Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Reply to Fodor and Phylshyn - Part 1


In a prior post, I hummed a few bars of “Ecological Psychology needs to be evaluated within the context of AmericanPhilosophy.” I then started wading into one of the pivotal debates in the history of Ecological Psychology, the 1981 debate that pitted Fodor and Pylyshyn against Turvey, Shaw, and Mace. F&P’s criticism was published in Cognition, shortly after Gibson’s death, and TSM’s reply established the new direction for the field. In the last post, I summarized F&P’s arguments, and interspersed brief notes about when they did, or did not, seem to be giving Gibson a fair shake. In this post, I want to try to avoid nit-picky details about where F&P went wrong. Instead, I want to outline a broader reply to F&P’s criticism. 

The overall problem, it seems to me, is that Gibson is playing an American Philosophy game, working within the intellectual lineage of Peirce, James, etc., while F&P want to play a Continental Philosophy game. I don’t want to go into too much details about the historic differences between the two approaches, or how they arose. My more meager goal is to defend ecological psychology in a way that stays true to its roots. American philosophy, in general, is concerned with earthly particulars, is suspicious about intellectual distinctions, and does not privilege a first-person point of view. While F&P want solutions to the traditional problems of perception to happen on an intellectual level, Gibson proposes that the supposed problems are typically solved in the grit of everyday interactions.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Specification and Perception - Fodor and Pylyshyn (1981)

After doing a mediocre job suggesting a that Gibson's needs to be defended from within the Pragmatism-lineage (as opposed to, say Descartes's lineage or Kant's), something more blunt and obvious might be in order. I have argued that much confusion was created in the past debates over ecological psychology because its critics were not treating it as part of the pragmatic lineage, and its defenders met the attack on the critics’ terms. This lead, I think, to the defenders formalizing ecological psychology in a way that loses some of the unique potential of the approach. The trouble seems to have originated, largely, in the 1981 criticism by Fodor and Pylyshyn, which was replied to in the same year by Turvey, Shaw, and Mace. While the resulting "TSM" model of ecological psychology has led to much success, I won't deny that for a minute, I think that much of the current confusion within the field of ecological psychology traces back to this exchange. Below I will go back through Fodor and Pylyshyn's paper, to point out where I think they unfairly set out their challenge, i.e., where they tried to judge ecological psychology based on premises the pragmatic tradition rejects. In the next post, I will sketch what I think the reply to Fodor and Pylyshyn should have been. In a later post, I will go through Turvey, Shaw, and Mace's paper, to show how the acceptance of Fodor and Pylyshyn's premises lead them to conclusions at the heart of current debates in the field.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Coming up

In the next few days I will finish up a large pair of posts. I am going through Fodor and Phylsyn's massive (60 page) critique of Gibson's system. I was hoping to tackle it in one post, but it is just too long. Hence I will do a first post summarizing their paper and giving some in-line comments. Then I will do a second post defending Ecological Psychology against their attack. As I think most people will be more interested in the second post, I plan to do these in rapid succession, so the first post can more easily be ignored by those who are less interested.

At some point in the next few weeks, I will then go over Turvey, Shaw, and Mace's defense against F&P's attack.

My goal is, between the three posts, to elucidate how understanding Gibson's place in the American Philosophy tradition would help us get a better handle on our field. There is confusion about what Gibson himself was up to, what different contemporary approaches are up to, and why we don't seem to be able to have good dialogs with outsiders (including colleagues affiliated with other approaches and unaffiliated students).

I hope to get a some other short thoughts, on broader topics, interspersed. I did not really intend this blog to do this many specialized posts in a row.

P.S. In a week I head for a few days at the <a href = http://www.uakron.edu/chp/>Center for the History of Psychology</a> at the University of Akron to visit their archives. I won't have much free time, but if anyone has suggestions for Akron activities, let me know. So far, trying to eat <a href = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeFjYZAik3o&feature=player_embedded>5 pounds worth of grilled cheese</a> seems like the best bet.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Specification and Perception - American Philosophy Perspective

Over on the PsychScientists blog, Andrew is trying to work through the importance of a theory of specification for a theory of perception. (So far, here, and here.) Specification, in this context, refers to the relationship between the many energy arrays we are constantly surrounded by... but for the sake of simplicity we usually just talk about how an object or event shapes ambient light. The topic is worthy of a lot of thought because, traditionally, one of the most important arguments for modern dualism is the argument that there is no specification capable of supporting perception - because, the argument goes, there is much ambiguity in the environmental support of perception, some additional process is needed to explain how we know the world. But if there is specification, then perception could take advantage of it, and there are all sorts of cool ripple effects this has through any theory of psychology. Basically, if there is specification, and if organisms do engage with these specifying patterns, then perception can explain an awful lot without need to reference other psychological processes. The possibility of this type of specification, therefore, should certainly be in the top 5 list of important things for psychologists to figure out... because it could rewrite the whole game.