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p31-nardi - Essay 31 Concepts of Cognition and...

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Essay 31 Concepts of Cognition and Consciousness: Four Voices Bonnie A. Nardi Advanced Technology Group Apple Computer 1 Infinite Loop Cupertino, CA 95014 [email protected] (Adapted by the author, with permission, from an earlier version in Australian Journal of Information Systems, 1996, 4(1), 64-69.) Abstract This paper considers theories of cognition and consciousness in four tradi- tions: neuroscience, cognitive science, activity theory and the distributed cognition approach. It is most concerned with social theories of conscious. ness-activity theory and distributed cognition--but briefly considers bio- logical and computational models as a foil or backdrop against which the social theories stand out more clearly. Introduction O fall the many artifacts we've produced in our two million years on the planet, computers are the most human-like. Our en- counter with computers has given a new edge to ancient philo- sophical questions about what it means to be human. While taking up such questions might seem a long way from infor- mation systems design and evaluation, as an anthropologist and designer, I believe that the way we describe what it means to be human is ultimately reflected in our designs. Thus I have found it important and useful to try to keep up with the major attempts to define who we humans might really be. While there are a great many such attempts, I would like to analyze four powerful paradigms whose vocabulary and concepts permeate today's dis- course: neuroscience, cognitive science, activity theory and the distributed cognition approach. Philosophers also have much to say about cognition and consciousness, but I'll concentrate here on the scientific approaches. I will not deal with the practical matter of exactly how to apply these theories to design and evaluation (but see Sardi, 1996a for the application of activity theory to problems of human.computer interaction); rather I hope to raise consciousness about the implications of the concepts and vocabulary that become part of the way we talk about the people we study or design for, whether in a research or applied context. Two concepts that capture modern cutting edge efforts to describe the na- ture of humankind are cognition and consciousness. Neuroscience, cogni- tive science, artificial intelligence, psychology, philosophy and anthropology *Journal of Computer DocumentationFebruary 1998/Vo1.22, No. 1
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Essay 32 have all taken as one of their greatest challenges explaining consciousness or cognition. The question asked in this paper is: What is the view of humanity that emerges in each paradigm as the difficult prob- lems of consciousness and cognition are tackled? Reflecting on this question will, I hope, help to move our dialogue forward as we define who we are, so that we can reflect that definition in our designs. I offer these analyses of cognition and consciousness in the spirit of what Donald Sch/~n calls the "reflec- tive practitioner" (Sch/~n, 1983)-they are meant to raise our level of awareness about the concepts we
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