The End of Sitting on a research tour

‘The End of Sitting: Cut Out’ functions now as a platform for empirical research for several Dutch academic medical centers. In Maastricht the Faculty of Health, Medicine & Life Sciences and the University Library joined forces to enable students and researchers to experience The End of Sitting. Check out ‘The Rock’ at UNS 40, Randwyck, Maastricht this month (June 2016)!


Earlier this month the art installation was presented at the conference ‘Building the Future of Health: Game Changing Concepts for Healthy Aging’ at Groningen University. Human movement scientist Dr. Simone Caljouw is currently investigating how much energy people spend by working on it (a follow up of her earlier study published in Sports Medicine). In May a research team led by Hidde van der Ploeg at the department of Public and Occupational Health at the VUmc Amsterdam studied the use of the object in the main university building and invited members of the Dutch Association of Human Movement Scientists (VvBN) to try it out (see image below). Read her an interview with human movement scientist Dr. Hans Savelsberg in the Observant newspaper of Maastricht University (in Dutch).


Update 28/6/2016: Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE), Ministry of Education, Culture & Science (OCW)  and Staatsbosbeheer are the proud first owners of a End of Sitting-Cut Out standing landscape. This Cut Out can be visited by anyone interested because it is located at the public first floor of their headquarters. Visiting address: Smallepad 5, Amersfoort, The Netherlands.

What are Affordances? Top-3 most downloaded in Ecological Psychology

My VIDI-research group at the University of Amsterdam works on a project named ‘The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind’.  But what are affordances exactly? Our new philosophical article (in collaboration with Julian Kiverstein) deals with this important question, amongst others. We just learned from the publisher that it features in the top-3 most downloaded articles published in Ecological Psychology in 2014. To celebrate this the publisher now offers free access to the paper, which is titled ‘A rich landscape of affordances‘.


In recent years, more and more researchers in cognitive science have embraced the notion that was originally introduced by J.J. Gibson. However, the notion of affordances is complex and unfortunately it often is used in ways that ignore its roots in Gibsonian ecological psychology (e.g. Reed, 1996 and Heft, 2001). In this conceptual article we take insights from that tradition seriously and integrate these with my own earlier philosophical work on situated normativity in Wittgenstein (Rietveld, 2008, Mind) to develop an improved definition of affordances. One that will inspire new research projects in philosophy, art and science.

Free access to article here: Rietveld, E. & Kiverstein, J. (2014). A rich landscape of affordances. Ecological Psychology 26 (4), pp. 325-352.


In a complementary paper we have argued that taking seriously the richness of the landscape of affordances has important implications for a neuroscience that recognizes the situatedness of the embodied mind. We also sketch its implications for Karl Friston’s work on the ‘anticipating brain’.

Update: These philosophical ideas on the landscape of affordances have inspired RAAAF and visual artist Barbara Visser to make an artwork titled ‘The End of Sitting: Outstanding Landscape of Affordances‘. This large spatial installation allows people to experience a novel landscape of standing affordances and move through it. It is the visual, or better artistic, complement to some of the ideas developed in our Ecological Psychology paper. One of the ambitions of the installation was to offer a large variety of standing affordances so that people would be solicited by multiple possibilities for working in different positions, ideally motivating them to switch postures every 30 minutes or so.

Updates 12/12/15: Our Ecological Psychology paper is now in their top 3 most read papers of all times online and RAAAF has been elected New Talent by New York’s Metropolis magazine for being at the forefront in the development of an architecture of affordances that could architects “create an architecture that is more human”. Harvard Design Magazine has published our article on the landscape of standing affordances we built.

