Timo Jarvilehto (1999) What is Represented in the Organism-environment System?. Psycoloquy: 10(019) Efference Knowledge (16)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 10(019): What is Represented in the Organism-environment System?

Reply to Chemero on Efference-Knowledge

Timo Jarvilehto
Department of Behavioral Sciences
University of Oulu
PB 222, 90571 Oulu



Chemero (1999) correctly criticizes the use of the concept of representation as an informationally rich reproduction of parts of the environment. His proposal to use instead the concept of an action oriented representation (AOR) may be useful in developing the organism-environment theory (Jarvilehto 1998a,b). However, such a representation cannot be located in the organism, but it should be regarded as the total organization of the organism-environment system determining (and representing) the result of action.


afference, artificial life, efference, epistemology, evolution, Gibson, knowledge, motor theory, movement, perception, receptors, robotics, sensation, sensorimotor systems, situatedness
1. I appreciate Chemero's (1999) efforts in further developing the organism-environment theory (OET) (Jarvilehto 1998a,b), but I think he stops halfway. Action oriented representation (AOR) is may be quite a useful concept, but the problem is that here too the organism-environment separation is maintained. OET starts with the proposition that there is only one system; hence, in speaking about the organism we speak about this whole system from one angle, and in discussing the environment we speak of the same system from another angle. Thus, it is not possible to regard the system from the point of view of both the organism and the environment simultaneously and separately, which seems to be the basis of Chemero's use of the concept of the AOR.

2. If the organism and the environment are only aspects of one and the same system then it is not possible to speak of representation, at least in the sense of the environment, or some of its features, somehow being reproduced in the organism, even in the form of the AOR. There are, however, ways of making a consistent interpretation of AOR in this context too. In this interpretation, AOR would simply be the structure of the whole system which determines how it functions and what results it achieves.

3. Hence, AOR "represents" the result of action of the system. This may sound strange, as this sort of representation would refer to something in the future: it would be a "representation" of something that had not yet been presented. However, as the result of action of the system is determined by its history, such a representation would also relate to the past. Thus, the AOR would be an intersection of the past and the future; its description would be the description of the momentary state of the organism-environment system.

4. I am sure representation will continue to be used as a central concept in psychology and neuroscience, despite arguments -- even cogent ones -- against its theoretical usefulness. This is because nowadays there is a real research industry trying to uncover the details of representations, both at the single cell level and using EEG/MEG techniques. But if representations do prove to be concepts similar to planetary epicycles then we will have to re-evaluate a large number of research results and programs. The question is accordingly not only an academic but a political one, impinging as it does on the personal interests of so many investigators.


I would like to thank Ms. Suzy McAnsh for the helpful reading of the reply.


Chemero A (1999) Codings at the Organism Side of the Organism-environment System. PSYCOLOQUY: 10(009) ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/Psycoloquy//1999.volume.10/ psyc.99.10.009.efference-knowledge.14.chemero http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/cgi/psyc/newpsy?10.009

Jarvilehto, T. (1998a) Efferent Influences on Receptors in Knowledge Formation. PSYCOLOQUY 9(41) ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/Psycoloquy/1998.volume.9/ psyc.98.9.41.efference-knowledge.1.jarvilehto http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/cgi/psyc/newpsy?9.41

Jarvilehto T (1998b) The theory of the organism-environment system: I. Description of the theory. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Sciences, 33, 317-330. http://wwwedu.oulu.fi/homepage/tjarvile/chap1.htm

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