This from the latest issue of Neuroethics December 2013, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp. 593-605.
Here is the intro and conclusion to Chris and my paper:
To know is to cognize, to cognize is to be a culturally bounded, rationality-bounded and environmentally located agent. Knowledge and cognition are thus dual aspects of human sociality. If social epistemology has the formation, acquisition, mediation, transmission and dissemination of knowledge in complex communities of knowers as its subject matter, then its third party character is essentially stigmergic. In its most generic formulation, stigmergy is the phenomenon of indirect communication mediated by modifications of the environment. Extending this notion one might conceive of stigmergy as the extra-cranial analog of artificial neural networks or the extended mind. With its emphasis on coordination, it acts as the binding agent for the epistemic and the cognitive. Coordination is, as David Kirsh (2006, p. 250) puts it, “the glue of distributed cognition”. This paper, therefore, recommends a stigmergic framework for social epistemology to account for the supposed tension between individual action, wants and beliefs and the social corpora: paradoxes associated with complexity and unintended consequences. A corollary to stigmergic epistemology is stigmergic cognition, again running on the idea that modifiable environmental considerations need to be factored into cognitive abilities. In this sense, we take the extended mind thesis to be essentially stigmergic in character.
This paper proceeds as follows. In Section 2, we set out the formal specifications of stigmergy. In Section 3, we illustrate the essentially stigmergic characteristics of social epistemology. In Section 4, we examine extended mind externalism as the preeminent species of stigmergic cognition. In Section 5 we illustrate how the particle swarm optimization (PSO) algorithm for the optimization of a function could be understood as a useful tool for different processes of social cognition, ranging from the learning of publicly available knowledge by an individual knower, to the evolution of scientific knowledge. In Section 6, we offer some concluding remarks.
A great deal of ground has been covered in the course of which we have made a case for two central claims:
1. Social epistemology has the formation, acquisition, mediation, transmission and dissemination of knowledge in complex communities of knowers as its subject matter. Such knowledge is, for the most part, third party and as such it is knowledge that is conditioned and modified. Understood thus, social epistemology is essentially stigmergic.
2. One might conceive of social connectionism as the extra-cranial analog of an artificial neural network providing epistemic structure. The extended mind thesis (at least the Clarkean variant) runs on the idea that modifiable environmental considerations need to be factored into cognitive abilities. This notion of cognition is thus essentially stigmergic.
With 1 and 2 in mind, two disclaimers are in order. First, a stigmergical socio-cognitive view of knowledge and mind should not be construed as (a) the claim that mental states are somewhere other than in the head or, (b) the corollary, that as individualists, we do not think that what is outside the head has nothing to do with what ends up in the head. A stigmergic approach, necessarily dual aspect, does not require one to dispense with one or the other. There is no methodological profit whatsoever to throwing out the Cartesian baby along with the bath water. Second, a socio-cognitive view of mind and knowledge be not be mistaken as a thesis for strong social constructivism, the idea all facts are socially constructed (a denial that reality in some way impinges upon mind) – again, it would be inconsistent with the environmental emphasis entailed by stigmergy.
For Clark, “[M]uch of what goes on in the complex world of humans, may thus, somewhat surprisingly, be understood in terms of so-called stigmergic algorithms.” (Clark, 1996, p. 279). Traditional cases of stigmergic systems include stock markets, economies, traffic patterns, supply logistics and resource allocation (Hadeli, Valckenaers, Kollingbaum, & Van Brussel, 2004), urban sprawl, and cultural memes. New forms of stigmergy have been exponentially expanded through the affordances of digital technology: we’ve expounded upon Google’s RP and Amazon’s CF but of course include wiki, open source software, weblogs, and a whole range of “social media” that comprise the World Wide Web. These particular examples serve to make the wider stigmergical point that the Janus-like aspect of knowledge and cognition must be set against a background fabric of cultural possibility: individuals draw their self-understanding from what is conceptually to hand in historically specific societies or civilizations, a preexisting complex web of linguistic, technological, social, political and institutional constraints.
