Archive for September, 2011

Umwelts, Affordances and Regularities

September 18, 2011

Many posts on this site use the terms Umwelt, Affordances and Regularities. While they are often used interchangeably, there is a hierarchical relationship between the three, which can be summarized as:

Umwelts → (The world of) Affordances → (The world of) Regularities.

Umwelts are life-worlds, the world as experienced by me as a subject or by a dolphin or a tick as a subject. The bacterium e.coli is not part of my umwelt and nor am I a part of its umwelt, though aspects of my gut might be. However, we both have a mutual affordances; e.coli bacteria pick up signals from my gut and my gut in turn is sensitive to the acidity created by e.coli. Therefore we can say that e.coli is part of my environment, even though it is not part of my life world. Now, there might be entities that are not part of my environment now, but could be so in principle. Suppose in 2100, there is a new kind of beings, say, intelligent robots. They are none right now, so we can’t say that our environment contains intelligent robots, but they would be part of our environment in 2100. Let us call the space of all potential environments our cosmos. Then regularities are all the affordances that we could potentially pick up in that cosmos. We can therefore state the relationship between umwelts, affordances and regularities as:

Umwelts → Environments → Cosmos.

We will need to be a little careful in defining the space of all possible environments. It is true that computers were not a part of the environment of our ancestors that arose in the Cambrian explosion, but they are the part of our environment. So, can we say that computers are part of the cosmos of our ancestor? That would be too broad a definition. We might be better of restricting the cosmos and its regularities only to those environments that are adjacent possible environments.


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