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The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition
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Book description

Since its inception some fifty years ago, cognitive science has seen a number of sea changes. Perhaps the best known is the development of connectionist models of cognition as an alternative to classical, symbol-based approaches. A more recent - and increasingly influential - trend is that of dynamical-systems-based, ecologically oriented models of the mind. Researchers suggest that a full understanding of the mind will require systematic study of the dynamics of interaction between mind, body, and world. Some argue that this new orientation calls for a revolutionary new metaphysics of mind, according to which mental states and processes, and even persons, literally extend into the environment. This book is a guide to this movement in cognitive science. Each chapter tackles either a specific area of empirical research or specific sector of the conceptual foundation underlying this research.


“Situated cognition has become a hot topic in cognitive science, encompassing a broad range of disciplines and theories concerning the relationship between mind, body and the world. The Cambridge Handbook provides an indispensable guide to the best ideas and controversies concerning the problems of embodied, embedded, distributed and situated cognition.

Publication of the Handbook is a landmark in bringing together the foremost theorists in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary collection. The chapters are original overviews concerning historical, foundational, theoretical and empirical issues from philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, psychology, AI and robotics.

The collection is a definitive resource for understanding the central issues in cognitive science today concerning mental representations, their meaning and their grounding interactions with the body and the external world.”
—Dr. Peter Slezak, University of New South Wales

"...If you are interested in exploring what all the buzz is about concerning terms like situated cognition, situativity, action theory, embodied cognition, embodiment, and distributed cognition, then The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition is worth your perusal...tantalizing ideas and pieces of evidence all in search of a testable theory of cognition..."
—Richard E. Mayer, PsycCRITIQUES [September 2, 2009, Vol. 54]

"... A fascinating feature of the Handbook is that there is tremendous variability amongst contributors in terms of their willingness to adopt the more radical consequences of the situated approach... Given that the more radical ideas presented in The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition have the potential to completely redefine the proper domain of cognitive psychology and cognitive science, it is essential reading..."
—Michael Dawson, Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne

"...This volume is a rich source of ideas and references for further exploration, covering every aspect of cognitive activity and engaging the full range of supporters and opponents of the basic ideas. References are listed separately for each chapter, but there is an integrated index. The work will be essential background for any course in cognitive science, and it can also serve as a convenient desk reference for researchers in AI, robotics, and other systems that require careful consideration of the relation between thinking and the world."
—H. Van Dyke Parunak, Computing Reviews

