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August 25, 2005

Research Notes: dissipating reasoning, 'advanced' cognition, creativity

Follow-up to Research Notes: still unconvinced about cognitive 'science' from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Can Clark's open-minded and pragmatic cognitive science be applied beyond the scope of problem-solving behaviour to which it is aimed?

By Chapter 9 of Being There, Clark has etablished good arguments for a more open-minded and pragmatic cognitive science, combining dynamical, computational, componential, symbol-processing and representational models so as to match the richness that we should expect of real minds. There is also the start of a set of heuristics to guide us in deciding which approach (or blend of approaches) to use in a given situation. The discussions of 'continuous reciprocol causation' and 'representation-hungry problems' provide some clues as to what indicators to seek in choosing methodologies for specific situtations.

Chapter 9, Minds and Markets, opens this up further, arguing for the importance of seeing minds as embedded in and formed from a set of other 'external' open systems. These real-world cognitive tool kits provide the material required for the various tricks and techniques that allow a brain to extend its intelligence and power significantly:

The idea, in short, is that advanced cognition depends crucially on our abilities to dissipate reasoning: to diffuse achieved knowledge and practical wisdom through complex social structures, and to reduce the loads on individual brains by locating those brains in complex webs of linguistic, social, political, and institutional constraints.

This may in fact sound rather obvious. Research in psychology, linguistics, sociology is concerned with just this. However, we could argue that there is a tendency to 'protectionism' that guards certain cognitive activities from this analysis. The discourse on 'creativity', for example, even now is surrounded by notions of genius. Studies of creativity as an embedded, machinic process (such as Deleuze's study of Bacon) are rare. And yet such studies have proven to be revealing and powerful.

My argument is that the 'higher' we can set the aims of the 'higher reasoning' addressed by Clarke, the better. Apply his methods without limit.

But at the same time, be critical and wary of his bias towards reasoning as pattern-matching, goal achieving, problem solving. Note the emphasis on constraints, and the lack of consideration of 'wild' less-directed revolutionary creative activities, in which arrangements of 'continuous recipricol causation' emerge rapidly, redefing the problem-space faster than the selection of problem solving apparatus.