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.

Upcoming invited talks Spring 2014

Over the next few weeks we will present work at several interesting and recommended events. Most are in the field of enactive or embodied cogntive science, some in the fields of art & architecture.

May 22, An Outstanding Landscape of Affordances, lecture and animation, RAAAF together with Barbara Visser, Invited by Atelier of the Chief Government Architect (Rijksbouwmeester Frits van Dongen), Ministry of Finance, The Hague.

May 26, Sitting Kills: Towards an Landscape of Standing Affordances, Grand Round, Academic Medical Center (AMC), Amsterdam.

June 20, The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind, Expert Meeting Psychiatry & Philosophy, Radboud University, Nijmegen.

June 20, Expert Practice in DBS Parameter Optimization (presented by Maarten van Westen), Expert Meeting Psychiatry & Philosophy, Radboud University, Nijmegen.

June 24, Vacant NL on the Move (together with Ronald Rietveld), Kunsthal, Rotterdam. (An interview with Dutch newspaper Volkskrant can be found below.)InterviewVolkskrant2zoom230614

June 24, Vacancy Studies (presented by Arna Mackic), Strijp S, Eindhoven.

June 26, Affordances in archtectural practice, EWEP 13 symposium organized by Rob Withagen ‘Affordances and architecture: Towards an ecological approach‘, Queens University, Belfast.

July 6-14, Action readiness in a landscape of affordances (together with Jelle Bruineberg), International Summer School in Affective Sciences, Swiss NCCR Affective Sciences Center (ISSAS), Geneva University, Château de Bossey, Switzerland.


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. 

Three new publications on enactive embodied cognition

Here are three important new publications showing the potential of understanding enactive or embodied cognition in terms of skillful responsiveness to a field of affordances or ‘skilled intentionality’. This series of papers shows how to think of this at the phenomenological, psychological, and neural levels of analysis, and, crucially, how my notion of ‘responsiveness to a field of affordances’ makes it possible to relate insights gained at these different levels.

Kiverstein, J. & Rietveld, E. (2012), Dealing with context through action-oriented predictive processing. Frontiers in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 3 (421), pp. 1-2.

Rietveld, E. (2012), Bodily intentionality and social affordances in context, in Paglieri, F. (ed.) Consciousness in Interaction. The Role of the Natural and Social Context in Shaping Consciousness. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins, pp. 207-226.

Rietveld, E., De Haan, S. & Denys, D (forthcoming), Social affordances in context: What is it that we are bodily responsive to? Invited commentary article on Leo Schilbach et al. BBS, Behavioral and Brain Sciences.