Beyond Distributed Cognition: Towards a Taxonomy of Nonreductive Social Cognition

Abstract

Studies of social cognition often assume a reductionist, computational-representational conceptual framework. Distributed cognition is one of the few extant conceptual frameworks for a nonreductive understanding of social cognition. This concept’s prototypical cases are exclusively of technical-scientific human institutions, including ships, cockpits, and the Hubble Space Telescope. In the first part of the paper, we outline the properties of distributed cognitive systems. We look at the case of wolf (Canis lupus) packs as an instance of distributed cognition in nonhuman systems. Nevertheless, a broad range of social cognitive phenomena across human and animal populations may not fit into this conceptual framework. We present a case study of bird flocks as a counterexample to distributed cognition. We propose “swarm intelligence” as an alternative concept of nonreductive social cognition. This is not to replace distributed cognition as a concept, but to add to and diversify the taxonomy of nonreductive social cognitive systems.


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