The ecological approach to psychology as presented in this book is a unified, not a fragmented, field; it offers us the prospect of a scientific approach to the study of human nature without eliminating all that is human or meaningful from its subject matter; it encourages the exploration and analysis of varieties of value and meaning without retreating into the arbitrary and capricious; it has room for naturalistic and descriptive methodologies as well as experimental ones. The unifying idea within ecological psychology is its approach to the subject matter of psychology. From an ecological approach, psychology must take an animal's encounters with its surroundings as the fundamental phenomenon to be explained. All forms of subjectivism, whether experiential and hermeneutic or physiological and reductionist, can thus be rejected: psychology is not the study of something in the animal but the study of the animal in its world. Similarly, all forms of objectivism can be rejected: neither behaviorist laws not structuralist rules offer a complete psychology. Psychology is not just the study of environmental contingencies or rule systems (however generated) according to which animal's behave; it is the study of how animal's encounter their surroundings.
The heart of ecological psychology is a functional account of these encounterings: animals seek out the affordances of the environment, doing so by means of available information. The functions of encounters are achieved--to the extent that they ever are, which is never fully, for encounters often put individual animals at risk--because animals are able to find and use available affordances. These findings and usings are regulated by the animal's ability to detect and use ecological information--information that specifies both the affordances and how to use them in that situation. Awareness and action are thus different, but not completely separable. The activity of seeking information--exploratory activity--is the basis of all awareness; the awareness resulting from information pickup is integral to all action. Existing psychologies, whether behaviorist or cognitivist, have tacitly assumed that behavior and awareness belong to two different spheres of reality. Such an assumption makes a coherent psychology impossible and should be rejected. Both behavior and awareness emerge from the lives of animals within their environments.