Some simple reflections on ‘necessariness’
Some simple reflections on ‘necessariness’
Two examples in handball and rugby enabling me to subjectively understand continuous reciprocal interaction with one’s environment, without a need to invoke representations.
Handball (large sport in northern, central and eastern European countries)
Playing handball as an outfielder, when I receive the ball in an attacking position, in my visual field are three or so opponents, number doesn’t really matter. What I perceive is a wall with gaps in it, I begin moving towards one of the gaps and as I do it minimizes as a consequence of two defenders moving closer together. I need to get to the gap that I perceive opening up to the side instead and take a quick step towards it sideways and perceive the gap to still be there so I take two steps forward, altering my bodily posture to further avoid the wall I had just stepped past. When thinking about this sequence, there is no real thought, I simply perceive the environment in front of me, attempt to navigate in it, react bodily to the environmental changes occurring. It signifies to me a dynamically reciprocal relationship between the environment and my body, where my brain fills the task of perceiving the changes in the environment and as a consequence alters my motor-movement in response to those changes. I know which movement-possibilities I am able to employ because through training very similar situations, very many times, I have narrowed down which affordances are available to me in other similar situations. If I perceive, in the second instant in the situation that the second gap also is closing in front of me, the only two alternative motor-movements are to either pass the ball on to a teammate or find myself pacified by a defender holding me down. (The second alternative here being non-desirable because it means the energy spent on the previous movements were in vain and I will have to start over from a still-standing position.)
In rugby, much the same type of situation can occur, holding the ball on any given spot on the field, running forward, you perceive the obstacles that you have to move around. Just that, everything in this situation is dynamic because the environment changes depending on your movement and your movement changes the way the environment changes (not unlike the Watt governor). By that, you have to continuously rearrange your movements according to real-time demands. In the subjective experience there is simply no time to even begin explaining complex action-perception movements like this in representationalist terms. Now, this obviously doesn’t mean we don’t have representations at all, or that you can’t express it in those terms, but the point is that I don’t need to invoke them in the subjective experience of the situation, nor do I need to use them in a verbal explanation of it. While they may exist, it is an extra assumption about the world and can we do without extra assumptions, I believe we are getting a better explanation of the world.
While subjective experience itself may be misleading, what I am trying to get across is what a dynamic situation may look like. The type of continuously reciprocal relationship between environment, body and brain, all acting on each other and changing in response to each other, all in real-time. Tim van Gelder in What Might Cognition Be, If Not Computation? provides an elaborate explanation however of systems that do not even seem to make sense to put in computational terms. It goes far deeper than the simple idea that I am trying to get across here and is worth a read.
A quick note on EC and the lack of discussion on emotion. Becoming fascinated by the Embodied Cognition approach championed by, amongst many others, Barrett (2011), Wilson & Golonka (2012) and Nöe (2009) I find the embodied approach to enable explanation of behaviour without the use of representations. As taught through philosophy, the less assumptions a theory makes about the world, still being able to explain the phenomenon, the better science we are producing. While there are personal and emotional resistances to the idea that cognition belongs more so in the dynamic reciprocal relationship with the environment, body and brain rather than solely in the brain, I have found one area of discussion lacking. That of emotion.
[Edit 22/02/2013] Semin och Smith’s ‘Embodied grounding…’ has a few chapters on affect. Still emotion seem hard to account for under env-body-brain…
I have long wondered if not our [subjective] experience of emotion may just be the consequence of brain activity [in a horribly general sense, as it obviously does not hold scientifically]. We happen to pay attention to some of it as it blends into the collected sensory experience [and their reciprocal relationship] we call consciousness. This [simplistic] view is not entirely coherent with representationlistic ideas and cognitive research seem to want to put the initiating processes of our inner workings down to cognition, not emotion (however, on occasion emotion is defined within the cognition concept). Where does an embodied cognitive approach consider emotion?
I have, as of yet, not touched upon literature discussing the topic on embodied cognitive terms. I can accept that cognition is not in the brain, or perhaps rather, not solely in the brain. I can accept that perception of our environment is enough to have us experience the world such as that we think it is inside us -because- all we really need in a brain is an elaborate change-detector for all sensory modalities, the ability to form connections between these systems (as if they are separate or “geographically” determined biologically from the start anyways -ferret example in Barrett comes to mind) and the ability to guide motor-movement of our bodies [in relation to what we perceive in our environment and vice versa] (cricket or spider example here) [also connecting this to modalities throughout the brain and body].
However, when it comes to emotion, accepting it as a stimuli-response mechanism, follow representationalist assumptions. Although, some literature would have it that arousal could be enough to place within the brain, then the act of determining what type of arousal (what am I feeling?) would be dependent on the situational, environmental and bodily factors. This is however slightly unsatisfactory since it still seems to rely on representation.
I will thus, for now, await further literature in the embodied cognition perspective that will deal with emotion. If not I get to it first (just have a master thesis in EC to take care of). Suggested literature more than welcome.