Wed 11 Apr 2018 10:27:03 AM -03

  • Author: Jean Piaget.
  • Publisher: Routledge Classics.
  • Year: 1950.



This overview is a mixed of both ideas from the book altogether with other considerations I've got by reading other, related material:

Intelligence is reversible!

As what's really wonderful about this reversibility is that it's built atop of lower, fundamental levels of irreversible dynamical systems.

That revesibility is the capacity to the adaptive system do turn away from configurations that doesn't lead to a defined goal and replace by other pathways, mixing introspection and empirism.

Reading this book along with The Tree of Live from Maturana and Varella and Morin's Method I get the feeling that intelligence in life arises from the sensori-motor system and gets deeper in a process where the nervous system inflates to give way to impulses/stimuli that originates from itself.

Consequential to this reversibility is that intelligence might experimentation freely without risking itself producing damages or permanent harm to itself, which is different to say that somebody can't harm him/herself by the consequence of his/her acts.

Also, while what happens with intelligence looks entirely reversible, mind is not composed of intelligence alone. Other instances exist that might put the whole apparatus on restricted modes of operation, such when in a neurosis which is a state of constant looping in a given theme.


  • Perception (imediate contact with the world) (127).

  • Habit: beyond short and rapidly automatised connections between per- ceptions and responses (habit) (127).

  • How the whole body is seem according to his theory? There's a movement (sic) where intelligence raises from the sensori-motor to the mind, but can we consider the other way as well, about what's conceived by abstract thought be then used as a source of sensori-motor intelligence? I guess so, but wonder how that could be articulated in Piaget's theory.

Intelligence and equilibrium

Then, if intelligence is thus conceived as the form of equilibrium towards
which all cognitive processes tend, there arises the problem of its relations
with perception (Chap. 3), and with habit (Chap. 4).

-- Preface

Every response, whether it be an act directed towards the outside world or an
act internalized as thought, takes the form of an adaptation or, better, of a
re-adaptation. The individual acts only if he experiences a need, i.e., if the
equilibrium between the environment and the organism is momentarily upset, and
action tends to re-establish the equilibrium, i.e., to re-adapt the organ- ism
(Claparède). A response is thus a particular case of inter- action between the
external world and the subject, but unlike physiological interactions, which
are of a material nature and involve an internal change in the bodies which are
present, the responses studied by psychology are of a functional nature and are
achieved at greater and greater distances in space (percep- tion, etc.) and in
time (memory, etc.) besides following more and more complex paths (reversals,
detours, etc.). Behaviour, thus conceived in terms of functional interaction,
presupposes two essential and closely interdependent aspects: an affective
aspect and a cognitive aspect.

-- 5

Furthermore, intelligence itself does not consist of an isolated and sharply
differentiated class of cognitive processes. It is not, properly speaking, one
form of structuring among others; it is the form of equilibrium towards which
all the structures arising out of perception, habit and elementary
sensori-motor mechan- isms tend. It must be understood that if intelligence is
not a faculty this denial involves a radical functional continuity between the
higher forms of thought and the whole mass of lower types of cognitive and
motor adaptation; so intelligence can only be the form of equilibrium towards
which these tend.

This does not mean, of course, that a judgment consists of a co- ordination of
perceptual structures, or that perceiving means unconscious inference (although
both these theories have been held), for functional continuity in no way
excludes diversity or even heterogeneity among structures. Every structure is
to be thought of as a particular form of equilibrium, more or less stable
within its restricted field and losing its stability on reach- ing the limits of
the field. But these structures, forming different levels, are to be regarded as
succeeding one another according to a law of development, such that each one
brings about a more inclusive and stable equilibrium for the processes that
emerge from the preceding level. Intelligence is thus only a generic term to
indicate the superior forms of organization or equilibrium of cognitive

-- 7

In general, we may thus conclude that there is an essential unity between the
sensori-motor processes that engender per- ceptual activity, the formation of
habits, and pre-verbal or pre- representative intelligence itself. The latter
does not therefore arise as a new power, superimposed all of a sudden on com-
pletely prepared previous mechanisms, but is only the expres- sion of these
same mechanisms when they go beyond present and immediate contact with the
world (perception), as well as beyond short and rapidly automatised connections
between per- ceptions and responses (habit), and operate at progressively
greater distances and by more complex routes, in the direction of mobility and
reversibility. Early intelligence, therefore, is simply the form of mobile
equilibrium towards which the mechanisms adapted to perception and habit tend;
but the latter attain this only by leaving their respective fields of
application.  Moreover, intelligence, from this first sensori-motor stage
onwards, has already succeeded in constructing, in the special case of space,
the equilibrated structure that we call the group of displacements—in an
entirely empirical or practical form, it is true, and of course remaining on
the very restricted plane of immediate space. But it goes without saying that
this organiza- tion, circumscribed as it is by the limitations of action, still
does not constitute a form of thought. On the contrary, the whole development
of thought, from the advent of language to the end of childhood, is necessary
in order that the completed sensori- motor structures, which may even be
co-ordinated in the form of empirical groups, may be extended into genuine
operations, which will constitute or reconstruct these groupings and groups at
the level of symbolic behaviour and reflective reasoning.

