Monday, October 25, 2010

Runeson's EP and FAPs 2

FAPs are fixed action patterns.  The wikipedia gives this description (which is about all I know of them):
Another example of fixed action patterns is the red-bellied stickleback (fish). The male turns a bright red/blue colour during the breeding season. During this time they are also naturally aggressive towards other red-bellied sticklebacks, another FAP. However anything that is red, or has the appearance of being red, will bring about this FAP. The proximate response to this is that due to the stimuli, a nerve sends a signal to attack that red item. The ultimate cause of this behavior stems from the fact that the stickleback needs the area in which it is living for either habitat, food, mating with other sticklebacks, or other purposes. This is an inherited behavior, but it is has been found that this behavior may be more flexible than scientists thought at first. This interaction was studied by Niko Tinbergen. The threat display of male stickleback (fish) is also a fixed action pattern triggered by a stimulus.

Now, FAPs, to my mind, raise a couple of interesting questions vis a vis EP.  Here's another.

Suppose that the sticklebacks using a "smart" mechanism in the sense of one that "capitalize[s] on the peculiarities of the situation and the task".  That is, the sticklebacks rely on the fact that, by and large, the only things with red patches on them in the stereotypical stickleback environment is a male stickleback.

Yet, this is what cognitivists, I think, will often describe as relying on an "assumption" about the environment.  It might be what cognitivists call an implicit assumption, one that is not coded as a line in a program or as a data structure, but an assumption nonetheless.

Now, I don't have text to cite, here, but I think at least one thing EPists don't like
"assumptions" is that they don't like them construed as representations or what cognitivists might call "explicit assumptions".  But, perhaps non-representational, "implicit assumptions", are ok.  Indeed, I take it that Runeson's account of the information a person uses in state Ames room viewing relies on what cognitivists might call "implicit assumptions".


  1. Thought 1: 'assumption' is a weak description of an ecological regularity robust and detectable enough to cause this sort of thing to develop.

    Thought 2: Runeson's account of the Ames Room doesn't rely on an assumption. The smart system he suggests doesn't assume the room is square; it detects the information that specifies the room is square (when that is all that's available) and then, when viewing conditions are relaxed, it also detects the information that the room is not square (which becomes progressively obvious as this information becomes available). It explicitly doesn't assume anything about the shape of the room - the account is informational.

    What it does 'assume' is the ecological irrelevance of equivalent configurations and thus doesn't know how to cope with them. And it doesn't even actually assume this; it develops under conditions in which equivalent configurations are irrelevant, which is different. It's an 'implicit assumption' only if that's the way you want to describe it, but it's not clear to me that description buys you anything.

  2. But, it seems to me that there is a pattern here. EPists have a vocabulary and cognitivists have a vocabulary. These often consist of the same words, only with different meanings. "Information" is like this. "Assumption" is like this. "Perception" is like this. For most of my posts, I have been willing to just adopt the EP definitions. They are, after all, just definitions. What I am trying to urge is that folks get past these terminological differences to theoretical differences, as in how one accounts for what is going on with FAPs or the Mach bands.

  3. This isn't just terminology; Runeson didn't simply redescribe what was involved in the Ames Room, he entirely redefined it. Cognitivists claim that people see the trapezoidal room as square because these two potential distal stimuli produce an identical and thus ambiguous proximal stimulus, which must be disambiguated by prior knowledge ('assumptions' about the typical shape of rooms, which is a problem when you find out birds see the world this way too). Runeson notes that if you examine the geometry of the visual information in the restricted viewing conditions, it specifies a square room, and this, if not contradicted by other information, leads to the perception of a square room. How is this just vocabulary?

  4. If a stickleback treats every red object as a male stickleback (even when it's physically possible that there exist red objects that are not male sticklebacks), there is a perfectly natural sense in which it's assuming that every red object is a male stickleback.

    If a human treats the light coming through the Ames aperture as indicating a rectangular room (even when it's physically possible that there exist light coming through the aperture that is not caused by a rectangular room) there is a perfectly natural sense in which a human is assuming that every such light projection must be from a rectangular room.

