On cognitive artifacts

Levinson, S. C. (2023). On cognitive artifacts. In R. Feldhay (Ed.), The evolution of knowledge: A scientific meeting in honor of Jürgen Renn (pp. 59-78). Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.
Wearing the hat of a cognitive anthropologist rather than an historian, I will try to amplify the ideas of Renn’s cited above. I argue that a particular subclass of material objects, namely “cognitive artifacts,” involves a close coupling of mind and artifact that acts like a brain prosthesis. Simple cognitive artifacts are external objects that act as aids to internal
computation, and not all cultures have extended inventories of these. Cognitive artifacts in this sense (e.g., calculating or measuring devices) have clearly played a central role in the history of science. But the notion can be widened to take in less material externalizations of cognition, like writing and language itself. A critical question here is how and why this close coupling of internal computation and external device actually works, a rather neglected question to which I’ll suggest some answers.
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