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Genetic epistemology

One of the problems that Piaget raised in his youth was to investigate the pa-sos through which adult intelligence was accessed; the solution of this proble-ma led him to develop a genetic epistemology, that is, an explanatory theory of the construction of knowledge from an evolutionary point of view. Ge-nética epistemology represents a bridge science between biology and knowledge theory, par-ticipating at the same time elements taken from one (the problem of adaptation, above all) and the other (logic and logical thinking).

Genetic psychology

The concepts of “child psychology” and “genetic psychology” cannot be confused. While child psychology addresses the study of a child’s behavior to com-ignite it in its functioning and development, genetic psychology focuses on the development of mental functions in order to understand these functions been more finished. In other hands, genetic psychology consists of being-virse of child psychology to try to answer the big questions of psychology.


Every organism must adapt to the environment in which it lives. Intelligence is a par-ticular form of biological activity that derives from this process of adaptation and that is impaled with other biological activities of equally adaptive significance. Both from the phylogenetic point of view and from the ontogenetic point of view, intelligence assumes different levels of functioning that are chained together, giving rise to intellectual children of increasing complexity throughout the evolution of the species and the Individual

In this sense it is possible to distinguish between two fundamental levels of intelligence: the sensomotorriz and the conceptual or representative, each of which has, in turn, dis-red levels of development. Acts of sensory-intelligence consist of coordi-nar between each other successive perceptions of concrete objects of reality and real movements related to those objects, as sensory-based intelligence is oriented to the re-resolution of practical and Manipulatives. For its part, concep-tual or representative intelligence implies an overcoming of sensomotive intelligence in the sense that it does not need support on specific objects or effective actions, because it can handle representations that reflect at the level those objects and those actions. It should be noted, however, that these representations are at the beginning rudimenta-rias to the extent that preconceptions are spoken of to indicate that the symbols that the child handles when he acquires the language initially have a content other than that which they will have to acquire d’t e.m.
Throughout the development of intelligence there are aspects that do not vary and others that are open to constant modification. The former are known as functional invariants and encompass organization and adaptation (as a double slope of assimilation and accommodation); such functional invariants are characteristics of all biological systems, regardless of the contents and levels of such systems. The seconds, variable through the different moments of development, are the structures, which are periodically renewed and enriched to facilitate new adap-tations.


Just as the ingestion of a food by an organism would not be possible without proper organization of the organism, the exchange between the episte-mological subject and the objects of knowledge implies that intellectual activity is an ac-tividad organized, that is, endowed with its own structural characteristics. Such organi-zation is not static, but reflects in the cognitive structures of the subject the ca-da times higher levels of adaptation that are occurring along the development.
Biological maturation and the new demands of the environment gradually make the organization of the digestive system of the child allow it to adapt to increasingly complex types of food. Something similar happens on an intellectual level: the increasing possibilities of the individual and the increasing demands of the environment enrich the structural organization of intelligence.


From a biological point of view, adaptation is the factor that regulates the exchanges between the organism and the environment; its purpose is to maintain the internal organization of or-ganism. When the external (medium) demands so impose, adaptation implies a change in that organization, there is room for a new organization that is more evoolate and more in line with the demands posed.
From an intellectual point of view, adaptation involves changes in the organization of cognitive structures throughout the evolutionary process. What at the biological level refers to the exchange between the organism and the environment, at the psychological level, makes re-resentance to the exchanges between the epistate subject and the object of knowledge.
Adaptation is done through the processes of assimilation and accommodation; adaptation involves the balance between assimilation and accommodation.


Assimilation is a concept that refers to both organic and men-such life, that is, it affects the physiological as much as the psychological.
Biologically, assimilation is the incorporation into the organism of substances and energy external to it that must ensure its maintenance. Psychologically, assimilation involves the incorporation of the external object into previous mental schemes of the subject; assimilation allows to recognize or identify new objects or events through their configuration in relation to the content of existing schemas.
The child who takes his rattle to his mouth and sucks him is assimilating him to other objects (bottle nipple, pacifier…) before which he has developed the same scheme of ac- tion. When another child older than the previous one, he sees a dog, he assimilates it to the scheme of re-presentation of dog that he already possesses, thus producing the identification of the dog as such.

Deforming assimilation

It is a special type of assimilation that occurs when the complexity of the knowledge object exceeds that of the schema to which this object refers or when the complexity of the real is greater than that of the schemas that represent it. In other words, it is a type of assimilation that is due to the deficiencies of existing schemes; in the face of these deficiencies, and as long as the schemes are modified, the real is distorted in order to be assimilated.
If the child has learned the concept of dog with large specimens, perhaps the first time he is confronted with a small specimen shop to assimilate it (deformly) not to the “dog” scheme, but to the “cat” scheme, for example.


Like assimilation, of which it is its correlate, the concept of accommodation has a biological and psychological side. Biologically, it refers to the effort that or-ganism makes to conform to the demands of what it seeks to assimilate; that is, it represents the actions aimed at modifying the structure that is already possessed in order to make possible new assimilations. The digestive system of the child is modified permanently in order to assimilate the new types of food; efforts made to make such a change are accommodative efforts; only thanks to this accommodation is good assimilation possible.
Psychologically, when the properties of an object are deformed, acts are initiated to modify the schematics or to create new schemes that allow adequate assimilation; to accommodate the old schemes to the ex-genques of new or more complex realities. The child who calls cat a dog of small size – that is, that deformedly assimilates dog to cat – has to modify its concept of dog by eliminating from it – through accommodation – the property that refers to the size, in order to properly assimilate all specimens of dog to the proper representation scheme.


