RE: gibson? yes, and Peirce

From: Alfred Lang (
Date: Fri Mar 26 2004 - 11:25:29 PST

Dear Mike and Joeseph,

yes, the phrase is Gibsonian, but the idea is more than a century
older: in 1867 Charles Peirce wrote in a Footnote ot his "Some
consequences of the four incapacities", reprinted in CP 5.289n or in
Writings 2:227:

"Accordingly, just as we say that a body is in motion, and not that
motion is in a body, we ought to say that we are in thought, and not
that thought is in us."

This idea is ecological in the sense that it is misleading to
separate an individual and a group from and even oppose it to its
Umwelt. And it also implies that both what is in the head and much of
what is between humans is of essentially the same semiotic nature,
i.e. of meaning character, no matter what form it takes.

Gibson and most of his students were much more narrow in that they
maintained every shaping of the what's in the heads to be of
bio-evolutionarly environmental press origin and in effect denied
individual learning in and via culture.

Peirce, however, had prepared the idea that the dynamic memory
structures attained in bio-evolution, in individual experience
gaining, and in cultural communicative patterns are of essentially
the same semiotic nature and build upon each other in both
directions: the psychic on the biotic and the cultural on on both as
well as the biotic on the psychic and cultural (by influencing mating
and providing environments supportive for some and hampering other
fitnesses) and the psychic on the cultural (our heads would be rather
empty without our living in our self-generated cultural
environments). And that we should not let us mislead by their
different forms: the chromosomal, the cerebral and humoral, and the
cultural which, by the way, would be nil without corresponding
psychic patterns.

I do not know whether Gibson or some of his colleagues did know about
Peirce's perspective.

Best, Alfred

Glick, Joseph wrote on 2004.03.25 at 23:40 -0500 :

>W.M. Mace (1977) James J. Gibson's Strategy for Perceiving: Ask Not What's
>Inside Your Head, but What Your Head's Inside of. In R. Shaw and J.
>Bransford (Eds.) Perceiving, Acting and Knowing. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence
>Erlbaum Assoc. pp, 43-65.
>Bill also edits Ecological Psychology (the Journal).
>-----Original Message-----
>Sent: 3/25/2004 10:27 PM
>Subject: gibson? or?
>A colleague has asked me for a page citation of the statement, "Don't
>ask what is inside the head, ask what the head is inside of." Gison
>sonites, re-unite and provide me a ref!


Alfred Lang, Psychology, Univ. Bern, Switzerland ---

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