A blog about problems in the field of psychology and attempts to fix them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Brief Introduction to Ecological Psychology

The deep origins of Ecological Psychology lie in the philosophies of Pragmatism, Radical Empiricism, and New Realism. But that is a much longer story...

The first key paper of the modern science is probably a paper on perceptual learning (Gibson and Gibson, 1955), in which it was proposed that perceptual learning involved better discriminating stimuli. That is, this type of learning does not involve gaining more sophisticated mental processes, but rather more sophisticated sensitivity to the details of the world. Discussion generated by this paper, and further related works, were guided by a search for the 'discriminated thing' needed to fill in the perceptual-learning theory. The most obvious candidate would be something like the stimulation created by the retinal image... but the problem with the retinal image were already well known: The retinal image is not specific to the properties of the world, and therefore it cannot provide a firm basis for accurate perception. Gibson's prior work on optic flow was working towards a solution, but something more radical was needed.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

How is that Psychology? - Rat Pup Huddling

In a past-life I was going to be an agent based modeler, working with Jeff Schank at UC Davis. He spent many years modeling rat pup huddling... in a psychology department. My main interest in the work was that it showed how a group of organisms could perform very complex behavior, even when no individual organism knew what it was doing, or had access to sufficient information to coordinate what it was doing. As I'll talk about below, this is a special case of the phenomenon where groups of simple and dumb systems can produce intelligent actions.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What are Concepts? (Part 1)

Amongst my many pet peeves about Intro Psych textbooks is how they handle 'concepts.' It is not so much that they use the term particularly badly, it is that they do not provide any context (i.e., this is a problem even if we put aside the need to redesign Intro Psych more broadly). In particular, I don't see how 'concepts' make any sense without at least some discussion of 'percepts' - the two ideas are intimately intertwined.

Percepts are the things given by perception / taken in the act of perceiving.

Concepts are the things added to perception / things with the taken.

Traditional and Mainstream Contemporary Views
Most of modern psychology grows out of the tradition of "British Empiricism", at least in the sense that most psychologists assumed that perception gives some sort of atomistic units that must be put together and made sense of through some mental process. They assume that percepts - what is gotten from the world - are, as Gibson would somewhat mockingly say, a "scintillation of sensations", an inherently meaningless array of color points, pressure measures, scent elements, etc. Sometimes psychologists more generously start from something like the stationary retinal image, in which case percepts are a disconnected patchwork of colored shapes, sounds, touches, smells, etc.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Myth of Knowledge

Spurred by Sabrina's comment on my first post, and some of the things I have been writing about on Gary's blog "Minds and Brains", I wanted to talk a little bit about the Myth of Knowledge. This is an intense vestige of dualism, and of enlightenment philosophy. The modern notion of Knowledge is a brilliant 18th and 19th century idea, which is just plain wrong. I'm a big fan of anachronistic ideas like this - the great chain of being, intelligence, etc. - but they are hypotheses that are false, and they are now interfering with our building a more coherent psychology.

The Myth of Knowledge 

Once upon a time it was believed that one of the most basic psychological kinds was 'knowledge', i.e., a person 'knowing' something. Well, not a person, but a mind. The body sits there, but the mind/soul/spirit knows things. Several hundred years of philosophy (from at least Descartes on) started with epistemology, i.e., started with a knower and with things known. But what is it to know something?

Monday, August 15, 2011

First Post - Affordances at their most natural

Added: If you are new to the blog, the first few posts were admittedly a bit strained. If you are a new reader looking for a good starting place, I recommend this post

-------Original Post--------

My proximate motivation for starting this blog is that I have become an active commenter on a couple of blogs, and I both envy the authors and feel bad when I want to post a reply elaborate enough that it might look like thread hijacking. With that in mind, I want to rift for a bit off of Charles Wolverton's reply to my comments on Sabrina Golonka's post over at  Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists. I was trying to cut the difference between Ecological and traditional Behaviorist ways of thinking, and Charles said:

In the absence of the tone, the lever doesn't necessarily invite purposeful action, ie, doesn't offer an affordance. But as Eric notes, the rat has learned to associate the tone with a purpose - getting access to something offering "ingestible" - so that the tone's sounding results in the lever's otherwise purposeless offer of "graspable" becoming purposeful, and hence an affordance.

This made me feel great, but also a little squeamish. It is great, because Charles clearly got my point, and phrased it better than I did. It made me squeamish because of the very last word: affordance.