Man in Search of Reality.

"You see, it's never the environment; it's never the events of our lives, but the meaning we attach to the events -- how we interpret them -- that shapes who we are today and who we'll become tomorrow." Anthony Robbins

"Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it." John Maxwell

Kelly's theory of personal constructs. George Kelly proposes that there is an objective reality, but that we can not know it because we must view it through our personal interpretation or construction of it. His theory is expressed in a basic postulate and extended through eleven corollaries.

The Basic postulate is this:

"A person's processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events."
In other words our personal understanding, our individual actions and what we believe is all dependant on what we anticipate. Not only do we sometimes view the world through rose colored glasses, but we view the world at all times through glasses of some color; be they dark glasses or misty glasses or clear glasses; they all color our perception.

Kelly puts it like this:

"Man looks at his world through transparent patterns or templates which he creates and then attempts to fit over the realities of which the world is composed. The fit is not always very good."
Kelly also embraces the cyclic view of learning or experience:
"The unit of experience is therefore a cycle embracing five phases: anticipation, investment, encounter, confirmation or disconfirmation and constructive revision."
"To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly." Henri L. Bergson

The corollaries of Kelly's above postulate are presented below pretty much in their original form. In this form they are somewhat difficult to understand, drenched as they are in Kelly's formal jargon. An attempt has been made to try to clarify them for non scholars and later to restate them in a form that might be easier to understand.

  1. Construction Corollary. "A person anticipates events by construing their replication."

    The construction corollary is all about how we construct possible or impending events. Since events never really repeat themselves, in order to look forward to them we must construct something that allows us to perceive two or more of them to be similar. Kelly is essentially saying that we build with our constructs, models, for ourselves to internally perceive events (instances and actions) that we believe can and will be repeated in the real world. Thus we can anticipate or expect them to occur. Most importantly however, how we build these models depends on how we view external events, which in turn depends on the models we have already built. Kelly liked to use music to illustrate how the replication of something emerges from our interpretation. In their book "Inquiring Man" Bannister and Fransella explain it like this:

    "Each time we hear a melody played in a piece of music, different instruments may be used, there may be a change of key, there may be a change of rhythm and so forth, but still we recognize the replicated theme. At a very basic level the themes we recognize, the sameness we detect can be 'concrete', as in our noting of new examples daily of pencils and sneezes and shoelaces, or they may be very complex, subtle and highly personal replications, as when we realize that once again have met defeat or affectation or truth."

    One of the fallacies of stimulus-response psychologies is that man responds to a stimulus. He does not. Rather he responds to what he interprets the stimulus to be. This in turn is a function of the kind of perceived replication (constructs) he has detected in, or imposed upon, his external reality. In his book "The Nature of Learning" G. Humphrey points out that you can condition (by electric shock) a man to withdraw his arm when a G note is played on the piano. However he goes on to show how if the same man is played "Home Sweet Home" on the piano, he will not twitch a muscle, despite the fact that the G note occurs 14 times in the tune. This is presumably because he understands the replication as a tune and not as a series of notes. 

  2. Individuality Corollary. "Persons differ from each other in their construction of events."

    The individual corollary is all about personal uniqueness. Kelly is saying that each person constructs for themselves an internal model of external events, and that those models differ from one person to another. He is saying we are different because we all perceive external events through our constructs, which are different and organized differently. If Kelly was asked why two people in exactly the same situation behave in different ways, he would probably answer that it was because they are not in the same situation. Each of us sees our situation through the goggles of our personal map of reality. In their book "Inquiring Man" Bannister and Fransella put it like this:

    "We differ from others in how we perceive and interpret a situation, what we consider important about it, what we consider its implications, the degree to which it is clear or obscure, threatening, or promising, sought after or forced upon us."

    For Kelly the situation of the two people is only the same from the point of view of a third party viewing the situation through his own personal map of reality goggles.

    This corollary does not argue that people never resemble each other in the way they view situations, as this is clearly negated by the sociality and commonality corollaries. However, this corollary does argue, that in the final analysis, none of us are likely to be a carbon copy of the another. Bannister and Fransella continue:

    "Each of us lives in what is ultimately a unique world, because it is uniquely interpreted and thereby uniquely experienced."