It is no surprise then that it has been claimed that stigmergic systems are so ubiquitous a feature of human sociality, it would be more difficult to find institutions that are not stigmergic ( Parunak, 2005 and Tummolini and Castelfrananchi, 2007). If stigmergy were merely coextensive with “the use of external structures to control, prompt, and coordinate individual actions” (Clark, 1997, p. 186), then the concept would amount to a claim about situated cognition in all its dimensionality Solomon, 2006b. While stigmergy includes these aspects, it distinctively emphasizes the cybernetic loop of agent → environment → agent → enviro nment through an ongoing and mutual process of modification and conditioning, appearing to dissolve the supposed tension between the self-serving individual and the social corpora at large through indirect interaction. Though this process of behavior modification has long since been identified by both PSE and SSE theorists, only recently has there begun a concerted effort ( Turner, 2001 and Turner, 2003) to, as Ron Sun puts it (Sun, 2006) “cognitivize” human sociality. Social theory and cognitive science must now recognize the virtues of a “cognitivized” approach to all things social.
Keynote talk by Andy for the 9th International Symposium of Cognition, Logic and Communication. Andy appears @ 11:57
Here is the intro to Leonard’s article.
Some say that the mind is extended. I’d say that the current debate about one important interpretation of this view focuses on an overly narrow topic, whether cognition is extended. (‘Extended’ means extended beyond the ordinary physical body boundary.) All agree, though, that what will here be called fognition is extended. A system is a fognitive system iff it is a system that includes cognition and all representational sources for cognition, where a representational source for cognition is a representation used as a representation by a cognitive system. This definition allows for two sorts of theories: in one it is maintained that there is no overlap between cognitive states and any external-tothe- ordinary-body source state; in the other it is maintained that there is overlap between cognitive states and the external-to-the-ordinary-body representational source states. However, if fognition is extended, then, it is plausible to hold, the mind is extended.
Before showing such plausibility, though, a bit of background is appropriate. There is a distinction between semantic externalism (begun in the 1970’s), and active externalism (begun in the 1990’s); it is the latter view that sets the stage for our interest. Andy Clark and David Chalmers, in ‘The Extended Mind’ defended an active externalism (and they there inaugurated use of the term ‘active externalism’) in which there is “an active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes” (Clark & Chalmers 1998, Introduction). Their examples include computer aids and notebooks. Since they examined not only processing systems but also beliefs, they concluded that there is extended mind. That is, the physical base of the mind goes beyond the ordinary physical body boundary.
There is also a criticism of semantic externalism that should be briefly mentioned. Some say that semantic externalism merely presents a theory about semantic content in which there seems to be no constituency relationship between semantic content and the mind. Another way to put this is to say that semantic externalism only yields mental externalism if the contents of mental states are essential to those states; but the environmental conditions in question are not, or do not seem to be, essential to what we might well mean by mental states (Rowlands 2003, Ch. 7).
Active externalism, by contrast, attempts to identify the physical base of the mind as external. Clark and Chalmers took it that they first showed that the physical base of (some) cognition is external; then they added beliefs, which are clearly mental states, to the picture, and tried to show that the physical base of not only cognition, but also the mind, is external. Since beliefs are not only mental states, but also cognitive states, one way to construe this argument for active externalism is to say that a hidden contention within active externalism is, or seems to be, expressed in the following identity statement:
A: The physical base of cognition is the physical base of the mind.
In assessing the credibility of A we are brought to an examination from which the plausibility of extended mind, I suggest, emerges.
Critics of active externalism argue that the physical base of cognition is not extended. A fine recent criticism of active externalism is Adams and Aizawa’s The Bounds of Cognition (2008). Adams and Aizawa maintain that cognition only occurs in the substrate of non-derived representation and in the substrate with a certain sort of mechanism. That mechanism, they maintain, could be outside the brain, but is not, at the moment, outside the brain (Adams and Aizawa 2008, 9). After careful applications of these criteria, they conclude that, given what exists, the physical base of cognition is internal to the brain.
One way to take this argument against active externalism is to take it that Adams and Aizawa agree with A. Looked at this way, Adams and Aizawa’s view states that since cognition is not extended, but is only physically based in the brain, and since the physical base of cognition is the base of the mind, then the mind is not extended.
