Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 259–279 | Cite as

Immaterial engagement: human agency and the cognitive ecology of the internet

  • Robert W. ClowesEmail author


While 4E cognitive science is fundamentally committed to recognising the importance of the environment in making sense of cognition, its interest in the role of artefacts seems to be one of its least developed dimensions. Yet the role of artefacts in human cognition and agency is central to the sorts of beings we are. Internet technology is influencing and being incorporated into a wide variety of our cognitive processes. Yet the dominant way of viewing these changes sees technology as an outside force “impacting” on our minds. Within this context, Material Engagement Theory (MET) seems well poised to help make sense of our cognitive involvement with the Internet as MET is precisely concerned with grasping the role of material culture in human cognition. This paper explores some of the resources MET provides to think through the effects the internet is having on human agency. This paper uses MET as a starting point for examining the way Internet technology can be involved with human agency, both to the provide a much needed and more adequate theorization of these phenomena, but also to illustrate ways in which the consideration of artefacts can be given a more central and adequate place within the 4E cognitive sciences.


Agency Cognitive technology Cloud technology Material engagement Artefactual turn Strong agency Planning Reflection Internet 



I would like to thank Shaun Gallagher and Lambros Malafouris who invited me to first present this work at Keble College workshop on Creative Evolution: Mind, biosocial plasticity and material engagement. Thanks again Lambros for his patient and engaged approach to editing. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewers, to Marek McGann and the ENSO seminar series, and the Lisbon Mind and Reasoning Group, where I presented several versions of this paper. This work is supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) under grant number SFRH/BPD/70440/2010 on “Virtualism and the Mind: Rethinking Presence, Representation and Self” and by an FCT strategic project grant for IFILNOVA, FCSH/NOVA UID/FIL/00183/2013.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IFILNOVA, FCSHNew University of LisbonLisbonPortugal

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