  3. Organizational Corollary. "Each person characteristically evolves, for his convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs."

    The organizational corollary is about how each person develops, builds, a model or map of external reality out of their theories about external reality. It is also about how those theories are woven together into a system that predicts the probable future and enables expectations of how the future may be, and may be changed. Kelly calls this personal map of reality our personal construction system.

    If a person is to make use of such a map of external reality to anticipate events, the map must of necessity, be able to provide him with clear predictions, inferences and movement. To this end, the map must tend to resolve the more crucial contradictions and conflicts that inevitably arise. This is not to say that all inconsistencies must be resolved, but those that are not, cause the person to be indecisive and vacillate between alternative expectations of what the future holds in store for him.

    Thus each person arranges his constructions in an orderly fashion so that he can move from one to another easily. This involves assigning priorities where one construction takes precedence over another when inconsistencies appear. Thus one's commitments might take priority over one's opportunities. This also involves a hierarchy of abstraction where one construct contains others of a lesser abstraction. Thus we can resolve the old adage of not being able to add horses and cows by reinterpreting them as farm animals.

  4. Dichotomy Corollary. "A person's construction system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs."

    Kelly believed that the constructs that make up our personal maps of reality are always axes between two polar opposites. Thus one construct might be the axis between beauty and ugliness or heavy and light or light and dark. In constructs there is no mid point however where things are truly grey. If something is neither good nor bad it is outside the range of application of the good/bad construct and that construct is not used.

    When we are perceiving an auditory event we determine that it is noise or music, static or communication. Regardless of what it really is, we interpret it as being one thing or the other. What sounds like music to me may sound like noise to another person. Some people hear communication in sound where others hear only static. If we have placed a person under the construct good verses bad, and have interpreted him and his actions as good, we will continue seeing him as good despite the fact he may perform actions that we interpret as being bad. This will continue, till at some point, he will do something so bad that we will reinterpret him as being bad. There will be no in between. Constructs are ways of discriminating between or contrasting something with something else. They are ways of identifying what something is by distinguishing it from what it is not.

    Colors are an interesting exercise in constructs. If we take grey it can be contrasted with white and contrasted with black. We can distinguish between more grey and less grey. The very word shades may be contrasted with tints to form a construct. While there are thousands of colors that have been named, and used in swatches for choosing in design, most of us never need to distinguish between them, and never form constructs to deal with them. Only painters, interior decorators and people in the fashion industry have use for such subtle distinctions. In the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" there was great significance given to the color 'cerulean blue' yet I, and I would think most people, could not discriminate between blue and cerulean blue despite having seen the movie. It just isn't important enough to us form such a construct.

    We can envision the constraints of constructs by a simple experiment using the artificial illustrations of perceptual manipulation created by the gestalt psychologists. Below we see at the left a man's face. If we start there and look at the successive drawings, we will continue to see a man's face almost till we reach the right. If on the other hand, we are to start at the drawing of the naked girl on the right and work our way back, we will tend to see the naked girl almost up to the first drawing left.

    Also, Kelly tells us, constructs are not essences distilled by the mind out of available reality, they are imposed upon events not abstracted from them. Thus Kelly clearly agrees with Karl Popper that there is no such thing as induction (the inferring of general laws from particular instances).

  5. Choice Corollary. "A person chooses for himself that alternative in a dichotomized construct through which he anticipates the greater possibility for elaboration of his system."

    This is like saying that we anticipate in order to anticipate better or more accurately. The choice corollary simply put means, that each person chooses the constructs to be added to his personal map of reality, and that the ones he is most likely to select are those ones which enable the map of reality to grow and become a more accurate representation of external reality. The essential feature of each map of reality is that it must become continually more elaborate. Kelly puts it like this:

    "It seems to me to follow that if a person makes so much use of his constructs, and is so dependent on them, he will make choices which promise to develop their usefulness. Developing the usefulness of a construct system involves as far as I can see, two things: defining it and extending it."

    Defining is done by making clear how these construct components are applied to objects or are linked to each other. Extension is done by reaching out to new fields of application.

    Note that men act because of their anticipations and so can change things only by changing themselves first. Men accomplish their objectives, if at all, by paying the price of altering themselves irreversibly. The choices we make in adding constructs alter the way we see the world, and in doing so, alter what we are.

