Ecological Psychology and Enactivism: Perceptually-Guided Action vs. Sensation-Based Enaction1


Ecological Psychology and Enactivism both challenge representationist cognitive science, but the two approaches have only begun to engage in dialogue. Further conceptual clarification is required in which differences are as important as common ground. This paper enters the dialogue by focusing on important differences. After a brief account of the parallel histories of Ecological Psychology and Enactivism, we cover incompatibility between them regarding their theories of sensation and perception. First, we show how and why in ecological theory perception is, crucially, not based on sensation. We elucidate this idea by examining the biological roots of work in the two fields, concentrating on Gibson and Varela and Maturana. We expound an ecological critique of any sensation-based approach to perception by detailing two topics: classic retinal image theories and perception in single-celled organisms. The second main point emphasizes the importance of the idea of organism-environment mutuality and its difference from structural coupling of sensations and motor behavior. We point out how ecological - phenomenological methods of inquiry grow out of mutualism and compare Gibson’s idea of visual kinesthesis to Merleau-Ponty’s idea of the lived body. Third, we conclude that Ecological Psychology and varieties of Enactivism are laying down different paths to pursue related goals. Thus, convergence of Ecological Psychology and Enactivism is not possible given their conflicting assumptions, but cross-fertilization is possible and desirable.

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