-- 127-128

Logic and psychology

An axiomatics is an exclusively hypothetico-deductive sci-
ence, i.e., it reduces to a minimum appeals to experience (it even
aims to eliminate them entirely) in order freely to reconstruct its
object by means of undemonstrable propositions (axioms),
which are to be combined as rigorously as possible and in every
possible way. In this way geometry has made great progress,
seeking to liberate itself from all intuition and constructing the
most diverse spaces simply by defining the primary elements to
be admitted by hypothesis and the operations to which they are
subject. The axiomatic method is thus the mathematical method
par excellence and it has had numerous applications, not only in
pure mathematics, but in various fields of applied mathematics
(from theoretical physics to mathematical economics). The use-
fulness of an axiomatics, in fact, goes beyond that of demonstra-
tion (although in this field it constitutes the only rigorous
method); in the face of complex realities, resisting exhaustive
analysis, it permits us to construct simplified models of reality
and thus provides the study of the latter with irreplaceable dis-
secting instruments. To sum up, an axiomatics constitutes a “pat-
tern” for reality, as F. Gonseth has clearly shown, and, since all
abstraction leads to a schematization, the axiomatic method in
the long run extends the scope of intelligence itself.

But precisely because of its “schematic” character, an axiomat-
ics cannot claim to be the basis of, and still less to replace, its
corresponding experimental science, i.e. the science relating to
that sector of reality for which the axiomatics forms the pattern.
Thus, axiomatic geometry is incapable of teaching us what the
space of the real world is like (and “pure economics” in no way
exhausts the complexity of concrete economic facts). No axi-
omatics could replace the inductive science which corresponds
to it, for the essential reason that its own purity is merely a limit
which is never completely attained. As Gonseth also says, there
always remains an intuitive residue in the most purified pattern
(just as there is already an element of schematization in all intu-
ition). This reason alone is enough to show why an axiomatics
will never be the basis of an experimental science and why there
is an experimental science corresponding to every axiomatics
(and, no doubt, vice versa).

-- page 30

It is true that in addition to the individual consistency of
actions there enter into thought interactions of a collective order
and consequently “norms” imposed by this collaboration. But
co-operation is only a system of actions, or of operations, car-
ried out in concert, and we may repeat the preceding argument
for collective symbolic behaviour, which likewise remains at a
level containing real structures, unlike axiomatizations of a
formal nature.

For psychology, therefore, there remains unaltered the prob-
lem of understanding the mechanism with which intelligence
comes to construct coherent structures capable of operational
combination; and it is no use invoking “principles” which this
intelligence is supposed to apply spontaneously, since logical
principles concern the theoretical pattern formulated after
thought has been constructed and not this living process of con-
struction itself. Brunschvicg has made the profound observation
that intelligence wins battles or indulges, like poetry, in a con-
tinuous work of creation, while logico-mathematical deduction
is comparable only to treatises on strategy and to manuals of
“poetic art”, which codify the past victories of action or mind
but do not ensure their future conquests. 1

-- page 34

Habit and sensori-motor intelligence

Circular reaction:

Let us imagine an infant in a cradle with a raised cover from which
hang a whole series of rattles and a loose string. The child grasps
this and so shakes the whole arrangement without expecting to do
so or understanding any of the detailed spatial or causal rela-
tions. Surprised by the result, he reaches for the string and
carries out the whole sequence several times over. J. M. Baldwin
called this active reproduction of a result at first obtained by
chance a “circular reaction”. The circular reaction is thus a typ-
ical example of reproductive assimilation. The first movement
executed and followed by its result constitutes a complete action,
which creates a new need once the objects to which it relates
have returned to their initial stage; these are then assimilated to
the previous action (thereby promoted to the status of a schema)
which stimulates its reproduction, and so on. Now this mechan-
ism is identical with that which is already present at the source
of elementary habits except that, in their case, the circular reac-
tion affects the body itself (so we will give the name “primary
circular reaction” to that of the early level, such as the schema of
thumb-sucking), whereas thenceforward, thanks to prehension,
it is applied to external objects (we will call this behaviour affect-
ing objects the “secondary circular reaction,” although we must
remember that these are not yet by any means conceived as
substances by the child).

