Continuing his project of critically integrating ecology, media studies and the enactive paradigm in cognitive science Adam offers the following gem (by way of an abstract for an in-progress paper):
“I suggest that human experience and behavior is an ongoing and distributed activity achieved at the intersection of conceptual knowledge, physical perception, and environmental affordance. But what is knowledge? What is a concept? How do they participate in larger ecologies? To understand how knowledge participates in human action, I propose that knowledge is a skill waiting to be acquired. It is an attunement to new contrasts made possible by the coordination of multiple species, practices, and technologies. Similarly, I define conceptualization as a speculative capacity, a performance of the body that leaps the subject beyond immediacy into the spaces of possibility afforded by the present. Stated differently, knowledge represents the acquisition of a conceptual faculty, an ability to mediate difference and contrast in the environment in a meaningful way. One way to visualize this intersection is to underscore that ecology entangles perception with cognitive activity through the enaction of experience. The intersection of concept with sense, then, is the basis for the ecological understanding of knowledge” (Adam Robbert).
I can dig that. Intersectionality, affordance, distributed activities, and knowledge as embodied skill and attunement. Exactly that. What I still can’t understand is what conceptuality actually is in Adam’s model? Is a ‘concept’ a linguistic unit (node) attached to a set or chain of other linguistic units (in a network), or is it the internal neurological pattern instantiated in the central nervous system as it relates to those external tokens? Or both in some sort of semiotic reciprocal influence?
I think it is important for a materialist/realist ecological ontography to be able to specific how conceptuality works by locating the components of its assembly, and thus conceptualize the unit operations or individuated ‘thingliness’ that we call concepts or idea.
UPDATE (Feb 21, 2015):In response Adam comments:
This is clearly the key question for me, Michael (at least in terms of the above issues). And the short answer is “all of the above”; that is, we can’t think of a concept as cleanly residing in language or in linguistic tokens, which need an interpreter, nor inside a neurological pattern, since whatever such a “pattern” is must necessarily be extended outwards and entangled with the environment. So, on the one hand, concepts are relational and dynamic capacities of a body engaged in his or her environment (we should say something about affects and somatics here, too, but one thing at a time). On the other, the content of the concept can be learned through teaching, practice, and engagement with the available media ecologies and thus integrated into the action of the body (though not without transforming that body in the process and never in the same way for all bodies).
Take for example this comment by Evan Thompson in his recent Tricycle interview (D and I have been going back and forth on these issues for several weeks, so maybe he’ll chime in here too):
“Experience and concepts are interdependent. Whether there are nonconceptual modes of experience is a complicated matter that both Buddhist and Western philosophers have argued about a lot. But in most cases of human experience you can’t have one without the other. Take science. Here you observe things, of course, but you can’t see them properly unless you have the right concepts. If you just look through a microscope with no guidance on how to look at what you see, you have no clue what you’re looking at. Even if you’re doing high school biology, you need to have concepts like “cell wall” or “organelle”—to say nothing of what’s happening at the edge of scientific discovery, where you’re using new imaging technologies and learning to see things. So observation is happening there, of course. But also a lot of conceptualizing.” [source]
What I like about this quote is that it gets at the interdependence of experience and concepts, or sensation and knowledge, in a way that also implies that knowledge has to circulate and become available in a certain way for people to obtain certain skills of action and perception. So there’s a sense in which there is a representational dimension to concepts, insofar as distinctions and contrasts are identified and represented in a medium, and an enactive or non-representational one, insofar as knowledge really only exists through the actions of knowers. They stand as different stages of the ecology of learning—the former as the unlearned skill obtained from the available ecology of knowledge that needs to be thought through, step-by-step in consciousness, and the latter as the internalized capacity for action in part made possible by conceptual acquisition.
So, I don’t think I’m at the point of getting to a nice, one-line definition of a concept yet—and there may not be one—but that’s how I’m thinking about it at the moment.
I will have more to say on all that shortly.