First conference talk and proceedings publication!

Going to CogSci17 in London this summer for my first research presentation, the paper is to be published in the proceedings (and can be found here). Here’s the abstract:

The actualization of affordances can often be accomplished in numerous, equifinal ways. For instance, an individual could discard an item in a rubbish bin by walking over and dropping it, or by throwing it from a distance. The aim of the current study was to investigate the behavioral dynamics associated with such metastability using a ball-to-bin transportation task. Using time-interval between sequential ball-presentation as a control parameter, participants transported balls from a pickup location to a drop-off bin 9m away. A high degree of variability in task-actualization was expected and found, and the Cusp Catatrophe model was used to understand how this behavioral variability emerged as a function of hard (time interval) and soft (e.g. motivation) task dynamic constraints. Simulations demonstrated that this two parameter state manifold could capture the wide range of participant behaviors, and explain how these behaviors naturally emerge in an under-constrained task context.

Keywords: affordances, dynamic systems, cusp catastrophe, dynamic modeling, simulations, constraints

The ontological status of affordances…

…only exist when they are being actualised and/or are being realised. It is not that they do not exist when not, there always exists the information of -but until this information is picked up, they practically do not exist.

Information, independently exists. It exists for so long as there is a source to “illuminate” it: The sun shines, and other stars shine, and only if the source of photons cease to exist, shall the visual information that the visual systems of life forms do not have even the possibility of detecting it.

While information is not “what we see”, affordances are (often based on the middle-hand of medium-sized objects if our visual system is unaided). I guess you could say that objects are made up of information, but I’d be hard pressed to agree to this articulation in a strict scientific sense, it’ll do to make the point clear however. Affordances, being relationships between (for this example’s sake) properties and objects of the environment and the capabilities and effectivities of a human, seem to be able to not exist.

If we are in a room with chairs in it, and we leave the room, the chairs in the room still offer the affordance of sitting if we were to observe the room through a camera (the realisation part). If no life form is in the room to detect the information of said chairs affording sitting, then the affordance is what I’d like to call passive (or let’s say, doesn’t practically exist). It’s ontological status is pending a life form able to perceive the information of and act in accordance with, the affordance.

[Start Edit]Think of it as an establishment of any kind of relationship. Before one has been perceived/realised by anyone, there is a flux of information to be discovered and there is a non-relationship. Once discovered however, that relationship most probably cannot be undone. It reminds me of the very dramatic difference between not being able to not perceive the relationship when it has been established once, compared to when it is either just perceived or when we have yet to discover what type of relation we have/can have to it.

Is this problematic? I don’t think so. On the level of information, it must still exist. On the level of affordances however, it cannot. This is not problematic since nothing is going in and out of existence, but, the relationship between environment and actor necessarily incorporates both and is temporarily suspended -it is inactive, or passive. Innovation and creativity is sometimes defined as the discovery of new ways to relate to existent (or new) objects, properties, life forms, ourselves, etc…[End Edit]

Is this important? Perhaps not. However, ontology is important in a general sense. I think it necessitates at least a mention in a blog post, in a galaxy, far, far away.

Do depictions afford us anything?

First and foremost to be able to argue for the framework below, restructuring of the language use surrounding depictions may be needed. It is argued here that the overarching term should be alternative objects and alternative environments including the two (or four) subcategories depicted objects/environments and virtual objects/environments.

The main division bears on the ongoing discussion if depictions afford us anything (Wilson, 2013). This is an attempt to further this discussion.

Virtual objects (such as those used in screen-based research) are able to be interacted with –however, only in the virtual environment. Virtual objects, then, relies on a virtual environment. They do not afford the agent anything, unless the virtual objects are connected to the environment (for example controlling movement of an object in the environment by virtue of a Human Computer Interface). They do afford the virtual agent whatever the virtual environment and virtual objects are programmed to afford. Depicted objects then, do not afford an agent anything, but can provide (accurate or inaccurate) information about what the depicted object represents. They can inform us of possible affordances in the environment just like objects afforded to others, perceived by us, inform us that this affordance may be possible. The point of divergence then is that depicted objects do not afford us anything because we cannot become part of the depicted environment as depicted agents. Also, we cannot become agents in a depicted environment, we can only ever be agents in the environment. If we can become part of the depicted environment, it is not a depicted environment but a virtual environment -and we only become part of it as a virtual agent. Virtual objects do not afford agents anything if we strictly speak of the environment, however, as a virtual agent in the virtual environment the depictions afford the virtual agent, while it still only informs the agent because hie [ie:] is only ever in the environment. This is also to say that although an agent interacts with a virtual environment it necessarily has to be done through some form of apparatus/machinery, without it, the virtual environment would merely be a depiction.

