Managing complexity: from visual perception to sustainable transitions—contributions of Brunswik’s Theory of Probabilistic Functionalism
- Journal Article
Rights / licenseCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
Coping with the multitude of information, relationships, and dynamics of the biotic and abiotic environment is a fundamental prerequisite for the survival of any organismic system. This paper discusses what contribution the Theory of Probabilistic Functionalism (TPF) of Egon Brunswik (1903–1955), which was originally developed for visual perception (including certain cognitive processes) and later for judgment, may provide today. The present paper elaborates that the principles of TPF go beyond the common weighting and regression analysis-based model of information processing that has been associated with the Brunswikian Lens Model. We argue that Brunswik’s TPF rather provides basic principles of how organisms interact with complex environmental systems when processing cues (instead of information) and thus are able to produce evolutionarily stable representations of and judgments about the environment. TPF was formulated with no references to physiological processes. The present paper aims to demonstrate how well these principles correspond with current biophysical and neurophysiological findings, models, and simulations of sensation. We then discuss in what ways planning groups may be seen as organisms and how groups resemble and differ from (biological) organisms on the level of the individual and below. Based on this, we suggest how the principles of TPF can be used to describe planning groups’ activities when constructing planning variants or scenarios for sustainable transitioning. We illustrate the ways in which (under ideal constraints that may be provided in ideal transdisciplinary processes) planning groups follow principles such as vicarious mediation. Here, we reflect on the ways decision theoretic tools (such as Formative Scenario Analysis and Multi-Attribute Decision Analysis) can serve to construct robust (i.e., “evolutionarily stable”) orientations for the future. It is difficult to validate big theories such as TPF. Thus, special attention is paid to the question of how strategies of validation (according to normal scientific principles) for different principles and TPF as such can be developed. We conclude that (in the context of sustainable transitioning) TPF can be utilized from a descriptive, prescriptive, and normative perspective. All three perspectives call for different strategies of validation. Show more
Journal / seriesEnvironment Systems and Decisions
Pages / Article No.
SubjectComplexity; Probabilistic functionalism; Perception; Knowledge representation; Environment; Human–environment systems; Planning groups; Sustainability
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