Distributed Cognition in the Analytic and Continental Traditions

Distributed Cognition in the Analytic and Continental Traditions

Prof Michael Wheeler
Stirling University


Cognition (or mind, or thought, or intelligence…) may be said to be distributed when it is, in some way, spread out over the brain, the non-neural body and (in many paradigm cases) an environment consisting of objects, tools, other artefacts, texts, individuals, and/or social/institutional structures.

The aims of this presentation:

  • To explain some of the ways in which the idea of distributed cognition may be unravelled in terms of the further idea that cognition is embodied, embedded, extended and/or enactive (the so-called 4E perspective)

  • To show how distributed cognition (so understood) involves philosophical contributions from both sides of the (allegedly) entrenched divide between analytic and continental thought


Further questions

  1. Is cognition embedded or extended?

  2. What is the role of embodiment in (distributed) cognition?

  3. Should we go further than the social manifestation thesis and think in terms of socially extended individual minds or even group minds?


Essential readings


Secondary readings

  • Adams, F. and Aizawa, K. (2008). The Bounds of Cognition. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Bach-y-Rita, P. (1972). Brain Mechanisms in Sensory Substitution. New York: Academic Press.

  • Clark, A. (2008). Pressing the Flesh: A Tension in the Study of the Embodied, Embedded Mind?. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 76 (1): 37-59.

  • Clark, A. (2008). Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Haugeland, J. (1998). Mind Embodied and Embedded, in Having Thought: Essays in the Metaphysics of Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, pp. 207-237. First published in 1995 in Haaparanta, L. and Heinamaa, S. (eds.) Mind and Cognition: Philosophical Perspectives on Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence. Acta Philosphica Fennica 58: 233-67.

  • Heidegger, M. (1927/1962). Being and Time. trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

  • Hornsby, J. (1986). Physicalist Thinking and Conceptions of Behaviour. in P. Pettit and J. McDowell eds., Subject, Thought, and Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

  • Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/1962). Phenomenology of Perception. London and New York: Routledge.

  • Noë, A (2004). Action in Perception. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

  • O’Regan J. K. and Noë, A. (2001). A Sensorimotor Account of Vision and Visual Consciousness, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 939-1031.

  • Rietveld, E. (2012). Context-Switching and Responsiveness to Real Relevance, in J. Kiverstein and M. Wheeler (eds.). Heidegger and Cognitive Science, Palgrave-Macmillan: Basingstoke, 105-34.

  • Simon, H. A. (1996). The Sciences of the Artificial (3rd Edition). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Tribble, E. (2005). Distributing Cognition in the Globe, Shakespeare Quarterly, 56(2), 135-55.

  • Varela, F. J. , Thompson E., and Rosch, E. (1991). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Wheeler, M. (2005). Reconstructing the Cognitive World: the Next Step. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

  • Wheeler, M. (2010). In Defence of Extended Functionalism, in Menary, R. (ed.). The Extended Mind, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 245-270.

  • Wheeler, M. and Clark, A. (2008). Culture, Embodiment and Genes: Unravelling the Triple Helix, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B, 363, 3563-75.

  • Wilson, R.A. (2005). Collective Memory, Group Minds, and the Extended Mind Thesis. Cognitive Processing, 6(4), 227-236.