5 thoughts on “Tony Chemero Live!

  1. Thanks so much for this discussion! I had a few thoughts that I was going to write in and those got a bit longer. Hopefully somebody finds them interesting and maybe even helpful.

    I think one way that’s helpful for thinking about affordances is the notion of skill (ahh, it finally came up towards the very end, but I think it’s helpful earlier as well). I’m by no means familiar with much of the literature, but when I think of an affordance I think of an occasion for engaging with the world in some way. The interesting thing about this is that what we perceive as an affordance is dependent upon our skill. For example, I’m decent at snow skiing but I didn’t use to be. So, put me at the beginning of a black diamond run when I was a beginner and I literally don’t “see” how I’m going to go down. Interestingly (and it fits with some stuff said later), I can “recognize” how I’d go down, but that’s a different type of perception (a perception of my knowledge of what skiing itself is, in principle; i.e. I know that people start here and go down). But, once I’m skilled enough, I’m actually able to “see” how I’m going to go down (I’ll see the path I pick out…obviously, this can be revised in real time once I go to respond to new stimuli, etc.).

    So, how I might respond to the worry about illusionary affordances (e.g. hollow mirror example) is simply that it’s a new environment for me so I’m not skilled at navigating it. It appears to me a certain way (visually) and my bodily movement acts/engages accordingly but it turns out it fails. Presumably, though, if I spent enough time in such circumstances (or imagine a person brought up in a carnival fun house with all the mirrors) I’d be able to acquire the skill to navigate it accordingly (in virtue of acquiring a skill to perceive it properly.). An interesting question, though, would be whether somebody who was skilled at navigating these illusions would actually perceive it as an illusion. My hunch is that they could “recognize” it as an illusion as such but that they would be able tell us some other things about the environment that they’ve picked out that cues them in to the fact that it’s an illusion and so let’s them know they need to adjust their engagement with the environment (granted, there’s a sort of skill of this type of introspection, so it’s more of an “in principle” I think one could do this). A simpler example of something like this (I think) is how we lean and tilt our head when we are on something that is listing. If we are walking along it long enough we might “forget” that it’s listing but if somebody asked us why we were tilting our head we’ve been “jolted” out of our immediate experience and we could say “oh because the floor is tilted so I’m compensating, etc.).

    Now, around 52 you (Richard) ask how we might have a perception that we’re not aware of (per the earlier mentioned case of putting envelopes in angled slots). One way we might think about this (although likely not something everyone is going to jump on board with) is with Aristotle’s notion of a hierarchy of being. So this “higher order” consciousness stuff that we do could be unique to us as humans (higher on the hierarchy of being), but the visual perception that we do is not unique to us (at least analogously) in the animal world (lower on the hierarchy of being). So, if we think there’s this sort of continuum (and you could also think about it in evolutionary terms via inheritance, phylogenetics, etc.) then presumably we’d look for the underlying cognitive mechanisms that enable us to perceive visually and those that enable us to perceive “higher-order-consciously” and it seems reasonable that one might be compromised and not the other. If so, then we could rightly say that we perceive (visually) but that we don’t perceive higher-order-consciously. The question is whether we want to reserve the word perception for the higher order consciousnesses type of perception. There’s a similar question that is being asked about intentionality (I think they likely boil down to the same question). Is intentionality something that permeates the world (i.e. happens at all levels of being) and the higher order way we humans do it is just one instance, or is intentionality something that only we humans do and then we just anthropomorphize the stuff we see going on in world? I think if we think of perception/intentionality in the restricted human consciousness sense then we are inevatably going to run into a lot of problems that we are grappling with in phil mind, phil language, and metaphysics, but which someone of an Aristotelian persuasion, I think, can say aren’t really problems that emerge in their system (at the very least, in the same manner).

    Anyway, that’s more than I meant to say. By the way, if people haven’t checked it out, Matthew Crawford’s Book “The World Beyond Your Head” is excellent. He gets into affordances, and embodied and social cognition throughout.

    • to reduce affordances to skills is to eliminate the role of the environment which really defeats the purpose of raising them in the first place.

      • I definitely don’t want to reduce affordances to skills. I simply want to point out that the environment cannot play any role at all unless there is some agent that inhabits and engages with the environment, and what the environment affords any agent is dependent on a lot of things, e.g. the agent’s physiology/modes of senses. For example, a sheet of ice is going to afford different things to polar bears and humans. Furthermore, what it affords humans is going to be different for different humans, depending on their development at the most general level, and we might say skill at a more particular level. What it affords a figure skater is going to be different than what it affords a hockey player, and a curler, and a person from the tropics who is encountering ice for the first time. They’ve all developed in different ways and have different interests and so pick out from the environment different features that are relevant for action (engaging with the environment). In short, I think when we’re talking about the environment in terms of affordances, we’re already (whether tacitly or explicitly) bringing in the notion of agency. So, if we’re concerned with giving examples and how this works in particular cases we need to concern ourselves with the agent as well and how it engages with the environment (in terms of its perceptive modalities, skills, etc.).

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