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…

What in the world is the brain necessarily up to?

Some simple reflections on ‘necessariness’

How we consciously experience the world is not necessarily a reflection of what the brain is doing. While it is fully possible to assume that the brain does a bunch of things, I find it a better way of going about things to notassume that the brain does more than necessary. Is it possible that we internalize the world and represent it in our mind? Yes. Is it necessarily so? No. What then are the most basic abilities our brain necessarily has in order for us to function successfully in the world? In my perspective, it is necessary for our brain to perceive change in a meaningful way across all sensory modalities, inform each other and produce motor-movement.

·         Change here is defined as whatever is discernible to our senses from something else.

·         Meaningful here is defined as; Experiments where we do not see change, it is often in situations where change would not matter for our safety or well-being. Changing words in a text when someone isn’t looking and other change-blindness experiments, is non-threatening and not a part of the current goal of the situation, thus, non-meaningful. Even in repeating a pattern of coloured blocks, and changing the colour of completed blocks, is non-meaningful in the sense that, in a first person perspective a part turns non-meaningful when it has been completed (but obviously not in an objective sense, where the overarching goal is to create the same pattern of colour for all parts of the picture).

Change is something that could be universal within the brain and wherever our sensory organs connect with the brain, enables cells to activate on change, as well as connect to all other modalities. Detecting change is necessary, because without it we could not navigate through the environment. This all necessarily needs to be connected to motor-movement of our bodies, because without it we couldn’t respond to these changes. Why then aren’t representations necessary? Because of the simple fact that we do not need to internalize the world in order to successfully navigate in it. The Portia spider and Webb’s crickets in Louise Barrett’s Beyond the Brain exemplifies this. Does all of this mean that we don’t internalize the world and create “representations”? No. However, in order for us to conduct science, we need to criticize and reflect upon the assumptions we make about ourselves –even the ones that seem to make sense in regard to conscious experience as well as the concepts standing for invisible inner processing.
I believe it too indulgent to see the brain as an infinitely complex organ, I just do not believe it to be the pinnacle of evolution. We just make far too many mistakes. I also believe that internalizing every single object that exist through our contact with them makes little sense too. The amount of cognitive load that this requires, in terms of representations, computation, memory and other concepts created by traditional cognitive literature, seems to me to be all too overwhelming. While it is true our brain allows us to act in ways afforded to few other animals, we are still animals and we are not too different from other animals either. In my mind then, it is simply more probable that our brain evolved to sufficiently solve navigating our environment in a cost-effective way, rather than overkill with extreme specialisation. Evolution should have selected for the simplest possible way to achieve, shouldn’t it?

Subjective experience of embodied cognition

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.