According to the traditional Western concept of freedom, the ability to exercise free will depends on the availability of options and the possibility to consciously decide which one to choose. Since neuroscientific research increasingly shows the limits of what we in fact consciously control, it seems that our belief in free will and hence in personal autonomy is in trouble. -/- A closer look at the phenomenology of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) gives us reason to doubt the traditional concept of freedom (...) in terms of conscious control. Patients suffering from OCD experience themselves as unfree. The question is whether their lack of freedom is due to a lack of will power. Do they have too little conscious control over their thoughts and actions? Or could it be the opposite: are they exerting too much conscious control over their thoughts and actions? -/- In this chapter, we will argue that OCD patients testify to the general condition that exercising an increased conscious control over actions can in fact diminish the sense of agency rather than increase the experience of freedom. The experiences of these patients show that the traditional conception of freedom in terms of ‘free will’ has major shortcomings. There is an alternative, however, to be found in the work of Hannah Arendt. She advocates a conception of freedom as freedom in action. Combined with phenomenological insights on action, Arendt’s account of freedom helps us to get a more adequate understanding of the role of deliberation in the experience of freedom. We argue that the experience of freedom depends on the right balance between deliberate control and unreflective actions. (shrink)
In this chapter we give an overview of current and historical conceptions of the nature of obsessions and compulsions. We discuss some open questions pertaining to the primacy of the affective, volitional or affective nature of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Furthermore, we add some phenomenological suggestions of our own. In particular, we point to the patients’ need for absolute certainty and the lack of trust underlying this need. Building on insights from Wittgenstein, we argue that the kind of certainty the patients (...) strive for is unattainable in principle via the acquisition of factual knowledge. Moreover, we suggest that the patients’ attempts to attain certainty are counter-productive as their excessive conscious control in fact undermines the trust they need. (shrink)
Our everyday activities unfold in situations that offer a multiplicity of possibilities for action. While typing this text, the apple on the right side of my laptop affords eating, my e-mail checking, and the glass of water drinking from it. Every now and then I unreflectively switch from typing to eating or drinking and back to typing again. A relevant possibility for action is embedded in a field of other soliciting possibilities for action (Rietveld, 2008). Michael Wheeler and Hubert Dreyfus (...) have an interesting debate on the important issue of cognition in context. They both take a naturalistic and broadly Heideggerian approach to the problem of adequate sensitivity to context-dependent relevance (the frame-problem). Their debate focuses on such sensitivity in episodes of online intelligence (Wheeler, 2005, p. 252, p. 280), typing for instance. They agree that a central phenomenon to be understood is how one switches from one context to another by being responsive to what is relevant in a given situation. I use this latter agreement as a starting point for a new perspective on online intelligence. (shrink)
We propose to understand social affordances in the broader context of responsiveness to a field of relevant affordances in general. This perspective clarifies our everyday ability to unreflectively switch between social and other affordances. Moreover, based on our experience with Deep Brain Stimulation for treating OCD patients, we suggest that psychiatric disorders may affect affordance-responsiveness, including responsiveness to social affordances.
There are important structural similarities in the way that animals and humans engage in unreflective activities, including unreflective social interactions in the case of higher animals. Firstly, it is a form of unreflective embodied intelligence that is ‘motivated’ by the situation. Secondly, both humans and non-human animals are responsive to ‘affordances’ (Gibson 1979); to possibilities for action offered by an environment. Thirdly, both humans and animals are selectively responsive to one affordance rather than another. Social affordances are a subcategory of (...) affordances, namely possibilities for social interaction offered by an environment: a friend’s sad face invites comforting behavior, a person waiting for a coffee machine can afford a conversation, and an extended hand affords a handshake. I will review recent insights in the nature of the bodily intentionality characteristic of unreflective action. Such ‘motor intentionality’ can be characterized as “our direct bodily inclination to act in a situated, environmental context” (Kelly 2005, p. 106). Standard interpretations of bodily intentionality see grasping an object as the paradigmatic example of motor intentionality. I will discuss the implications of another, novel perspective that emphasizes the importance of unreflective switches from one activity to another (Rietveld 2004) and understands bodily intentionality in terms of adequate responsiveness to a field of relevant affordances. In the final section I will discuss some implications for cognitive neuroscientists who use empirical findings related to the ‘mirror neuron system’ as a starting point for a theory of motor intentionality and social cognition. (shrink)
A commentary on "Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science" by Clark, A. (in press). Behav. Brain Sci. -/- We will argue that the context sensitivity of action-oriented processing is not adequately recognized in Clark’s target article. The ecological notion of a niche(e.g., Gibson, 1979) is for instance central in Friston (2011) account of embodied cognition, but we find it curiously absent in the account Clark gives of action.
