14. The Role of Affordances in Pretend Play
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14  The Role of Affordances in Pretend Play Pretending is often conceptualized as an imaginative or symbolic capacity, positing mental representations in its explanation. Traditional explanations hold that pretending is achieved by adding new meaning to the object pretended with. There is no denying that in objectsubstitution pretense (such as the banana-phone game), the agent uses the object differently from what the object usually designates. For example, when a banana is played as if it were a phone, in the present context it means “phone.” As Vygotsky ([1934] 1987) notices, in play, children step away from what objects usually mean and make them into something else. In the intellectualist framework, meanings are understood as given by mental contents, and they are imposed on (rather than found in) the reality. The intellectualist assumption is that without representing the meaning of what is to be acted out, one could not get engaged in pretense in the first place. Such a change of meaning is said to be done by manipulation of mental contents, whether these contents are belief-like (Leslie 1987; Nichols and Stich 2000, 2003) or imagining-like (Currie 2004, 2006; Van Leeuwen 2011).1 That pretense requires mental representations in its explanation (such as mental plans or models) is thought to be justified by considering that pretense is itself representational, as McCune and Agayoff Zuzanna Rucińska 1.  For example, Leslie (1987) proposes a decoupling mechanism that decouples primary representations of objects (“this is a banana”) into copies (“this is a banana*”) and then manipulates them into pretense representations (“this banana is a phone*”). Nichols and Stich (2000, 2003) propose that the content of the initial premise specifies the impending pretense play episode by entering a task-specific cognitive mechanism called the Possible Worlds Box. The PWB contains tokens of primary representations, whose function is “not to represent the world as it is or as we’d like it to be, but rather to represent what the world would be like given some set of assumptions that we may neither believe to be true nor want to be true” (2000, 122). On the imagistic spectrum, Van Leeuwen proposes that “(nonveridical) mental imagery can be integrated into the perceptual field and that this form of imagining delivers the objects we relate to in constructing pretence action, such as make-believe” (2011, 56); “the imaginings that are most immediate to the production of pretence are spatially rich; they are perceptually formatted or structured as representations of bodily movement” (67; italics added). 258 Z. Rucińska exemplify: “The capacity to utilize such internal models of previous experience is considered to be the foundation of the capacity to engage in mental representation, and hence pretending ” (2002, 44). If we were to borrow the jargon of Searle (1983), the direction of fit is supposed to be meaning (how you think about or imagine the banana) to environment (how you act on the banana), adding the new meaning “phone” to the banana. Embodied and enactive cognition theorists avoid recourse to mental representations to explain cognitive phenomena, looking for mentality in the interactions and not in encapsulated mental representations (see, e.g., Varela, Thompson, and Rosch 1991; Hutto and Myin 2013). Embodied and enactive cognition theorists also seek alternative explanatory tools for cognition; inspired by ecological psychology, they look at affordances to play such roles (e.g., Chemero 2003, 2009; Rietveld and Kiverstein 2014). Any enactive account that proposes affordances as explanatory tools would propose, contra Searle, to get rid of the jargon of “direction of fit” altogether, emphasizing the mutuality of the environment and the animal in creating meaningful interactions. In this chapter, I propose an account of pretense in line with this mutuality. Moreover, Gibson, who coined the term “affordances” in modern Western ecological psychology literature, claimed that the environment is already meaningful in the sense of providing opportunities for particular kinds of behavior: “The meaning or value of a thing consists of what it affords” (Gibson 1982, 407). For example, to say that the tree is meaningful to an animal that seeks shelter is just to say that the tree affords using it as a shelter to that animal. This equates with saying that whatever affordances afford can already be seen as meaningful.2 In seeing the banana, we do not impose the meaning “banana” on it but directly see it as affording: eating, grabbing, playing phone with. As such, the banana “means” all these things: it is a food, an object, a...