The purpose of this book has been to show that ecological psychology exists as a unified but broad field of study. It is the study of how animals encounter their world, and while it has room within it to appreciate the special nature of human life, it does not separate our life from that of our fellow residents on earth. Although a worm's encounters with the environment are limited, they are real encounters nonetheless and require psychological analysis as much as a human being's encounter with his or her environment. What ecological psychology can help us understand is how special humans are by virtue of our encounters with so many diverse aspects of our surroundings.
The methods of ecological psychology are open ended. Experimental control and analysis are needed to ascertain whether an encounter should be considered truly psychological, and experiment is usually needed to determine what information an animal is using to regulate its action. But observational and descriptive methods have proved invaluable in helping us understand what affordances an animal is using in a given situation. Finally, comparative methods of all kinds--from evolutionary comparisons to developmental ones to cross-cultural ones--are indispensable for helping us understand the commonalities and differences among encounters. And it is only through sensitive interpretative methods that the full power of a particular culture's proprieties--so important in shaping its fields of promoted action--can be understood.
Ecological psychology as presented here thus offers a series of concepts that are truly psychological--and irreducibly so. The concepts of information, affordances, and encounters cannot be reduced to physiology or to biochemistry, nor can they be assimilated to symbolic or pragmatic interpretation. Animal life is based on encountering the world: animals thrive to the extent that they can get both meaning and value from their encounters with their surroundings. Psychology will thrive to the extent that it learns to study these meaningful and valuable encounters and ceases trying to exp lain them away.