  6. Range Corollary. "A construct is convenient for anticipation of a finite range of events only."

    The range corollary is about what makes a construct different to a concept. Concepts are what we hang words on in order to communicate. Constructs are what we use to distinguish, differentiate or discriminate between one thing or event and another. If concepts are one dimensional, constructs are two dimensional. A concept can only distinguish between itself and the rest of the universe. For a concept, what is not a car, is anything else in the universe. However, the construct car/motorbike distinguishes between cars and motorbikes. It has two dimensions it can be a car, it can be a motorbike or it can be anything else in the universe. It's range of convenience refers to what it can be applied to, in this case all those things that can be differentiated into cars and motor bikes. There is another range of everything else which could be termed it's range of inconvenience. In their book "Inquiring Man" Bannister and Fransella put it like this:

    "The range of convenience is all those things to which people might eventually find the construct applicable; thus for some people 'honesty' can eventually be used in relation to political honesty, sexual honesty, aesthetic honesty and so forth."

    Some ranges of convenience are very small. Incandescent/fluorescent for instance is applicable to only a very small number of things.  Big/small however has a huge range of convenience, being applicable to many things and events. Despite the number of things big/small can be applied to, Kelly says it can still be applied to only a finite number of things or a finite number of events. Thus there are things that big/small is not easily applicable to such as air or darkness or a sunset. There are some also things that are so big or so small that the distinction big/small is just not sufficient, and we would use micro/macro instead.

    Constructs are of course very relative what is big in one context can be small in another. Our sun is very big compared to the earth but we would say it is a small star. The earth is big compared to us but we are big compared to ants etc.

    Constructs are combined with other constructs to form structures which we impose on events in order to understand them, and which we use to predict or anticipate events. Consequently those constructs will be useful for forming expectations of a finite number of events only.

  7. Experience Corollary. "A person's construction system varies as he successively construes the replication of events."

    The experience corollary is about how each person's map of reality changes as the person perceives inconsistencies, between internally created structures of expectation of events, and actual outcomes as perceived through those structures. Thus the person successively amends those structures in order to bring greater consistency to his internal map. Kelly considers that this ironing out of these incompatible structures implies an investment on the part of the person. In his introduction to construct theory Kelly puts it like this:

    "Keeping in mind that events do not actually repeat themselves and that the replication we talk about is a replication of aspects only, it begins to be clear that the succession we call experience is based on the construction we place on what goes on. If those constructions are never altered, all that happens during a man's years is a sequence of parallel events having no psychological impact on his life. But if he invests himself - the most intimate event of all - in the enterprise, the outcome, to the extent it differs from his expectations or enlarges upon it, dislodges the man's construction of himself. In recognizing the inconsistency between his anticipation and the outcome, he concedes a discrepancy between that he was and what he is. A succession of such investments and dislodgements constitutes the human experience.

    ...The unit of experience is, therefore, a cycle embracing five phases: anticipation, investment, encounter, confirmation or disconfirmation and constructive revision. This is followed, of course, by new anticipations, as the first phase of a subsequent experiential cycle gets under way.

    ...Simply stated, the amount of a man's experience is not measured by the number of events with which he collides, but by the investments he has made in his anticipations and the revision of his constructions that have followed upon his facing up to consequences."

    Clearly Kelly can be understood to mean that we form hypotheses that are changed through successive refutation. This is in line with Popper's idea that we cannot perceive sensory input except through existing conjecture. In their book "Inquiring Man" Bannister and Fransella put it like this:

    "The constructions one places upon events are working hypotheses which are about to be put to the test of experience. ...A personal construct system is a theory being put to perpetual test."

    "Your ability to learn depends partly on your ability to relinquish what you've held." Milton Hall

    Kelly states however that confirming events are as important to continuing investment as are disconfirming events. He points out that confirming events give us the courage or stability to make an investment. They provide a safe haven from which we can feel willing to be disconfirmed in the future, and further willing to constructively revise what we understand to be so.

  8. Modulation Corollary. "The variation in a person's construction system is limited by the permeability of the constructs within whose ranges of convenience the variants lie."

