Bruineberg J., Kiverstein J. & Rietveld E. (2018) The anticipating brain is not a scientist: The free-energy principle from an ecological-enactive perspective. Synthese 195(6): 2417–2444. https://cepa.info/4497
In this paper, we argue for a theoretical separation of the free-energy principle from Helmholtzian accounts of the predictive brain. The free-energy principle is a theoretical framework capturing the imperative for biological self-organization in information-theoretic terms. The free-energy principle has typically been connected with a Bayesian theory of predictive coding, and the latter is often taken to support a Helmholtzian theory of perception as unconscious inference. If our interpretation is right, however, a Helmholtzian view of perception is incompatible with Bayesian predictive coding under the free-energy principle. We argue that the free energy principle and the ecological and enactive approach to mind and life make for a much happier marriage of ideas. We make our argument based on three points. First we argue that the free energy principle applies to the whole animal–environment system, and not only to the brain. Second, we show that active inference, as understood by the free-energy principle, is incompatible with unconscious inference understood as analagous to scientific hypothesis-testing, the main tenet of a Helmholtzian view of perception. Third, we argue that the notion of inference at work in Bayesian predictive coding under the free-energy principle is too weak to support a Helmholtzian theory of perception. Taken together these points imply that the free energy principle is best understood in ecological and enactive terms set out in this paper.
Enactive approaches to cognitive science aim to explain human cognitive processes across the board without making any appeal to internal, content-carrying representational states. A challenge to such a research programme in cognitive science that immediately arises is how to explain cognition in so-called ‘representation-hungry’ domains. Examples of representation-hungry domains include imagination, memory, planning and language use in which the agent is engaged in thinking about something that may be absent, possible or abstract. The challenge is to explain how someone could think about things that are not concretely present in their environment other than by means of an internal mental representation. We call this the ‘Representation-Hungry Challenge’ (RHC). The challenge we take up in this article is to show how hunger for representations could possibly be satisfied by means other than the construction and manipulation of internal representational states. We meet this challenge by developing a theoretical framework that integrates key ideas drawn from enactive cognitive science and ecological psychology. One of our main aims is thus to show how ecological and enactive theories as non-representational and non-computational approaches to cognitive science might work together. From enactive cognitive science, we borrow the thesis of the strict continuity of lower and higher cognition. We develop this thesis to argue against any sharp conceptual distinction between higher and lower cognition based on representation-hunger. From ecological psychology, we draw upon our earlier work on the rich landscape of affordances. We propose thinking of so-called representation-hungry cognition in terms of temporally extended activities in which the agent skilfully coordinates to a richly structured landscape of affordances. In our framework, putative cases of representation-hungry cognition are explained by abilities to coordinate nested activities to an environment structured by interrelated socio-material practices. The RHC has often figured in arguments for the limitations of non-representational approaches to cognitive science. We showcase the theoretical resources available to an integrated ecological-enactive approach for addressing this type of sceptical challenge.
Rietveld E., Denys D. & van Westen M. (2018) Ecological-enactive cognition as engaging with a field of relevant affordances: The Skilled Intentionality Framework (SIF). In: Newen A., de Bruin L. & Gallagher S. (eds.) The Oxford handbook of 4E cognition. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 41–70.
Excerpt: The topic of this Oxford handbook is “4E cognition”: cognition as embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended. However, one important “E” is missing: an E for ecological. enactive, and extended. However, one important “E” is missing: an E for ecological. In this chapter we will sketch an ecologicalenactive approach to cognition that presents a framework for bringing together the embodied/ enactive program (Chemero 2009; Thompson 2007) with the ecological program originally developed by James Gibson, in which affordances are central (e.g., Gibson 1979). We call this framework the skilled intentionality framework.
van Dijk L. & Rietveld E. (2021) Situated anticipation. Synthese 198(1): 349–371. https://cepa.info/8097
In cognitive science, long-term anticipation, such as when planning to do something next year, is typically seen as a form of ‘higher’ cognition, requiring a different account than the more basic activities that can be understood in terms of responsiveness to ‘affordances,’ i.e. to possibilities for action. Starting from architects that anticipate the possibility to make an architectural installation over the course of many months, in this paper we develop a process-based account of affordances that includes long-term anticipation within its scope. We present a framework in which situations and their affordances unfold, and can be thought of as continuing a history of practices into a current situational activity. In this activity affordances invite skilled participants to act further. Via these invitations one situation develops into the other; an unfolding process that sets up the conditions for its own continuation. Central to our process account of affordances is the idea that engaged individuals can be responsive to the direction of the process to which their actions contribute. Anticipation, at any temporal scale, is then part and parcel of keeping attuned to the movement of the unfolding situations to which an individual contributes. We concretize our account by returning to the example of anticipation observed in architectural practice. This account of anticipation opens the door to considering a wide array of human activities traditionally characterized as ‘higher’ cognition in terms of engaging with affordances.