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.

New publication in Harvard Design Magazine

Harvard Design Magazine has now published our article on the way the theory of affordances developed in our philosophical VIDI-project has contributed to RAAAF’s award winning End of Sitting landscape of standing affordances. The paragraph below gives an impression of the philosphical ideas behind this enactive art installation.


“Can we use this soliciting power of relevant affordances to make healthier working environments? Can we create new material affordances that solicit different activities? Recent philosophical work on affordances in embodied cognitive science defined affordances more precisely:

“Affordances are relations between aspects of a material environment and abilities available in a form of life”, which includes socio-cultural practices in our human case (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014, p. 335).

This definition suggested to us, the Amsterdam-based multidisciplinary studio RAAAF [Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances], that it should be possible to piggyback on peoples’ existing abilities for standing, leaning and hanging to create new affordances for working in all sorts of supported positions. Moreover, from studies on affordances in ecological dynamical-systems theory we know that offering a large variety of affordances can help create an environment that invites roaming around in a certain area (see Bruineberg & Rietveld, 2014 on “metastability” and action readiness). The combination of these ideas let to the End of Sitting, a large, spatial art installation that offers an entire landscape of (body-scaled) affordances that scaffold working in many different positions and invites people to switch positions frequently.”

Download the paper here:

Rietveld, E., Rietveld, R., Mackic, A., Van Waalwijk van Doorn, E., Bervoets, B. (2015), The End of Sitting, Harvard Design Magazine 40, pp. 180-181.


New Enactive Art Installation: The End of Sitting

The End of Sitting is a large spatial installation at the crossroads of visual art, architecture, philosophy and empirical science.

The End of Sitting. Photo: Frederica Rijkenberg

In our society almost the entirety of our surroundings have been designed for sitting, while evidence from medical research suggests that too much sitting has adverse health effects. RAAAF [Rietveld Architecture-Art Affordances] and visual artist Barbara Visser have developed a concept wherein the chair and desk are no longer unquestionable starting points. Instead, the installation’s various affordances solicit visitors to explore different standing positions in an experimental work landscape.

RAAAF-Rietveld-Architecture-Art-Affordances-The-End-of-Sitting-000956image RAAAF-Rietveld-Architecture-Art-Affordances-The-End-of-Sitting-000957image

The End of Sitting marks the beginning of an experimental trial phase, exploring the possibilities of radical change for the working environment. This project is a spatial follow-up of the recently released mute animation ‘Sitting Kills‘ by RAAAF | Barbara Visser, developed as a vision on the workspace of 2025, commissioned by the Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands. Moreover, the art installation is the visual component of Erik Rietveld’s philosophical research project titled ‘The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind’; the installation visualizes the  philosophical notion of a Landscape of (Standing) Affordances. You can find a link to the philosophical paper on the landscape of affordances in this earlier post.RAAAF-Rietveld-Architecture-Art-Affordances-The-End-of-Sitting-000958image

The End of Sitting is a collaboration with Looiersgracht 60, a new space for art and science in Amsterdam. Gibsonian ecologicla psychologist Dr. Rob Withagen of the University of Groningen (Center for Human Movement Sciences / University Medical Center) has studied 1) how people use the landscape of standing affordances and 2) how the amount of movement and 3) productivity compare to working in a traditional open office setting. The experiment on the rock of standing affordances has been recorded with 4 camera’s. The subjects’ use of standing affordances and data on productivity are currently being analyzed by Dr. Withagen. They expect to publish the findings on affordance use and productivity next spring.

You can find an overview of the attention this project attracted in the international media here and a summary of RAAAF’s research for the End of Sitting below:

10007071_611178232341127_6202838570440143848_nPhotos: Maarten Kools (Vrij Nederland), Jan Kempenaers (other color photo’s) and Frederica Rijkenberg (b/w)

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.

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