Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Introducing...The Southampton Project

I am embarking on a very exciting and potentially game-changingly huge collaboration this year, with Southampton Football Club and a bunch of ecologically minded researchers. The goal is to develop a club-based Learning Lab centred on ecological approaches to skill acquisition and coaching, and to embed this Lab in an ecologically minded club-wide ecosystem. I'm working already with a lot of really good people, and key people in the club are fully on board with this (which is why it's now something rather than nothing!) 

In this post, I want to talk about how it came about, what I've been up to over the past year to get it moving, where we are now and where I want to take this in the near future. In line with my general theory of how to get a new collaboration up and running my initial focus has been on getting all the members involved in doing something we can achieve now, with the resources we have at hand, so that we can be moving and doing the things required to target additional funding and resources. In Phases 2 & 3, I want to open things up a little to begin getting those additional resources in place; if you are interested in being involved, feel free to drop me a line.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Structured Flow on Neural Manifolds (Jirsa et al, 2019)

As I try to develop a vocabulary for an ecological neuroscience, I am looking for two things. First, I'm looking for help from existing methods to help identify real neural parts and processes; so far I've ruled the FEP out for that. Second, I'm looking for an existing dynamical framing to help express whatever ecological psychology figures out about the brain. The jury is still out on whether the FEP is that framing; another option is a development of Kelso's coordination dynamics that invokes structured flow on manifolds. (This paper by Jirsa, McIntosh & Huys was a contribution to the special issue on Ecological Neuroscience). 

As I review the paper, I am going to be trying to figure out if this mathematical framing is going to help. It's not going to be a guide to real neural parts, but it might be the right way to formally describe the real parts we identify by other means. 

Monday, 17 May 2021

Do Markov Blankets Give Us Real Neural Parts?

In my last post, I laid out what I think the rules are for developing a mechanistic model of the neural scale contribution to behaviour. I ended there with a question: what counts as a real neural part? How can we successfully decompose neural activity supporting a given perception-action loop into parts? 

In this post, I want to discuss one potential option: the hypothesis that Markov blankets, a key feature of the free-energy principle approach to neuroscience, can identify and pick out real neural parts. I'll discuss some recent ecological critiques of Markov blankets and some potential answers to the challenges.

Mechanistic Models of the Brain

I'm getting increasingly interested in neuroscience, and how to make it ecological. I also think that the ecological approach is capable of supporting mechanistic explanatory models of behaviour and is the correct scale* at which to ground these models. This means that my current plan is to find a way to add neuroscience as a lower scale part of a model grounded at the scale of the organism-environment system. 

There's a lot going on in that sentence, though, so I want to unpack it a bit to lay out the rules. and the things I currently don't know. 

(*NB I am using scale rather than level throughout because the concept of a level is complicated and currently, I am convinced that scale is a better term. The argument continues, however). 

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

The Constraints-Based Approach to Teaching in the Classroom

If you read this and think 'hey, this sounds like something they do in [insert teaching method here]', please let me know. I've had some chats about the Montessori method, and there's certainly overlap there. But I'm on the hunt for a literature I can connect to, and any help would be appreciated.

I've been thinking a lot about education lately. I'm home-schooling the kids, I've been chatting a lot with coaches about ecological approaches to their teaching (most publicly here and here), and I'm reading Tim Ingold's Anthropology And/As Education. I'm also wondering why the demonstrated success of the ecological dynamics approach in sports pedagogy has had zero consequences for education more broadly. 

I think a couple of things. I think the reason why ecological dynamics hasn't spilled over is that we live in a dualist world where knowledge and physical skills are two distinct domains (think about how physical education is treated in schools). I also think that because the ecological approach doesn't endorse that dualism, there is simply no reason for classroom education to work completely differently from physical education. And finally, I think this might be really, really important.

I used to teach a module called Foundation Research Methods, and after a while I finally realised that I was teaching it in a constraints-based, ecological dynamics style. (This explains why a lot of my colleagues were genuinely confused by what I was doing at times, I think!). The module developed over the years, and the last year I taught it we solved our attendance problem and the students crushed the exam

I want to walk through what I did, and reflect on how it embodied an ecological approach. This is not me saying this is how all classes should be taught. This is just me laying out what a constraints-based approach looked like in the class, what I thought worked, and what I would like to have done next.  

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

An (Draft) Ecological Approach to Hallucinating

Sabrina and I are planning our next papers, and in typical style she's been thinking about how to tackle a hard problem - this time, hallucinations. These are one of those go-to topics for representational people, because hallucinations by definition are not based in the detection of perceptual information. They are a kind of perceptual experience, however, and so seem to be a good candidate for identifying how perceptual experience is constructed internally. 

We've never let a little thing like a topic being hard stop us before, so it looks like this is next on our list. The goal is to lay out an ecological analysis and see where we end up. We are going to build on the work we did in the Ecological Representations paper, in which we considered how to understand (at least some) neural activity as the selection of consequent neural actions (pg 243 and on). This is the first of a few papers we have in mind where we apply our ecological analyses as worked examples to interesting topics (verbal instruction in coaching is on my mind too, as are cells making blood vessels). 

In this post, I'm going to do my usual thinking-out-loud about my notes from our first chat; all conclusions are works in progress! At this point, I am just assembling the resources our ecological approach provides us, and lining them up in their proper places so we can use them rigorously.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Verb Your Nouns

One of the things that makes it hard to communicate with people about the ecological approach is that it is actually a radically different way of thinking about cognition. That means we are often literally not talking about the same things (this is why Hobbes is so concerned).

One of the ways this shows itself over and over is nouns vs verbs. Information-processing cognitive science studies nouns; memory, attention, perception. Describing things with nouns drives your science in very particular directions. For example, as soon as you talk about memory as a thing, you naturally ask questions such as 'where is it?' and 'how do you access it?'. 

In contrast, the ecological approach studies verbs; remembering, attending, perceiving. Verbs also guide your science in particular directions, but instead of talking about things that must be somewhere, we talk about processes that happen at times, in places.

Ecological types are often challenged to explain nouns cognitive psychologists are interested in. Memory is the big one; language is the other. I've realised, we can't, but only because we don't study nouns. So whenever I encounter this challenge now, my very first move is to verb all the nouns. While this doesn't provide an answer, it immediately makes me ask ecological style questions about the topic at hand, and now it can help you too.