Neither mindful nor mindless, but minded: habits, ecological psychology, and skilled performance

Segundo-Ortin, Miguel; Heras-Escribano, Manuel

Publicación: SYNTHESE
VL / 199 - BP / - EP /
A widely shared assumption in the literature about skilled motor behavior is that any action that is not blindly automatic and mechanical must be the product of computational processes upon mental representations. To counter this assumption, in this paper we offer a radical embodied (non-representational) account of skilled action that combines ecological psychology and the Deweyan theory of habits. According to our proposal, skilful performance can be understood as composed of sequences of mutually coherent, task-specific perceptual-motor habits. Such habits play a crucial role in simplifying both our exploration of the perceptual environment and our decision-making. However, we argue that what keeps habits situated, precluding them from becoming rote and automatic, are not mental representations but the agent's conscious attention to the affordances of the environment. It is because the agent is not acting on autopilot but constantly searching for new information for affordances that she can control her behavior, adapting previously learned habits to the current circumstances. We defend that our account provides the resources needed to understand how skilled action can be intelligent (flexible, adaptive, context-sensitive) without having any representational cognitive processes built into them.

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