TALE: A Possible Theme called “Mental Moves”

Oliver Ding
Published in
11 min readMar 24


The Attachance Perspective to Ecological Creative Cognition

The above picture represents a Possible Theme called “Mental Moves”.

The theme of “Mental Moves” was initiated by Activity Analysis Center (2022) in July 2022. CALL followed it in March 2023. You can find more details in the following links:

I use “The Attachances of Moving Mental Elements” as the cue for the theme of “Mental Moves”.

What does it mean?

It means that there is a concept called “Attachance” behind the theme of “Mental Moves”.

  • Theme: Mental Moves
  • Concept: Attachance

Today I will use this connection as an example to discuss the “Theme — Concept” relationship.

On Feb 17, I suggested the challenge of running a development project around a primary annual theme: TALE: The 100-Day Challenge. For the journey of Knowledge Engagement, you can consider some things you could make around the primary theme. The diagram below lists five ideas.

All these things are contained in the thematic space which refers to a large cognitive space about a particular theme.

Moreover, we can use Knowledge Discovery Canvas to frame a knowledge project. The canvas below is used for reflecting on the “Product Engagement” framework. You can find more details in How did I develop the “Product Engagement” Framework?

To be honest, I didn’t start the “Product Engagement” framework with the above canvas.

This time, we can try it.

In this context, the “Theme — Concept” relationship is very clear. While a Theme frames a Thematic Space for a knowledge project, a Concept is a Resource for the knowledge project.

Using Knowledge Discovery Canvas to frame a Knowledge Project

Now let’s use “Mental Moves” to frame a knowledge project: we are going to curate more examples about “Moving between Thematic Spaces” and edit a possible book titled Mental Moves: The Attachances of Moving Mental Elements.

This statement indicates a First-order Activity because the project has a clear object and a simple program.

  • Object: A new possible book
  • Program: Collect more examples about “Moving between Thematic Spaces”

If we use the Knowledge Discovery Canvas, we can find more related things and we can see the big picture.

The rest of the article will offer more details about each section of the above canvas.

What’s the Significant Insight that led to this project?

In the past two months, I worked on the TALE project. TALE stands for Thematic Analysis Learning Lab. As a new knowledge center, TALE aims to host the Thematic Engagement project and build a community around thematic innovations.

In the journey of thematic engagement, I discovered a meta-diagram and named it “Dance”. See the diagram below.

You can see the journey of developing “Dance” in the diagram below.

You can find more details in Creative Action: The Chance-configuration Theory and Beyond and Creative Action: The Attachance of Moving Mental Elements.

These two articles are about the “Dance” case study. In fact, it is a case study of the concept of Attachance.

As mentioned in Creative Action: The Chance-configuration Theory and Beyond, Attachance Theory is about the ecological meaning and value of detaching acts and attaching acts. In other words, we pay attention to the process of moving between containers.

For the knowledge engagement project and the thematic engagement project in general, we pay attention to Thematic Spaces which are a specific type of container.

Container [Configuration (Mental Elements)]

Moreover, we can use the concept of “Nested Containers” to define several containers for case studies. For example, we can find the following three types of containers from my journey of working on TALE.

  • Projects: social containers
  • Thematic Spaces: cognitive containers
  • Digital Platforms: physical containers

We can make a new model for discussing Container [Configuration (Mental Elements)]. See the diagram below.

  • Each project corresponds to a thematic space.
  • Each project is supported by a digital platform.
  • A mental element can move between two thematic spaces.

Now we can focus on Attachance Theory and pay attention to the moving between these three types of containers.

This model is a Significant Insight because it expands Dean Keith Simonton’s Chance-configuration theory (Scientific Genius,1988) from head to head-body-environment.

This means we can develop a new perspective called Ecological Creative Cognition.

Adopt Theoretical Concepts for a Knowledge Project

As mentioned above, the “Mental Moves” project aims to curate more examples of “Moving between Thematic Spaces”. It means the primary object of the project is the concept of Attachance.