    That is to say that the variation in a person's map of reality is limited by its openness to allow extensions and adaptations to be accommodated (within its range of applicability), especially when incompatibilities with the external reality are perceived. 

    To some extent here we are talking about  lesser constructions that can be absorbed under fairly extensive constructs. These inferior constructs, by being so absorbed, restructure the extensive construct by adding to and rearranging the other modules that make up extensive construct's structures. In his introduction to construct theory Kelly puts it like this:

    "He must have a construct system which is sufficiently open to novel events to let him know when he has encountered them, else the experience cycle will fail to function in its terminal phases. He must have a system that will admit the revised construct "that emerges at the end of the cycle.

    [Permeability is]  ...its capacity to be used as a referent for novel events and to accept new subordinate constructions within its range of convenience."

    A construct such as god/satan might have a reasonable size range of what it can be applied to, but it is not open to change and adaptation or extension. It is fixed and can only be altered by a massive reconstruction of the whole map of reality. The construction good/bad though is probably being continually extended as well as adapted in most humans.

  9. Fragmentation Corollary. "A person may successively employ a variety of construction subsystems which are inferentially incompatible with each other."

    The fragmentation corollary suggests that our map of reality can become fragmented. We all know people who hold ideas to be true that are in fact incompatible with each other. This is most evident in crazy people, but in fact almost every person has a few minor ideas that they have not resolved. In his introduction to construct theory Kelly gives this example:

    "A man may move from an act of love to an act of jealousy, and from there to an act of hate, even though hate is not something that would be inferred from love even in his peculiar system."

    To the extent this occurs our personal map of reality is confused, unconnected and broken up into smaller maps that are less accurate in anticipating events. In their book "Inquiring Man" Bannister and Fransella put it like this:

    "A construction system is a hierarchy and also a series of subsystems having varying ranges of convenience. Therefore, conclusions about the 'same' series of events can be drawn at levels that are not necessarily consistent with or even related to each other."

    This chaotic state is not always necessarily a bad thing as it may be useful for individual survival and creative ability. If not permanent or too severe such a state can be useful in generating new and unique ideas. In his introduction to construct theory Kelly puts it like this:

    "For man logic and inference can be as much an obstacle to his ontological ventures as a guide to them. Often it is the un-inferred fragment of a man's construct system that makes him great, whereas if he were an integrated whole - taking into account all that the whole would have to embrace - the poor fellow would be no better than his 'natural self'."

    This state may be even more useful if the person is aware that one or both of the inconsistent ideas may not be true. It is our ability, to knowingly hold inconsistent ideas, that is at the very heart of creation.

  10. Commonality Corollary. "To the extent that one person employs a construction of experience which is similar to that employed by another, his processes are psychologically similar to those of the other person."

    The Commonality Corollary is all about learning. Kelly is saying that we are not similar because we (as the behaviorists believe) behave the same way. Though clearly we do often behave the same way for the same reasons, we may also behave the same way for very different reasons. We are not similar because we have had the same or similar experiences. (Though obviously, there is a relation between the more experiences we have in common and our similarity, it is not one to one.) An insane person, for instance, sees the same experiences very differently to a sane person.

    The constructs that we use to construct our personal maps of reality are gathered through learning from the common experiences of being human, and because we are surrounded by a very similar external environment. It is however, the extent to which we view or understand these experiences in similar ways that make us similar. We are similar because we discriminate, interpret, and see the implications of events in similar ways.

    Also we are not similar because we use the same verbal labels. The constructs are assembled in a common code called language, which we all learn as a way of communicating with one another, and as a conscious way of ordering our mental processes. These words and word groups in themselves do not provide the similarity however. It is the extent to which the words and phrases we use have the same meaning to us and others that provides the similarity.

    Perhaps, more importantly, our constructs are drawn from centuries of accumulated knowledge and experience that others in the world have developed. When cultures pass on this knowledge, we access information stretching far back in time, especially when it is passed on in some recorded form. Through learning, we continually borrow from this heritage in order to construct our personal maps or models of reality. It is not enough to memorize these ideas of others however, we have to be able to see the implications of these ideas as others did, to understand them. They have to be meaningful to us in the way they are meaningful to others. If they are not, we have learnt hardly anything, and we have no similarity with others.

