A non-content brain. 2/2

There is some misreading of Ecological Psychology due to the way direct perception and information detection are spoken about. Direct perception seems to carry with it a connotation of specificity (guarantee), that the world is in the specific way it is seen, we cannot be wrong and we have all of it available at once. There is an explicit rejection of the poverty of the stimulus. But pause here a second, because this is what information detection is about.

First, the production of photons exist regardless of my existence. They will bounce around on surfaces, be partly absorbed/reflected depending on surface makeup, and create structure (if we were to put an observer somewhere in this space). In this instance, it would be most appropriate to simply refer to this as the optic array, or structured light. It is not that this structure carries content, it simply is structured (and continuously re-restructured) in a manner specific, and guaranteed, by the surfaces around it and the medium(s) by which it came to any specific point.

Second, for a very long time, organisms have grown to be able to detect such structures. I cannot remember the organism, I think it’s a deep water fish, but a precursor to our eyes was sensitive only to ‘light’ or nothing. Since, eyes seemed to catch on as an important way (in an evolutionary sense) to keep developing, which in our case meant becoming more and more sensitive to the structure that light carries with it. There is no reason to believe that at once, in any given slice of time, that we can perceive all of the structures that light carries with it. ‘We see what we see’ and if we want to see more, we have to explore whatever we are trying to see by moving, to literally detect structure that may be occluded to us from one vantage point (like “illusions”), or, we simply have not looked at something for enough time that we have yet to learn to discriminate between smaller differences in structure in the optic array. I can, in the end, come to the same or a different conclusion about what I saw, depending on the history with which I came into the situation, but also depending on which parts of the array I was detecting, or trying to detect, at the time.

Third, we see and hear and detect pressure and other things at the location at which that information is available (but as you might expect, we do not necessarily detect it, but, we have the possibility to). The firing of cells in the eye that propagate to the brain, never held content, and was always in a ‘language neutral’, ‘symbol neutral’, non-content “signal”.

However. Vicente Raja Galian pointed out that so far, I have yet to assign any function to the brain, and it seems appropriate that we should since it is a curious structure and we have kept it evolutionarily. Keeping a biological structure does not entail function or even importance (in the strictest interpretation of the word), but it seems to me to be a very valid point. So far, I am having issues arguing against that the brain is for ‘where’ (on/in the body) and ‘in what order’. Something is detected at the foot as intense pressure, I look down and see a dog biting it, this (in a sense) creates a loop where whatever signals are propagated back from the retina together with the pressure of the foot are happening simultaneously. There is simultaneous increased firing from two directions into the brain. Solely by being simultaneous in a close (geographically) space, intertwines the two. Experience does not happen in the brain, it happens in the relationship between body and environment, but one thing happening before, after or simultaneously, may come to be through having a space within a body where the ‘where and when’ co-exists. Because a lot of neural propagation going on in the body, in one way or another, travels to one collected structure, the brain. No content is needed, all we need to “know” is where and when, which is simply (although plastic) a matter of bodily geography.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the brain is for drawn-ness and repulsion, but that currently requires more thought and explication before I feel comfortable laying it out publically.

A non-content brain. 1/2

In search for a non-content perspective of brain activity, I often feel I come up empty handed. Either non-content is not really directly spoken about (e.g. Anderson, 2014, and isn’t really intended to -it does however very importantly free us from other assumptions), or when a positive account is languaged like “but the brain does this or that” is more confusing to me than clarifying. So I’ve been criticized for not having my own positive account, or even a reasonable idea of what I expect or accept as a good answer. So here’s a minimal start.

With a non-content view of the brain, I mean that, any and all activity in the brain is not representational, symbolic, or in any way carries any content in the sense that if I show you a picture of a cat then your cat neurons are firing (simplified of course). To clarify this further, Anderson to me gets close, talking about the brain in a functional sense, non-reductionally. Instead, everything “magic” already happens in a) the continuously ongoing relationship in a given organism-environment system, but importantly, b) in the sensory system(s) (e.g. eyes, ears, legs, body at large, etc.).

