VIDI-grant awarded by Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

Great news: Today I learned that I’ve been awarded a VIDI-grant! This means 5 years of fundamental research in philosophy and generous NWO-funding to develop my research group. Here is a short project description:

The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind

In many situations, experts at work act successfully, yet without deliberation. Architects, for example, perceive immediately the opportunities offered by the site of a new project, and intuitively improve the size of the door in one of their designs. One could label these manifestations of expert intuition as ‘higher-level’ cognition, but still these experts are just acting unreflectively. Traditionally in philosophy, so-called ‘higher’ cognitive capacities are associated more with explicit deliberation and linguistic forms of rationality than with unreflective action, but this has left unexplained the characteristic phenomenon of intuitive expertise (e.g. intuitively improving a design).


The two central ideas behind this NWO VIDI-proposal are (a) that many of these context-sensitive episodes of ‘higher’ cognition can be understood along the same lines as everyday skillful unreflective activities, such as grasping a coffee cup or riding a bike; and (b) that our surroundings contribute to skillful action and cognition in a far more fundamental way than is generally acknowledged.

My long term aim is to use these ideas to develop a novel conceptual framework for embodied or ‘enactive’ cognitive science (Thompson, 2007; Chemero, 2009). The cognition we find in expert intuition is very context-sensitive because it consists of responsiveness to multiple possibilities for action provided by our surroundings, or ‘affordances’. I argue that the notion of affordances is rich in application, so it makes sense to say both that a cup affords grasping and that a friend’s sad face affords comforting. Moreover, we are bodily responsive to a multiplicity of affordances simultaneously (Rietveld, 2012a/b). Embodied cognition amounts here to skillful responsiveness to the many affordances available in one’s surroundings; a selective responsiveness to a whole field of affordances.

This integrative, philosophical framework is innovative in showing how the increasingly influential field of embodied cognitive science has a much wider scope than previously thought. Findings thought to be exclusively valid for everyday unreflective action (or for sensorimotor behavior) can now be applied to skilled ‘higher’ cognition, or better, expert intuition (project 1). We will also show concrete, real-world applications in the domains of architecture (project 2) and psychiatry (project 3 on Deep Brain Stimulation), respectively. Interactions with renowned experts in these practices feed the development of the overall framework. Another project (4) will advance convergence with Karl Friston’s influential work on the anticipating brain, by situating the latter in the whole system ‘brain-body-landscape of affordances’.

Read more: interview with SMART Cognitive Science


Pretty Vacant

Below you will find a photo of Pretty Vacant, a new installation by Rietveld Landscape, acquired by the Centraal Museum with support of the Mondriaan Fund.

Pretty Vacant

The installation Pretty Vacant by design and research studio Rietveld Landscape encourages visitors to take a fresh look at the empty spaces of the Centraal Museum. The blue window literally and figuratively sheds a new light on the space and complements the architecture of this medieval chapel. The window is based on the ‘negative spaces’ of Rietveld Landscape’s earlier installation Vacant NL, which was the Dutch submission for the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2010.

 ArchitecturalReviewCoverVacantNL RestmateriaalVacantNL

The installation in the Gerrit Rietveld-designed pavilion in Venice showed the enormous potential of 10,000 disused public buildings in the Netherlands from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries.

From the press release of the Centraal Museum: “Rietveld Landscape’s work fits in well with the Centraal Museum aim to acquire work at the intersection of art, design and architecture. Rietveld Landscape is a young studio that represents in an outstanding way the new developments at this intersection. Museum Director Edwin Jacobs described them as ‘the talents in field of spatial interventions, without equivalent in any existing architectural or theoretical discourse. They are real new-thinkers in images.’ Through the acquisition of the installation Pretty Vacant by Rietveld Landscape with support from the Mondriaan Fund, the Centraal Museum has realised its ambition of adding Vacant NL to the ‘Collectie Nederland’.”