Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Throwing Like A Girl

For any who may be interested, Iris Marion Young wrote a (now quite famous) piece called "Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality" in which she describes how Merlau-Ponty's description of the 'lived body' (most notably, in Phenomenology of Perception) differs for women.  This difference is not merely a difference in observed behavior but, consistent with Merlau-Ponty's account of an embodied being in the world, it strikes right at the heart of the lived experience.

So, for example, the Merlau-Ponty quote from the Heft reading, "The body is the vehicle for being in the world, and having a body is, for a living creature, to be intervolved in a definite environment, to identify oneself with certain projects and be continually committed to them" (Merleau-Ponty, 1963, p. 82), is for Young different in men and women within the context of a patriarchal society.

This is of particular importance to the Heft reading because the ideas of ecological psychology are clearly in line with those of Merleau-Ponty.  As such, Young's critique of Merleau-Ponty may be relevant to this approach, particularly in the later sections of the paper in which Heft discusses how functional meaning may be culturally derived and how perceptual learning is shaped by many variables (including exploration - which Young would claim to be inhibited in women - and age).

Ecological Analytic Philosophy

Despite my fear of being the person inappropriately dressed for the party (metaphorically speaking), I will attempt to relate ecological psychology to the analytic philosophical tradition (Adam, go easy on me).  After all, Harry Heft's description of the ecological approach (particularly that of Gibson) inspired within me a flashback to my last semester, not only within the continental camp (e.g. Merleau-Ponty, who was cited several times in the paper, not to mention concepts of the 'lived body' and apperception described by Husserl), but also within analytic attempts at demystifying perception (if one can call it that).  Specifically, I was reminded of the sense-data debate, with Bertrand Russell in one corner and Wilfrid STALKER Sellars in the other.  Ding, ding!  Round one!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Is pain all in our heads?

Is pain really all in our heads? According to neuroscientist David Linden of Johns Hopkins University, this seems to be the case. In instances where we experience pain, for example a cut on our index finger, we believe that the pain is emanating from the index finger. Contrary to this belief, it is actually coming from the brain. This is due to our own perception of pain being moulded by the circuits in our brain that are consistently receiving inputs from our sensory nerves. Linden exemplifies this further in his book Touch , and explains that our brains can amplify our experience of pain by means of its intensity and characteristics, such as the burning or aching sensations we may feel due to injury or illness. Another aspect of individual experiences of pain is the emotions we correlate with certain situations, as the brain decides the emotion we associate with each instance in which pain is experienced. For example, pain can be minimised once positive emotions - such as feelings of safety and calm - are emitted, therefore reducing the emotional component of pain.

Of Statistics and Significance

Most psychology students are steeped in the culture of null hypothesis testing, with convention dictating that p-values below 0.05 be treated rather differently from p-values above that threshold.  If one had little exposure to other branches of science, one might even come to believe that this form of inferential practice was at the heart of the scientific method.  Nothing could be more (significantly) wrong.  In fact, null hypothesis testing, the concept of statistical significance, and the holy p-value are all rather local phenomena, found primarily in the soft sciences, where the entities being discussed are in desperate need of shoring up to ensure their very reality: a job that null hypothesis significance testing does very poorly.

Interesting then that a reputable journal smack in the middle of the soft sciences, Basic and Applied Social Psychology has now reached a point where it is banning null hypothesis testing and the associated argument from "significance".

Monday, 23 February 2015

Planimeter perception

Runeson argues that perception consists of 'Smart' Perceptual Mechanisms. He compares them to the polar planimeter, an instrument which allows for the measurement of areas on a 2D surface such as a map. These smart mechanisms are similar to the affordances that Gibson sees as the basis for perception.  Runeson does not see the need for cognitive processes in perception. As in the planimeter, the relationship between the stimulus and the smart mechanism is automatic, emanating from the ‘physical realisation’ of the mechanism.

This is fine if the phenomenon under study is perception and the unit of analysis is the smart mechanism. But if we want to dig lower, how does it work?  The distance the planimeter travels in any direction is directly related to the area covered by the arm.  A mathematical proof is available.  Can smart mechanisms be explained at a lower level?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Why Chomsky might be right about the evolution of language... but probably isn't. Part 1

This is a two-part blog post. Part 1 explains why Chomsky might be right, the second part will explain why I think he isn’t.

Chomsky says language didn't evolve - according to psychologist Frederick Coolidge, who recently wrote a blog post entitled "Why Chomsky is wrong about the evolution of language." Citing a 2014 paper by Bolhuis, Tattersall, Chomsky & Berwick as evidence, Coolidge makes two major claims. First, that Chomsky denies language evolved, but appeared suddenly and was not subject to natural selection. Secondly that Chomsky denies genetic evidence, comparative animal studies, neurophysiological evidence and childhood acquisition theories, all of which contradict his language origin theory. In this blog post I’ll deal with his first point and the second in my next post.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Try to see if from their perspective: Embodied Perspective Taking

The other day while I was studying at home a repair person asked for the code to our front gate so they could come as they pleased. I couldn’t tell them the number until I shifted my body slightly to the left, where if I were outside in front of my house, I’d be facing the dial pad, and drew the pattern of the numbers I habitually press in the air. Simultaneously I recalled the standard arrangement of numbers on a dial pad and superimposed that pattern on a mental image I had of the dial pad. 1,4,3, 6.