ergon Verlag, Würzburg.

  • Tsvasman, L. (2002). Kommunikative Aspekte individueller Orientierung [Communicative Aspects of Individual Orientation]. Berlin.