The spatio-temporal dynamics of systemic thinking


Recent developments in cognitive science reject the classical view of cognition as a cerebral activity involving the rule-based processing of symbols inside the mind and call for a reconceptualization of cognition as emerging in a system encompassing the brain and the body in situ. Current dissenting views come with two corollaries. First, representations are unnecessary to explain complex behaviors. Second, there is a spatio-temporal dimension to cognition. We argue that a radical departure from the classical information-processing model is untenable because higher-level cognition is fundamentally representation-based. However, we also argue that classical accounts of thinking put too great an emphasis on the role of internal representations and mental processing. This obscures the symbiotic relationship between thinking and acting and the role of spatio-temporal dynamics and ecological affordances on thinking. To fully understand how people think, solve problems, and make decisions, we need to break from traditional conceptions of thinking activities as sequestered in a static mind, transcend current debates about the localization of cognition and, instead, focus our efforts towards better understanding how thinking emerges in ecological space and ecological time from the transactional flow of action and representational opportunities outcropping from a dynamic agent-environment interface.

In Cybernetics & Human Knowing