However, there are other ways to interpret the content of Adams and Aizawa’s remarks. One might focus on the modality, what could be the case, though it is, in Adam’s and Aizawa’s view, not currently the case. This tack (closely related to Clark and Chalmers’ portability arguments, 1998, section 3, one interpretation of which also rejects A) will not be followed here, but, rather, another tack, that, too, undoes A, will be sketched. It will be shown that there is no inconsistency between accepting Adams and Aizawa’s view that the extent of the base of cognition is only in the brain, and rejecting A. Some writers, e.g., Hacker and Bennett 2003, hold or imply that the base of the personal (human) mind is the whole intuitively picked out body (Hacker and Bennett: 3, and throughout). Adams and Aizawa say that orthodox psychologists take cognition to be internal to the brain, and so, if Hacker and Bennett accept A, then Hacker and Bennett reject the content of Adams and Aizawa’s psychological orthodoxy. Yet Hacker and Bennett’s approach demonstrates the consistency of the views that there is a technical psychological notion to be called cognition, that cognition is internal to the brain, and that the whole organism is the base of the mind. Orthodox psychologists, too, can hold cognition to be internal to the brain, and can reject the identity expressed in A. That allows for something broader than Hacker and Bennett’s view of the mind.
Given the modality, and given the many views in psychology, including philosophical psychology, what shall we make of the central claim of the active mind externalists, that the human mind is extended?
Adams and Aizawa (2008 x, 106-7, 146), and all members of the philosophical community who are interested in the topic, agree that what was defined above as the fognitive system is extended: the fognitive system includes things in the brain, in the intuitively picked out body, and in its environment. The notion of fognition allows all, both exponents and critics of the view that cognition is extended, to hold that A is false and yet the personal mind is extended. Whether those who hold that the base of cognition is only in the brain agree that the mind is extended depends on the degree to which they agree with the putative identity expressed in B:
B: The base of fognition is the base of the mind.
Further, B seems to be at least as credible as A. A lot of the operations in the mind are subconscious or non-conscious. But then whether or not an element is a part of the generating system of conscious cognition seems to be irrelevant. The focus should be on dispositional states and the mind.
The dispositional structure – a functional structure – seems to be independent of whether or not something is a part of the base yielding consciousness. Given the many subconscious or non-conscious features in the physio-chemical, biological, or neurophysiological base of the mind, the only thing that seems to be functionally required for something to be part of the base of the mind is that it be part of the base of fognition. Then the non-conscious aspect of a notebook in one’s pocket doesn’t prevent the notebook in one’s pocket from being part of the base of the mind.
There is another way to put this point. One could try to limit the base of the mind, taking it only to be the base of conscious cognition. But this would yield many counterintuitive results: the many levels of consciousness, sub-consciousness, and nonconsciousness, for instance, make it hard to arrive at a suitable distinction. And we don’t know yet if any region(s) of the brain can be located as the base of conscious cognition. It may well be that the continuities are too extensive for such picking out to occur. And we do want the dispositional states to count in a criterion for the mind; a human in deep sleep should still be regarded as having a vast array of mental structures usably stored in some way. But then, once we allow these in-the-brain dispositional structures to be included, we should also allow what the critics of active externalism call the non-cognitive dispositional structures to be included too. In short, that which is dispositionally fognitive seems to be all that is required for a system-base to be the base of the mind.
Supposing that Adams and Aizawa and other orthodox cognition theorists are right – that the base of cognition is only in the brain, whereas fognition extends beyond the brain and beyond the ordinarily picked out human body – it could still be that the base of cognition together with the representational sources of cognition inside or outside the ordinary body, add up to the base of the mind. Accordingly, it would seem, since fognition is extended, the base of the personal mind is extended too. This defends the main conclusion of the active externalists in a way that sidesteps the key point defended by central critics of active externalism, namely, that cognition occurs, at the moment, entirely in the brain. The main thesis of the active mind externalists is not at all implausible, despite various vigorous criticisms based on the location of cognition.
Let this be put more positively: The central theme of active mind externalists is plausible. More than that, it is intriguing. But of what further use is this intriguing notion? There are a few hints and modest suggestions at the end of Clark and Chalmers’ paper. Here, a much larger result will be taken to follow from the active extended mind view. I will claim that the active extended mind view is complemented by another intriguing intellectual view, that the underlying human body is extended beyond the ordinary human body. Then I will suggest that these two intriguing intellectual views have strong practical applications. One is in humanism and one in religion. And then I will suggest that whatever view one holds on extended mind, extended body, extended humanism, and extended religion, one should agree that there is an institutional extension of secularism. It will take a bit of time to expose these points, but the fourfold outcome is important.
Here is the intro to Teed’s article.
