Edev_502 response wk1_3

I’m having trouble getting my head around some concepts that both of you seem to have grasped. Please aid my comprehension.

Piaget and Garcia’s observation that, “The only truly ubiquitous factors in cognitive developments … are of a functional, not a structural kind” (1983, cited in von Glaserfeld, 1988, p. 3) is debatable because it depends on an interpretation of human action. But for argument’s sake, let’s say that humans’ minds develop not through natural maturation processes or through ‘black box’ (i.e. e.g. Chomskian views of language) innatist mental modules, but through the need a developing human has to comprehend its environment and that that need is answered by functional responses in both the mental processes and in the external actions of the human. (I want to see evidence for these claims or at the very least an epistemology of how the claims can be rejected before I can accept the Piagetian/ Garcian position however intuitively right it feels.) This “functional kind” is believed to be a reaction to the environment in which the organism needs to function.

Embodied cognition rejects the isolationist position that cognition “attempts to understand cognition by focussing almost exclusively on an organism’s internal cognitive processes” (Cowart, n.d.). This rejection is useful because any attempt to understand the complexity of the human experience without taking into consideration the environment in which that experience occurs must ultimately be limited[1]. I relate the history of theories to the Hegelian dialectic. In brief, Idea A exists. Idea B comes along to challenge Idea A’s hegemony. From the strengths of Idea A and Idea B, Idea C is developed. Idea C rules for a while until Idea D recognises weaknesses in Idea C. Indeed Idea B owed its existence to problems in Idea A. Idea C and Idea D share the debate floor and their merits combine to create Idea E. And so the history of ideas goes on. There may be some who see Idea E during the rule of Idea A, but as Idea E’s time has not come, it is ignored until it is lauded as visionary later. It is not possible for the human mind to encapsulate all possibilities of an idea at one time. The life of the idea requires the minds of many. Yet the idea is not a gene (nor a meme as Susan Blackmore may claim [Blackmore, 1999]). It is an artefact of the dialectical process. Embodied cognition attempts to fill in gaps in earlier consolidations of human understanding. It does not claim that understanding exists outside the human.

Putting these ideas together, I can understand that: knowledge is not simply verbal and propositional, it comprises the full range of the human experience and it exists for a function; many researchers accept the notion that knowledge can be constructed among individuals.

What I can’t understand is why a simple process as the dialectic results in the (frankly absurd[2]) claim that knowledge exists outside the human. Isn’t it, to paraphrase Ockham’s razor, much easier to say that collective knowledge can be stored outside the individual rather than reside externally? Is a physical library seen as a store of knowledge or as a knowledgable being? Hopefully, you’ll answer the former, but after reading some literature on connectivist theory, I’m not sure.

Is there a key metaphor I’m taking too literally? Is there a concept I’m missing? Is there a flaw in my understanding? I’d appreciate help.


[1] As educators, the deliberate limiting of the environment is a technique that may have much merit, so teacher-researchers can only disregard less than optimal environments at their peril.

[2] To me, currently.

Blackmore, S. (1999). The meme machine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Coward, M. (n.d.) Embodied cognition. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed on July 15, 2915, from: http://www.iep.utm.edu/embodcog/
Von Glasersfeld, E. (1989). Cognition, construction of knowledge, and teaching.Synthese, 80(1), 121-140.

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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