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.

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 traditional misperception of the brain as infinitely complex perpetuates unfounded credit towards it when rationalising behaviours. Participants compare their strategy in retrospect to that of mathematical capability of a computer. That is, the participant is not capable of mathematically computing rapidly enough an interception point, thus explaining their failure to live up to a clear predictive strategy. “If only we could realise the full potential of our brain.” Nonsense. The fallacy of the brain as the pinnacle of biological evolution, is used as a norm and blamed in an explanation of failure. It is thus perpetuated in every aspect of rationalising, but not for the observable behaviour. If you have a doctrine that constantly explains failure on the same terms, both a priori and a posteriori, there is good reason to examine it even closer. Observable behaviour is supposed to be the basis of assumption, indication and generalisation. I propose that traditional psychology does not. I propose it solely deals with antecedent assumptions and consequential rationalisation. Behaviour is only a means to the end of perpetuating the doubtful conclusions already postulated in the assumptions. There is a strong need for reinvention, to say the least.

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.

Ontological meanderings for the definition of affordance. (3/5)

Ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist.

Proposed rule: An ontological definition of affordances cannot include, in full or in part, a relationship between two entities, if we wish to adhere to a realist account of said concept.

Reason: Relationships imply mono-dependence or co-dependence.

Reasoning: An ontological definition of a concept including a relationship, implicates ‘mono- or co-dependence’ with ‘what exists’.

Premise A1: If either entity is dependent on the other, and
Premise A2: dependence is required for existence,
Conclusion A: then, there will be situations where either will not exist.

Premise B1: If both entities are dependent on each other, and
Premise B2: dependence is required for existence,
Conclusion B: then there will be situations where neither will exist.

Consequence: If affordances are in full or in part defined ontologically as a relationship, then affordances will align itself with idealism, since we will have situations where one or both entities do not exist.

Reading list for Embodied Cognition

[Edit 19/7 2013: I am getting quite a lot of traffic to this post, so I thought I’d point you to my thesis reference list instead as this post is a bit messy and incomplete.]

I am collecting my readings on Mendeley, in a group called Embodied Cognition (should be the only one so far..). I figured I needed somewhere to collect all readings I go through, however, since I have yet to find a way to add books to the group, and thought I may as well put them here in case anyone else has any utility for it. Will update the post as I’ve read articles/books etc. Also, please feel free to comment with additional readings that you’ve found valuable in understanding EC.

(in the order I read them)

Added on 14/3 2013
Larry Shapiro – The embodied cognition research program (article)
Louise Barrett – Beyond the brain (book)
Alva Noë – Out of our heads (book)
Wilson & Golonka’s blog (all entries) psychsciencenotes.blogspot.com
Wilson & Golonka – Embodied cognition is not what you think it is (article)
Tim van Gelder – What might cognition be if not computation (article)
Montagne, Laurent, Durey & Bootsma – Movement reversals in ball catching (article)
Pfeifer & Bongard – How the body shapes the way we think (book)
Gerd Gigerenzer – Rationality for mortals (book)

Added on 16/3 2013
Haller & Krauss – Misinterpretations of significance (article)
Ziliak & McCloskey – The cult of statistical significance (article)

Added on 19/3 2013
Anthony Chemero – Radical embodied cognitive science (book)

Added on 8/4 2013
Semin & Smith – Embodied grounding (book)
Gibson – The ecological approach to visual perception (book)

In progress;
Pan, Bingham & Bingham – Embodied memory: Effective and stable perception… (article)
Holmes & Heath – Goal-directed grasping: The dimensional properties of an object… (article)
Mann, Dicks, Cañal-Bruland & van der Kamp – Neurophysiological studies may provide… (article)
Gray, Sims, Fu & Schoelles – The soft constraints hypothesis: A rational analysis approach… (article)
Hayhoe & Ballard – Eye movements in natural behavior (article)
Hayhoe – Vision using routines: A functional account of vision (article)

