Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 517–537 | Cite as

The cognitive integration of scientific instruments: information, situated cognition, and scientific practice

  • Richard Heersmink


Researchers in the biological and biomedical sciences, particularly those working in laboratories, use a variety of artifacts to help them perform their cognitive tasks. This paper analyses the relationship between researchers and cognitive artifacts in terms of integration. It first distinguishes different categories of cognitive artifacts used in biological practice on the basis of their informational properties. This results in a novel classification of scientific instruments, conducive to an analysis of the cognitive interactions between researchers and artifacts. It then uses a multidimensional framework in line with complementarity-based extended and distributed cognition theory to conceptualize how deeply instruments in different informational categories are integrated into the cognitive systems of their users. The paper concludes that the degree of integration depends on various factors, including the amount of informational malleability, the intensity and kind of information flow between agent and artifact, the trustworthiness of the information, the procedural and informational transparency, and the degree of individualisation.


Cognitive artifacts Scientific instruments Distributed cognition Extended mind Scientific practice 



I wish to thank John Sutton and Richard Menary for constructive comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and the Collective Cognition Group at Macquarie University for funding to write it. I also wish to thank three anonymous reviewers. The second reviewer, in particular, gave very helpful feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cognitive ScienceMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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