General ecological information supports engagement with affordances for ‘higher’ cognition

Synthese 196 (12):5231-5251 (2019)


In this paper, we address the question of how an agent can guide its behavior with respect to aspects of the sociomaterial environment that are not sensorily present. A simple example is how an animal can relate to a food source while only sensing a pheromone, or how an agent can relate to beer, while only the refrigerator is directly sensorily present. Certain cases in which something is absent have been characterized by others as requiring ‘higher’ cognition. An example of this is how during the design process architects can let themselves be guided by the future behavior of visitors to an exhibit they are planning. The main question is what the sociomaterial environment and the skilled agent are like, such that they can relate to each other in these ways. We argue that this requires an account of the regularities in the environment. Introducing the notion of general ecological information, we will give an account of these regularities in terms of constraints, information and the form of life or ecological niche. In the first part of the paper, we will introduce the skilled intentionality framework as conceptualizing a special case of an animal’s informational coupling with the environment namely skilled action. We will show how skilled agents can pick up on the regularities in the environment and let their behavior be guided by the practices in the form of life. This conceptual framework is important for radical embodied and enactive cognitive science, because it allows these increasingly influential paradigms to extend their reach to forms of ‘higher’ cognition such as long-term planning and imagination.

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Author Profiles

Jelle Bruineberg
University of Amsterdam
Erik Rietveld
University of Amsterdam
Anthony Chemero
University of Cincinnati

Citations of this work

An Enactive-Ecological Approach to Information and Uncertainty.Eros Moreira de Carvalho & Giovanni Rolla - 2020 - Frontiers in Psychology 11 (Enaction and Ecological Psycholo):1-11.
Social Affordance.Eros Carvalho - 2020 - Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior.
Enacting education.Mog Stapleton - 2020 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 20 (5):887-913.

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