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

An ecological note on the Müller-Lyer illusion

The Müller-Lyer illusion

Are one of the lines longer, shorter or the same length as the other one?

Traditional psychology holds that perception is flawed, we see illusions because the underlying perceptual aspects of our experience need to be embellished, corrected, interpreted, etc, by our brain. While doing this we make mistakes. It is often posited as one of the major issues for ecological psychology to explain because it seems to invite cognition. After all, if all the information is detectable out in the environment, then why would we perceive the top line as shorter and the bottom one as longer?

Perceptual illusions in real life (not on paper or a screen) can quite easily be dealt with. We could argue that the we have not sampled enough of the available information in the ambient optic array, so we do that by locomotion and change of viewing angle. When we do, very many illusions are simply dispelled (Kennedy & Portal, 1990, or Michaels & Corello, 1981). In fact Michaels and Corello explains this very well; if we are in a desert, looking for water and see a mirage (which may or may not be water), it is right of us to investigate if it is or not, not doing so would be the wrong action to take. In the same way, they exemplify, could we be fooled by a hologram until we reach out to try and touch it.
Besides this point, the illusions that aren’t able to be dispelled by simply exploring, are always images or videos on a screen or paper. Making them in part unexplorable. As for the Müller-Lyer illusion, it is at the same time simple but abstract forms. All the information given is what is there, but even looking at it now, knowing they are the same length, I still perceive them as different lengths. A solution that has been suggested elsewhere (lost the reference sorry) is that the top figure shows an enclosing space, if we were to reach our hand in, we would be more constrained than the bottom figure. The information is specifying a smaller versus a larger space.
Another assumption of traditional psychology is that (visual) perception works with the simplest aspects, lines, points, and that then there is a constructive process cognitively that puts things together into more and more complex constructions of what we perceive (into the full 3d-experience of the world). For a traditionalist then, there is no doubt it is an illusion, the lines are the same length, we perceive them to be different -our brain is playing tricks with us. From an ecological standpoint, it is impossible not to see the four end lines, you can’t not perceive them when perceiving the end of the lines. Therefore, they matter.
It is fully possible that we actually don’t perceive the “simplest” form and construct it, in fact, this is what ecological psychology says we don’t do. The example comes from the Planimeter (Runeson). A mechanical, simple, device that can measure the area of irregular patches without knowing length, width or doing any computations. (For its full explanation, see here.) It thus measures a “higher order” thing, sqaure cm (or inch) without the “simpler” concepts. It is fully possible to conceive of the idea that we then simply cannot ignore the four end lines -they are not individual lines, they are a form that is important, in it’s whole, to our perception of it. For this reason, it may just be so that the question “Are one of the lines shorter, longer or the same length as the other?” a silly question to ask. Because our perceptual system does not work on simple structure and construction, it is forcing us to do something that we simply don’t do, and therefore do it poorly.
(Which unfortunately is not too uncommon in the traditional psychological literature.)

Is it an impossibility to “see” the Big Bang?

Even if we theorise there to be a universe contracting and expanding, or a Big Bang, it might be impossible to actually “see” it. The reason would be found in Ecological Psychology.

Only when Ambient Light has structure does it specify the environment. There has to be differences in different directions, for it to contain any information. Perfect symmetry, maximum entropy, is theorised to be a whole bunch of homogeniety in layout, distance between particles, etc. If we have a medium that is perfectly evenly distributed, we do not have difference. So how could we ever “see” it?

A tiny example of logical abstraction being unequal to EcoPsy

I had issues coming up with a title for this because it is only a tiny example I use when speaking with undergraduates (usually first-years) about the inadequacy of logic to account for human behaviour. I link it to Gigerenzer’s arguments on this matter.

If this example may be useful for you to use, awesome, otherwise; you can always use it to tire people out and make something easy more of a burden (for no reason at all, which is always a fun pastime).

Imagine a round pillar with four plaques in each cardinal direction, you are to read all four. You may choose to either; walk one cardinal direction clockwise for the entire procedure, or; three cardinal directions counter-clockwise for the entire procedure. However, regardless of which one you choose you would read the plaques, gaining the same information, in the same order. Logically, abstracted from the procedure, you walk away with the same information. Ecologically, obviously, they are different because movement is different. The larger the pillar, the larger the difference.

The point here can then be elaborated further upon depending on the exact idea you are wanting to teach. I find it quite useful for undergraduates, as for postgraduates however, the example is often too basic and Gigerenzer’s ‘Wason four-card task argument’ I find more useful.

If you have any fun techniques or examples you use to teach these ideas, please enrich the comment field!

