September 08, 2008
On affordances and advanced cognitive agents
If we believe that (goal-oriented) action is antecedent to and independent of thought, as many X-philosophers do, we will, therefore, be prepared to accept the fact that human thought is ultimately action-dependent. If, by contrast, we believe that thought is antecedent to and independent of (goal-oriented) action, as many non X-philosophers do, we will, therefore, be prepared to accept the fact that (goal-oriented) action is ultimately thought-dependent.
In the first case, affordances provided by different aspects of the physical environment can be understood as opportunities for action. In the second case, so-called affordances are but the activation of cognitive schemata (the agent’s stored background knowledge) based on our past experience. Whereas affordances, in both cases, can always be ultimately related to routine-based knowledge, the question arises as to how to provide a coherent account of an evolved cognitive agent whose ability to think is fully action-based and/or action-oriented. At the same time, the debate on whether there can actually be evolution without natural selection calls for careful attention. This, for two reasons: first, scientific evidence coming from many current relevant research programs is considered to be reliable on the understanding that it is fundamentally grounded on the fact that evolution is shaped by natural selection. Second, it is on the basis of this supposedly reliable evidence that researchers tend to provide hypotheses for further research.
Natural selection is usually understood as a two-ways continuous process. Thus, cognitive agents’ natural evolution is determined by the selection challenges provided by both the environment in the wild and the environment as modified by the agents themselves. The agent’s impact on the environment is also responsible for the impact of the environment on the agent themself. This view is also dependent on some specialists’ conviction that natural selection plays a key factor on advanced agents’ evolution.
All in all, a clear understanding of affordance processes that are said to be essential to manipulative (or action-based) abductive type of reasoning is urgently needed. Perhaps, such a clear account does not necessarily depend on the actual set of affordance processes that might or actually take place in, say, scientific discovery, so much as on the conditions for such manipulation to be successful. How to attempt to determine such conditions seems to be an open question. I am certain that X-philosophers can still say a lot about this, even though everything they say will inevitably end up in the armchair philosopher's hands.