An agent is thus not afforded anything, by neither depicted nor virtual objects/environments. Depicted objects can provide information that may or may not be useful in the environment, just like perceiving objects in the environment can provide such information. Virtual objects can afford virtual agents, just like objects can afford agents. They can also provide information, just like depicted objects. They can only afford agents by virtue of being connected back to the environment. This is however an oxymoron, because agents are still only in the environment, and only afforded something in the environment.

Virtual affordances. Electronic Sports (and Computer Resistence).

I’ve grown up with computers since birth, in fact, one of the first generations to do so. The virtual world needs to be accounted for, but I accept the non-affordance of pictures, depictions, movies and thus screens overall (but see for very recent, in-depth, information) I believe it is enough to denote this with the word virtual. This is something I go to some length with in my thesis and the beneath is the preliminary version of that section. While there is some revision still to take place, the main content is there and should provide enough clarity as to what I mean by it.

The world of electronic sports (henceforth; e-sports) is a largely unexplored area even within traditional cognitive psychology. In rECS it is discounted, essentially, because it is performed on a screen and as such does not provide affordances per say. In agreement with this, you still cannot just ignore this massive field. It is not only entertainment, it is for some a way of life and it is for others their monthly income -both as creators as well as players. In an attempt to refrain from legitimising the field further, it stands for itself in the amount of hours played, the number of games produced, the amount of profit for gaming-companies and the prize-pools for e-sports players. One aspect however, that is unstated in the relevant literature, is that unbeknownst to producers and programmers of games, their absolute central aspects, follow exactly that of ecological psychology and rECS. Gibson (1986) made the same analogy, however with greater depth, for the fields of architecture and design.

A programmer creates the environment in which a player is to exist and, hopefully, immerse herself. The virtual environment is created in respect to contain virtual affordances for the player, or for the player to explore and act within. The evolution of computers, as well as the games played on these computers, have increasingly dealt with the fact that players expect more and more virtual affordances to be available to them. There is an expectation to be able to do more things, to increase the complexity of the virtual environment, virtual objects and other virtual agents. When expansions are released for already popular games, they account for this fact by not only adding new items, for example in MMORPGS (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), but also by creating new virtual affordances to players through new game modes (changing virtual affordances of the already known game), allowing completely new virtual behaviours and thus making the virtual environment increasingly complex. For games that insist on reflecting reality, the expectation is that virtual affordances should more and more closely resemble the environment. This is thus an essential area to account for when it comes to rECS and psychology in general. It is necessary however to introduce the term virtual affordances, because as stated, pictures, depictions and even movies do not present affordances (Gibson, 1986 and Wilson & Golonka, 2013). Nevertheless, computer gaming industry works with manipulation of virtual affordances, and thus, virtual affordances are defined as invariants programmed in environment, objects and agents, allowing, limiting or disallowing virtual behaviours, interactions and coupled systems between those environments, objects and agents.

The game of choice for exemplification, is League of Legends (launched 2009, by Riot Games, formed in 2006). It is played by 32 million unique players every month, 12 million of which play daily, racking up 1+ billion hours of play each month making it the most played computer game in the world (Riot Games, 2012). They have created a virtual environment in which there is an economic system; killing AI-agents and opponents grants money, from which you may buy items to further enhance your characters basic, level-dependent, properties. The virtual environment affords movement in two dimensions but also limits movement by walls and shrubbery. Each character, 110+ to choose from, is afforded five specific abilities (one passive, meaning it is not “usable” by pressing a button and four active abilities assigned to one key each) plus the choice of two out of thirteen that are common to all players. Some abilities modify movement capability of oneself, of other agents, amount of damage given, amount of damage taken and/or regeneration of vitals (health, mana or for a few characters, a specific other vital coupled to its offensive and/or defensive abilities). Two teams with five players on each team thus comprises (10*5*2) 100 agent-specific virtual affordances, coupled with the dynamic variety in which the virtual environment lends itself to each specific character. Needless to say, perceiving one’s own and other characters’ virtual affordances, in which sequence they are used, and in which situation, the dynamic relationship all these variables have in conjunction with where one is situated in the environment and your, and their, vitals, is what counts as skill in this game. It is a visual perception heavy game but auditory perception enables you to gain information on parts of the environment not currently in your virtual visual field but that may have an impact on your virtual behaviour. The mentioned variables are far from an exhaustive list; there are quite many more virtual affordances to be described, but these should be enough for even the most computer-illiterate to understand that it is far from a simple virtual environment to navigate through successfully. Thus, this complexity gives rise to a vast range of behaviours and emotions, one of the most extreme of which is called “rage-quitting”. It is when you are sufficiently angry, regardless of why, that you exit the game before completion and leave your team severely underpowered against the opponents. Similarly, it is what can be seen in real life interviews when interviewees physically leave the interview prematurely.

Computer-gaming, although not adhering to the strict definitions of rECS, needs to be accounted for and it is suggested that it is sufficient to discriminate between real life and gaming by the verbal notation virtual. When experimentally reporting on computer games or screen-dependent research, it is of great importance to include an exhaustive list of variables and virtual affordances in the previously mentioned task analysis. This leads on to the study at hand, where an attempt is made to follow this task analysis for rECS experimentation, in order to show its practical application; to try and create headway for computer-screen experimentation by refuting the unwillingness within the embodied perspective towards it; discriminate between predictive and prospective strategies in problem-solving to discriminate between computational and ecological strategies; and illuminate how lucrative future research can be on the basis of both the process under observation and, more generally, to produce knowledge about it through rECS.

Non-(?)necessary discrimination between actualisation and realisation

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.

Temporary conclusion on subjective/objective perspective and affordances (3/3)

I should stop writing “Temporary” in front of my titles. It should be presupposed that all theory is always temporary.

I may have gained an understanding leading on from the previous posts on subjective and objective perspectives, on the definition of affordances and perception, relating Gibsons ecological view with traditional philosophy and cognitive psychology.

As Gibson defines perception of the environment and oneself as the same thing at the same point in time, neither a subjective nor objective perspective discriminates between what is perceived and not. Both are perceived, always, for any point of location of observation. This is true for both an objective perspective and a subjective perspective. Since both are perceived, any concept related to perception will necessarily imply this conclusion. If one assumes a non-static observation point (as we almost never have a static one, we move), then the experience of perceiving affordances are of both environment and self always coupled, non-separable, always pointing in both directions. This conclusion is then perpetuated by direct perception.

The only issue I am facing with this is that when one wants to begin defining from a philosophical perspective, one immediately wants to ground theory in realism, inviting subjective and objective perspectives, mind-dependence and independence, since, it is a way in which we can discriminate between dualism and monism for one. Coming from a strictly ecological perspective, or perhaps, Gibsonian ecological perspective, and grounding theory from ecology, one does not need these perspectives since they do not discriminate between anything, they do not show any difference when either perspective is subsumed. It should then be for this reason that Gibson confuses me when he speaks of nothing being subjective nor objective or both, because the meaning of those perspectives do not have a bearing on experience or theory, i.e. change the perspective per se. They are presumably brought in because of tradition and norm, because they are words used widely in the classic literature -and are most fitting in philosophically (Hegelian argumentally) founded perspectives like traditional cognitive psychology.

Are affordances retained? 42.

You see, it doesn’t really matter. We are not in the area of discussing the physical world. We are not concerned with matter in the ontological sense at this point (although we, as written about in several previous posts, obviously take a realist stance if forced to define things in traditional linguistics and perspectives). The reason the answer is 42, then, is because we perceive and act in the “coupled” perspective (self & environment) always. We assume affordances are retained, that the ground affords walking if we should want to walk tomorrow on that surface. But the question is misleading, because it forces upon the answerer to provide an explanation from a physical perspective. It forces one to deal with terms in a traditional cognitive language. It forces discussion on words like realism, objective, subjective, memory (for past) and imagination (for future). When I am lead to believe Gibson would rather speak of perception, movement, senses and affordances.

On subjectivity/objectivity of affordances… (2/3)

Building on the previous post.. Reading Gibson.. I think, unfortunately, that there is good use of communicating an objective and subjective perspective to clarify what there is and isn’t. This is an objective perspective in itself. Besides that, consider the point of which misperception of affordances comes into play, just by the word “misperception” there is an implication that -in a subjective perspective we may perceive an affordance, that in actual fact, is not there. Then, it has to have not been there in an objective sense to begin with.