Ecological Psychology and Locke(d) Doors

A point of entry in the free will debate concerns Locke’s example (no reference I’m afraid, I’ve lost it) of a person entering a room, closing the door behind hier [ɪə]. In situation A hie [i:] just makes a decision to stay or leave, in situation B hie is unaware of the door locking behind hier. Now, my own take on this example is that it neatly shows subjective and objective ‘knowledge’ [and its impact on considering free will existent or not]. Hie makes a decision based on free will in the first case and hie only believes hie does in the second. From a subjective perspective there is free will, from an objective there isn’t.

Ecological Psychology does not like this at all. EcoPsy would probably decide that in both cases there is free will because perception, belonging to the observer, does not include the information that the door is locked. Or? EcoPsy is positioned with embodied, embedded and often extended cognition, including dynamicism. This would entail that movement and active exploration is an important aspect of being human. Therefore, the decision to stay in the room can either be classified as free will in both cases or defined a non-decision. The reason for the latter would be that, at that point in time, the perceiver has not actively explored the environment enough to be able to make the decision to begin with. Even a half-arsed exploration of hies [i:z] environment allows perception of which options are available. As I see it, the original example assumes naivité and passivity on part of the observer, and this is unfair.

The most important point however is that the original example also defines decision-making in a strict computational manner; at one point in time, without temporal perspective, in a very strict fashion. It does not take into consideration how we explore, find out and perceive in the real world -how decisions unfold over time and do not boil down to single points in time. In my perspective, there are several more philosophical examples that are conundrums simply because of the distinct connectionist/computationalist ignorance of temporal flow.

Ecological Psychology and Everyday Conflicts

EP has given me a few thoughts about some issues I’ve had in philosophy. The first one being that of seeing the world in one’s subjective sense compared to an objective sense. This is often up for debate when discussing anything involving the question; what really happened? Because, as everyone will assure you of, their own subjective version of a story is the, at least more so, correct one. As many have found though, “truth” (considered using “truthiness” here… again… pass for now… again…), is often found somewhere in between the two accounts. So why is this important when involving EP and philosophy?

Well, roughly, social constructionism (SC) will tell you that both versions are correct and will, practically, end in some form of compromise (good) or further polarisation (not so good) of the two parties. There is no use in deciding which is more correct or delving deeper into the actual accounts, just that each version is correct in their own right because that was the experience of each of the two parties.

Critical realism (CR) will state that there was a reality to the situation but both accounts are skewed in each party’s own favour -so it would be necessary to try and extract an objective version out of the two subjective versions. Doing this, in my perspective, rather entails creating a third subjective perspective -more so than one being objective (however a side-note in my argument because it becomes important to define subjective and objective and what they entail and why I would define the third perspective as subjective rather than objective. However. As with much in philosophy, definitions aren’t clear cut and will most probably be a long and pointless discussion with exceptions to the rule).

Instead, what insight can EP give us into the practical application of philosophy in our lives? EP would focus on the perspective of each of the two accounts and validate both, like SC. However, with the addition of each perspective being unique, relying on the mechanisms of perception, there is some ground to actually state that they are both valid (unlike SC, which demands validity outright). The consequence here is that with EP one is allowed to reconcile the two perspectives on the same level as they are stated -CR here needs to abstract the two subjective versions to one objective version. I believe then, that due to the non-existence of an objective/subjective dichotomy -one is forced by EP to acknowledge the experience of both parties and look at cause and effect between the two accounts through the process of the situation as it unfolded. The to and fro, if you will. One is not forced to do this, if guided by either SC or CR. SC is too egalitarian and naive in its supposition and has a hard time consolidating two very different perspectives, especially when they are very specific. CR on the other hand entails the assumption that neither account holds the “correct” version as there is an objective version that is superior.

My conclusion then, is that EP doubles back into philosophy and gains us a fuller account of ‘what really happened’, gives more information about how a specific situation unfolded, and in turn, gives you more leads to use when attempting to resolve the dispute.

A first note; CR, I find, is used most often in everyday life and also most often works decently well. EP gives you an extra edge in all parts of the process however.

A secondary note; it is quite fun (and easy) to define, in any type of dispute in real life, what philosophical backdrop people use when resolving, maintaining or escalating a conflict. Every philosophical perspective has its merits and flaws and de-escalating a conflict can be quite an easy task if you can identify and practically use to your advantage the specific perspective taken by other parties. Add pedagogy and conflict de-escalation/resolution is within reach.

A last note; positivism is not brought up simply because at that level of abstraction (even further than CR), it is of even less help (than for example CR) -although, as has been written, each perspective has its merits and flaws, and are usable situationally.

A second last note; I miss teaching (and research, although I have available many journals), won’t this summer vacation ever end?

