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

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Perceiving sociocultural phenomena

This is the third in a series of posts examining the Special Issues of the journal “Ecological Psychology” commemorating the 50th anniversary of “The Senses Considered As Perceptual Systems.”

Harry Heft brings his unique insights regarding the history of psychology to bear, with a focus on the relatively-understudied implications of Gibson’s work for understanding culture. Recall that part of Gibson’s challenge to the field (see Shaw 2002) was to see how much could be covered by perceptual processes, and avoid the temptation to start hand waving at higher-level processes whenever the going got tough. One aspect of Gibson’s work, comparatively neglected by both his proponents and his critics, is his attempt to see how far he could push perceptual theory towards explaining the interaction of people in situations where cultural practice plays a strong role in determining what the world affords. As usual, Heft’s writing is clear and keen. If you haven’t read any of his work before, I suspect you will find this article deeply insightful, and that it will lead you to seek out more of his work.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

50 Years of Research into Haptic Perception

Gibson’s 1966 book The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems recently turned 50. Two issues of the journal Ecological Psychology commemorated that event (here, and here). This is the third in a series of posts reviewing those contributions. It covers Carello & Turvey's Useful Dimensions of Haptic Perception: 50 Years After The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems.

Haptic perception is extremely neglected relative to visual and auditory perception. The term could refer simply to feeling things by touch, but in the context of EcoPsych is more likely to refer to perception as the result of manipulating objects, i.e., picking things up and moving them around. The Senses Considered included chapters about the haptic system, but offered only a cursorily outline of what an improved study of the haptic system would look like. Some the first wave of Gibson-inspired researchers latched onto those chapters, and created some of the more notable research triumphs of the field. Carello and Turvey performed, or supervised people who were performing, much of that work. Given that several good summaries of the research exist, they choose to focus instead on showing how the haptic research has been a uniquely suited context for exploring the novel implications of an ecological approach to perception.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Modularity and the study of visual perception - Marr and Gibson

Gibson’s 1966 book The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems recently turned 50. Two issues of the journal Ecological Psychology commemorated that event (here, and here). This is the second in a series of posts reviewing those contributions.

Vision research was impacted tremendously by the short career of David Marr. Marr was tremendously impacted by James J. Gibson, though mostly by Gibson's earlier work on optic flow, and not by his later works that birthed Ecological Psychology. Marr was incredibly influential in the move towards thinking of vision (and neuroscience in general) as "modular", while most of Gibson's work would lead one away from modular thinking. It is this tension that motivates Sedgwick and Gillam's article "A Non-Modular Approach to Visual Space Perception."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The senses re-considered as perceptual systems - Introduction to the Special Isuses

Gibson’s 1966 book The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems recently turned 50. Two issues of the journal Ecological Psychology commemorated that event (here, and here). This is the first in a series of posts reviewing those contributions.

These special issues were organized by Covarrubias, Jiménez, and Cabrera, from the University of Guadalajara, and Costall from the University of Porsmouth, and they provided an introduction to both issues. Putting together these issues is a tremendous service to the field, and I hope that the articles contained therein will help shape the field’s future. It is worth starting with some highlights from the intros themselves, and the next post will start with the looking at the contributed articles. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

E.C. Tolman's Biography, and the end of PsychCritques

I recently completed what will be my last review for PsycCritiques, the online journal that succeeded the print Contemporary Psychology, which itself ran from 1956-2004 (founded by Edwin Boring). The book was a good one:


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Restarting.... Again

There has been another prolonged absence on this blog, about 5 months this time. While a shame, at least that time has been productive. I completed a few projects and began a few more. It is time to restart things here.... again.

Later this week, I will start with a review of the recently published biography of E.C. Tolman.

After that, I will start reviewing articles from this year's Special Issues of the journal Ecological Psychology, which were dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Gibson's "The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems." (They can be found here, and here.) That book was crucial because it was the first big statement about Gibosn's system, following only a small number of articles hinting about the direction his thinking was moving in. It is less read than his 1979 books, which is a shame, because in many ways it lays the system out better, including more in depth discussions about the physiology and evolution of sensory systems. I've skimmed some of the articles in the Special Issues, and there is some really impressive scholarship there; things that I hope will influence the field for many years to come, and which deserve to have influence beyond the field. Where I can, my focus will be on drawing out what I see as the larger morals in the articles, rather tan simply summarizing them.

Two additional things I hope to start working on: 1) Telling people a bit about my current job. 2) Sharing nifty announcements from the various societies I'm associated with.

With the latter in mind, it is worth noting that the journal History of Psychology has been promoting it's section reserved for not-full-length-article contributions to the field.

A reminder that the Sources, Research Notes, and News section of History of Psychology is a venue for publication of brief research notes, discussion of methodology, and reports on archives or sources. If you are interested in contributing something to this section please contact me.
Additionally, a plug for our  “News & Notes Poetry Corner,” which emphasizes the marginal, yet notably amusing, role of psychology-oriented poetics in the history of the field. If you’re “holding” any little known or much lauded poetic gems by or about psychologists or psychology, I invite you to send them along to be featured.

