It Ain’t All in the Head

by Lauri Calonius

There is a growing interest in the idea that cognitive processes are not solely confined in the head and explained simply in terms of brain processes. The type of body we possess and the natural and cultural environment we are surrounded by are taken more into account in the explanations of cognitive phenomena such as memory and problem solving tasks.

In my thesis It Ain’t All in the Head:¬†Situating Cognition to the Body and the Surrounding World,¬†four different approaches to cognition that conceive it in this bodily and/or worldly situated way are looked into. More specifically “embodied-embedded cogntion”, “enactive cognition”, “extended cognition” and “distributed cognition” are compared and contrasted with each other and the more orthodox “brain-bound” conception.

In addition, critique towards the more unorthodox positions is examined, but which ultimately ends up leveling the ground between the unorthodox and orthodox positions. Thus highlighting the viability of the positions that credit more role for the body and the world in explaining cognitive phenomena.

Finally, the issue of cognitive agency (i.e. what elements of the body and the world may be said to be responsible for a given cogitive property or process) is also examined in the light of these different approaches.

The main goal of the thesis then is to elucidate different positions that depart from the traditional brain centered conception of cognition and draw out the similarities as well as the differences between the approaches.

Moreover, even if these approaches still remain distinct without a clear unified conception of cogntion there could be said to be a kindling of an emerging paradigm that could be applied to other interesting philosophical questions such as the issue of cognitive agency.

The take-home message from the thesis is that even if the liberation of cognition from the confines of the head is a complex issue, being open to this kind of possibility will nevertheless bring forth new and interesting ways of understanding cognitive phenomena.

You can read the entire thesis here.