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Making cognitive niches explicit: On the importance of external cognitive representations in accounting for cumulative culture

Provisionally accepted
The final, formatted version of the article will be published soon
 Mateusz Hohol1*,  Kinga Wołoszyn2 and Bartosz Brożek3
  • 1Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Jagiellonian University, Poland
  • 2Institute of Psychology, Jagiellonian University, Poland
  • 3Faculty of Law and Administration; Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Jagiellonian University, Poland

Cumulative transmission and innovation are the hallmark properties of the cultural achievements of human beings. Cognitive scientists have traditionally explained these properties in terms of social learning and creativity. The non-social cognitive dimension of cumulative culture, the so-called technical reasoning, has also been accounted for recently. These explanatory perspectives are methodologically individualist since they frame cumulative and innovative culture in terms of the processing of inner cognitive representations. Here we show that going beyond methodological individualism could facilitate an understanding of why some inventions are disseminated in a stable form and constitute the basis for further modifications. Drawing on three cases of cognitive history of prominent achievements of Antiquity, i.e., Homerian epics, Euclidean geometry, and Roman law, we investigate which properties of cognitive artifacts shaped cognitive niches for modifying original cognitive tasks or developing new ones. These niches both constrained and enabled the cognitive skills of humans to promote cumulative culture and further innovations. At the same time, we claim that “wide cognition,” incorporating both intracranial resources and external cognitive representations, constitutes a platform for building explanations of cognitive phenomena developing in time over a historical time scale.

Keywords: cognitive artifacts, Cognitive history, Cumulative culture, representation, wide cognition

Received: 01 Jul 2021; Accepted: 07 Oct 2021.

Copyright: © 2021 Hohol, Wołoszyn and Brożek. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Mateusz Hohol, Jagiellonian University, Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Kraków, 31-007, Lesser Poland, Poland,