In it, we
- argue that Gibsonian, ecological information meets the criteria to be a representation, then
- predict that this information leads to neural activity that preserves its structure and that also meets the criteria to be a representation, and
- we argue that these two ecological representations (informational and neural representations) can address the three core reasons cognitive science wants representations (getting intentionality/aboutness from a physical system, solving poverty of stimulus and enabling higher order cognition) while
- avoiding the two big problems with mental representations trying to address those motivations (symbol grounding and system-detectable error).
- We then spend a bunch of time getting serious about higher order cognition grounded in information (see, I told you we were working on it!)
That said, we are taking one hint from the process before submitting elsewhere, and that is we are clearly having trouble articulating the argument, in part I think because comes out of left field and we're tripping a lot of different knee-jerk reactions. We think the story makes sense but then we're us, so what we need is some fresh eyes. This is where you lovely people come in.
I have made some minor structural revisions to the version that got reviewed to address some of the issues that came up and I have uploaded it as a pre-print to BioRxiv.org. Now, we want your help.
One quick thing to flag up; just this week, there's been a special issue on embodiment and symbols and meaning and things at Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. There's a bunch of this material that will likely be relevant to building the case that this paper is useful; we have not had a chance to get into it yet, but we will!
- The problems from the reviews boiled down to "we need more background on the ecological stuff" and "this is all a bit old fashioned mental representation talk, we've moved on'. Our initial reply is "sure, no problem" and "you may have moved on, but this really is the core of the matter and the problems remain unsolved, so there's that". Our questions: what remains unclear from the ecological psychology background in the paper and what is this mythical recent literature on the nature of mental representation that solves or defines away these issues?
- Does our argument work? Are we just making things up or is information really doing the representational work we think it is?
- Do the implications we lay out follow?
- Just how much do you disagree with our (very early days) framework for using this analysis to get information supporting higher order cognition? More importantly, what do you think is wrong?
One thing to get out of the way here; we know that the word 'representation' has been checked out of the library by many different people. We've tried to aim for the most basic definition of representation that gets at what all these versions are trying to deal with, and landed on the idea that if nothing else, a representation must stand-in for something else in a way that gives you intentional, functional behaviour of all kinds. We still think mental representations don't exist, but the need for things standing in for other things to support behaviour seem to real; this is just an ecologically grounded version of solving that problem.
So, please: spread the preprint around, read it, comment it, dissect the hell out of it. Post comments here, blog it yourself, find us on Twitter, or email us your thoughts. We appreciate all the interactions we have via the blog and Twitter and we really want to know what we can do to make this paper good. It's a fairly important part of a bigger project, and it's important that we get this right. For all their flaws, the reviews told us we aren't telling this story clearly yet, and so it's on us to find out why not.
Golonka, S., & Wilson, A. D. (2016) Ecological Representations. Preprint uploaded to BioRxiv.org. doi:10.1101/058925