Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception

Gibson, James J.
The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence
Erlbaum, 1986.

In his discussion of the affordances of tools in the environment, Gibson
up-ends commonplace distinctions between the objective and subjective and
between the human being and the surrounds. That is, he describes affordances (a
concept he introduced in 1977) as neutral: the perceived physical properties of
objects in the environment, much like an "invitation character" from Gestalt
psychology). With affordances (particularly in his discussion of tools),
Gibson begins to get at extensibility–the ways in which the skin-as-boundary
commonly expands into composite hybrids (connect with Latour in Modern).
Affordances can be altered, and it "is equally a fact of the environment and a
fact of behavior" (129). Other dimensions of affordances include the medium
(130), the substances (131), the surfaces and their layouts (131), the objects
(133), other persons and animals (135), and places and hiding places (136). They
are also potentially (but not inherently) beneficial or injurious (137).

The book is divided into three sections: one about the environment, one about
information for perception, and one about the activity of perception (2). The
chapter on affordances appears in the second section on information for
perception. Gibson’s description of the environment is highly unitized or
atomistic, but he backs away from assigning a classificatory weight to
affordances: "The theory of affordances rescues us from the philosophical muddle
of assuming fixed classes of objects, each defined by its common features and
then given a name…. They have only a ‘family resemblance.’" (134). As a unit
of study, Gibson introduces "ecological events" (100), which subdivide into
primary realities, matters of recurrence and nonrecurrence, reversible and
nonreversible, nesting (101), and affordances (102). The affordances of optical,
ecological events (like their nestedness) sound almost kairotic, like a
rhetorical occasion.

Near the end of the monograph, Gibson suggests that visual information is
internalized much like speech is internalized. Though the connections
aren’t explicit in Gibson’s writing, this connects with Vygotsky, even
complicating Vygotsky’s stance on speech as it shifts from egocentric and social
to inner. Gibson proposes that pictures and picture-making (non-discursive
forms) are also internalized (What would this mean for Vygotsky?).

Niche: a set of affordances (128)
Physical vs. phenomenal value (140)
Connection to Gestalt psychology and Koffka (138)

Key terms: ecological optics (48), tools (40), occluding edge (80),
affordances (127), locomotion and manipulation (224), theory of information
pickup (239), nonperceptual awareness (tacit) (255),

"This capacity to attach something to the body suggests that the
boundary between the animal and the environment is not fixed at the surface
of the skin
but can shift. More generally it suggests the absolute
of ‘objective and subjective" is false" (41).

"The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal,
what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill" (127).

"An important fact about the affordances of the environment is that they are
in a sense objective, real, and physical, unlike values and
meanings, which are often supposed to be subjective, phenomenal, and mental"
(129). Affordances are environmental facts and behavioral facts.
Agency with affordances is physical (?) and extralinguistic.

"Any substance, any surface, any layout has some affordance for benefit or
injury to someone. Physics may be value-free, but ecology is not"