COGS 102A: Distributed Cognition (Fall 2011)

Course website:


Edwin Hutchins (Professor)

Office Hours: Tu 1 - 2 in CSB 175

Jeremy Karnowski (TA)

Office Hours: Tu&Th 9 - 10 in Mandeville Coffee Cart

Luke Miller (TA)

Office Hours: W 12 - 2 in CSB 233

Jeremiah Palmerston (IA)

Office Hours: Tu&Th 1 - 2 in CSB 114

Course Description

Historically, the broad concensus in the cognitive science community has been that the individual person, or even the individual brain is the best unit of analysis for human cognition. The material assembled for this course provides an alternative framework: Distributed Cognition.

We will focus on how cognition mobilizes resources both inside and outside of the traditional boundaries of the person. Many of the most important cognitive processes involve interactions among brain, body, and a culturally organized world for action.

Major course themes include the history and philosophy of cognitive science, the role of artifacts in human cognition, socially distributed cognition, the role of the body and action in cognition, and how all of these things change through time.



book cover
book cover

Course Details and Policies

In the schedule below the two assigned books are designated by acronyms:
CitW = Cognition in the Wild
StM = Supersizing the Mind 

Other readings are provided directly via links on this page.
Lectures slides will be posted on this page on or before the day of lecture.
Lecture audio will be available as a podcast at:
Lecture notes will be available via AS Lecture notes

Course Schedule

Week Date Topic Readings Assignments Lecture Notes
1 Thu Sep 22 Introduction and overview of course: course mechanics, basic themes.
The place of distributed cognition in cognitive science. 
None Plagiarism Tutorial and Quiz Open

2 Tue Sep 27 The centralized mindset. How we can break free of the centralized mindset. Five heuristics for thinking about decentralized systems.  "Learning about Life" and "Cognition, Distributed" Plagiarism Quiz Complete Centralized Mindset
Thu Sep 29 The socio-technical context of cognition. Case study: ship navigation CitW Intro and Ch1 Reading Prep

Chapter 1 CitW
3 Tue Oct 04 Physical Symbol System Hypothesis and Classical Cognitive Science   CPR Proj 1 Text Due

Thinking Meat?! 
Thu Oct 06 Culture constructs our cognitive tasks
Case study: Western Navigation

CITW Ch 2 (pp 49-65)

Reading Prep

Computational Perspective on Navigation 

4 Tue Oct 11 Culture constructs our cognitive tasks
Case study: Micronesian Navigation

CITW Ch 2 (pp 65-116)

Reading Prep

CPR Proj 1 Complete


Micronesian Navigation

Thu Oct 13 Thinking with the world.  Case study: Cognitive ecology of ship navigation. 


Reading Prep

CPR Proj 2 Features of Socially Distrbuted Cognition


5 Tue Oct 18 Social Organization of Cognition. Case Study: The navigation team.  CITW Ch 4 & Ch 5 Reading Prep Ch 4

Social Organization of Distributed Cognition
Thu Oct 20 Learning in Context. CITW Ch 6 & Ch 7 Reading Prep Ch 6

Error Detection
Learning a Sequence 
6 Tue Oct 25 Organizational Learning.  Case study: Adapting to the loss of gyrocompass CITW Ch 8 Reading Prep
CPR 2: Text Due

ProcedureEvolution, Cockpit DCOG 
Thu Oct 27 Midterm Exam      
7 Tue Nov 01 The Body in the World StM Appendix, Introduction CPR Proj 2 Complete 
Brainbound Extended
Thu Nov 03 Embodied and extended cognition StM Ch 1 & Ch 2 CPR 3: Principle of Ecological Assembly Embodiment to Cognitive Extension
8 Tue Nov 08 The world around the body.  StM Ch 3 & Ch 4   ThreePuzzles
Thu Nov 10 Doubts about extended mind
Epistemic Engineers
StM Ch 5 & 6   Three Puzzles continued
9 Tue Nov 15 Sensorimotor looping and enaction
What do brains represent?
StM Ch 7 & 8   Epistemic EngineeringEnacted Representation
Thu Nov 17 Disentangling embodiment StM Ch 9 & 10
CPR Proj 3 Text Due

Disentangling Embodiment
10 Tue Nov 22 Embodiment in the big picture of cognitive science CitW Ch8 CPR 3 Complete
CPR 4: Enacted Representations
Thinking with the Body  
Thu Nov 24 Thanksgiving      
11 Tue Nov 29 Culture and Cognition, what we miss by failing to see cognition as a cultural process SSM Hutchins   StMSymposium Summary, Science as DcogScience of Mind Gymnastics
Wed Nov 30 Note: this is Wednesday.  No lecture on this day, but CPR 4 is due   CPR Proj 4 Text Due at 8 PM  
Thu Dec 01 Reflection and review CitW Ch9 Reading Prep DCogOverview
12 Mon Dec 05 First day of finals week.  CPR 4 project completed.    CPR Proj 4 Complete   
Wed Dec 07 Final Exam  
Ledden Auditorium 11:30 - 2:30
Final Exam Study Guide