    It is how we construct a model of events in our minds, that provides both commonality and individuality. Commonality is provided by the similarity in these internal constructions which make us similar to one another, that provide a similar kind of internal model of reality, and enable us to perform mental processes (think) in similar ways.

  11. Sociality Corollary. "To the extent that one person construes the construction processes of another, he may play a role in a social process involving the other person."

    The sociality corollary adds a further layer of interpretation when people are involved. It simply suggests that if 'person A' accurately perceives how another 'person B' sees the world around him and his part in it, 'person A' can interact with 'person B' in a social context. He can thus do this in a constructive way, in the form of devising a role for himself, involving person B. 

    Here Kelly has gone way beyond the cue-response notion of a roll. In 'one to one' sports like tennis each player must try to anticipate what the other is going to do, so he can be already moving in the appropriate direction before the other even hits the ball. In chess the chess master has to think many moves ahead before he moves, which means he has to anticipate what the other player will do for many moves. The fact is, we simply cannot interact with others unless we have constructed a theory about what the other is doing, as our own actions would be meaningless and outcomes could not be predicted.

    In the theatre the actor must be able to perform without further cue from the director. In team sports such as football a player must be able to play a certain position without further signals from the coach. This of course involves interpreting what all his own team members are going to do and interpreting what all the members of the other team are going to. This is somewhat simplified by the existence of rules which are supposed to form a common way of interpreting the world of the game. However, each person has to interpret the rules and they do not always interpret them the same way. In the game of life however there are often no rules to guide you, so you tend to interact with less people and try to be very accurate in how you interpret how those others are seeing the world.

The importance of these corollaries. Kelly's postulate and corollaries are important because they are the only true attempt to produce a comprehensive theory about an internal model of external reality. This site holds that an internal model of reality is essential in understanding learning. Although Kelly refers to this model as our personal construction system, and others have used other names. This site prefers to refer to this model as our 'personal map of reality' and will most often refer to it by that name.

Reconciliation with Popper's philosophy. Popper's central position, like that of Kelly, is that there is an objective reality but that we can not know such a thing because there is no possible way of verifying that reality is so. Popper was fond of quoting Xenophanes, an early Greek philosopher who first stated this idea clearly.

Xenophanes position is this:

"The gods did not reveal, from the beginning all things to us,
but in the course of time through seeking we may learn to know things better.
But as for certain truth, no man has known it nor shall he know it,
neither of the gods nor of all things of which I speak.
For even if by chance he were to utter the final truth,
he would himself not know it:
For all is but a woven web of guesses."

Popper believes we view the world through the theories that we hold. Kelly believes we view the world through our constructs which can be seen to be essentially the same. Popper's use of expectations is surely also significant as it hardly differs in meaning to anticipations. Expectations in Popper's terms are tentative theories or conjectures that are held until subsequent events refute them. Popper often refers to these expectations as dogma because he was aware that even when refuted by experience they are resistant to extinction. In fact the refutation of any conjecture and thus the disappointment of expectations creates a new dilemma for the individual. This situation impels the creation of a new conjecture to replace the one refuted which in turn creates a new expectation.

Popper puts it like this:

"All observation is an activity with an aim to find or to check some regularity which is at least vaguely conjectured, an activity guided by problems, and by the context or the expectation (the horizon of expectations as I later called it). There is no such thing as passive experience; no passively impressed association of impressed ideas. Experience is the result of active exploration by the organism (person), of the search for regularities or invariants. There is no such thing as a perception except in the context of interests and expectations and hence of regularities or laws."

Popper also proposed a cyclic view of learning. He developed this as the following schema:
P1-> TT-> EE-> P2
P1 is the initial problem
TT is the tentative theory (conjecture or expectation)
EE is error elimination
P2 is the new problem

Popper also suggests that there is no real starting point in this schema and that it could also be written as follows:
TT1-> EE-> P-> TT2
Thus it becomes very like Kelly's schema:
Anticipation -> Investment -> Encounter -> Confirmation or Disconfirmation -> Constructive Revision -> Anticipation
Kelly's use of investment to indicate that there is resistance to change can be seen as equivalent to Popper's use of the term dogma to indicate resistance to change. Popper I think would not oppose the possibility of including investment, as he observed that some theories were more resistant to change than others. 'Encounter, confirmation or disconfirmation', these are what decides if there is a problem or not. If the theory is confirmed, there is no conflict but if it is disconfirmed, there is a problem. Constructive revision is clearly error elimination, and necessitates the formation of a new tentative theory. Which of course leads to new expectations or anticipations.

