Affordances and the Reality of Perception

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions

An affordance, it is said, points two ways, to the environment and to the observer.  …It says only that the information to specify the utilities of the environment is accompanied by information to specify the observer himself, his body, legs, hands, and mouth.  This is wholly inconsistent with dualism of any form…  The awareness of the world and of one’s complementary relations to the world are not separable.(Gibson, 141)

Maybe I am misunderstanding Gibson’s point, but the claim that the theory of affordances dispels the notion of dualism of any kind seems to be quite a leap, making assumptions about what reality and perception are.  How do you separate subjective sense-making (i.e. perception of one’s environment/reality) from objective fact (what Gibson calls “invariants”)?  It is certainly true that the affordances of an object as evaluated by a biped, for instance, will be different than those evaluated by a quadruped, and that either evaluation says something about the evaluator (i.e. that they are a two-legged or a four-legged).  That doesn’t mean that the act of evaluating—the interpretive or perceptive act—is not subject to the context and experience of the ego.  Gibson makes allowances for “misinformation” and “misperception” (142); I’m not sure how he can reconcile this allowance with his claim that there can be no mind-body/abstract-concrete/mental-physical dualism.    

Is there still such a large gap in the affordances of paper compared to computers, as Gaver describes (115-117)?  Do computers today offer all the same affordances of paper?  Is there anything that paper affords that computers/cell phones/electronic devices today do not?


Gaver, William W. “Situating Action II: Affordances for Interaction: The Social Is Material for Design.” Ecological Psychology 8(2), 1996. 111-129

Gibson, J.J. “The Theory of Affordances.” The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986.

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