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  • Cited by 47
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: November 2009

15 - Scientific cognition as distributed cognition


After introducing several different approaches to distributed cognition, I consider the application of these ideas to modern science, especially the role of instrumentation and visual representations in science. I then examine several apparent difficulties with taking distributed cognition seriously. After arguing that these difficulties are only apparent, I note the ease with which distributed cognition accommodates normative concerns. I also present an example showing that understanding cognition as distributed bridges the often perceived gap between cognitive and social theories of science. The chapter concludes by suggesting some implications for the history of science and for the cognitive study of science in general.


Pursuing the philosophy of science within the context of philosophy has long been justified on the grounds that scientific knowledge is the best example of knowledge there is. It is KNOWLEDGE WRIT LARGE, as the saying goes. And epistemology is one of the main areas of philosophical inquiry. Philosophers of science have tended to regard the relationship as asymmetrical. Philosophy of science illuminates the problems of epistemology, but not much the other way around.

One can now say something similar about cognition in general. Science provides arguably the best example of a higher cognitive activity. Since the emergence of cognitive science as a recognizable discipline, however, the relationship has definitely been symmetrical, if not somewhat asymmetrical in favour of the cognitive sciences.