A structure is in cognitive balance with the objects in its environment when it can properly account for them, that is, when it assimilates them correctly-minded after being accommodated to their characteristics. Balance refers to the estability of cognitive structures that is achieved at certain times of development.
All psychological balance has the properties of mobility stability and reversibi-lity (this being this characteristic of operative balance). Mobility refers to the fact that the balance is not static, but inside there is an activity that allows to expand the field on which it acts. Such an extension does not necessarily mean a modification of the structure in question, which gives stability to the equi-librio. Thanks to the reversibility, any action complements the opposite ac-tion that is complementary to it.
When the structure is balanced with objects of knowledge it is in a situation similar to the homeostasis described by biologists.


Balance is a process that leads from certain states of transient equilibrium to other states, qualitatively different of a higher nature, through multiple imbalances and rebalancing. Indeed, every time an event occurs or a new object appears, a decompensation or temporary loss of the eac-librio occurs. The regulatory mechanisms to return the system to its previous equilibrium are then involved; the return to that balance becomes impossible, which triggers the implementation of the adjustment to the event or object in question, an adaptation that generates a restructuring of the system in which the event or object is no longer contradictory: a step has been taken forward in the sense that a higher-order balance has been achieved.
The tendency to move from a lower equilibrium to a higher equilibrium state, re-close the equilibrium name, a process similar to that described by Waddington as homeorresis. Cognitive development is characterized by transient equi-librio phases between lower equilibrium levels and higher equilibrium levels. As Piaget pointed out, cognitive balance does not have an arrival or stop point, unless provisionally; balance is the tendency to find an ever better balance and in this sense it is possible to speak, as Piaget does, of “maximizing balance”, which represents the tendency to a permanent optimization.


The cognitive development of the subject is neither imposed by the maturation nor by the pre-zion of the medium, but is a function of the interaction between the one and the other. Faced with innatist and environmental conceptions, epigenetic conception allows the opposites to be overcome.
In the face of genetic preformation, the epigenetic approach considers that knowledge is the result of the interaction between intellectual structures and objects in the same way that Waddington’s epigenetic system represents the in-tre interaction of the genome and the middle.
In the face of environmentalism, which considers that knowledge derives only from the influence of the environment the epigenetic approach considers that such influence comes into inter-action with an existing structure. The E®R model of traditional conductism is replaced by an E®(O)®R model that argues that the stimulus is processed within an existing structure, a structure that periodically undergoes changes under the pressure of new stimuli and changes in the medium, and thanks to the possibilities of modification that are inherent to it.


Knowing reality involves much more than just copying it or performing a mental trace that represents it. When the subject knows an object, it is to some extent transformed by it; or, rather, the object is known only to the extent that the subject performs real or virtual actions on it (effective or internalized) that transform the object to fit pre-existing schemas. Both the knowledge of the reality that occurs in the sensomotor stage and that generated in the plane of logic (concrete or formal) comes from the actions or operations that the su-jeto performs on the objects.
To the extent that objects are acted upon, they are transformed and, in that medi-da, they are known. The concept of transformation is adequately understood only if it is in relation to those of construction and self-regulation.


Knowledge is not found by the subject, but actively constructed by him throughout his development. According to this principle, knowledge precedes the activity of the subject or, more schematically, the representation comes from the action. This suggests that knowing an object involves developing a set of actions (effective or inte-riorized) that allow to master it. When we know a new object, it is incor-porated to the pre-existing set; if such incorporation is not possible, it is necessary to build new actions that allow it, so that the precious structure is modified and enriched.
The genetic constructivism present in the Piagetian model is precisely in this capacity of the subject to, from simple structures, build throughout its development complex knowledge structures that allow to understand and contain properly reality.


The basic factors that regulate intellectual development are, according to Piaget, three: the biological ma-duration (which opens up to the organism new possibilities as it occurs) the subject’s experience of objects (i.e., the subject’s action on the physical environment) and the action of others on the child (the educational action of the medium). To these three classic factors Piaget adds self-regulation, which is a factor that or-ganizaandgroups the other three and that is equivalent to the concept of balance.
From the perspective of the actions, the self-regulatory process prevents them from being randomly and leads them to achieve concrete objectives, with which it is then possible to assess whether or not those objectives have been achieved. When the baby discovers that paw-reading is his cradle manages to produce in sound that he likes, he repeats the kicking over and over again until he perfectly masters the production of the sound; fern that the child does not abandon his kicking to the second or third repetition, but persists in it dozens and dozens of times shows that there is an attempt to control the situation, that is, a self-regulation of the action
At the operations level, the self-regulating process allows reversibility by generating for each action another counter-or reverse action (the subtraction as contrary to the addition, the division as contrary to multiplication…).
With development, self-regulation becomes anticipator, so that the subject can evaluate the effects of the action before it is carried out. Anticipating self-regulation thus implies a calculation of the means and procedures to be implemented in order to obtain a particular result, discarding all those that do not lead to it; this calculation is carried out at the operative level, i.e. internalized. Operations are therefore perfect self-regulations, i.e. no longer proce-den for correction once the behavior has been executed, but are “pre-correct of errors”, to use Piaget’s expression.


The different elements present at any given time in the mental organization of a subject make up its intellectual structure, which is a set of actions or operations interrelated to each other and organized according to certain laws or rules. In a mis-mo individual evolved structures coexist with other incipient or developing, so that in the one-and-a-half-year-old the sensomotric structures are very evolved, while those of a symbolic character are beginning their journey. Existing structures make assimilation possible; it is the accommodate that facilitates structural changes either by modifying existing structures or by breranging new structures. Intellectual development is a process of structural changes that lead the individual from simple intellectual structures to increasingly complete structures.

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