New publication on self-organization and skilled intentionality

Jelle Bruineberg and I have published a new paper on self-organization and skilled intentionality. (An earlier 2008 paper on this topic can be found here.) Jelle is one of the PhD-students on VIDI-project ‘Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind’ at the University of Amsterdam. The paper is published in a Frontiers in Human Neuroscience special issue on the implications of Tony Chemero’s (2009) book Radical Embodied Cognitive Science. Here is the abstract and a link to the page where one can download the PDF of our paper:


Self-organization, free energy minimization, and optimal grip on a field of affordances

In this paper, we set out to develop a theoretical and conceptual framework for the new field of Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience (cf. Chemero, 2009). This framework should be able to integrate insights from several relevant disciplines: theory on embodied cognition, ecological psychology, phenomenology, dynamical systems theory, and neurodynamics. We suggest that the main task of Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience is to investigate the phenomenon of skilled intentionality from the perspective of the self-organization of the brain-body-environment system, while doing justice to the phenomenology of skilled action.

In previous work, we have characterized skilled intentionality as the organism’s tendency towards an optimal grip on multiple relevant affordances simultaneously (Rietveld, 2012a/b/c). Affordances are possibilities for action provided by the environment (Gibson, 1979; Chemero, 2003). In the first part of this paper, we introduce the notion of skilled intentionality and the phenomenon of responsiveness to a field of relevant affordances.

FigureRietveldBruineberg2014ISSASpdf2Figure 1: Sketch of conceptual framework to be refined (Rietveld, 2012c). Through skilled intentionality one gets a grip on a field of affordances. (Inspired by: Thompson, 2007, 2011; Chemero, 2003, 2009; Dreyfus, 2007; Tschacher & Haken, 2007; Rietveld, 2008a/b/c).

Second, we use Friston’s (2000, 2011) work on neurodynamics, but embed a very minimal version of his Free Energy Principle in the ecological niche of the animal. Thus amended, this principle is helpful for understanding the embeddedness of neurodynamics within the dynamics of the brain-body-environment system. Next, we show how we can use this adjusted principle to understand the neurodynamics of selective openness to the environment: interacting action-readiness patterns at multiple timescales contribute to the organism’s selective openness to relevant affordances.

In the final part of the paper, we emphasize the important role of metastable dynamics in both the brain and the brain-body-environment system for adequate affordance-responsiveness. We exemplify our integrative approach by presenting research (De Haan, Rietveld, Stokhof & Denys, 2013) on the impact of Deep Brain Stimulation on affordance responsiveness of OCD patients.

Sketch of the Field of Affordances published in Frontiers

One of my ongoing interests is visualizing the field of affordances. See for instance the Trusted Subcultures-project RAAAF presented at the Sao Paulo Biennale 2009, using social affordances to create new public domain for the centuries old water city of Amsterdam. Or, more recently, our project Outstanding Landscape of Affordances.


Another example is the Dutch Atlas of Vacancy in which we investigated the affordances (in context) of 10.000 empty public builldings in the Netherlands. For instance the possibilities for making noise: at a vacant air base or in a vacant bunker one can make sounds of 140DB without disturbing anyone.



In a new special issue on Neurophenomenology edited by Evan Thompson for Frontiers, Sanneke de Haan, Martin Stokhof, Damiaan Denys and I have now published a more abstract sketch of different fields of affordances.


Figure: Sketch of different fields of relevant affordances (De Haan, Rietveld, Stokhof & Denys, 2013)

We propose that the changed world as described by the 18 OCD patients with Deep Brain Stimulation interviewed by us at the Academic Medical Center can be fleshed out in terms of changes in their field of relevant affordances. We can distinguish three dimensions to this field: the “width” refers to the broadness of the scope of affordances that one perceives. This dimension relates to having a choice or action options. The “depth” of the field refers to the temporal aspect: one not only perceives the affordances that are immediately present here and now, but one is also pre-reflectively aware of future plans and possibilities for action: the affordances on the horizon that one is responsive to, so to speak. This temporal horizon reflects our anticipatory affordance-responsiveness. Lastly, the “height” of each of the affordances refers to the relevance or importance of the affordances that one is responsive to, i.e., to the experienced solicitation or affective allure. This dimension of relevance and salience relates to the motivational force of affordances.

The title of our (open access) article is: The phenomenology of deep brain stimulation-induced changes in OCD: An enactive affordance-based model.