Ecological Psychology and Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor (OR) isn’t usually applied between competing theories, but there are known examples of this also; some astrophysics mathematical equation was found by an American and was simpler (and accurate enough) than one by a Russian and so the former was/is used. Apologies for the lack of reference and specificity in the example. OR is also not an irrefutable principle of logic, or so Wikipedia says.

Ecological Psychology (EP), with both less assumptions and simpler rules guiding scientific discovery should be supported by the principle when comparing to computational theories. Even within EP, a goal is to try and find the most simple heuristic or rule-governed process for a given behaviour, maintaining the principle.

It should be said that OR has obvious issues, the foremost perhaps being that it does not guarantee truth (considered using “truthiness” here.. pass for now..) or correctness. It just says that the simpler explanation is more often the likely case.

Accepting that computationalism doesn’t really provide an explanation of the human condition, or at least that it does a worse job than EP, then we can be (at the very least, temporarily) justified to rely on EP based on this logical principle instead of computationalism.

(4/4) Contrasting Computational and Ecological Strategy in a Virtual Interception Task.

Thesis experiment. Flying Spaghetti Monster I love research!
I have already alluded to the main finding of the study in this post. So I will solely give you the link to my thesis experiment document here (13 pages). For any correspondence feel free to either comment here or e-mail me at sf985 at live dot com.
Reference list for entire thesis found here.
Plus, lastly, the entire Master Thesis as .pdf can be downloaded from here. It has been publicised also through Lund University’s LUP service and should be publicly available from their database as soon as it is accepted. I’ll try and update this post with a direct link later.
Happy Midsummer Eve! Dancing around the Midsummer Pole pretending to be a frog obligatory!

[Edit 1/7: Thesis is now published and live at Lund University Publications]

(3/4) Cognitive Psychology in Crisis: Ameliorating the Shortcomings of Representationalism. EcoPsy and rECS.

After a few more e-mails to a few people, I received my feedback. It was mostly general structuring issues and broader aspects of the thesis. Valuable and informative comments overall, so no change in posting the last two chapters as planned.
This chapter is to me a bit of an anti-climax. It mainly contains definitions and concepts, explanations and examples. So, if you already know your way around Gibson’s Ecological Psychology, Chemero’s radical Embodied Cognitive Science, van Gelder’s Watt Governor example for Dynamic Systems Theory and Wilson and Golonka’s four-point task analysis, there is not too much to gain from this chapter. You can find the whole 21 page chapter here. One thing of importance however, is that in this chapter I attempt to ontologically and epistemologically define affordances, something I have not seen in the literature before. However, I have already posted my ontological query here. The last section in this chapter does bring up a novel area of interest to EcoPsy however. It is called “Electronic Sports and Computer Resistance” and brings in the curious aspect of affordance/information from depictions. I have written about this in a previous blog post also, but have extended and reworked it a bit. So the following is a summary of that section;
Gibson, Chemero and Wilson discuss if affordances actually exist when perceiving depictions. This is quite curious because it is not intuitively simple to decide whether depictions actually afford something, or inform of something. Wilson is currently intellectualising about this, so we will have to wait to see what comes out of that. The official understanding (most likely to change) is that depictions do not afford us anything. This in turn impacts computer-screen research if you wish to stick to EcoPsy because the broad genres of computer gaming and on-screen research rely on it. If we immerse ourselves in virtual environments, are we dealing with affordances? Virtual affordances? Not affordances at all? Information? Virtual information? Do virtual environments inform us and not afford us? Does a virtual environment offer virtual affordances to virtual agents? This could easily be a point of criticism against EcoPsy in a philosophy-journal, but there’s no fun in that, is there? Instead I attempt to define virtual affordances and virtual environments as separate concepts, at least until their possible integration depending on the work of Wilson. The simplest core concept here is the verbal notation virtual which should be seen as a working definition.
I am going to try and summarize and post the last chapter, my thesis experiment, as soon as possible. If not today, then probably during the weekend seeing as Midsummer’s Eve is upon Sweden tomorrow! So, Happy Midsummer’s Eve and don’t forget to dance around the Midsummer Pole pretending you are a frog.

Contrasting Ecological and Computational Strategy in a Virtual Interception Task 1/5

Well, it looks like my master thesis will be admitted and graded. They brought in an extra examiner on my thesis since its philosophically heavy, so it’ll take a few more days to get it graded. When it is, I am going to correct some errors and format it properly (as luck had it, I was following a previous APA-style guideline, it was not appreciated). And I figured, I’ll post the whole thing here in three chunks. The arguments against representationalism, the basic definitions of ecological psychology and radical embodied cognitive science, and lastly, my research paper.

As I have been invited to speak at the Social Sciences Master Graduation Ceremony, I have that to focus on, as well as, wait for critique from my second examiner. Roughly, I’ll be able to post my stuff a few days after the 11th.