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A Dooyeweerdian Approach to Distributed Cognition

Traditionally, cognitive science has focused on what's 'inside' the mind of the individual. Distributed Cognition is a stance that believes we must take account of what is outside the individual mind, spread across several minds and even outside. Its main tenets are, according to Hollan, Hutchins and Krish [2000]:

This move from traditional to distributed cognition thus parallels similar moves in many other fields related to psychology, social science, information systems, management, and in some feminist thought, all of which move away from the individual to the social setting, from purely mental to 'embodied'.

Here I make some initial comparison between Distributed Cognition and Dooyeweerdian thinking, for the purposes of initiating discussion and perhaps mutual enrichment and mutual positive critique between the two streams of thought.

In doing so, a key link between them is that in cognition of the traditional kind, functioning in the lingual aspect of signs carrying meaning is primary, with the pre-lingual aspects, especially the formative aspect of structure and intention, and the analytic aspect of distinction and concept).

DCog Dooyeweerd Agrees
How Dooyeweerd Sees It
Dooyeweerd Enriches
or Disagrees
Move from individual mind to its social setting Cognition has a social as well as lingual aspect. -
Move from purely mental to embodied. Cognition has a biotic aspect too. -
Tenet 1: Social organization is itself a form of cognitive architecture. There must be a necessary lingual aspect to social organization since the social aspect follows, and thus depends on, the lingual. (Note: social organization is not solely lingual (cognitive), but it is likely that the authors did not mean identity here.)
"... Since social organization ... largely determines the way information flows through a group" tenet 1 follows - There are many other things that determine the way information flows through a group, such as pistic commitments, ethical self-giving, aesthetics and the like (all being post-social aspects). So, if tenet 1 rests on the "largely" then it is dubious.
Tenet 2: Cognition is embodied; ... the human body and the material world take on central rather than peripheral roles. Yes. There is a biotic and physical aspect to cognition, and indeed the lingual aspect depends on these aspects. -
Tenet 3: The study of cognition is not separable from the study of culture, because agents live in complex cultural environments. Yes. Though science involves isolating an aspect, there is no single science of human behaviour, and cognition is best seen as part of that. Therefore to ignore the social aspect in studying cognition is inevitably limiting. -
"Distributed cognition means more than that cognitive processes are socially distributed across the members of a group. It is a broader conception that includes phenomena that emerge in social interactions ..."
Three questions then arise ...
Agreed. There is not only social-flavoured lingual functioning, but also genuine social functioning. -
Q1: "How are the cognitive processes we normally associate with an individual mind implemented in a group of individuals?" Answer by examining the Lingual aspectual being (reification of the lingual aspect alone) of the concrete social situation. -
Q2: "How do the cognitive properties of groups differ from the cognitive properties of the people who act in those groups?" Answer by examining the Lingual aspect of the social group vs. lingual aspect of individuals. -
Q3: "How are the cognitive properties of individual minds affected by participation in group activities?" Answer by examining the retrocipation from the social to the lingual. -
Dcog "holds that cognitive activity is constructed from both internal and external resources." - This displays an entity-orientation (or 'immanence standpoint'), which seeks to find out what self-dependent entities a thing or activity is constructed from. Dooyeweerd, by contrast, has a meaning-orientation, by which cognitive activity is not seen as 'constructed from' any processes so much as a human being functioning in a number of aspects, some of which are internal, some external.
"Researchers [should] make a real commitment to a domain ... one must know what that structure [of the domain] is" - i.e. observer must be engaged. Yes. There is no such thing as the detached observer. -


Hollan J, Hutchins E, Kirsh D [2000] "Distributed cognition: toward a new foundation for human-computer interaction research" ACM Trans. Computer-Human Interaction 7(2):174-96.
This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

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Created: 3 June 2004 Last updated: 16 June 2010 .nav, .end, rid unet.