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


News Items: New Radicals

Last year in the UK, the Observer and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts joined forces to find 50 New Radicals. They selected “people who were coming up with creative answers to the big issues of our times”, according to newspaper the Guardian.


Yesterday this initiative got a follow-up in the Netherlands. My brother, Ronald, and I were selected by a jury chaired by Herman Wijffels as New Radicals because of our innovative interdisciplinary approach to architectural design, which also integrates insights from my work in the philosophy of enactive or embodied cognition. Just like the report of the Rotterdam Design Prize jury last year, this confirms the potential of translational embodied cognition and, more in particular, of the field of enactive architecture.

For more information see news item at Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)-website, here.


Upcoming invited talks this spring 2013

I have been invited to present work at several interesting and recommended events in the field of enactive or embodied cogntive science this spring:

April 3-5, Methods in studying social cognition, Heinrich-Heine Universität, Düsseldorf

April 19, Enactive Architecture & Vacancy Studies, Architecture Academy, Amsterdam

April 22, End of year talk, Neurophenomenology & Architecture, University of Toronto

April 26, Merleau-Ponty Symposium (in Dutch), University of Amsterdam

May 6, Affordances & Sense of Space, Het Huis, Utrecht, organized by theater maker Boukje Schweigman.

June 6-7, Intersubjectivity as Interaction – In the footsteps of Merleau-Ponty, RU Nijmegen (read my abstract HyperAffordanceGrip here).

June 17-19, The Reach of Radical Embodied or Enactive Cognition, Antwerp Univerisity (contributed talk, read my abstract ‘Skilled Intentionality for “Higher” Cognition’ here).


Sydney research visit

This week I will be visiting the philosopher John Sutton and his interdisciplinary research group in Sydney to learn more about their work on distributed cognition in expert perfomance (in music, top sports, etc.). This is a preparation for a new embedded research project on distributed ‘higher’ cognition in architectural design.