I coined the term Attachance by combining Attach and Chance in 2018 to discuss some ideas related to Affordance, a core idea of Ecological Psychology.

Affordance means potential action opportunities offered by environments. I want to highlight the meaning and value of actual action itself, however, the term Affordance only refers to potential actions. Thus, I coined the term Attachance to emphasize the potential opportunities offered by actual actions, especially the attaching act and the detaching act.

In 2019, I started working on my own theoretical account of the Ecological Practice approach after finishing a book titled Curativity. The 2019 version of the approach is a curated toolkit version. The concept of Attachance is part of the toolkit. In May 2020, I wrote a book titled After Affordance: The Ecological Approach to Human Action in which I proposed several new theoretical ideas for expanding ecological psychology to the modern digital environment. The primary theme of After Affordance is the concept of Attachance.

The concept of Attachance is planned to develop as 1) an ecological practice concept for practice studies such as interaction design and startup innovation, and 2) a philosophical concept for developing a social theory.

The book After Affordance only achieves the first goal and it focuses on the following acts:

  • Attaching to an environment
  • Detaching from an environment
  • Attaching to an object
  • Detaching from an object

I use the concept of Attachance in many ways.

The Attachance Perspective refers to its philosophical meaning. You can find more details in D as Diagramming: The Attachance Perspective.

The theoretical concept of “Attachance” for the Ecological Practice Approach. It refers to what I explored in the 2020 book After Affordance. For example, I used it and Affordance together for discussing creative actions. You can find more details in Creative Actions: Second-order Affordance and Attachance.

The word “Attachance” is for normal discussions. I often discuss some stories or topics from the perspective of Attachance. You can find an example in Possible Practices: Attach, Detach, and Opportunities.

In 2022, the development of Attachance was tied to the development of Thematic Space. As mentioned above, Thematic Spaces refer to a specific type of container: cognitive container. You can find more details in [Slow Cognition] The Development of the concept of “Thematic Spaces”.

I also want to emphasize two ideas from Dean Keith Simonton who is the author of Chance-configuration theory (Scientific Genius,1988). I used his theory and his concept “Mental Elements” for the “Mental Moves” project too.

What are mental elements?

According to Simonton, “In scientific creativity, the predominant mental elements are cognitions of some kind, such as facts, principles, relations, rules, laws, formulae, and images. Yet immediate sensations may also play a role in laboratory experimentation and field exploration, and feelings may figure in scientific thought and discourse as well (Mahoney 1976). Sometimes these mental elements can be evoked voluntarily (e.g., the deliberate retrieval of a stored fact from memory); at other times these elements enter mental processing involuntarily (e.g., via a conditioned emotional association). Moreover, these mental elements do not have to be fully conscious, but rather, many enter information processing at the periphery of consciousness. ” (1988, p.6)

I highlight some keywords from Simonton’s description of mental elements. It looks like this is a rough definition. And, it is very hard to give an accurate definition for such things.

Last year, I used a metaphor called “Sparks” for discussing Developing Tacit Knowledge. You can find more details in the following articles:

“Sparks” and “Mental Elements” are perfect for the “Creative Actions” level because some outcomes of creative actions are not important for a creative project or a creative journey, but they are useful resources for creative operations.

In fact, the term “Mental Moves” was inspired by “Mental Elements” because I used “Moving Mental Elements between Thematic Spaces”.

Develop A Practical Perspective

In 2019, I wrote a chapter discussing knowledge curation in the book Curativity. For academic knowledge curation, I mentioned Dean Keith Simonton’s chance-configuration theory, Victor Kaptelinin, and Bonnie A. Nardi’s scientific curation case study “curation at Ajaxe”, and qualitative research.

I really like the Chance-configuration theory because it can be used to explain creative cognition. However, it only focuses on the head without considering the environment.

