An Ecological Approach to Cognitive Science

Cognitive science is ready for a major reconceptualization. This is not at all because efforts by its practitioners have failed, but rather because so much progress has been made. The need for reconceptualization arises from the fact that this progress has come at greater cost than necessary, largely because of more or less philosophical (at least metatheoretical) straightjackets still worn - whether wittingly or not - by those doing the work. These bonds are extremely hard to break. Even some of those who have directed powerful arguments against them have failed entirely to shake them off. The bonds are often attributed to the work of René Descartes, but they are really much older than that. If even in the present effort, I fail entirely to remove the straightjacket myself (even though I am making every attempt to get it off), this will testify to its tight grip. The straightjacket I am thinking about, of course, is the vague picture of the human situation that imagines centralized, internal minds in control of bodily machines. While almost no one in the contemporary cognitive science arena imagines minds to be the kind of thing Descartes took them to be - instantiations of a unique, fully non-material substance - there is nevertheless a deep resistance, even among the most fervent professed "materialists," to giving up this picture. In what follows, I shall try to offer an approach which on the one hand capitalizes on the excellent progress that has been made in cognitive science in the last few decades, and which on the other hand offers a general approach that may help at some level in the attempt to shake "Cartesian" bonds. The approach, as the alert reader already knows from the title of the essay, is an "ecological" approach.
Keywords ecological  cartesianism  cognitive science
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