In everyday life, situations in which we act adequately yet entirely without deliberation are ubiquitous. We use the term “situated normativity” for the normative aspect of embodied cognition in skillful action. Wittgenstein’s notion of “directed discontent” refers to a context-sensitive reaction of appreciation in skillful action. Extending this notion from the domain of expertise to that of adequate everyday action, we examine phenomenologically the question of what happens when skilled individuals act correctly with instinctive ease. This question invites exploratory contributions (...) from a variety of perspectives complementary to the philosophical/ phenomenological one, including cognitive neuroscience, neurodynamics and psychology. Along such lines we try to make the normative aspect of adequate immediate action better accessible to empirical research. After introducing the idea that “valence” is a forerunner of directed discontent, we propose to make progress on this by first pursuing a more restricted exploratory question, namely, ‘what happens in the first few hundred milliseconds of the development of directed discontent?’. (shrink)
Within philosophy there is not yet an integrative account of unreflective skillful action. As a starting point, contributions would be required from philosophers from both the analytic and continental traditions. Starting from the McDowell-Dreyfus debate, shared Aristotelian-Wittgensteinian common ground is identified. McDowell and Dreyfus agree about the importance of embodied skills, situation-specific discernment and responsiveness to relevant affordances. This sheds light on the embodied and situated nature of adequate unreflective action and provides a starting point for the development of an (...) account that does justice to insights from both philosophical traditions. (shrink)
For the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010, curator Rietveld Landscape has been invited by the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) to make a statement about the potential of landscape architecture to contribute to resolving the complex challenges that our society faces today. These challenges call for innovation; for a culture centred on design skills and cooperation between scientists and creative pioneers. The installation ‘Vacant NL, where architecture meets ideas’ calls upon the Dutch government to make use of the enormous potential of inspiring, (...) unoccupied buildings from the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries for innovation within the creative knowledge economy. Images of the installation can be found here: www.rietveldlandscape.nl/en/projects/439. (shrink)
Given the contemporary complexity of cities, landscape and society, urgent social tasks call for an integral, multidisciplinary approach. Rietveld Landscape’s strategic interventions focus and use the forces of existing developments and processes. This design method creates new opportunities for landscape, architecture, the public domain, ecology, recreation and economic activity.
In everyday life we often act adequately, yet without deliberation. For instance, we immediately obtain and maintain an appropriate distance from others in an elevator. The notion of normativity implied here is a very basic one, namely distinguishing adequate from inadequate, correct from incorrect, or better from worse in the context of a particular situation. In the ﬁrst part of this paper I investigate such ‘situated normativity’ by focusing on unreﬂective expert action. More particularly, I use Wittgenstein’s examples of craftsmen (...) (tailors and architects) absorbed in action to introduce situated normativity. Situated normativity can be understood as the normative aspect of embodied cognition in unreﬂective skillful action. I develop Wittgenstein’s insight that a peculiar type of aﬀective behaviour, ‘directed discontent’, is essential for getting things right without reﬂection. Directed discontent is a reaction of appreciation in action and is introduced as a paradigmatic expression of situated normativity. In the second part I discuss Wittgenstein’s ideas on the normativity of what he calls ‘blind’ rule-following and the ‘bedrock’ of immediate action. What matters for understanding the normativity of (even ‘blind’) rule-following, is not that one has the capacity for linguistic articulation or reﬂection but that one is reliably participating in a communal custom. In the third part I further investigate the complex relationships between unreﬂective skillful action, perception, emotion, and normativity. Part of this entails an account of the link between normativity at the level of the expert’s socio-cultural practice and the individual’s situated and lived normativity. (shrink)
For Merleau-Ponty,consciousness in skillful coping is a matter of prereflective ‘I can’ and not explicit ‘I think that.’ The body unifies many domain-specific capacities. There exists a direct link between the perceived possibilities for action in the situation (‘affordances’) and the organism’s capacities. From Merleau-Ponty’s descriptions it is clear that in a flow of skillful actions, the leading ‘I can’ may change from moment to moment without explicit deliberation. How these transitions occur, however, is less clear. Given that Merleau-Ponty suggested (...) that a better understanding of the self-organization of brain and behavior is important, I will re-read his descriptions of skillful coping in the light of recent ideas on neurodynamics. Affective processes play a crucial role in evaluating the motivational significance of objects and contribute to the individual’s prereflective responsiveness to relevant affordances. (shrink)