    The terminological point comes up when EPists want to claim that perception does not involve assumptions. EPists mean something by "assumptions" that differs from what cognitivists are likely to mean by "assumptions".

    There are other issues that come up in the analysis of the Ames room, but the terminological issues are there as well.

    I just received my copy of Turvey, Shaw, Reed, & Mace's "Ecological laws ..." Section 2 begins with the comment "It is not obvious that Fodor and Pylyshyn are addressing the same subject matter as Gibson and the proponents of his ecological approach." What I am driving at is that this kind of comment cuts both ways. TSRM can complain that F&P miss their mark in their criticisms. But, F&P can also complain that EPists miss their mark win their criticicms. In this case, EPists might miss by criticizing a notion of "assumption" that is not always invoked by cognitivists. (I expect that cognitivists sometimes do invoke stronger notions of "assumptions" as well and those will have to be addressed in due course, but there is this weak sense as well. Sometimes they are called "implicit assumptions", even though the explication of them is up fro grabs.)

    But, the point is that two can play the "You miss the mark game." I'm trying to articulate the differences vis a vis assumptions.

  5. There's clearly plenty of incommensurability; but it's not just in vocabulary, but mostly in mechanism. You might want to describe Runeson's Ames Room account in terms of assumptions, but you'd be missing the point if you did.

  6. So, EPists are sometimes missing the point when they reject cognitivist "assumptions". Cognitivists don't always mean by it what Runeson, et al., sometime think they do.

    Or, you could see my point as trying to find points of consensus, namely, that there is a certain reading of "assumption" where Runeson and cognitivists can agree that assumptions are in play. Only, you don't seem to want to have anything to do with this.

    I know that there is more to Runeson's analysis, but I've from the very beginning complained about it that it does not appear to be robust. I've yet to hear the analysis extended to the pac-man case.

    I've also left open the door that there are other objections to it. For example, I'm curious as to how one constrains the information to be extracted from the environment. This is the Fodor & Pylyshyn, "shoe problem". But, the solution to this, you say, is in the TSRM paper, which I'm just starting.

  7. Personally, I don't think the situation is symmetrical. Most of the eco-psych people I know are way better versed in good-old-fashioned cognitive psychology than the reverse, because we mostly went through it before encountering Gibson. But yes, that said, there are misunderstandings both ways.

    But also; I think that any reading of 'assumption' that gets Runeson and the cognitivists under it's wing is missing the point Runeson was making, by quite a long way.

    I'm thinking about the amodal completion: the current direction is there's nothing 'amodal' about it.

  8. It sounds plausible that EP folks know more cognitive than cognitive folks know EP.

    But, I've just finished a post on how TSRM, (1981), don't know their Fodor, (1975). And, it's not some minor point. Most cognitivist types know that Fodor, (1975), thinks that there is an innate language of thought. TSRM ... apparently not. But, those were early days for Fodor, (1975). That'll be up in a week or two.

    I don't really get why amodal completion is called "amodal completion" or even that much about how it differs from modal completion. But, I also don't get how one gets the Gibsonian information of a circle from the pac-man whose "mouth" is occluded...

  9. I'm not sure either, hence I haven't tried to explain it yet. But I think Runeson's Ames Room analysis will apply and it will be based in information (modal, not amodal). This is ticking in the back of my head, so keep reminding me :)

    I do know why it's referred to as amodal: the assumption is you are 'filling in' something that you aren't currently in perceptual contact with (ie you can't see the occluded bit); the completion is thus not based in any sensory modality, hence amodal. My hunch right now is that Runeson's analysis of the information that is actually there plus smart detection that doesn't cope with (the generally irrelevant) equivalent configuration answers this question too.

    Looking forward to the laws paper post!

  10. The TSRM paper is interesting, but it appears that they are *not* going to solve Fodor and Pylyshyn's "shoe"-shoe problem. Instead, they are going to argue that F&P have a comparable problem.

    I think I have about seven posts before I get to TSRM.