Those of us who defend the Hypothesis of Extended Cognition (HEC) get criticized from two different perspectives which, to use a political metaphor, could be called radical and conservative. Because HEC was born in the cognitive science community, most of the criticism comes from epistemological conservatives i. e. from those who want to conserve the idea that the mind is best described as being in some sense identified with the brain. These critics want to be assured that there is some place where the mind stops and the world begins, and believe that the brain is the best place to draw the line. Outside the orthodox cognitive science community, however, there are readers from the radical epistemological “left,” who welcome HEC as some version of the claim that we are “one with everything”. The most articulate and cautious of these radicals is David Skrbina, who argues that if I were to follow through with my own logic, I would accept “a kind of full-blown panpsychism” (Skrbina 2006). It is possible that I could be persuaded to agree with Skrbina about this, depending on how we define our terms, and what level of reality he is willing to grant to discrete individual minds. That, however, would be a topic for another time. In this paper, I will only concern myself with those who see my position (whether approvingly or disapprovingly) as a kind of muddled monistic mysticism. These causal readers serve an important function in the debate, by providing a reductio ad absurdum argument against HEC for the Conservatives. If HEC really required us to abandon all distinctions between mind and world, it could not be the next paradigm in Cognitive Science. On the contrary, it would require us to abandon cognitive science altogether. One reason that my version of HEC sometimes receives this radical interpretation is that I believe the mind is best described as a behavioral field, rather than a single item such as a brain or a body. There is also the fact that I occasionally describe this behavioral field with somewhat evocative language that might be appealing to the radicals, such as “Consciousness could be a pattern which, like a vibration started by throwing a stone in the water, ripples through the world even though there is a biological creature at its center” (Rockwell 2005, 103). However, it is my intention to position myself in a kind of “middle way” between these radical and conservative extremes, even though my position is more radical than some other HEC theorists. For example, Andy Clark’s version of HEC does try to give fairly hard and fast criteria for identifying the mind with certain kinds of external cognitive “scaffolding”, such as the note book that aides the memory of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. (Clark and Chalmers 1998, 17). Unlike Clark, however, I am inclined to believe that drawing a single line between the self and the world outside the brain is probably even more misleading than trying to draw the line at the brain. Consequently, I think we should abandon the idea that there is a single place where the line can always be drawn. This is what makes some of my readers accuse me of rejecting “the analytic distinctions of self and world.” (McCarthy 2006), and thus embracing the radical “we are one with everything” position. This is a misinterpretation, however, because I also insist that “To say that the mind emerges from the brain-body-world nexus does not mean that there is no world, only a mind. The line between the self and the world must always be drawn somewhere . . .That is what it means to live in a world.” (Rockwell 2005, 104) I do not identify the mind with the entire brain-body-world nexus, because I believe that the line between the self and world must be drawn somewhere at any given moment. But this does not necessarily imply that there is a single place that the line can be drawn for all conscious creatures, or for a single conscious creature throughout its history. A great deal of useful scientific work can be done by drawing the line at the skull, but the books that defend HEC describe scientific work that needs to draw the line in a variety of other places. I think the best way to account for both mainstream neuroscience and this other more problematic work is to see the boundary between self and world as flexible. That is why I feel the mind is best described as a behavioral field rather than as an organ in the skull.
An extract from Lynne Rudder Baker’s paper:
Cognitive scientists have become increasingly enamored of the idea of extended minds. The extended-mind thesis (EM) is the claim that mentality need not be situated just in the brain or even within the boundaries of the skin. EM is the modal claim that it is possible that the mind is not bound by skull or skin. EM is quite radical: A mind is a collection of processes
that easily extends to tools, programs, other minds, and language. Cognitive states may have all sorts of components—neural, bodily, environmental. The heart of the extended-mind thesis is that we biological creatures can “couple” with nonbiological entities or features of our environment and thereby expand the entities that we are. Some versions do away with enduring agents altogether; “extended selves” (Clark and Chalmers 1998, 18) are relatively transitory couplings of biological organisms and external resources. There is a huge and complex literature on the idea of an extended mind, both pro and con. I focus here on some of Andy Clark’s work, especially the article he wrote with David Chalmers in 1998, “The Extended Mind.”
Here is my plan for the article. First, I show how EM can be seen as an extension of traditional views of mind. Then, after voicing a few qualms about EM, I reject it in favor of a more modest hypothesis that recognizes enduring subjects of experience and agents with integrated bodies. Nonetheless, my modest hypothesis allows subpersonal states to have nonbiological parts that play essential roles in cognitive processing. I present empirical warrant for this hypothesis and show how it leaves room for science and religion to coexist.