All that really would happen after sense-making at the sensory system organs, would be probabilistic (and likely functional as Anderson suggests) networks of directed firing. I mean this in quite a specific way. For example, eyes connect to brain at specific sites, electrical signals propagate from eye to brain at specific sites and an initial direction, but after that, neuronal firing is (due to specific reasons) a matter of what current state immediately neighbouring neurons are in. So, if one neighbour is in post-firing and another not, the latter has a higher likelihood of firing. At a larger scale, what we will see in an image of the brain is a dendritic spreading that at the time is part stochastic (and re-used) because neurons in this sense are non-essential. Of course, if a network of neurons (with part stochastic spread) are firing together, like the oscillators they are, they are more likely to fire together again at a short time scale (they are also likely to fire together again at a longer time scale, but less so. Here is where a lot of the misinterpreting of brain images (by cognitivists usually) exist if you ask me, neurons and often networks of neurons are seen as essential or carrying content so we make a one-to-one mapping between an image of a cat and the specific neurons that are firing -but there are far too many confounds for this to be a confident finding.

Like anything dynamic systems tells us, future (or current) state depends on the history of the system, and because there is no real beginning to any one individual’s brain activation, I cannot bring myself to believe that the brain ‘starts a series of neuronal firings to achieve a body movement’. Body movement is in relation to environment, that’s where the decision is made to move a certain way, that’s where “cognition” is. Actually moving a body part, yes, that is connected to brain firing -but not (necessarily) in a causal manner. Direction, intentionality, agency, mind, is not in the brain, it is in the relationship between organism and environment, a course of body movements is already given by that relationship, at most and only in this sense, is the brain a “mediating” structure.

An aside. Blood flow through the brain is already always ongoing. Co-developing with all our other organs, will also play a (perhaps minor) part in where and how a probabilistic dendritic neuronal network of firing will move through the brain. Then, wherever that was, will need more blood flow (as is the basis of most imaging techniques), however (and again), because the route through the brain is part stochastic anyways, it makes no sense to talk about brain regions, networks, or neurons in any detached, representational, contenty, essential, manner. Re-use, on the other hand, and functional (roughly similar from time 1 to time 2) networks of firing, over time, is what the brain is up to. Because of this, with current imaging techniques, they can get us worse or better probabilities of ‘what’s going on’, and interventions can hit or miss depending on individual and time of intervention. But if you are interested in human behavior, it is probably not the most productive scale or scope at which to analyse it (although there’ll be some absolutely beautiful oscillator dynamics going on at a neuronal level).

The first response ever to anything non-representational, ‘yeah, well, how do you explain closing your eyes and thinking to yourself “I am going to move my hand now” and then move your hand?’ Well, firstly, the question already assumes the brain did it, so it is always an unfair question. But. Nevertheless it needs to be answered. As always, closing your eyes and remaining still isn’t some kind of magical state where you are closed off to the world, you are still continuously co-constituted with it. In fact, I can predict that sentence above to be said because of the type of conversation we are having -the history of the system already determines and constrains direction and force into and with the future. But most importantly, the experience of the “decision” in the ‘word-sentence’ that you are thinking doesn’t ‘come from’/isn’t instantiated in the brain, it is already a decided course due to the relationship between you and the environment that you are in -alike other body movement through the world. I could respond and say “do you know how many people choose their arm/hand to move when we get to this point in the conversation? 100% so far”, that is how constraining our history is (and the direction it already gives us) even on a short timescale. You could respond “ok well now I can think of anything and maybe I won’t even move, just think that I will but don’t”, and we can go around forever in this type of dialogue, entrenching us further into that dissonant attractor state. The last point is, that question doesn’t really tell us what is going on, at worst it is a defensive reaction, at best a curiosity that likely can be satisfied empirically or by appealing to the continuously ongoing activity of our senses and sense-making.

Theory of Mind really is dead.

No ‘content’ in EcoPsych and Direct Perception

TL/DR: While a valid concern, I don’t think EcoPsych relies on ‘environmental’ content.

I share the worry with Dr. Edward Baggs, that Enactivist criticism of Ecological Psychology’s Direct Perception hints at a possible dualism -even if I think it may mostly arise from reading EcoPsych unfavourably or indeed unfavourably expressing EcoPsych.

