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Ecological foundations of cognition. II: Degrees of freedom and conserved quantities in animal-environment systems

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Cognition means different things to different psychologists depending on the position held on the mind-matter problem. Ecological psychologists reject the implied mind-matter dualism as an ill-posed theoretic problem because the assumed mind-matter incommensurability precludes a solution to the degrees of freedom problem. This fundamental problem was posed by both Nicolai Bernstein and James J. Gibson independently. It replaces mind-matter dualism with animal-environment duality (isomorphism) -- a better posed scientific problem because commensurability is assured. Furthermore, when properly posed this way, a conservation law is suggested that encompasses a psychology of transactional systems, a biology of self-actional systems, and a physics of interactional systems. For such a solution, a theory of cognition for goal-directed behaviour (e.g., choosing goals, authoring intentions, using information, and controlling actions) is needed. A sketch is supplied for how such a theory might be pursued in the spirit of the new physics of evolving complex systems.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action, University of Connecticut, Stoors, CT 06269-1020, USA. 2: Email:

Publication date: November 1, 1999


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