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Ecological perspectives on human cognition: how does language constrain it?

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Over the past few decades cognitive science has witnessed a paradigmatic shift from cognitivism of the mainstream, with its belief in the disembodied mind whose function is to perform computations on abstract symbols, to a more realistic, biologically oriented approach to mind as grounded in our bodily ...

Over the past few decades cognitive science has witnessed a paradigmatic shift from cognitivism of the mainstream, with its belief in the disembodied mind whose function is to perform computations on abstract symbols, to a more realistic, biologically oriented approach to mind as grounded in our bodily functions and, therefore, embodied. However, although being a wide step forward in our understanding of the nature of human cognition, the embodied mind approach seems to underestimate the distributed nature of cognition as a function of living systems. Living systems do not exist in a vacuum; they grow and develop in a flux of interactions with the various aspects of their environment, these interactions establishing a reciprocally causal relational domain: just as living systems affect different aspects of the environment, the environment, by return, affects living systems. Thus, in order to understand a living system as a cognitive system, it is not enough to concur on the embodied nature of cognition: what is embodied is an outcome of a history of fine structural coupling of an organism with the environment, and this calls for approaching cognition as an emergent feature of the organism-environment system.

As separable entities, living systems are distinguished by an observer in his observational domain which is not the physical space of molecules, but the space of entities perceived as unities of interactions. Depending on the way in which these entities maintain their identity, their boundaries may be definable … not in terms of the physical space (the 'here-and-now' of the observer) … but in terms of an evolving relational domain. In the case of humans, their relational domain is constituted by the activity of languaging as a kind of unique, species-specific socially driven behavior. This behavior contributes … in a quite definitive way … to the rich context of the human ecological/cognitive niche without which it cannot be understood. Human cognitive abilities that set them apart from all other species emerge in the process of the development of the system components (infants) into fully functional agents capable of purposefulness and free will. Even though the whole systemic behavior of human society as a living system depends on the cognitive properties of the components themselves, these cognitive properties emerge in the domain of languaging (the relations between components) as systemic behavior of human society.

We welcome contributions to the topic discussion that would address various aspects of the relationship/synergy between language and cognition. While authors must ensure that papers fall within the scope of the section, as expressed in its mission statement, with a primary focus on psychology theory and content, they are encouraged to draw from various perspectives (including, but not limited to, biology, ecology, psychology, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, and interaction studies), where relevant, to enrich their papers.


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