Tuesday 19 April 2011

Chemero (2009) - A Brief Pause to See Where I'm At

There are still a couple of chapters left for me to go over in Chemero, but the last two were the crux of the book for me, and I want to try and summarise where my analysis has left me before I go on holiday for Easter.

First, I'd like to separate out a couple of themes. First, there's the overall 'radical embodied cognitive science' programme, and second is the specific form of the 'shored up ecological psychology' that Chemero advocates as a basis for this programme. I am entirely on board with the basic idea of RECS; specifically, I think that cognition, whatever that is, is non-representational and that we can make great progress by making our science non-representational. I think Chemero has written a clear exposition of what such a radical science might look like, and why we might want to bother, and I think this makes RECS a must read for the field. 

Second, I think that Chemero is right to go to ecological psychology for a theoretical basis. The more I look, the more I have come to believe that James Gibson is about the only psychologist to have actually proposed a genuine scientific theory in psychology. A true theory provides you with tools to empirically attack novel problems in your domain, and provides you with a clear basis to interpret the results of your tests and to begin to tell a coherent story. Psychology has been chasing phenomena for most of it's scientific life, with no clear framework emerging to tell us a story about why things are the way they are. Ecological psychology is a genuine theory, and it's about a critical feature of our psychological lives: how we maintain contact with our world and move through it successfully. Regardless of what topic you're specifically interested in, you need to understand how we come to have knowledge about our environments.

Finally, though, I have problems with the proposals Chemero makes about the two pillars of an ecological psychology, affordances and information. It's these problems I want to try and sum up here, to focus the conversation a little.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Chemero (2009) Chapter 7: Affordances, etc (Pt 2)

Last time I went over affordances-as-dispositions, and Chemero's first swing at affordances-as-relations. Affordances can't be dispositions, claims Chemero, because
  1. Dispositions manifest when the conditions are met; this is compulsory. But I am not currently trying to effect all the affordances in my vicinity, so they can't be dispositions. Relations are functions, and thus support malfunctions.
  2. Dispositions require complements - for perception-action, the complement of an affordance is an effectivity. But what exactly is this? Body scale (e.g. leg length)? Actually, it's more likely in terms of ability (per some unpublished experiments Chemero has run); people's judgements of stair climbability are a relation between the riser height and the person's ability to step that high.
  3. If affordances are properties that are directly perceived, then when two people perceive the same affordance their minds will overlap: the problem of two minds. Relations solve this problem by making the overall relation which the directly perceived affordance is part of unique to each observer.
This would be all well and good, except that 
  1. Affordances and effectivities are complex dispositions, and the conditions for being realised can be a long list. In addition, I can only be one kind of effecting device at a time, so when seated I am literally not capable of complementing the climbing affordances of my stairs at that moment in time.
  2. Noting that 'body scale' is an imperfect proxy for an effectivity, and then claiming that this means nothing is an effectivity makes no sense. In addition, 'abilities' are equally approximate. The issue (being careful what you claim is the actual complement of the affordance) is valid but applies equally to dispositions or relations.
  3. The solution to the problem of two minds that Heft outlined and Chemero thinks supports his case lies in making the act of perception relational, not the thing perceived. The affordance does not, itself, need to be a relation.
So far, nothing has convinced me that affordances need to be relational. But to round the story out, I want to finish the chapter and address the final tweak Chemero adds: Affordances 2.0.