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Reason WhyGenerosityGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenetic Nature/CultureGeniusGetting Started with EEG NeurofeedbackGetting Under the SkinGlued to GamesGoing SaneGot Parts?Group GeniusGrowing Up GirlGuilt, Shame, and AnxietyGut ReactionsHallucinationHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Closeness and IntimacyHandbook of Critical PsychologyHandbook of Emotion RegulationHandbook of EmotionsHandbook of Personality DisordersHandbook of PsychopathyHandbook of Self and IdentityHandbook of Self and IdentityHandbook of Spatial CognitionHappinessHappinessHappinessHappinessHappiness at WorkHappiness Is.Happy at LastHard to GetHardwired BehaviorHatredHealing the SplitHidden ResourcesHope and DespairHot ThoughtHot ThoughtHouse and PsychologyHow Animals Affect UsHow Animals GrieveHow Can the Human Mind Occur in the Physical Universe?How Doctors ThinkHow Enlightenment Changes Your BrainHow Families Still MatterHow History Made the MindHow Infants Know MindsHow Many Friends Does One 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AdulthoodOn the Origins of Cognitive ScienceOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOnflowOpen MindsOpening Skinner's BoxOrigin of MindOrigins of PsychopathologyOther MindsOut of Our HeadsOut of the WoodsOvercoming Depersonalization DisorderPanpsychism and the Religious AttitudePanpsychism in the WestParenting and the Child's WorldPassionate EnginesPathologies of the WestPatient-Based Approaches to Cognitive NeurosciencePediatric PsychopharmacologyPeople Types and Tiger StripesPerception & CognitionPerception beyond InferencePerception, Hallucination, and IllusionPersonal Development and Clinical PsychologyPerspectives on ImitationPhantoms in the BrainPhenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal KnowledgePhenomenology and Philosophy of MindPhilosophical Foundations of NeurosciencePhilosophical MidwiferyPhilosophy and HappinessPhilosophy of PsychologyPhilosophy, Neuroscience and ConsciousnessPhrenologyPhysical RealizationPhysics in MindPieces of LightPlaying with FirePositive PsychologyPositive 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and EmotionPsychotherapy, American Culture, and Social PolicyPutnam CampPutting a Name to ItQuantum Memory PowerQuietRadical DistortionRadical Embodied Cognitive ScienceRadical ExternalismRadical GraceRapeRe-Visioning PsychiatryReal MaterialismReality CheckReconstructing Reason and RepresentationReconstructing the Cognitive WorldRecovery in Mental IllnessRecreative MindsRedirectReducing Adolescent RiskRegulating EmotionsRelational BeingRelational Mental HealthRelational Suicide AssessmentReliability in Cognitive NeuroscienceRemembering HomeRemembering Our ChildhoodResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResearching Children's ExperienceResilience in ChildrenRestoring ResilienceRethinking ADHDRethinking Learning DisabilitiesRethinking Middle YearsRethinking the Western Understanding of the SelfRevolution in PsychologyRoadmap to ResilienceRomance and Sex in Adolescence and Emerging AdulthoodSchadenfreudeSchizophrenia RevealedSchizophrenia, Culture, and SubjectivityScience and Pseudoscience in Clinical PsychologyScience and Pseudoscience in Clinical PsychologySecond NatureSecond NatureSecond That EmotionSecond-order Change in PsychotherapySecrets of the MindSee What I'm SayingSee What I'm SayingSeeing and VisualizingSeeing RedSelf and SocietySelf Comes to MindSelf Control in Society, Mind, and BrainSelf-Awareness Deficits in Psychiatric PatientsSelf-CompassionSelf-Consciousness and 'Split' BrainsSelf-RegulationSelf-Representational Approaches to ConsciousnessSelfless InsightSelvesSerial KillersSex at DawnSex on the BrainSex, Time and PowerSexual Coercion in Primates and HumansSexual DisordersSexual FluiditySexual ReckoningsSexualized BrainsShame and GuiltShatteredSimulating MindsSisyphus's BoulderSleepyheadSNAPSocial NeuroscienceSocial NeuroscienceSocial NeuroscienceSocial Psychology and DiscourseSome We Love, Some We Hate, Some We EatSoul DustSparkSpiral of EntrapmentSplendors and Miseries of the BrainSports Hypnosis in PracticeStanding at Water's EdgeStich 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BrainThe Wisdom in FeelingThe Woman RacketThe World in My Mind, My Mind in the WorldThe Wow ClimaxThe Yipping TigerThemes, Issues and Debates in PsychologyTheoretical Issues in Psychology: An IntroductionTheory of AddictionTheory of MindThings and PlacesThink CatThink Confident, Be ConfidentThinking about AddictionThinking and SeeingThis Emotional Life: In Search of Ourselves...and HappinessThought and LanguageThought in a Hostile WorldTo Have and To Hurt:Toward an Evolutionary Biology of LanguageToward Replacement Parts for the BrainTrauma and Human ExistenceTrauma, Tragedy, TherapyTreating Attachment DisordersTreating Self-InjuryTreating Self-Injury: A Practical GuideTrue to Our FeelingsTrusting the Subject?Understanding and Treating Borderline Personality DisorderUnderstanding ConsciousnessUnderstanding ParanoiaUnderstanding PeopleUnderstanding TerrorismUnderstanding the BrainUndoing Perpetual StressUnlock the Genius WithinUnsettled MindsUnstrange MindsUnthinkingUnthoughtUs and ThemViolent PartnersVirtue, Vice, and PersonalityVision and MindVisual AgnosiaWarrior's DishonourWe Who Are DarkWednesday Is Indigo BlueWelcome to Your BrainWhat Do Women Want?What Dying People WantWhat Have We DoneWhat Intelligence Tests MissWhat Is an Emotion: Classic and Contemporary ReadingsWhat Is Emotion?What is Intelligence?What Is Mental Illness?What Is Thought?What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite What the Best College Students DoWhat the Dog SawWhat We Know about Emotional IntelligenceWhat We Say MattersWhat's Wrong With Morality?When Boys Become BoysWhen Perfect Isn't Good EnoughWhen the Impossible HappensWhen Walls Become DoorwaysWho's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWho's in Charge?Why Humans Like to CryWhy Love MattersWhy Lyrics LastWhy People CooperateWhy People Die by SuicideWhy Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human BehaviorWhy Smart People Can Be So StupidWhy the Mind is Not a ComputerWhy Us?Why We LieWhy We LoveWhy We SleepWider than the SkyWilliam James at the BoundariesWilling, Wanting, WaitingWittgenstein And PsychologyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWorking MindsYoga and PsychologyYou Are What You RememberYoung Minds in Social WorldsYour Brain on CubsYour Brain on FoodYour Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings,Your Brain on YogaYour Child in the BalanceZombies and Consciousness
