Cognitive Processing

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 307–319

Identifying and individuating cognitive systems: a task-based distributed cognition alternative to agent-based extended cognition

Research Report

DOI: 10.1007/s10339-016-0759-4

Cite this article as:
Davies, J. & Michaelian, K. Cogn Process (2016) 17: 307. doi:10.1007/s10339-016-0759-4


This article argues for a task-based approach to identifying and individuating cognitive systems. The agent-based extended cognition approach faces a problem of cognitive bloat and has difficulty accommodating both sub-individual cognitive systems (“scaling down”) and some supra-individual cognitive systems (“scaling up”). The standard distributed cognition approach can accommodate a wider variety of supra-individual systems but likewise has difficulties with sub-individual systems and faces the problem of cognitive bloat. We develop a task-based variant of distributed cognition designed to scale up and down smoothly while providing a principled means of avoiding cognitive bloat. The advantages of the task-based approach are illustrated by means of two parallel case studies: re-representation in the human visual system and in a biomedical engineering laboratory.


Distributed cognition Extended cognition Cognitive systems Visual re-representation Philosophy of mind 

Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Cognitive ScienceCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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