Monday, 19 July 2010

Attended Symposium at Kingston University, London, on Problem Solving and Distributed Cognition, July 15-16, 2010.

Although colleagues at UH (Stephen Cowley, Sue Anthony, Nuala Ryder and Evie Fioratou) have tried to explain this approach to me off and on over the last 6 years or so, I had never quite got it.

Would attending this meeting rouse me from my dogmatic slumbers? I had been strongly influenced in my formative years by the basically internalist view of the pioneers of cognitive science (AI and Cognitive Psychology) such as Newell & Simon , and Miller, Galanter & Pribram. In those heady days of the early 60s, they were the revolutionaries taking on the dinosaurs of Behaviourism by re-establishing mental processes as valid topics of study. Were they now to hand over the study of cognition to new insurgents who adopted a somewhat bewildering range of slogans for externalism v internbalism, distributed v localised, embedded (situated) v de-contextualised and embodied v. disembodied abstract symbolism?

A wide range of topics were addressed at the meeting including, how people coped with infuriatingly poor voice recognition based information systems, tool use, hints from other solvers' eye movements, aggregating votes, solving puzzles, applications of power laws to insight shifts, philosophical analyses among other things. Few delegates could probably follow all of these papers and I struggled to find common threads and to understand the more philosophical presentations.

Overall, I felt the most valuable results of the Situated etc Movement was to draw attention to aspects of cognition in the wild that had been set aside by the lab based artificial puzzle oriented classic approach. However, I was still left feeling that the old paradigm could cope with these points and data favouring embodied cognition with a bit of stretching. I didn't sense much support among the delegates for the wilder shores of the "extended mind" hypothesis...this would say that the total informational resources of the internet become literally part of my LTM when I have Google access, or that a notepad becomes part of my working memory if I use it during mental arithmetic.

I don't think my own research into , say, incubation effects, will be affected by the Situated Movement. I did ask, but no one came up with an Externalist/Distributed/Situated approach to incubation.

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