FROM TRADITIONAL VIEWS TO THE EXTENDED MIND
One way to understand EM is to start with a traditional picture of mental states and then see how EM revises it. Here is one traditional picture: Many mental states have content—states of desire are satisfied or not, intentions are fulfilled or not, beliefs are true or false. Typically, contents are given by the that-clauses that follow psychological and linguistic verbs such as thinks, believes, desires, intends, says. Thoughts and other contentful states are said to have two kinds of properties: properties determined by the content and properties of the vehicles that carry content. (The distinction brings to mind Descartes’ distinction between representative, or objective, reality and formal reality.)
What makes a thought the very thought that it is is its content. That is, states that have content are individuated by their contents. The thought that snow is white differs from the thought that grass is green in virtue of the difference between snow’s being white and grass’s being green. The contents of thoughts (and other mental states)—that snow is white or that grass is green—are carried by vehicles, traditionally thought of as neural states. Neural states are internal states, “in the head.” Call this view vehicleinternalism.
Even if, as traditionally supposed, vehicles are internal to the thinker, the contents of thoughts may be determined by phenomena outside the thinker (or so many think). The view that the contents of our thoughts— and, hence, the identity of which thoughts we can have—are determined by features of the environment is called content-externalism. To take a well-worn example, Pam, who lives on Earth where there is H2O (water), may have the thought that water is wet. Now suppose that there is another world in which there is an abundant liquid that looks like water but is not water because it has a different chemical composition. Suppose also that people in that waterless world drink, brush their teeth with, and swim in the water look-alike. The inhabitants speak a language similar to English, but when they utter what sounds like “water” in English, they are not speaking of water but of the other stuff, the water look-alike. In that world, where there is no water (no H2O), a molecular duplicate of Pam—call her Cam—could not have the thought that water is wet. The duplicate’s thought can be reported in English as the thought that twater (the stuff in the other world) is wet, but it cannot be reported as the thought that water is wet. Cam’s thoughts that correspond to Pam’s water-thoughts are twater-thoughts. Cam cannot have any water-thoughts. Because Pam and Cam are molecular duplicates, their brain states are of identical types. But if content-externalism is true, their thoughts are not of identical types.
Although content-externalism is not altogether uncontroversial, it is well-entrenched enough to say that a version of the traditional view combines vehicle-internalism and content-externalism. We may see EM as an extension of the externalism of contents to an externalism of vehicles. With the combination of vehicle-internalism and content-externalism in the background, EM treats vehicles in a way analogous to the way that the (externalist) traditional view treats content. EM is a kind of extreme externalism in that not only the determinants of content but also the vehicles may be located outside the organism. Clark, an early proponent of EM, characterizes EM as “the view that the material vehicles of cognition can be spread out across brain, body and certain aspects of the physical environment itself ” (2005, 1). EM in effect extends content-externalism to vehicle-externalism (Hurley 1998). Until recently, vehicles were thought to be only brain states (vehicle-internalism). According to vehicle-externalism, however, not only is the content determinable by features of the environment, but the vehicle also may be spread out into the environment. Vehicle-externalism supposes that cognitive processes may have vehicles that include aspects of the environment.
For example, beliefs are normally embedded in memory, but they need not be. Consider Otto, who is impaired in such a way that he cannot form new memories. He writes down what he wants to remember in a notebook that he always carries. Suppose that Otto is on Fifth Avenue in New York City and is looking for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). He knows that he cannot simply search his memory for the location of MoMA, so he automatically reaches for his trusty notebook and looks up the address: 53rd Street. The information in the notebook—just like the information stored in brain-based memory—“is reliably there when needed, available to consciousness and available to guide action, in just the way that we expect a belief to be” (Clark and Chalmers 1998, 13). Viewed from the lens of EM, the skin is seen as an artificial boundary.
In one of the most important early articles on EM, Clark and Chalmers state that “when it comes to belief, there is nothing sacred about skull and skin. What makes some information count as a belief is the role it plays, and there is no reason why the relevant role can be played only from inside the body.” For some of Otto’s mental states—his extended beliefs—Otto and his notebook are coupled; they form a cognitive system, all components of which are causally active. The “relevant parts of the world are in the loop, not dangling at the other end of a long causal chain” (Clark and Chalmers 1998, 9). Hence, extended cognition is sometimes called “active externalism” (p. 8).
