Thelen Esther & Smith Linda:

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi The book describes a theory of early human development (how organic form is created, where does the information for the adult reside, etc) that applies the theory of nonlinear dynamic systems to biology and constitutes a landmark departure from cognitive theories.
The processes that govern human development are the same that act on the simplest organisms (and even some nonliving systems). They are processes of emergent order and complexity, of how structure arises from the interaction of many independent units. They integrate organic ontogeny at every level, from morphology to behavior.
Drawing from Edelman's neural darwinism, Bertalanffy's and Laszlo's general systems theory, Haken's synergetics, and Waddington's organismic metaphor, the authors prove that Piaget's theory fails, that Chomsky's model of competence and performance is flawed, that nativism is implausible, that cognition is continous across development, that Fodor's modules are illogical, that Newell & Simon's information processing model is incomplete. Only connectionism is salvaged, in virtue of its similarities with dynamic systems (knowoledge as a pattern of activity, mental life as only processes (not structures), but then discarded as naif and insufficient.
By using Robert Cairn's analogy (evolution is to biology what development is to psychology, i.e. the process behind the structure), the authors advance a theory of development that is as opportunistic as evolution. Knowledge in the individual originates in opportunistic and context-specific psychological processes. The emphasis is on processes of change, on ever-active self-organizing processes of living systems (analogous to selection algorithms).
Development appears to be orderly, incremental, directional (towards nutritional independence and reproductive maturity). The authors' theory, though, is that development is not driven by a grand design: it is driven by opportunistic, syncretic and exploratory processes. At a closer look, in fact, development is modular and heterochronic (different organs develop at different rates and different times), although the organism progresses as a whole. Global regularities (and simplicity) somehow arises from local variabilities (and complexities).
Development is not structured. Development is the outcome of the interplay between action and perception within a system that, by its thermodynamic nature, seeks stability. Performance emerges. Cognition is an emergent structure, situated and embodied, just like any other skill.
Knowledge for thought and action emerges from the dynamics of pattern formation in the context of neural group selection. Perception, action and cognition are rooted in the same pattern formation processes. Categories arise (self-roganize) spontaneously and reflect the experiences of acting and perceiving, i.e. of interacting with the world. More precisely, categories are created through the cross-relation of multimodal (hearing, seeing, feeling, etc) experiences. Unity of perception and action is evident in category formation. The critical role of movement in development is emphasized over and over: movement is a perceptual category. Beeing in the world "selects" categories.
"Meaning is emergent in perceiving and acting in specific contexts and in a history of perceiving and acting in contexts".
Development can be then viewed as the dymanic selection of categories. Categories are but a specific case of pattern formation, but they also are the foundation of cognitive development. Therefore, cognitive development is a direct consequence of properties of nonlinear dynamic systems, of self-configuring complex systems.
These features are shared by all organisms.