Once Upon a Theory
The stories we tell and how we tell them say a lot about us. In many ways, it is the same with theories. What might our theories of cognition tell us about how we’ve been thinking about thinking?
THOUGHTS ABOUT COGNITION
These days, cognition is generally used to refer to the activities of the brain and central nervous system which enable us to think, feel, sense, and act in the world. This definition can be modified to include ecological perspectives in which our bodies, relationships, and environments are also considered to be part of cognition. Even as we explore different perspectives, however, the brain remains at the center of most theories about the basic mechanics of the human mind.
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW
The thing about theories of cognition is that — not unlike the blind men and that poor, manhandled elephant — they all involve different ways of explaining the same phenomena. In this regard, the conflicts among them have more to do with perception and interpretation than objective reality. Even though some are more accurate than others, few of them are completely wrong.
WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET…
These differences in perspective also explain some of the problems with trying to describe how various theories relate to each other. It is perhaps more useful to characterize theories by the sorts of questions they are looking into rather than the answers they are finding. For example, many theories of cognition emphasize one of the following questions:
- What is the role of symbolic systems in cognition?
- What is the role of social relationships in cognition?
- What is the role of physical and social environments in cognition?
- What is the role of the body in cognition?
LOOKING FOR A BIGGER PICTURE
All of these perspectives involve big, important questions. But could an integrated perspective help us go beyond these individual points of view to see a bigger picture? It is a different, but no less important inquiry into the study of cognition as well as our understanding of it.