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.

Monday, 9 November 2020

Turvey, Lectures on Perception: The Story So Far

I have now reviewed the first 7 Lectures on Perception from Turvey' textbook (posts indexed here). I feel like I've reached a natural pause point before carrying on with the rest of the lectures, and I wanted to summarise what I thought has been going on so far.

These are lectures on perception, quite generally. While Turvey will explain the ecological approach, that's not what is currently going on. Right now Turvey is laying out the scope of the question 'what kind of material system could be a perceiving system?' and reviewing the typical, non-ecological answers to that question.

The main takeaway at this point is that we have been trying to answer that question using 17th century notions of material systems, specifically Newtonian mechanics. This has placed what turn out to be unacceptable restrictions on the kinds of properties we are allowed to invoke, and theories of perception have had to fill the gaps with unpayable 'loans of intelligence'. 21st century physics, however, has more on offer; complexity science and quantum mechanics teach us many valuable lessons on how to expand our horizons so that perception becomes possible, rather than miraculous. 

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Verbal Instruction in Sports Coaching

A few days ago I posted a Twitter thread about the role of verbal instruction in sports coaching. It's a thing that comes up a lot as a key point of contention between ecological and non-ecological types, so I wanted to think it through. This post collects what I said in the thread, and adds a few things that have occurred to me since. 

Coaches want to be able to give their athletes instructions. Usually, this is about technique; ‘place your feet here’, ‘angle your club like this’, etc. This fits with the idea of coaching as imparting knowledge. Ecological coaching approaches tend to veer away from verbal instruction like this, and focuses on creating constrained environments players find their own way through. This becomes a key point of contention. From the traditional point of view, it makes no sense to not verbalise instructions. 

So what’s the ecological motivation for avoiding this?

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Lecture 7: Empiricism and the Man in the Inner Room (Turvey, 2019, Lectures on Perception)

The last two Lectures have laid out the mechanical, Cartesian analysis of the problems of perception. Every flavour of this analysis, right up to an including modern representational accounts, rests on 'loans of intelligence', in which important work that's required to make the system work is simply given to the system. For example, Descartes proposes a set of cognitive axioms to ground the inferential processes required to implement knowledge, and makes these innate (specifically, given by God). This won't do - if we want to develop a naturalised theory of perception, we need an account of where every part of the system comes from. 

The Cartesian programme is a form of rationalism, roughly the claim that knowledge is based in reason rather than experience. This chapter reviews the opposing camp of empiricism, roughly the claim that knowledge is based in experience rather than reason. Turvey reviews the approaches of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, with respect to how they assert a mind can come to know about the world via experience. They end up running into very similar problems as Descartes et al, because of their continued commitment to the mechanistic hypothesis. We are going to have to reject both of these as we progress.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Lecture 6: The Cartesian Program (Turvey, 2019, Lectures on Perception)

Turvey is arguing that modern psychology is still operating within a mechanistic framework, which assumes things like linear chains of causation and predicative properties. In the last lecture, he laid out the kinds of properties this framework allows, and connects his critique of them to the more interesting notions of causation and impredicativity he introduced in Lecture 4

In this Lecture, he spells out the way psychology implements the mechanistic framework and identifies that it is, specifically, a Cartesian implementation. Here, we will learn the form of the program, and note how it shows up in the familiar terms of cognitive psychology. 

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Lecture 5: The Mechanistic Hypothesis (Turvey, 2019, Lectures on Perception)

In the previous lecture, Turvey spent a lot of time defending the idea that nonlocal causality is a legitimate option for a physical system. He did this by looking at quantum mechanics and the extraordinarily robust evidence it has provided for nonlocality. The reason he did this is because perception as a two-term relation (direct perception) seems to require at least some nonlocal causality in order to work without additional terms (epistemic mediators). 

This chapter is a discussion of properties and how to organise them - ontology. Part of Turvey's work is to lay bare the fact a lot of our science is still working within the 17th century, mechanistic framework - all psychologists have encountered the idea that there are primary and secondary properties of things, and that we are in the business of understanding how the secondary ones work. But, as Turvey is describing, science has moved on, and the possible types of legitimately physical (primary) properties has expanded far beyond what Galileo, etc thought possible. For example, in quantum mechanics, particles don't have properties such as 'position' or 'velocity' until they are placed into a relation with either a position or a velocity measuring device. The property 'position' is impredicative, both defined and actualised by the presence of the relation to a position measurer. Historically, properties that are both defined and actualised by the property holder is in the relation have been considered to be secondary properties; subjective, not objective properties. But quantum mechanics considers particle position to be perfectly real, and it has the extraordinary level of empirical success required to back that claim up. 

This chapter walks the reader through the development of the mechanistic framework that still drives how we classify properties, thus affecting how we study them. It ends by identifying that this taxonomy begins to creak as we use it at the scale of behaviour, and points to the success of quantum physics to suggest a more expansive and interesting taxonomy of real properties is both required and an option. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Lecture 4: Simulative, Projective, and Locality Assumptions (Turvey, 2019, Lectures on Perception)

This lecture is a brief history of the common assumptions made in theories of perception about how things 'over there' can cause us to have a given perceptual experience. The simulative and projective elements can be quickly dealt with; the big claim in this lecture is that the right notion of causation for perception is non-local, as it is in quantum mechanics. (Note: Turvey is not saying perception is a quantum process. He's just going to use it as a framing to explain what non-local causation is, and he will rely on the rigorous empirical testing it has passed in physics to say it is a viable notion of causation for a physical system.)