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Page 1 of 2

  • Chapter 9 - Explanation
    pp 155-170
  • Mechanism Modularity And Situated Cognition
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    Our sensory and motor capacities depend on more than just the workings of the brain and spinal cord; they also depend on the workings of other parts of the body, such as the sensory organs, the musculoskeletal system, and relevant parts of the peripheral nervous system (e.g., sensory and motor nerves). It seems natural to think of cognition as an interaction effect: the result, at least in part, of causal processes that span the boundary separating the individual organism from the natural, social, and cultural environment. One thing to say that cognitive activity involves systematic causal interaction with things outside the head, and it is quite another to say that those things instantiate cognitive properties or undergo cognitive processes. Bridging this conceptual gap remains a major challenge for defenders of the extended mind. Situated cognition is a many-splendored enterprise.
  • Chapter 10 - Embedded Rationality
    pp 171-182
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    This chapter provides an introduction to systems thinking and its application in systems theory. This is followed by a review of the historical context in which a non-systems-thinking perspective developed in the study of intelligence, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI) research. Then, the chapter reviews how systems thinking relates to and is manifested in the study of cognition. Next, it summarizes crosscutting themes that constitute the scientific antecedents of situated cognition. Finally, the chapter focuses on recent and continuing dilemmas that foreshadowed the acceptance of situated cognition in the fields of AI and psychology, and suggests prospects for the next scientific advances. The study of animal navigation and social behavior is especially profound for AI and cognitive science because it reveals what simpler mechanisms, that is, fixed programs with perhaps limited learning during maturation, can accomplish.
  • Chapter 11 - Situated Perception and Sensation in Vision and Other Modalities
    pp 185-200
  • A Sensorimotor Approach
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    Situated cognition has become an important concept in educational theory, and one of the most frequently cited philosophers in this context is John Dewey. Dewey uses the notion of a problematic situation to describe how cognition involves coping with unfamiliar circumstances. Dewey's pragmatism acknowledges the importance of situation for the biological organism, and as such, his position is deep in the traditions of naturalism and psychologism. Theories of situated cognition are themselves differently situated, within different disciplines or discourses, shaped by specific debates and specialized vocabularies. Cognition is really a collection of skills and practices that rely on commonsense know-how and context-specific knowledge. Cognition is not only enactive but is also elicited by our physical and social environment. Cognition not only involves a deeply embodied and temporally structured action but is also formed in an affective resonance generated by our surroundings and by others with whom we interact.
  • Chapter 13 - Remembering
    pp 217-235
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    The situated cognition movement in the cognitive sciences, like those sciences themselves, is a loose-knit family of approaches to understanding the mind and cognition. Cognition both stems from and generates the activities of physical individuals located in particular kinds of environments. Cognitive extensions, like house extensions, come in a surprising variety of forms. Some are truly, massively, staggeringly transformative, and others are content to project a previously existing theme. The first dimension concerns the nature of the non-neural resources that are incorporated into extended cognitive behaviors, dispositions, and activities. Such resources may be natural, technological, or sociocultural in nature. The second dimension concerns the durability and reliability of the larger (extended) system. Human agents exhibit both a metabolic and a cognitive organization. But whereas the former depends heavily on expensively maintained and policed organismic boundaries, the latter looks prone to repeated bouts of seepage.
  • Chapter 14 - Situating Concepts
    pp 236-263
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    Philosophical interest in situated cognition has been focused most intensely on the claim that human cognitive processes extend from the brain into the tools humans use. Coupling arguments are far and away the primary sort of argument given in support of transcranialism. What is common to these arguments is a tacit move from the observation that process X is in some way causally connected (coupled) to a cognitive process Y to the conclusion that X is part of the cognitive process Y. Transcranialism is regularly backed by some form of coupling-constitution fallacy and that it does not have an adequate account of the difference between the cognitive and the noncognitive. A more nagging worry is the motivation for transcranialism. The difference explains why even transcranialists maintain that cognition extends from brains into the extraorganismal world rather than from the extraorganismal world into brains.
  • Chapter 15 - Problem Solving and Situated Cognition
    pp 264-306
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    Situated theorists have reached something approximating an antinativist consensus. The advocate of extended cognition urges us to focus on the traits of extended systems, and it is difficult to see how genes could encode such traits, for genes would seem to affect directly only the organism itself. Humans categorize, perceive, remember, use language, reason, and make sense of the actions of others; these and more are abilities of persisting systems. In contrast, most actual extended systems are short-lived. The embedded approach minimizes the amount of internal representation used to model the human performance of cognitive tasks. Theories of cognition must make some allowance for persisting, internal representations. Children employ amodal representations from early on, and concepts are used in abstract thought, when one is, for example, alone in the study. The wide range of theoretical possibilities opens with respect to nativism and the situated modeling of cognition.
  • Chapter 16 - The Dynamic Interactions between Situations and Decisions
    pp 307-321
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    It is often claimed that for any item to count as representational, it must form part of a general representational scheme or framework. Many people, though by no means all, claim that the idea of representation can be captured, in part, in terms of the concept of information. Many suppose that models of representation are subject to a teleological constraint. It is common to hold that, to be regarded as genuinely representational, a representation must be decouplable from the environment. In connection with the informational constraint, the possibility of representation is closely tied to the possibility of misrepresentation. Much recent work on cognition is characterized by an augmentation of the role of action coupled with an attenuation of the role of representation. This chapter discusses the representation and the extended mind, the first horn and the second horn.
  • Chapter 17 - Situating Rationality
    pp 322-346
  • Ecologically Rational Decision Making With Simple Heuristics
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    This chapter discusses the importance of dynamics to understanding cognition. The author turns to the issue of how dynamics have been integrated into various theories of cognition. The author describes strengths and weaknesses of three main contenders in cognitive science, in relation to their incorporation of time into their methods of model construction. The neural engineering framework (NEF) is a general theory of neurobiological systems. Neural dynamics are characterized by considering neural representations as control theoretic state variables. Thus, the dynamics of neurobiological systems can be analyzed using control theory. The model employs biologically realistic neurons to learn the relevant structural transformations appropriate for a given context, and it generalizes such transformations to novel contents with the same syntactic structure. The intent of the NEF is to provide a suggestion as to how we might take seriously many of the important insights generated from cognitive science.
  • Chapter 18 - Situativity and Learning
    pp 347-367
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    The tension in rejecting modularity and yet treating the mind/brain as the locus of control for cognitive activity should be apparent. Modularity is rejected as failing to recognize the diverse components involved in performing a cognitive task, and advocates of situated cognition likewise maintain that many cognitive activities involve components outside the agent itself. Dividing the mind/brain into component systems or modules has been a common strategy in both philosophical and psychological theorizing. Turning to the whole organism, the traditional view, which treats the skin as the boundary of the organism and the mind as coterminous with the brain and central nervous system, is well motivated. The mind/brain itself and the organism as a whole are open systems and dependent on the environment; hence, the quest to understand how a cognitive agent together with its various cognitive mechanisms is situated in its environment is also well motivated.
  • Chapter 19 - Language in the Brain, Body, and World
    pp 368-381
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    Among the most common informal fallacies in reasoning are fallacies of ambiguity. These are mistakes that hinge on a word or phrase that has one meaning in some or all of the premises of the argument but another meaning in other premises or in the conclusion. Many modern theories describe concepts of individuals or kinds as though these thoughts were reducible to thoughts or judgments about complexes of properties and then ignore the question of what it is to think of a property. Abilities to identify and reidentify appearances of the same objective thing as appearances of the same constitute a substantial part of the possession of any empirical concept. One's rationality depends at every point on the complex causal and informational structure of the empirical world. Rationality is firmly embedded in the world outside the mind.
  • Chapter 21 - Situated Semantics
    pp 401-418
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    This chapter sets out how an account of vision in which the world is considered to form an external memory allows for explanation of the experienced continuity of vision. It shows how the hypothesis of the world as an outside memory is supported by findings in the change and attentional blindness paradigms, as well as by the study of vision in action. The change blindness paradigm has generated much research and can be observed in a variety of situations (when the image change occurs during e.g. eye blinks). Further empirical confirmation of the idea that we do not continually represent the entire visual field in all its richness comes from the inattentional blindness paradigm. Data obtained by studying vision in natural conditions have highlighted features that are strongly supportive of the hypothesis of the world as an outside memory.

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