As Clark puts it later, “taken as a single, integrated system, Otto-andthe- notebook exhibit enough of the central features and dynamics of a normal agent having (amongst others) the dispositional belief that MOMA is on 53rd Street to warrant treating him as such.” He asks rhetorically, “If an inner mechanism with this functionality [passive aspects of memory] would intuitively count as cognitive, then (skin-based prejudices aside) why not an external one?” (Clark 2005, 7) The point of EM is that neither the organic brain nor the skin sets a boundary on the vehicles of cognition. Features of the environment may or may not be components of the vehicle.
In general, tools extend cognition. A tool, “even when temporarily in use, is rapidly assimilated into the brain’s body maps and is treated (temporarily) just like a somewhat less sensitive part of the body.” For example, the receptive visual field of a macaque using a rake for as little as thirty seconds becomes elongated as if the rake were part of the arm (Clark 2005, 8). Use of a tool, even temporarily, changes neural maps. Neural plasticity “makes it possible for new equipment to be factored deep into both our cognitive and physical problem-solving routines” (p. 9). So, we become physical and cognitive hybrids—part biological and part artifactual.
Not only is there physically extended cognition, there is socially extended cognition as well. As many have observed, their spouses are their external memory devices. My husband serves as part of a vehicle for many of my memories. For such memories (as well as in other ways), a proponent of EM may say that my husband and I are coupled. Coupling between agents is effected by language, among other things. Language “is not a mirror of our inner states but a complement to them. It serves as a tool whose role is to extend cognition in ways that on-board devices cannot” (Clark and Chalmers 1998, 18).
Clark emphasizes that hybridization (Otto-and-his-notebook) is quite normal. We routinely use “transparent technologies” such as pencils for calculating sums. We are just shifting combinations of biological and nonbiological elements.
Paradigms in which human cognition is conceptualised as “embedded”, “distributed”, or “extended” have arisen in different areas of the cognitive sciences in the past 20 years. These paradigms share the idea that human cognitive processing is sometimes, perhaps even typically, hybrid in character: it spans not only the embodied brain and central nervous system, but also the environment with its social or technological resources ( Clark, 1997, Clark, 2007, Haugeland, 1998, Hollan et al., 2000, Hutchins, 1995, Hutchins, 2006, Kirsh, 1996, Kirsh, 2000, Kirsh, 2006, Norman, 1993, Sutton, in press-a and Wilson, 1994). Such views of cognition share a scepticism about the adequacy of conceptualizing cognition as a process that begins and ends at the skull.
One motivation for adopting a perspective in which cognition is embedded, distributed, or extended begins with reflection on the fact that neural systems do not operate in causal isolation from their environments. Moreover, the nature and level of causal integration across the divide between individual and environment suggests that cognitive systems themselves often involve the coupling of neural, bodily, and external systems in complex webs of continuous reciprocal causation. Through evolution and ontogenetic development we have gained capacities skilfully to hook up with or incorporate external physical and cultural resources that over time have themselves become apt for incorporation into more encompassing, extended cognitive systems. In this way, we form temporarily integrated larger cognitive units that incorporate distinct but complementary inner and outer components, often making “the world smart so that we can be dumb in peace” (Clark, 1997, p. 180). Embodied human minds extend into a vast and uneven world of things—artefacts, technologies, and institutions—which they have collectively constructed and maintained through cultural and individual history.
Often-cited examples of distributed cognition include studies of the instruments and procedures involved in navigation; the physical objects and epistemic tools used in processing orders in a café; the tangle of notes and records with which an academic paper is written; the way skilled bartenders employ unique glasses to remember cocktail orders; or the sketchpads without which abstract artists cannot iteratively re-imagine and create an artwork (Beach, 1988, Clark, 1997, Clark, 2001, Hutchins, 1995, Kirsh, 2006 and van Leeuwen et al., 1999). Developing research programmes in distributed cognition and the extended mind are being tested and applied in disciplines ranging from science studies (Giere, 2002) to cognitive archaeology (Knappett, 2005), computer-supported cooperative work (Halverson, 2002), and Shakespeare studies (Tribble, 2005). Philosophical defenses of the extended mind (Clark and Chalmers, 1998, Rowlands, 1999 and Wilson, 2004) have generated a robust, critical, ongoing debate about the conceptual foundations of the approach (Adams and Aizawa, 2001, Adams and Aizawa, 2007, Clark, in press, Menary, 2006 and Rupert, 2004).