Where and how does thinking happen? Not -- the authors of this book want to tell us -- in some ghostly realm of pure mind communing with Platonic forms, but in our flesh and blood brains and bodies, shaped by evolution, history and culture to navigate the practicalities of survival in a complex social and material world.
What the editors have chosen to call 'situated' cognition is in fact a large family of ideas many of which will be familiar to readers by names such as embodiment, distributed cognition, enactivism, externalism and the extended mind. Insofar as anything unites these views, it is the idea that at least some mental activity fundamentally depends upon and can only be understood through its relations with aspects of the thinker's 'situation'. Situation in this sense needs to be understood in both spatial and temporal terms, with adherents differing not only in terms of whether they link mentality to brain, body or environment, but also in terms of whether the linking of interest is an evolutionary, historical or real time processes.
Spanning this huge and exceptionally interdisciplinary terrain, the Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition is a welcome and timely guide to current scholarship. The book consists of 26 specially written chapters by some of the leading thinkers in the field, each surveying a different aspect of its most important influences, theories, debates and empirical grounding.
The first two sections of the book essentially address the 'where' question, dealing with the origins and foundations of the situated perspective. For those new to the subject the editors' opening chapter is likely to prove invaluable. Three theses are highlighted here as characteristic of the situated perspective, albeit not all three are accepted by all the thinkers in this tradition and those that do accept them do not always do so in the same way or to the same extent.
The first thesis -- embodiment -- is the idea that cognition depends not only on the brain, but on other parts of the body as well, particularly those involved in sensation, movement and physical orientation in space. Embodiment challenges the traditional view of thought as a relatively self-contained process taking input from the senses and producing action as its output. In place of this it offers a rival account in which perception, thought and action are closely tied together -- so closely, strong adherents claim, that they are co-constituted: cognition cannot occur without sensorimotor processing being part of the picture.
According to the second thesis -- embedded mind -- cognizers make use of the environment to reduce demands on their internal memory and processing capabilities. This is hardly revolutionary -- who doesn't make lists or keep things in the same place so they can find them again? -- but it is more far-reaching than one might think. Not only can large chunks of social behavior as well as artifacts and designed environments be seen as aids to complex cognitive tasks, but aspects of cognition extending all the way to phenomenal consciousness itself have been claimed to have an ecological dimension.
The third thesis -- extended mind -- is the most radical and controversial. This is the idea that we do not just use the environment to think with, but that the coupling between mind and world is in at least some cases so close that the two are best thought of as elements in a single cognitive system. In such cases, adherents argue, it is simple prejudice to accord the 'cognitive' label only to the internal components of the system: 'skull and skin' is just not a functionally important distinction and a laptop may have just as much right as biological memory to be considered a cognitive entity. Those interested in this debate are well rewarded, with a chapter each devoted to proponents and opponents.
So much for 'where'; what about 'how'? If these are scientific theses situationists need to work at uncovering the mechanisms and processes which tie psychology to brain, body and world. This material -- much of it still in early and suggestive stages rather than fully developed -- is the subject of the third and largest section of the book. The 16 chapters here outline the state of play in relation to a variety of cognitive domains from perception, memory and conceptual knowledge to problem solving, language, consciousness and cultural cognition. Here we start to see what kinds of explanations situated cognition might be able to deliver -- and also the many challenges ahead.
It is perhaps far too soon to wonder about the disciplinary future of situated cognition and whether or how the work being done in so many different fields might ever be connected. Could we imagine a unified situated cognitive science? What would it encompass and what would it exclude? How would it relate to cognitive psychology as currently practiced? Is any aspect of cognition not 'situated' in some sense? Is this even a scientific question, or does situatedness itself pose a challenge to the very notion of science? The Handbook is silent on such questions but having it on our shelves places us in a much better position to start thinking about them.
© 2009 Justine Johnstone
Justine Johnstone, PhD, Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, UK.