Theoretical considerations on cognitive niche construction
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Cognitive niche theories consist in a theoretical framework that is proving extremely profitable in bridging evolutionary biology, philosophy, cognitive science, and anthropology by offering an inter-disciplinary ground, laden with novel approaches and debates. At the same time, cognitive niche theories are multiple, and differently related to niche theories in theoretical and evolutionary biology. The aim of this paper is to clarify the theoretical and epistemological relationships between cognitive and ecological niche theories. Also, by adopting a constructionist approach (namely by referring principally to ecological and cognitive niche construction theories) we will try to explain the shift from ecological to cognitive niches and their actual and theoretical overlaps. In order to do so, we will take two concepts expressing loose forms of causation in the interaction between organisms and their environment: the biological notion of “enablement” and the psycho-cognitive one of “affordance”.
KeywordsEcological niche Cognitive niche Extended cognition Affordances Enablements
Research for this article was supported by the 2012 National Research Grant (PRIN) “Models and Inferences in Science: Logical, Epistemological, and Cognitive Aspects” from the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR). The authors wish to express their gratitude to the two anonymous referees, whose insightful comments helped shaping the final version of this article.
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