There is a clash at the moment: two ways of knowing about ourselves are on offer, and they are very incompatible. From where I’m standing, it looks as if both grew out of psychology, but in fact one *is* latter day cognitive psychology and much attendant baggage, while the other looks Eastern, almost Taoist at times. The latter emerges from a consideration of the combined insights of the enactive tradition (both Noë and Varela), Harry Heft’s synthesis of Gibsonian Ecological Psychology and Barker’s Ecobehavioral Psychology, Coordination Dynamics and similar Dynamical approaches, Radical Constructivism, and more besides, I’m sure.There are armies massed on each side, but they are motley bunches. I stand with the Taoist/Loony Left bunch, collecting my weak staff and pike, my raggedy arguments flapping around me, but confident and sure of my cause, and willing to put all on the line for it. But I am only a poor foot soldier, not the voice of the cause.
Our army has a capital “P” on the standard, as we are avowed Pluralists. We deride our opponents as Dualists, though they never use the term themselves. Their standard has “R” for Realism, and they accuse us of merely making everything up. We unfortunately encourage this attack by insisting that the person and the world determine each other, and arise together in a dance. One of us shouted in public that the guy who invented truth was a liar. That didn’t help. Then there is the tainted association with religion. Which makes us look like we are against science, when in fact, we are merely trying to establish Human Science on a firm foundation, starting from the reality of lived experience, something the enemy never talks about, as it is, we all agree, the most humdrum of things. This experienced world, we cannot not know.
I have Harry Heft beside me, and he is a much better voice than I. He speaks of affordances, as being both of a subjective nature, and of the nature of an ecological fact. They are neither of organism nor environment, but arise in the interaction. The basic structure of this vision is repeated, again and again and again. Each time, our enemies point to the two sides, and we point to the relation between them, and we disagree about the credentials of the exercise as practised by our enemies. They see two things, and look at them one at a time. We see only the dance between them that brings them each as apparant “things” into being. They are Perception and Action, which they see as separated by the cognitive middle, and we recognize as flip sides of one beautifully structured surface of interaction, which is us.
They are Subject and Object, which in present experience co-constitute each other. They are the individual and the collective, and any “we” that we can pick out in language, we believe lies in the relation, and not in one or the other. Psychology clings to the notion of a solipsistic, individualized, separate being, who, if he existed, would be lost and separate in his entirety from his world. But then we look like faeries when Varela asks “Does not the bee dream up the flower, and the flower the bee?”. Our P is set against the Yin/Yang symbol. Their R holds a sliderule.
On my other side is Wei Wu Wei, or plain ol’ WWW. Interpreter of Buddhist and Taoist texts, he speaks directly of all of this. He constantly describes the shift of vision from a dualist to a monist perspective, and with it, the demolition of the illusion of a continuous individualistic self. He speaks the same damn language! There is no river. There is no man.
But I think I see a way to dissolve this illusion. If we can be as realist as the dualists, but we acknowledge that we are building a human science from the ground up, starting with lived experience. The kind of lawfulness we seek is not the mechanics of Newton, or any world of physics. We seek domains of relative autonomy, and try to identify them and their complements. Autonomy is the new motion, but in this fashion, if we are careful, we might learn to also speak of measurement. But what we see might surprise us, for persons will not emerge as terrifically well-bounded domains of autonomy. This way we will identify the larger domains that make us even as we constitute them. Human activity, with its economies, institutions, technologies and religions, all are as real as any one of us, and we bring each other into existence.