The concept of Attachance belongs to the Ecological Practice approach which is inspired by Ecological Psychology, Activity Theory, and social practice theories. In a broad sense, the Ecological Practice approach has its philosophical roots in traditional Pragmatism and contemporary embodied cognitive science.

On Dec 8, 2022, I introduced a new concept called “Ecological Strategic Cognition”. Now I want to introduce a similar idea: Ecological Creative Cognition. If we put this idea on the Knowledge Discovery Canvas, then it is a personal View that could be a practical Perspective.

In 1942, Stephen C. Pepper pointed out that there are four root metaphors of world views or conceptual systems: formism, mechanism, contextualism, and organicism in World Hypotheses: a study of evidence. In 1987, Altman and Rogoff reviewed the world views of psychologists and suggested a similar typology: trait, interactional, organismic, and transactionalism.

Source: Michael Mascolo

According to Harry Heft (2012), the foundation of various ecological approaches to psychology is transactionalism, “Frameworks more sympathetic to ecological thinking had been simmering among psychology’s early writings, notably in William James’ radical empiricism and Kurt Lewin’s field theory, but became realized only in the 1960s through the works of James J. Gibson, Roger G. Barker, and others. These frameworks share many of the assumptions of the ecological sciences and, collectively, can be located within a transactional worldview.”

The major difference between the interactional worldview and the transactionalism worldview is their unit of analysis.

  • Interactional worldview: The unit of analysis is the individual viewed as a bounded, independent entity, operating separately from the surrounding, while subject to influences from outside its boundaries.
  • Transactionalism worldview: The unit of analysis is the person-environment dynamic system. The components of this system operate in a relational, interdependent manner, rather than as independent entities.

The Ecological Practice approach adopts the Transactionalism worldview and its unit of analysis is the person-environment dynamic system. In this way, Strategic Cognition is an unfolding process of developing strategy-related mindsets and tacit knowledge in the real world.

Traditional Creative Cognition tends to focus on the perspective of cognitive psychology. According to Steven M. Smith, Thomas B. Ward, and Ronald A. Finke, “Although there are many useful and productive approaches to understanding creativity, the creative cognition approach (Finke, Ward, and Smith 1992) focuses on the cognitive processes and structures that underlie creative thinking.” (The Creative Cognition Approach, 1995).

As mentioned above, the Attachance approach to Ecological Creative Cognition considers the following unit as the basic model of creative thinking:

Container [Configuration (Mental Elements)]

In this way, Ecological Creative Cognition highlights a new perspective to creative thinking: moving from head to head-body-environment.

Edit A Possible Book

Last year, I worked on the Slow Cognition project which aims to explore the development of thoughts of creative workers. I have conducted several case studies about creative works.

One idea I found from my case studies is the “Creative Attachance” technique. In May 2022, I published a Slow Cognition research about 12 significant insights. I highlighted the following techniques behind these insights.

  • Creative Attachance: #1, #2, #3, #5, #7, #10, #12
  • Symbol Awareness: #1, #11
  • Writing as Thinking: #2, #5, #11
  • Double Container: #2
  • Deep Analogy: #2, #11, #12
  • Double Dialogues: #3
  • Diagramming as Thinking: #4, #5, #6, #7
  • The ECHO Way: #4
  • Thematic Curation: #5, #12
  • Concept Analysis: #6
  • Expandness: #6, #7
  • Co-creation: #8, #10
  • Self-reflection: #8, #11
  • Theoretical Development: #9, #12
  • Empirical Research: #9
  • Ecological Awareness: #10
  • Immanent Development: #12

This result encouraged me to pay attention to the “Attachance — Thematic Space” entanglement.

I would like to collect related articles and edit a new possible book.

This project is a new “Slow Cognition” research project. You can consider it as a new “Creative Life Curation” project too.

Moreover, you can pay attention to the Mapping Thematic Journey method. I will try this method too.

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Oliver Ding

Founder of CALL(Creative Action Learning Lab), information architect, knowledge curator.