I appreciate the fact that Gibson tries intently to explain and visualise the non-subjective/objective nature of affordances themselves -I am on board here. It’s only that, the dichotomous relationship of subj.-obj. bears on the information communicated and is entrenched in the linguistics. I do not think we can escape them unless we resort to dualism in some sense. Each time an affordance exists and not exists it must be said in a subjective sense. Unless, we wish to abandon that specific set of philosophical underpinnings.. is that possible?

[Edit, 12:17, 3/4-2013]
[Gibson also seems to confuse me at times in this area, he speaks of affordances very strictly as relationships in an initial definitional sense, but goes on saying that objects always afford their affordances to actors in a .. behavioral sense? But this is not entirely true, it is not only in a behavioural sense that he speaks of them as retained. He doesn’t speak of them differently in separate philosophical terms either (ontologically/epistemologically).. Could it be the distinction between realisation and actualisation that separates Koffka’s and Gibson’s view here? That Gibson picks up on but doesn’t mention explicitly?]

Communicationally necessary separation of objective and subjective perspectives (in rECS) (1/3)

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…

Simplified taxonomy of modified rECS (5/5)

Well well, this is how far I’ve come in trying to visualise the whole tree of concepts in the modified version of rECS (Chemero), with additions from Golonka & Wilson and myself.

Starting out in the bottom right, with energy array and physical properties, it is worth mentioning that an energy array also could be said to be physical properties since we are talking about for example visually, light particles/waves. They are separated due to their function.

Energy array + Physical properties give rise to Structure.

Structure, non-perceived, is not information.

Structure + Perception give rise to Information.

Information give rise to Affordances of the object/agent and the Limitations.

Limitations + Affordances can be Realised and/or Actualised.

Affordances can be Realised and/or Actualised (without the need of perceiving Limitations).

Affordances can be Realised which can give rise to Actualisation.

Affordances can be Actualised giving rise to Realisation.

These are not static one-way relationships, change in one, changes the others down to Perception. Practically, there should be arrows from Affordances, Realisation, Actualisation, Limitations, Information and Perception, to each other.. My MS Paint skills need a bit of retouching for that to happen. I am on my way of separating out all the concepts one by one and link them to their implicated and or necessary concepts. This is meant as a simple overview.

Watch this space as I will try and post a new blog post each day (roughly) for each concept.

Temporary conclusion on affordance definitions (my head will explode if I don’t give this a rest for a while). (4/5)

I’ve been entirely engulfed by ontology, epistemology and affordances the past days. My head is about to explode. But I’ve reached a temporary conclusion. A conclusion that is generally applicable, follow most of the “traditional” ideas from ecological cog, embodied cog and rECS. They depart in some aspects, but I believe them to be necessary to live up to the philosophical demands.

Affordances, need to be, or to be grounded in, [perceived]* physical properties. The reason I have is that there is no other possible way to define it without departing from realism. Please prove me wrong, I am staring myself blind at this.

Epistemologically, affordances are perceptible through information.

Information, [any] structure of [any] energy array (brilliantly defined by Sabrina Golonka)

Epistemologically, sensory modalities discriminate between and within structures.

Perception, “the apprehension of [information] where 1) the structure is specific to an event or property in the world, 2) where the meaning of the structure (for that organism in that task) is about that event or property (i.e., a dog’s bark is about the event of a barking dog), and 3) where the meaning of the structure must be learned (or, more correctly, where an organism must learn how to coordinate action with respect to this structure).” (stolen again from Sabrina Golonka).

Realisation, perception of affordances.

Epistemologically, perceiving information and coming to an understanding (need not be conscious, obviously… as if there is a black and white divide of conscious and non-conscious…) of some/all/the situationally relevant agent/objects’ affordances.

Actualisation, agent/object(s) affordance(s) interaction with agent/object(s) affordance(s).

Epistemologically, bodily movement between and/or within agents/objects affordances and can be either compatible (by the agent(s) affordances or by extension, like using a stick or something) or not (like lifting the earth, the earth does not lend itself to be lift-able).

Constraints, boundaries of realisation and actualisation.

Epistemologically, restrict compatibility of affordances between and/or within agent(s)/object(s). The knee does not afford the leg to bend backwards. A local constraint that has consequences for bodily movement in the global environment. Being dynamically coupled to environment/objects/other agents, constraints vary depending on the current situationally available affordances.

*Edit 25/3