People interested in submitting to that should email  news.editor@historyofpsych.org

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ecological and Social Psychology - Starting to look back

I have a paper coming out in the next issue of Ecological Psychology. It is an article written for the 50th anniversary of Gibson's The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. The article lays out the foundation of Ecological Psychology, as I see it, the core insights of the field connected to Gibson's prescient insight regarding what an evolutionary theory of perception must look like. This logic was most well developed in the 1966 book, and because Gibson was not keen on repeating himself, those ideas were not drawn out to nearly the same extent in his later works. Finalizing that article has me thinking again about the relationship between ecological and social psychology.

A decade ago I started a dialog in Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science about the relationship between Ecological Psychology and Social Psychology. It started as my first formal foray into connecting the work of E. B. Holt and J. J. Gibson, and ended up with three articles written by myself, three official comments, and a several articles (both in IPBS and in other venues) that referenced the discussion. My first article was very broad, but the replies focused the exchange on the more radical possibilities of an ecological-social psychology. The start of it al, the lead in for the first paper, was Holt's marvelous metaphor between a coral reef and the peril's of psychological reductionism (especially "bead-theory" approaches to psychology):

Monday, May 1, 2017

Bead Theory and the Problem of Consciousness - Continued

Continuing to unravel the problem of contrasting consciousness and behavior discussed in the prior post, Holt (1915). The influence on people like J.J. Gibson and Skinner continues to be evident, in the search for functional relations. This also connects to my assertion that the goal of William James's later work - and hence Holt's work - was to try to layout the foundational conditions for a science of psychology:

An exact definition of behavior will reveal this. Let us go about this definition. Behavior is, firstly, a process of release. The energy with which plants and animals move ('behave')  is not derived from the stimulus, but is physiologically stored energy previously accumulated by processes of assimilation. The stimulus simply touches off this energy.
Secondly, behavior is not a function of the immediate stimulus. There are cases, it is true, in which behavior is a function, though even here not a very simple function, of the stimulus. These are cases of behavior in its lower stages of development, where it is just emerging from the direct reflex process. They demonstrate the continuity of evolution at this point—a most important fact. But as behavior evolves, any correlation between it and the stimuli which are immediately affecting the organism becomes increasingly remote, so that even in fairly simple cases it can no longer be demonstrated.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bead Theory and the Problem of Consciousness - Highlights for Holt's writing

E.B. Holt 1915 book continues to be central to my scholarship. Appended to the book are two articles Holt had published the prior year, on "Response and Cognition." There is much overlap between the works, but in a few places I think the articles add significantly. One is in discussion of explanations that Holt disparagingly calls "Bead Theories", characterized by description of a series of events with no reference to the fact that a larger thing is happening. He begins by describing the how other sciences used to be in the same "unstable" state as psychology, and 100 years later, psychology seems to me not to have improved. Remember that a book published in 1915 must have been started quite a bit before Watson's Manifesto, and that this book was influential in the professional development of J.J. Gibson, B.F. Skinner, and J. Jastrow, along with most others who trained at Harvard in the teens or Princeton in the '30s. Indeed many core aspects of Gibson's Ecological Psychology, and Skinner's attempt to separate of "Psychological" questions from "Neurological" questions can be seen here decades earlier:

Before proceeding … we shall probably find useful an illustration from another science, which was once in the same unstable state of transition as psychology is now. In physics a theory of causation once prevailed, which tried to describe causal process in terms of successive ‘states,’ the ‘state’ of a body at one moment being the cause of its ‘state’ and position at the next. Thus the course of a falling body was described as a series of states (a, b, c, d, etc.), each one of which was the effect of the state preceding, and cause of the one next following. This may be designated as the ‘bead theory ' of causation. In asmuch, however, … [the states] gave no clue toward explaining the course or even the continuance of the process, an unobservable impetus (vis viva, Anstoss, ‘force') was postulated. This hidden impetus was said to be the ultimate secret of physical causation. But, alas, a secret! For it remained, just as the ‘consciousness’ of one's fellow-man remains today in psychology, utterly refractory to further investigation.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The problem with alternatives to cognitive psychology

In the last post, I pointed out the problem with cognitive psychology: While often hopelessly ambiguous, it creates a practical and useful sense of solidity, making it easy to use for normal professional activities. But what about alternative approaches?

Alas, the situation is almost the complete opposite for most attempts to get “beyond cognitivism”: They are not, or at least do not seem, useful in the above sense. They are not flexible, in that they are picky about which theoretical constructs are plugged into a given hole; they are not utilitarian, in that it is often unclear how to implement a program of research based on the theories, even if you agree with them completely; and they are non-conformist, in that they involve rejecting the way lay westerners think of the world. Further (or perhaps as a result), though the terms used might be quite concrete, they provide a firm illusion of being hopelessly ambiguous. The combination of little flexibility, little usefulness, unintuitiveness and seeming ambiguity, make it difficult for aspiring psychologists to understand, and further, once the neophytes become convinced, it will be difficult for them to go about standard professional activities. (p. 195)

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Probelm with Cognitive Psychology

Martin Dege and I shared an office for a year at Clark University. He was a grad student studying cultural psychology, I a post doc studying parent-infant interaction from an evolutionary and ecological perspective. Our work was not very similar, but we got along well, including collaborating on a paper. It was, technically, a comment on a target article, but we did our best to make it stand alone. The focus was on explaining why "alternative approaches" to psychology - alternatives to the cognitive paradigm - struggled so much. To make this more clear, I started the paper with as blunt a statement as I could about the bar set by the current paradigm. Here are the first 2 paragraphs, with a link to full manuscript at the bottom: