meaning / Gibson (and moderation) ("John G. Neuhoff" )

Subject: meaning / Gibson (and moderation)
From:    "John G. Neuhoff"  <jneuhoff(at)>
Date:    Fri, 2 Mar 2001 10:46:03 -0500

There are those who argue strongly both sides of this issue- that meaning and information reside only in the environment or stimulus and conversely that they reside only inside the heads of perceivers. Many strict Gibsonians shun terms like "mental imagery" and "schema". However, it seems reasonable that both camps are correct. Information (or meaning by some definitions) IS often ordered and structured in the environment. However, organisms have evolved to take advantage of that information. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the organization of things like brains would reflect as well as process the structure of this environmental information. Al Bregman is right to suggest that we can perceive without sensation. Paul Treffner is right to suggest that environmental information can specify events. A wonderful example of this perspective is that of Denny Proffitt at U. Virginia. I once saw him give a talk on the "affordance" (a sacred Gibsonian term) of a mental image. Perhaps Al Bregman and J. Gibson failed to convince each other because they BOTH were right. -John Neuhoff Al Bregman wrote: > > Paul Treffner wrote: > > > Meaning? Meaning is *not* in the head!! How could it be?! > Simple argument: > > The meaning is perceived when the information is detected. > Since the > > information specifies an event in the world, the "meaning" > (consequences, > > implications, etc) is at least in the dynamical interaction of > speaker and > > listener. But certainly they are not in representations inside > > the listener's head alone. > > Surely the mental schemas (in Piaget's sense), linguistic or > otherwise, in terms of which we assimilate any perceptual input, > or by means of which we guide the actions that deal with the > input, are the "meaning" of that input. Different people can > have different meanings for the same event, because they > assimilate it to different schemas. For example, a young woman > is looking attentively at a boastful young man, Adam. An > onlooker, Brad, sees her intent gaze as admiration. Another guy, > Charles, realizes that she thinks Adam's a jerk, but that she > should be polite and pay attention to what he's saying. The > "dynamical interaction" for Brad and Charles is the same, if it > refers to the world of observable action, but the meanings are > very different. Another example: a poet reading a magazine > article on quarks doesn't get the same meaning from it as a > science graduate. > > How can meaning be *anything but* in the head -- even though it > may often control interactions with the world. A meaning (or > schema) is a control system, located in the brain (which, > according to my physiologist friends, is in the head). Its > location in the head doesn't prevent its guiding interactions > with the world. No brain, no meanings. Different brains, > different meanings. > > Can you have meanings without sensory inputs? Try dreams. Can > you have meanings without brains? Ask a brick. > > Of course "meaning" is part of a dyadic relation involving (1) a > temporarily assembled structure of meanings (or schemas), for > dealing with a certain thing or situation, and (2) the thing or > situation itself -- which, according to Kant, we can never know > *directly*, but only through the meanings we use in interpreting > it. Sometimes the second term (the thing or situation itself) is > something in the external world, and sometimes not, as when I > reflect on my own thought processes. > > Some time ago, I published a lengthy paper that described mental > schemas as > generators of underlying patterns that interacted to control > perception, cognition, > and action. It may be of interest as an alternative to the > theory of direct > perception. I debated the issue with Jimmy Gibson, but we > couldn't convince > one another. > > Bregman, A.S. Perception and behavior as compositions of > ideals. > Cognitive Psychology, 1977, 9, 250-292. > > - Al > ------------------------------------------------- > Albert S. Bregman, Emeritus Professor > Dept of Psychology, McGill University > 1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue > Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1 > > Office: > Phone: +1 (514) 398-6103 > Fax: +1 (514) 398-4896 > Home: > Phone & Fax: +1 (514) 484-2592 > Email: > bregman(at) > ------------------------------------------------- -- _______________________________________ John G. Neuhoff Department of Psychology The College of Wooster Wooster OH 44691 Voice: 330-263-2475 FAX: 520-244-5577 Alternate email: jneuhoff(at)

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