A Design Model for Cognitive Engineering

A Design Model for Cognitive Engineering

Hector MacIntyre (University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/ijt.2015010102


The author confronts some of the practical consequences of a technogenic account of cognitive agency. In the first section the author examines the commitment to a narrow locus of control shared by most extended theories of cognition, motivating a normative approach to cognitive design. The author then examines the recent appeal some normative theorists have made to responsibilist theories of knowledge to preserve their commitment. This gives the author an opportunity to explore factitious intellectual virtue as a way to defend these sorts of appeals. In the final section the author argues that factitious virtue has several benefits as a normative design model for the practice of cognitive engineering.
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The Scope Of Cognitive Agency

Questions like “what is cognition?” and “how does it work?” are among the most contested cross-disciplinary issues on the open agenda of the sciences. Many writers have expressed doubts that there even is any substantive phenomenon available for empirical study, given how vague, problematic, and unscientific the proposed definitions have been.1 Provoked by studies in several fields including cognitive science, work analysis, and psychology, Clark & Chalmers (1998) sparked one of the most intense confrontations with these issues ever observed in philosophy of mind. The ensuing fallout has been both revealing and instructive about the fundamental commitments of our conceptions of agency and of how it appears to manifest in relation to an environment.

From the standpoint of a concern with the design principles of cognitive engineering, the most critical intellectual commitment revealed by these exchanges has been the commitment to a narrow locus of control for cognitive agents. It has rarely been explicitly acknowledged that there even is such a commitment, nor is there any clear sense as to its status as e.g. a normative versus methodological commitment. Is there good empirical evidence that cognition hangs on such a locus? Or is the idea that it does a normative one, and perhaps arbitrary and in need of defending? In this section I suggest that the parties to the debate about extended cognition go to great lengths to preserve a narrow locus of control without actually justifying this conception. Adopting a more deflationary conception can avoid this commitment as well as show that more familiar worries about discovering a “mark of the cognitive” are less troublesome than they have seemed.

Anyone who has ever lost a scrap of paper with an important idea scrawled on it can attest to the basic appeal of extended cognition. Thoughts originating in a cranium need not exclusively reside there. Nor is the exercise of cognitive control limited to those activities of which we are explicitly conscious at a given time. We perform many cognitive tasks without even being aware of them, such as when we drive while holding a conversation, or check messages while walking and talking. We also perform some tasks with the aid of environmental resources. Clark (2003; 2008) has described many of the studies and psychological experiments in support of this.

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