Now I am going to present scientific essays at conceiving functional organizations that transcend individual organism and may be referred to mental phenomena.
The theory of an object-oriented activity.
The Anokhin’s description of the functional system relies, after all, exclusively on structures within the body; environmental structures are considered only as sources of afferentation and reafferentation.
The activity theory of Leont’iev, Luria, Zaporozhets and others transcends this model. It considers functions whose organ is composed not only of the sections of the central nervous system but also of the most various (nervous, somatic, vegetative) structures of the entire individual body; and inasmuch as psychic functions are concerned the individual’s object-oriented activity is considered that must be organized by its tools. Since this theory (as a Vygotskian one) has claimed that those tools are, at the same time, signs, i.e. entities historically produced by a culture, this conception enables the theory to refer the human mind to two frames simultaneously: by considering it as one produced by the functionning of both individual brain structures and inter-individual cultural structures.
But if we have a theory about the same functionning of, on one hand, internal and, on the other, external structures, it implies a theory about a functionning of the same superstructure composed of both structures inside of an individual organism and the ones outside of it, inside of its environment. According to such a theory when the function organizing its organ is an object-oriented activity, the structure thus produced does transcend the individual organism.40
Gibson’s ecological perception theory.
When comparing this theory with his earlier position, Gibson describes the change in his view this way: “[...] at the time, I based my explanation of vision on the retinal image; now, on the other hand, my starting point is what I call an ambient optic array. My present conviction is that we must approach the problem of perception in an ecological way.”41 This change was brought about because he realized that vision could not be explained by the manner in which proximate stimuli affect the retina, since perception could remain constant even if the stimuli change. Gibson analyzes four instances in which perception remains unchanged in spite of varying stimuli: (1) change in lighting, (2) relocation on the part of observer, (3) changes in the sampling of the ambient optic array, and (4) a permanence prevailing in the face of local changes.42”
The Gibson school do not accept either the explanation offered by the Gestalt psychology, since that theory holds out (as an alternative to the retinal image changing in response to the environment’s proximate stimuli) a form appearing on a frontal flat surface (a wallboard, screen, or sheet of paper placed opposite the observer), which an individual corrects in accordance with innate pregnant patterns. Gibson does make the difference between such an abstract geometric space in which alone do such forms exist and a natural environment in which representatives of a given species find themselves nestled.
Gibson’s conclusion is that one is not able to explain the meaningful perception by an animal of its environment if considering only how (e.g., nervous system) structures given within that animal’s individual body effect that psychic performance without taking into consideration how the structures of the environment afford that performance. Any psychic performance is determined by the mutual compatibility between affordances and effectivities. According to the definition by Gibson, “the affordance of anything is a specific combination of the properties of its substance and its surfaces taken with reference to an animal”43. This definition got completed with the one given by Turvey & Shaw to what they consider as a twin concept within the Gibsonian theory: “The effectivity of any living thing is a specific combination of the functions of its tissues and organs taken with reference to an environment”44
The authors add to these twin definitions that animal with its effectivity structure and environment with its affordance structure are totally symmetrical factors of psychic performances: “By this conception an [...] environment is defined as a set of affordances or an affordance structure[... and] an animal is defined as a set of effectivities or an effectivity structure [...]. An econiche is an affordance description of Environment in reference to a particular species; a species is an effectivity description of Life in reference to a particular econiche. And we may schematize the affordance and effectivity conceptions in the following way, in accordance with the compatibility logic:
An environmental event or situation X affords an activity Y to an animal Z if and only if certain mutual compatibility relations between X and Z obtain [...].
An animal Z can effect an activity Y on an environmental event or situation X if and only if certain mutual compatibility relations between X and Z obtain [...].”45
Ethology use this term to describe a series of events by which a part of an animal or human population demarcates a part of its environment and gets, reciprocally, demarcated by it. This behavior by marking with some sign the part in question of the environment turns it into a territory, while those performing this behavior expose themselves to some marking that turns the part in question of the population a well-identified group. From that moment on that demarcated territory and this demarcated group are ordered to each other by the territorial behavior: the individuals thus marked cannot leave the territory they marked for more than a well defined distance and/or time period, and outsiders cannot approach it closer than a critical distance. If the latter do so, they provoke a fighting activity in those defending their territory.
As far as the territory is already demarcated by the group and the group by the territory, staying inside or outside the borderline of a territory and, similarly, belonging or not to a given group elicits categorically different disposition in an individual for a precise (e.g., fighting or mating) activity.
Such a change in being disposed or indisposed to perform a precise activity in accordance with the actual state of territorial organization is well demonstrated by the fighting behavior of the stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) preparing to mate. The power relations of fighting change according to whether the individual fish is inside or outside its own territory when involved in fighting. According to Konrad Lorenz’s observations, the combativeness of a stickleback is in inverse relationship with the given distance between him and his nest; in his own nest, he is a fierce fighter, but the farther he swims away from his headquarter, the less he is motivated to attack. When two male stickleback meets, we can quite accurately predict the outcome of their fight: the fish that is farther from his nest is the one that will take flight, Lorenz claims, adding that near to his own nest even the smallest can dispose of the largest enemy.
One could (though traditionally does not) put it in Gibsonian terms and say that the territorial behavior intervenes in the distribution of affordances to the environment and in that of effectivities to the animal population. The key factor of such a redistribution is a marking activity, an imposition of signs upon a part of the environment transformed by this means into a territory and, parallelly, upon a part of the animal population transformed by this means into a group.
Signs when attached not to a part of an environment but to that of a population may the same way change the disposition of performing a precise activity as territorial signs do. E.g., male individuals of certain species mark by a particular biochemical substance the female during mating so as to indispose other males from mating with that female, even if impregnation was not effective. Likewise, the issue of a fighting may impose postural signs upon winners and loosers and the display of such a posture may determine a rather lasting hierarchical organization without being challenged by newer behavioral trials.
Thus, neither the group which effects the demarcation of a territory nor this territory which affords the demarcation of that group is prefabricated, both are produced by the territorial behavior. In my conception the direct product of affordances and effectivities would not be, as Gibsonians claim, activities but functional “super-superstructures” that do transcend individual organism.