This literature on “the cognitive life of things” (Sutton, 2002a) has fuelled a rather technophilic style in distributed cognition research, occasionally resulting in a preoccupation with technology to the relative neglect of social systems (Clark, 2003 and Clark and Chalmers, 1998). Yet in most complex real-world contexts, distributed cognitive processes involve the skilful interactive simultaneous coordination of things and people. One natural strategy to address the methodological challenges this poses is to seek insight from and integration with research traditions that focus on interpersonal interaction in cognition. This is to draw attention to the social aspects of distributed cognitive processes, to cases in which other people—rather than artefacts—are the more-or-less enduring partners in coupled or transactive distributed cognitive systems.
In this paper we thus aim to show that the distributed cognition framework offers new perspectives on social cognition by applying it to one specific domain: the psychology of memory (see also Tollefsen, 2006). In particular, we argue that independent lines of research on memory—about relations between individual memory and social groups—can be better understood and developed by reconceiving them within this theoretical framework. This focus on the social distribution of cognition is particularly appropriate in thinking about memory, since encoding, storage, and retrieval in real-world contexts all frequently involve the cognitive activities of more than a single individual. This integrative project should have benefits both ways. On the one hand, ideas about distributed cognition can be honed against and tested with the help of sophisticated methods in the social-cognitive psychology of memory; conversely, a range of social memory phenomena that are as yet poorly understood can be approached afresh with theoretically motivated extensions of existing empirical paradigms.
The empirical work on transactive and collaborative remembering that we survey below covers just one of a number of fields to which the framework of distributed and extended cognition can be brought to bear: we could also refer to studies of multi-agent interaction in AI (Koning & Ling, 2003), small-group research in social psychology (Fiske & Goodwin, 1994), or (closer to our concern with memory) the flourishing social-interactionist tradition in the developmental psychology of autobiographical memory. In this last field, for example, 20 years of research has built up a rich picture of early personal memory capacities emerging from the dynamical interaction of distinct components in a social-cultural-cognitive-neural system (Nelson & Fivush, 2004), where the relative influence of multiple concurrent processes can vary across cases (Griffiths and Stotz, 2000, Reese, 2002, Smith and Thelen, 2003 and Sutton, 2002b). Early joint attention to the past between carers and children slowly helps the child achieve a grasp of the causal significance of the order of events, of the availability of distinct perspectives on the same past time, of the uniqueness of actions, and of the affective and social significance of the sharing of memories (Campbell, in press and Hoerl and McCormack, 2005). Independent work on children’s explanatory knowledge, and particularly on their knowledge about the social division of cognitive labour (Lutz and Keil, 2002, Rozenblit and Keil, 2002 and Wilson and Keil, 2000), is also relevant here. While we will not discuss this developmental work further in this paper, the picture of early personal memory as socially distributed clearly dovetails with the view of the cognitive psychology of memory that we offer below.
The conceptual and empirical benefits that flow from this exploration of the social distribution of memory might also include the forging of new multidisciplinary middle-ground for memory studies. While mainstream philosophy of mind has largely neglected social aspects of remembering, studies of “collective memory” and “cultural memory” abound in a burgeoning interdisciplinary field spanning sociology, anthropology, history, political theory, and media theory (Bloch, 1998, Kansteiner, 2002, Klein, 2000, Olick, 1999 and Wertsch, 2002). We think that such social memory studies are potentially relevant for cognitive science and philosophy, and believe that both psychologists and humanities scholars can contribute directly to better understandings of the relations between broader studies of national or cultural memory and the typical individual or small-group focus of cognitive psychology with its empirical methods (Sutton, 2004, Sutton, Suttonin press-b and Wilson, 2005a). Since the phenomena in question in social memory studies do not recognize disciplinary boundaries, it is particularly important to seek both conceptual clarity on key terms and effective shareable methods (see also Hirst & Manier, in press).
In the next section we flesh out the kind of memory phenomena in which we are particularly interested. We specify some of the key social dimensions of cognitive distribution, and some of the basic distinctions between cases that our psychological studies need to respect and investigate. We also briefly show how our approach to distributed remembering can be interpreted within stronger or weaker versions of the general distributed cognition framework. Then in Section 3 we examine studies of social influences on memory in cognitive psychology, identifying the valuable concepts and methods to be extended and embedded in our framework. Here we focus in particular on three related paradigms: transactive memory, collaborative recall, and social contagion. In Section 4 we sketch our own early studies of individual and social memory developed with the framework of distributed cognition in mind.