Encountering the World: Toward An Ecological Psychology

By Edward S. Reed | Go to book overview

8
The Human Environment

Value and Meaning or Cause and Effect?

The ecological psychology I have been developing in this book is a science of value and meaning, not a science of cause and effect. Scientific psychologists have tended to treat behavior and awareness as the effects of specific causes. Ecological psychology as envisaged here rejects this: action and awareness are achievements of an animal in its environment, not the effects of causes. (To be perfectly clear, I use the word cause here as is typically done in experimental psychology, biology, and physiology--that is, to mean cause, as in the efficient causation of classical mechanics.) Neither the environment, nor the organism, nor any part of the organism (e.g., its CNS) causes behavior or awareness under ordinary circumstances. Both animate activity and perception are emergent properties of an organism's encounters with its surroundings. Affordances do not cause animals to use them. They cannot. Only when information specifying those affordances is both detected (exteroception) and used (in the proprioceptive regulation of action) will an affordance be realized. Psychology begins with the animate--and as animals act, they move themselves (albeit not under conditions of their own choosing).

As far as I know, all previous disciplines dealing with value and meaning have been non- or even anti-experimental, and many have even been anti-scientific, in the sense of eschewing the need for lawful explanation of phenomena ( Dilthey, 1894/ 1977). What makes ecological psychology so unusual is that it is a scientific, naturalistic, and experimental psychology of value and meaning. Just because behavior and awareness are not caused does not mean one cannot study them experimentally or explain them scientifically. The supposed opposition between the goals of explanation and understanding (verstehen) is falsified by every good perception experiment. In a perception experiment one can--one must--use experimental control to determine what information observers are attuned to and what affordances they are striving to realize. Such experiments cannot reveal what causes the animals to observe or to act, but they can explain the circumstances that make possible both awareness and animate activity, and thus help us to understand what the animal is doing. There is no one cause that forces worms to attend to the shape of leaves to plug up their burrows (indeed, under certain circumstances worms just don't bother to attend to this), but we can understand under what circumstances worms might attend to these shapes.

The present perspective lets us explore human psychology as a straightforward branch of evolutionary ecological psychology, just as zoologists urge we should study human

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Encountering the World: Toward An Ecological Psychology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface and Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction: the Significance of the Psychological 3
  • 1 - Regulation Versus Construction 9
  • Conclusion: the Fundamental Hypothesis of Ecological Psychology 18
  • 2 - An Evolutionary Psychology 20
  • Conclusion 27
  • 3 - Affordances: A New Ecology for Psychology 29
  • Conclusion: the Evolution of Behavior Among the Affordances of the Environment 45
  • 4 - The Importance of Information 47
  • Conclusion 67
  • 5 - Functional Systems and the Mechanisms of Behavior 68
  • Conclusion 82
  • 6: Varieties of Action Systems 83
  • 7 - The Effort After Value and Meaning 96
  • Conclusion 110
  • 8 - The Human Environment 111
  • Conclusion 125
  • 9 - Becoming a Person 126
  • Conclusion: Becoming A Person and Entering into A Culture 138
  • 10 - The Daily Life of the Mind 140
  • Conclusion 151
  • 11 - Entering the Linguistic Environment 153
  • Conclusion 167
  • 12 - Streams of Thought 169
  • Conclusion 183
  • Epilogue: The Significance of Ecological Psychology 184
  • Conclusion 189
  • References 191
  • Index 207
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