-- 110-112

Early intelligence:

The routes between the subject and the object fol-
lowed by action, and also by sensori-motor reconstitutions and
anticipations, are no longer direct and simple pathways as at the
previous stages: rectilinear as in perception, or stereotyped and
uni-directional as in circular reactions. The routes begin to vary
and the utilisation of earlier schemata begins to extend further in
time. This is characteristic of the connection between means and
ends, which henceforth are differentiated, and this is why we
may begin to speak of true intelligence. But, apart from the
continuity that links it with earlier behaviour, we should note the
limitations of this early intelligence: there are no inventions or
discoveries of new means, but simply application of known
means to unforeseen circumstances.

-- 114


Two acquisitions characterise the next stage, both relating to
the utilisation of past experience. The assimilatory schemata so
far described are of course continually accommodated to
external data. But this accommodation is, so to speak, suffered
rather than sought; the subject acts according to his needs and
this action either harmonizes with reality or encounters resist-
ances which it tries to overcome. Innovations which arise for-
tuitously are either neglected or else assimilated to previous
schemata and reproduced by circular reaction. However, a time
comes when the innovation has an interest of its own, and this
certainly implies a sufficient stock of schemata for comparisons
to be possible and for the new fact to be sufficiently like the
known one to be interesting and sufficiently different to avoid
satiation. Circular reaction, then, will consist of a reproduction
of the new phenomenon, but with variations and active
experimentation that are intended precisely to extract from it its
new possibilities.

-- 114


But there now arises a problem whose discussion leads to the study of space.
Perceptual constancy is the product of simple regulations and we saw (Chap. 3)
that the absence at all ages of absolute constancy and the existence of adult
“superconstancy” provide evidence for the regulative rather than operational
char- acter of the system. There is, therefore, all the more reason why it
should be true of the first two years. Does not the construction of space, on
the other hand, lead quite rapidly to a grouping structure and even a group
structure in accordance with

Poincaré’s famous hypothesis concerning the psychologically primary influence of
the “group of displacements?” The genesis of space in sensori-motor
intelligence is com- pletely dominated by the progressive organisation of
responses, and this in effect leads to a “group” structure. But, contrary to
Poincaré’s belief in the a priori nature of the group of dis- placements, this
is developed gradually as the ultimate form of equilibrium reached by this
motor organisation. Successive co-ordinations (combinativity), reversals
(reversibility), detours (associativity) and conservations of position
(identity) gradually give rise to the group, which serves as a necessary
equilibrium for actions.

At the first two stages (reflexes and elementary habits), we could not even speak
of a space common to the various per- ceptual modalities, since there are as
many spaces, all mutually heterogeneous, as there are qualitatively distinct
fields (mouth, visual, tactile, etc.). It is only in the course of the third
stage that the mutual assimilation of these various spaces becomes system- atic
owing to the co-ordination of vision with prehension. Now, step by step with
these co-ordinations, we see growing up elementary spatial systems which
already presage the form of composition characteristic of the group. Thus, in
the case of interrupted circular reaction, the subject returns to the starting-
point to begin again; when his eyes are following a moving object that is
travelling too fast for continuous vision (falling etc.), the subject
occasionally catches up with the object by dis- placements of his own body to
correct for those of the external moving object.

But it is as well to realise that, if we take the point of view of the subject
and not merely that of a mathematical observer, the construction of a group
structure implies at least two conditions: the concept of an object and the
decentralisation of movements by correcting for, and even reversing, their
initial egocentricity.  In fact, it is clear that the reversibility
characteristic of the group presupposes the concept of an object, and also vice
versa, since to retrieve an object is to make it possible for oneself to return
(by displacing either the object itself or one’s own body). The object is
simply the constant due to the reversible composition of the group.
Furthermore, as Poincaré himself has clearly shown, the idea of displacement as
such implies the possibility of differentiating between irreversible changes of
state and those changes of position that are characterized precisely by their
reversibility (or by their possible correction through movements of one’s own
body). It is obvious, therefore, that without con- servation of objects there
could not be any “group”, since then everything would appear as a “change of
state”. The object and the group of displacements are thus indissociable, the
one con- stituting the static aspect and the other the dynamic aspect of the
same reality. But this is not all: a world with no objects is a universe with
no systematic differentiation between subjective and external realities, a world
that is consequently “adualistic” (J. M. Baldwin). By this very fact, such a
universe would be centred on one’s own actions, the subject being all the more
dominated by this egocentric point of view because he remains
un-self-conscious. But the group implies just the opposite attitude: a complete
decentralisation, such that one’s own body is located as one element among
others in a system of displacements enabling one to distinguish between one’s
own movements and those of objects.

-- 123-125