To some extent Kelly's corollaries can be rewritten in Popperian form, which hopefully also reinterprets them in a manner that is more accessible, understandable, and clear to people unfamiliar with Kelly's jargon. This site has attempted to reconceptualize these ideas in a more Popperian form as follows:

  1. Construction Corollary. A person's expectations of events are invented by conjecturing their replication.
  2. Individuality Corollary. Persons differ from each other in their expectation of events due to the fact that they hold different theories.
  3. Organizational Corollary. Each person invents for his convenience in the expectation of events, a system of interconnected theories.
  4. Dichotomy Corollary. A person's interconnected theories are composed of a finite diversity. (It is difficult to see how Popper might deal with dichotomy.)
  5. Choice Corollary. A person chooses for himself that alternative in a new conjecture, through which he expects the greater possibility for elaboration of his system of theories.
  6. Range Corollary. A conjecture is applicable for expectation of a finite range of events only.
  7. Experience Corollary. A person's system of interconnected theories varies as he successively interprets their validity against perceived outcomes.
  8. Modulation Corollary. The variation in a person's system of interconnected theories is limited by the openness of those theories to refutation and reconstruction.
  9. Fragmentation Corollary. A person may successively employ a variety of conjectural subsystems which are incompatible with each other. (Although Popper would probably hope that we would try to iron out these inconsistencies.)
  10. Commonalty Corollary. To the extent that one person employs a conjecture or theory which is similar to that employed by another, his understanding, beliefs and actions are psychologically similar to those of the other person.
  11. Sociality Corollary. To the extent that one person reasonably correctly conjectures the beliefs, understanding and actions of another, he may interact in a social activity involving the other person.

Reconciliation with Piaget's development theory. Piaget's theory is a theory of development and it was arrived at through meticulous observation of young children from birth to mid adolescence. While this theory is based on an absolutist philosophical assumption that we can some how experience reality directly, it seems likely it can work just as well with the philosophical assumptions of Kelly and Popper where reality can only be experienced as a complex interweaving of theories or viewed through our personal constructs or as a constructed model of itself. Although Kelly's theory evolved out of his experience with therapy it has many implications for child development that are consistent with Piaget's ideas. Both Kelly and Piaget provide an open ended theory of learning in which important changes take place in the structure of each person's internal knowledge rather than it's content. Piaget shows that as we develop the interrelations between ideas, they become more dense. Likewise for Kelly, the matrix of relationships between constructs tends to become increasingly less simple.

Also both Kelly and Piaget adopt an internalized point of view. It can be shown that although one person's perception of reality may be very different from another, it makes perfect sense from the point of view of the person with that perception. Thus each internal map, regardless of age or development, has its own logic and coherence. Each has its own perfectly logical sequence of development.

Piaget never talks clearly about an internal structure, but when he says that something is assimilated, we must assume it is assimilated into something. When he talks about accommodating to fit external events, something must be accommodated. This something would be a what Kelly calls a cognitive structure.

Personal Maps of Reality (Personal Construction Systems) The internal construction of a model of external reality, as proposed by this site, is not fully realized into a structural entity by Kelly. Kelly preferably concentrates on the bits it is made up of, or the constructs as he calls them. What he does make clear, is that this personal construction system, is something that must change and be able to be changed. If we liken it to a map it must be able to be redrawn and made more accurate. That it must tend to optimize toward being an increasingly better approximation of external reality. Clearly then it is not the totality of mind. If it proves to be inaccurate something clearly occurs to make it more accurate. Kelly likens this to the loosening and tightening of relations between constructs. Loosening allows the constructs to drift and form new and unusual relationship combinations. Tightening, on the other hand, causes the constructs to be restricted by the imposition of logic. These can be likened to the invention or formation of conjecture and the logical criticism and the subsequent testing of conjecture.

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