Russel and Norvig 1995   (article)
Pfeifer and Scheier 1991   (article)
Pfeifer and Scheier 1999   (article)
O’Regan and Noë 2001   (article)
McFarland and Bisser 1993   (article)
Monteliore and Noble 1989   (article)
Thompson 1996   (article)
Bird and Layzell 2002   (article)
Schelling 1969   (article)
Epstein and Axtell 1996 (article)
Bo{r/v}et & Pfeifer 2005   (article)
Bartlett 1932   (article)
Ashby 1956   (article)
Freeman 1991   (article)
Clancy 1997   (article)
Neath and Suprenant 2003 (article)
Dewey, ?. (1896). ?   (article)
Titchener, ?. (1895). ?   (article)
Kahneman and Tversky, 1996   (article)
Gilovich, Griffin and Kahneman, 2002,   (article)
Tversky and Kahneman, 1986   (article)
Wason and Johnson-Laird 1972   (article)
Thriver 2002   (article)
Cosmides 1989   (article)
Wundt 1912, 1973   (article)
Shaffer and McBeath, 2002   (article)
Fillenbaum, 1977   (article)
Sweetser 1990   (article)
Sher and McKenzie, 2006   (article)
Shaffer et.al., 2004   (article)
Fodor and Pylyshyn   (article)
Chomsky   (article)
Kuhn 1962   (article)
Feyerabend 1963, 1965   (article)
Titchener, 1895   (article)
Titchener and Lange   (article)
Dewey, 1896   (article)
Fodor, 1981   (article)
Gibson, 1979   (article)
Barwise and Perry, 1981, 1983   (article)
Brooks (1991, 1999)   (article)
Clark (2001)   (article)
Thelen and Smith, 1994   (article)
Thelen 1995   (article)
Kirsh and Maglio 1994   (article)
Clark 1997   (article)
Adams and Aizawa (2008)   (article)
Beer 2003   (article)
van Rooii, Bongers & Haselages (2002)   (article)
Markman and Dietrich 2000a   (article)
Markman and Dietrich 2000b   (article)
Dietrich and Markman 2003   (article)
Grush, 1997,   (article)
Grush, 2004,   (article)
Turvey et.al., 1981   (article)
Michaels and Carello, 1981,   (article)
Heft 1989   (article)
Heft 2001   (article)
Turvey 1992   (article)
Michaels 2000   (article)
Read 1996   (article)
Dennett 1998   (article)
Cosmelli, Lachaux and Thompson 2007   (article)
Thompson and Varela 2001   (article)
Bickle, 2003,   (article)
Churchland, Neurophilosophy, (book)
Thelen and Smith 1994 (article)
Pfeifer and Scheier 1999 (article)
Edelman 1987  (article)
Searle 1980  (article)
Schwanen and Plugel 1991  (article)
Barsalou 1999  (article)
Glenberg 1997 (article)
van Orden, Holden and Turvey 2005 (article)
Montessori 1967 (article)

Only read articles available on Mendeley. Books available on loan, from me, if you fancy a visit to Lund, Sweden, otherwise they’re available in bookstores online.

Matthew Lieberman’s response and solution

There was a solution posted in a recently started blog by Matthew Lieberman that focuses on direct/conceptual replications. His solution is indeed a very interesting one; add to the curriculum of graduate students in their first or second year that they replicate findings of studies previously nominated to be so. While comments on it are pessimistic (with justified reasoning), I do hope it resonates within the scholarly psychology community.

A personal take on Lieberman’s response is that I probably would not have minded to see this added to my own curriculum. I may not be all too pleased but considering how much one would learn by replicating something that has worked before, I may not be too peeved about it. Also, getting a name on a publication would be a pretty sweet bonus. Of my severely limited insight into other universities ‘caring and nurturing’ of aspiring scientists, some are better (and some worse) in picking up their students and involving them in the ongoing research. Maybe Lieberman’s idea would go a decent amount of the way to attenuate this issue as well.

Ed Yong’s response and a few comments

Ed Yong’s initial coverage* of Doyen’s** and Bargh’s*** study was, in my opinion, quite brutal. I have been taught through my undergraduate to criticise constructively and I do not think the initial post has the depth to do so. For example, a close look at Doyen’s study indicates that one of the few last alternatives at explaining participant’s slower walking speed was experimenter expectation (and a very well conducted piece of research to demonstrate it). The difference in the walk-fast/expect-fast condition was explained by the difference between manual and automatic measuring, not so in the walk-slow/expect-slow condition. I wrote this in my previous blog entry too, but with a different emphasis. This finding means that an environmental stimuli (experimenter expectation manifested in subtle behaviour) was internalised by the participants and subsequently affected observable behaviour (walking slower). This entails that the Doyen study, in fact, supports the original proposition of the Perception-Behaviour Link. This mitigates my criticism of Bargh’s work, since, the theory from which he based his 1996 experiment was conceptually replicated in the Doyen study. The PBL is not mentioned in Ed Yong’s initial coverage.

In Ed Yong’s reply**** to Bargh, he mentions Doyen to “[have] timed volunteers with infrared censors rather than a stopwatch” But they timed both with sensors and manually. This was one of the central reasons that they came to the conclusion that experimenter expectation was the only alternative left to explain their result.

It does strike me from having reviewed large parts of the literature surrounding priming that the published articles are all conceptual replications. The studies following Bargh et al. (1996) have differences in methodology to that study. The issue that has been raised in comments to Bargh’s reply to Ed Yong is that “purer” replications that have not given the same results are subject to the file-drawer phenomenon. I.e. publishers have not accepted them and so they’ve been put in the file-drawer. The issue with this statement is obviously that it is very hard to know (for an outsider like myself) if publishers have denied these studies because they show null-results (not very exciting and from comments it seems there are other rather valid reasons for them not to publish these) or if they contain errors of various types (making them unpublishable).

In either case, I believe I argue in my literature review, strongly, for the theory underlying priming (the Perception-Behaviour Link) but at the same time believe that researchers are getting ahead of themselves and testing advanced hypotheses, when really what this theory needs is the grunt-work of establishing even its simplest tenets. Be that an actual replication of the methodology in Bargh et al. (1996), even though I believe there exist other research more suitable to exemplify the Perception-Behaviour Link.

I should have chosen another topic to do my 30-page literature review on.