Since a class in gender studies last fall, it has dawned on me that much personal distress comes from holding a dichotomized view of whatever it is that is distressing someone. I began thinking intently about this, antecedents, consequents, in a wide range of specific areas and so on, to see how far it could be generalized. And wow, this is a worthwhile concept to start using. Clinically it can be very useful to challenge someone’s knowledge structure on this basis, as it opens up alternatives and reflections that otherwise are lost. I have used it on myself to challenge my own dichotomized perspectives and there have been wide ranging consequences and insights (as some would term self-development/realization). I intend on writing up my thoughts and reflections and invite anyone and everyone to comment with their own experiences, insights and/or theoretical concerns and perspectives.
In Gibson’s perspective, are they not really the same thing? Perception in Gibson’s terms seem to imply that “acting on” is implied by perception. I am confused with how this unfolds in practice. Take the definition I outlined in a previous post, that realisation is the perception of a possible interaction as opposed to actualisation which is the instantiation of an interaction. Perception is interaction?!
I think of studies on mirror neurons (if they exist, if it is assumed they do not do what trad. cog. sci. say they do and instead are simple sensory modality + movement overlap/association -happenstancily, not predeterminally- neurons/cluster of neurons/areas) in that, ‘visual perception of’ and ‘engaging in’ is the same thing physiologically -since, as I suppose Gibson would have it, perception (regardless of which kind) includes oneself always. If one is not separated from the environment, then one perceives what others and oneself do as the same thing (obviously, humans distinguish between self and others, but, even then, not innately -which in itself doesn’t have to decide in the matter, but may inform). Maybe this could be seen as the process behind empathy or sympathy for example. I feel disgust if I perceive rotting meat, because perception is that of systems and parallel modalities and not separate “input pathways”.
They may however have a practical, communicationally, significant aspect to them since it makes it easier to explain perspective or experience of a situation in those terms. Though I also get the feeling that they refer to the false dichotomy of conscious/unconscious perception. Something superfluous to the ecological model. Indeed, it perpetuates the false assumption of consciousness per se. Note here however that “how we consciously experience” situations, is central to psychiatry, for example, and can be useful to navigate within in therapy. Experimental psychology however, should refrain from allowing this massive source of frame-of-reference error to guide theory too heavily.
I began writing the situated relationships between the concepts (mentioned in my previous post) and realised something terribly important. Even in the simplified taxonomy, I haven’t separated out subjective from objective, and I found out just how important that is when writing about the specific relationships. They exist in different realms (akin to the ontological and epistemological issues I have been writing about), also, communicating subjective relationships will depend on the specific organism and its umwelt (Louise Barrett). I have, for now, had human activity in mind, in an effort to keep it simple. This will guide the way I henceforth communicate about relationships in rECS where necessary to specify, unless someone has a good reason not to…
Objectively, here, refers to a mind-independent, theoretical perspective. I am not concerned here on how we come in contact, how we experience the world, but rather on the relationships between the concepts in how they affect each other, separated from how they are experienced (or might be experienced). It is not to do with separating ontology from epistemology, but there are surface similarities. For example, talking about Realisation and Actualisation, in an objective perspective you cannot have Actualisation without Realisation (I have written otherwise in other places, and should be revised on the basis of not separating objective and subjective perspectives clearly). This is so because Realisation is defined as perception of affordances, and, you cannot interact, act on, Actualise, affordances without perceiving them. The same goes for Limitations, which may be present and affect Actualisation, but not necessarily be experienced.
But. In a subjective perspective, here defined as experiential, i.e. how we experience the world. We can Actualise affordances without “paying attention” or consciously or deliberately perceive, we just act. An example can be very quick decisions, we need not experience the Realisation of the acted on affordances. Again, in a theoretical sense, an objective perspective, it is clear that we have to have Realisation (perception of) on some level, whatever level that is, for us to be able to Actualise the intersituational-affordances-relationships. Reflexive behaviour could exemplify this, since they are usually experientially Realised after one begins Actualising, after the affordances have been Actualised or not at all.
Thus, it is important to create two separate taxonomies for experiential, subjective, relationships (which will become mostly an empirical endeavour to sort out experimentally) and another for theoretical, objective, relationships. The theoretical perspective will necessarily incorporate more aspects, more relationships and be truer to dynamic systems theory than the experiential perspective. This is explained by the examples above and by that what we experience is dependent on our senses, which obviously are “limited” (put in quotation marks because I do not wish to support the view that we ought to be ideal agents, should be measured on the basis of ideals or are heading that way through evolution, since this imposes a frame-of-reference error. We are humans, and have developed under the pressures of our environment, and this is what we are, nothing more and nothing less).
If I find the time to explicate those taxonomies is another question…
Two examples in handball and rugby enabling me to subjectively understand continuous reciprocal interaction with one’s environment, without a need to invoke representations.
Handball (large sport in northern, central and eastern European countries)
Playing handball as an outfielder, when I receive the ball in an attacking position, in my visual field are three or so opponents, number doesn’t really matter. What I perceive is a wall with gaps in it, I begin moving towards one of the gaps and as I do it minimizes as a consequence of two defenders moving closer together. I need to get to the gap that I perceive opening up to the side instead and take a quick step towards it sideways and perceive the gap to still be there so I take two steps forward, altering my bodily posture to further avoid the wall I had just stepped past. When thinking about this sequence, there is no real thought, I simply perceive the environment in front of me, attempt to navigate in it, react bodily to the environmental changes occurring. It signifies to me a dynamically reciprocal relationship between the environment and my body, where my brain fills the task of perceiving the changes in the environment and as a consequence alters my motor-movement in response to those changes. I know which movement-possibilities I am able to employ because through training very similar situations, very many times, I have narrowed down which affordances are available to me in other similar situations. If I perceive, in the second instant in the situation that the second gap also is closing in front of me, the only two alternative motor-movements are to either pass the ball on to a teammate or find myself pacified by a defender holding me down. (The second alternative here being non-desirable because it means the energy spent on the previous movements were in vain and I will have to start over from a still-standing position.)