The idea is this. Representationalists assume content is in the brain (created and/or passed on from the senses as input). Perception is simply input for the brain-processor which sends output signals to the passive body, hence Indirect Perception, what our eyes see is ultimately not what we experience, we experience what the brain creates (subject to criticism of being idealist and/or dualist, but that’s a different blog post). EcoPsych instead says, hang on,  the world is its own best model, there is absolutely no need to conceptualize the perceptual system as mere, passive, input devices, and there is no need to conceptualize the brain as a processor -we need no processing (in the traditional sense anyways). Rather, perception is active and intelligent on its own, what you are currently experiencing is unmediated by any interpretational processes, what you experience is what your perceptual system detects. Perception requires movement, perception and action are in this sense inseparable (your legs, e.g., are also a part of seeing, cue embodied theories). However, importantly, perception is action, action is perception. It’s a continuous and simultaneous loop…

Enactivism asks however, if this means that EcoPsych simply places content on the outside, as opposed to representationalists on the inside. If so, we are not really losing the dualistic consequences that believing in content brings with it.

I think one problem may arrive from reading specificity (roughly: guaranteed perception) into Direct Perception. The straightforward answer here is that this is a bit too literal a take on Direct Perception, although it comes from considerations such that if what we see is the world then why does the world look different to different people -we have access to the same information. A simple answer from EcoPsych would be that firstly we all have different capabilities that we bring to any situation, we inhabit different bodies, we can have different goals, and they all bring effects on what we attend to and why.

Another issue is that some EcoPsych’s talk about properties and effectivities, as if you can divide up organism from environment, landing us in traditional dualisms again. I do not subscribe to this way of talking specifically about the organism or the environment because I think it too easily invites dualist interpretations -but those who do still would say the affordance is primary, that we then can talk about its corresponding parts doesn’t mean that they see them as non-constitutive. Which sounds fine to me, but, I also understand how people can misread this.

As for answering the central question of -do EcoPsychs conceptualize content to be on the outside, I think a resounding ‘no’ is in order. Organisms detect structure in ambient arrays (e.g. the optic array) and they perceive/act on affordances (which necessarily is a relational aspect of the current, and continuously evolving, organism-environment system). The information itself (the structure in an ambient array) is not content, in the case of vision it is (from a specific point of observation) all of the converging photons from all angles (as a whole, continuously flowing) on that point that has bounced off of surfaces where light has been partly absorbed, reflected, etc (which is part of how light becomes structured) that then reaches the eyes. The eyes themselves have evolved to detect differences in structure to the point that was necessary for survival, and we bring an entire cultural/societal/historical as well as developmental baggage with us as we have started naming structures that we are taught from young age to reproduce. But there is no content, there is no standing-in-for the things in the environment = a wooden table is made up of wooden particles which are made up of atoms, when light strikes the top of a dark wood, photons are to a larger degree than a light wood absorbed by the material, but then of course, this becomes circular because we have already defined “dark” and “light” through the property of absorption. (It should be added here that “illusions” where dark and light can look the same, or where a blue dress can look yellow, is only a valid counter-argument if you rely on traditional optics where you discount contextual factors like general lighting conditions etcetera.)

Brain in a vat, thoughts from embodiment.

The philosophical example goes;

If you put a brain in a vat and connect all the inputs necessary, would the brain be fooled that it actually wasn’t a brain in a vat, but a normal brain in a normal world?

All kinds of fun philosophical issues follow. Embodiment however, could firstly argue that since it is only a brain, it could not function at all because brain is body -there is no separating. The argument would then be that all the inputs is a misleading assumption behind the question. We would obviously not have all the inputs (bar for a moment that input/output type stuff is difficult to maintain under this perspective). However, for argument’s sake, let’s accept both the word input (and all its assumptions) as well as that a brain is connected in such a way that it may as well have been a part of a body and in a world. This does however take the fun out of the question since we are basically saying that it already is fooled to be a normal brain in a normal world. The curiosity however is that, from an embodied perspective, you are more or less forced to clarify the example to the extent where it isn’t an exciting question.


It is only really exciting to begin with because growing up we are taught that the brain is separate from the body, we may even be taught the the mind is separate from the brain -so the example feeds off of common sensical, traditional, dualism -brain is something different from body, and/or -mind is different from brain. Embodiment doesn’t allow this separation, which forces a restatement of the question -in a way that answers it implicitly. Neat, right!?

