Discussion note: Distributed cognition in epistemic cultures

Philosophy of Science 69 (4):637-644 (2002)
In Epistemic Cultures (1999), Karin Knorr Cetina argues that different scientific fields exhibit different epistemic cultures. She claims that in high energy physics (HEP) individual persons are displaced as epistemic subjects in favor of experiments themselves. In molecular biology (MB), by contrast, individual persons remain the primary epistemic subjects. Using Ed Hutchins' (1995) account of navigation aboard a traditional US Navy ship as a prototype, I argue that both HEP and MB exhibit forms of distributed cognition. That is, in both fields cognition is distributed across individual persons and complex artifacts. The cognitive system producing the knowledge is heterogeneous. Nevertheless, in both fields we can reserve epistemic agency for the human components of these systems. We do not need to postulate new distributed cognitive agents, let alone ones exhibiting new forms of consciousness.
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