In rugby, much the same type of situation can occur, holding the ball on any given spot on the field, running forward, you perceive the obstacles that you have to move around. Just that, everything in this situation is dynamic because the environment changes depending on your movement and your movement changes the way the environment changes (not unlike the Watt governor). By that, you have to continuously rearrange your movements according to real-time demands. In the subjective experience there is simply no time to even begin explaining complex action-perception movements like this in representationalist terms. Now, this obviously doesn’t mean we don’t have representations at all, or that you can’t express it in those terms, but the point is that I don’t need to invoke them in the subjective experience of the situation, nor do I need to use them in a verbal explanation of it. While they may exist, it is an extra assumption about the world and can we do without extra assumptions, I believe we are getting a better explanation of the world.
While subjective experience itself may be misleading, what I am trying to get across is what a dynamic situation may look like. The type of continuously reciprocal relationship between environment, body and brain, all acting on each other and changing in response to each other, all in real-time. Tim van Gelder in What Might Cognition Be, If Not Computation? provides an elaborate explanation however of systems that do not even seem to make sense to put in computational terms. It goes far deeper than the simple idea that I am trying to get across here and is worth a read.
We all live by strong biases, egocentric, in the sense that we have only a first person perspective from our own standpoint (assumption 1 & 2 and there are plenty more where those came from! Also, egocentric is used without judgemental value in this context). Naturally, we can observe and evaluate, sympathise and empathise with others but my argument does not revolve around the observer’s perspective. Rather, it is about the ‘data’ given, that which is worked from, from the egocentric individuals’ perspective. In real life (IRL for my fellow computer-geeks), we assume, interpret and justify actions of others and oneself (most oftenly) in response to situations, actions and relations. While I could turn this OP into a discussion of awareness and applied criticality to one’s preceding actions in a specific situation which would affect it and account for parts of one’s response-actions -it is beyond the scope of this specific piece (nevertheless very interesting). The issue is that we are not good with assumptions of others’ behaviour -even folk psychology requires more than one perspective to account for a situation and these are most often generalisations beyond justification. We are subject to environmental influences in decision making, intraindividual bias both from biological limitations to attention, interpretation and retention and from previous experience, anecdotes, interindividual bias from differing norms depending on who you are interacting with and lastly a cognitive bias in which we reinterpret, change, remove and add information in retrospect to a given situation (this is, by the way, not an exhaustive list of our phallacies). Psychological research on the subject of bias is overwhelmingly in favour of our poor ability to accurately account for situations and others’ part in it, let alone our own involvement in the situation (excuse the lack of references, what I have in mind is mostly eye-witness and implicit priming research).
Indeed it is a central reason as to why we are told to write dispassionately and technically when presenting our experiments. It has several important consequences; the first is that it forces one to distance oneself from one’s own interpretation (if one is given) and secondly, the observer (the reader) is given a value-free account of someone’s interpretation of their data. This contributes to allow the viewing of an experiment critically, without having to be bound to criticise the discourse itself for bias. An example would be selective portrayal of results, choosing to present only results supportive of one’s hypothesis when there are other parts of it that would speak against or support a null hypothesis; this is a bias not controlled for by writing dispassionately, but, it becomes much clearer to the reader if this is what the author has done. It is thus a safeguard, but does not guarantee, against portraying instead of presenting and is the best way we have been able to come up with. So far.
This is to me reason alone why reliance on accounts from only a few individuals is worth very little as basis of understanding for social phenomena, in scientific discourse. It does have worth -and can have worth to others- but all too often the consequences of which are overlooked or not mapped out. For my own private empathy/sympathy register, it is fascinating to be allowed entry into an individual’s world -a perspective one would not have unless one was either a member of the same group or the individual oneself. It fosters understanding for something I previously dismissed or was ignorant of. One gains a larger perspective -but(!)- only in the realm of one’s own assumptions and cognising when observing social phenomena from one’s individual, private/personal, view of the world. It also adds another bias to one’s framework; new assumptions are made upon the limited perspective of this, one, or a few individuals -which does not necessarily account for other “similar” individuals.
Understanding social phenomena is a different thing when we are discussing the basic scientific principle of prediction (and its utility). Scientific research demands predictability and an unspoken assumption is for it to have utility, i.e. the consequences of any prediction must aim to explicate and elucidate a proposed relationship -it must hold without our intervention/involvement/observation of it. This prediction is then evaluated for its utility by how well (or not) the proposed relationship predicts a future social phenomena.
We assume there is a mechanism by which an observed action is caused but we are well aware of that, because of our biases and limitations, we may perhaps only come as close as these biases and limitations allow us. We have however still an excellent way of understanding how close we actually are to explaining ‘what actually happens’ because of the consequences of our prediction’s implementation. If X then Y. X. Y? Y’? Y”? Z? While social phenomena are far from as simplistic as an X and Y relation, social scientists are creative in testing these predictions -sometimes they lead us down a garden path, sometimes they reveal more or less solid predictions. The point is, of all the assumptions made in this OP, being aware of one’s shortcomings is a crucial way of both understanding why one’s research showed the results it did (regardless if it fits or not with what one _wants_ to find), communicating a _needed_ skeptic perspective, guides one to see potential bias in others’ research as well as leaves one open to (and happy for(!)) criticism from others. We cannot afford to ‘believe in’ our theories and hypotheses, they introduce a bias that can be veiled by scientific discourse and very concretely limits a potentially wider/better (in regard of predictability) perspective of a social phenomena.