Has “Has Milgram been misunderstood?” misunderstood Milgram?

Short article here. So this will be short too.

“This new analysis suggests that we may have misunderstood the ethical as well as the theoretical issues raised by Milgram’s studies. We need to ask whether it is right to protect participants’ own wellbeing by leading them to think that harming the wellbeing of others can be justified as long as it is in a good cause.”

There seems to be something missing here. What was unethical wasn’t ‘causing someone harm’, because it is not what actually happened in the experiment. It was debriefed that they hadn’t harmed someone. So Milgram didn’t excuse the behaviour in the experiment by justifying it being for a good cause, however, he justified the deception by saying it was for the greater good. And it worked (according to his book and to the authors of the article). The ethical discrepancy rather is; is it ethically sound to temporarily cause participants distress? Even if debriefing removes this distress? Is it ok if the means justify the ends…

My own contention about Milgram’s study is that, while it seems his means were worth the end, the thing is that prior to running the experiment we could not know if it was going to gain us anything. Even opinion stated that nothing exciting would come from it (by researchers’ and students’ best estimates), finding out that that wasn’t case, could be argued to justify the means. But only in retrospect. A “luxury” we most definitely don’t have today.

I have however not read the paper that the article is based off of. So perhaps I am misunderstanding the misunderstood Milgram misinterpretation.

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.

Statistics > Philosophy … I disagree, sir, I disagree.

Mathematics preferred over creativity and critical thinking, I’m sad to announce.

Last year I tutored students in Philosophy of Science in Psychology, I did it because I wanted to, because I love teaching, because I had taken the class the previous semester and saw peers struggle, because I wanted to learn from my own tutor and gain experience for my (hopefully) future job. All students in the class passed and I received excellent feedback from students.
I attempted to get paid for my services this year since I can’t take student loans any more and need to get a “real job”… so sent e-mails to the right people and received a response; “while we appreciate the effort you have put into the course, we are focusing on the statistics-part of the three courses A, B and C and there is unfortunately no room in the economy for tutors in Philosophy of Science in Psychology”.
I think philosophy is at least as important as statistics. Philosophy taught me (amongst a massive number of things) how to look at a study and then neatly pick out what the actual arguments and conclusions are based on which data and analyses are presented (and not presented). Statistics taught me to mass-produce those arguments and conclusions, and reading (even published) articles it is not clear that everyone understands what they are producing..
It’s like .. I’m having a hard time thinking of a metaphor.. Sigh.. It’s like anything else you do.. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you can.. Oh nevermind. No example. My point is, it would have been reassuring to see other parts than statistics be prioritised and valued by higher-ups, could have given a broader base to stand on and larger understanding of the tools (including statistics) we use in psychological research.

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?

Disappointment as a consequence of EP. Good riddance, I say.

I believe many will be disappointed to find out that there is no entity called consciousness. There is no entity called self. There is, in fact, nothing of any of this kind. All there is is a half-assed semi-reproduction of sensory input. Reproduction here almost misleads one however, it is not production, it just is perception. Conscious cognitive acts, just are perceptions. There is nothing over and above perception to be had. Creativity is just the rearrangement of perceptions. Imagination is just the semi-production of perceptions.

Our brain doesn’t store anything in that sense, it is solely repeated exposure to specific parts of the ambient energy array, allowing perception to continue past the now and lend itself to re-perception without the need for the concurrent exposure in the environment. It solely speaks to the persistence of environment, objects and agents. We are truly active explorers, and what we explore the most, we become able to more so specifically explore. It is about perceiving what is there to be perceived, what was there to be perceived before but because of repeated exposure we are more and more able to discriminate between smaller and smaller changes in that ambient energy array. Indeed it is what experience is. Perception and movement is all there is. “All”. It gets us very far.

Perceived sense of control, is just that. Perceived. Ecological Psychology or rECS leads to discussions on free will, and rightly so. Many proponents of free will argue that we need it to be able to be held accountable for offenses. I argue we still can even without. It is enough that we perceive our actions to be of free will, it doesn’t have a bearing on the metaphysical account of free will. As long as humans experience the world as if we control our actions in it, we can still be held accountable.

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.