These are the three phases of the Extended Knowledge Project and some of the main topics it will be addressing.

Mapping the Terrain

The focus of the first phase of the project is to provide, for the very first time, a topography of the relevant philosophical terrain with regard to the possible ways in which we could conceive of knowledge as extended. This topography will provide the essential groundwork for the more specific research questions tackled in the following projects (for more info see below).

Some of the specific topics we will be addressing at this stage are the following:

Extended Knowledge

The second phase of the project involves a more focussed critical examination of the ramifications of the extended cognition programme (and related views) to contemporary epistemology, and to the theory of knowledge in particular.

The following research questions will be some of the central topics in this phase of the project:

    • Is extended knowledge compatible with mentalism? Relatedly, is extended knowledge compatible with the claim that knowledge is a mental state?
    • Is extended knowledge compatible with accessibilism? Relatedly, is extended knowledge compatible with our having privileged epistemic access to our mental states?
    • Does extended knowledge entail that we should treat the cognitive processes that generate knowledge as also environmentally extended? Are standard views about the nature of knowledge-conducive cognitive processes⎯such as those offered by virtue epistemology⎯compatible with the idea that these cognitive processes are themselves extended?
    • What kind of cognitive responsibility is involved in extended knowledge? In particular, does extended knowledge entail that knowledge is compatible with a very limited degree of cognitive responsibility?
    • Does extended knowledge have implications for epistemic value? In particular, is extended knowledge compatible with the idea that knowledge has a distinctive value?

Socially Extended Knowledge

The third phase of the project will apply the results of the above two projects to the question of whether knowledge can be genuinely distributed. In doing so it will draw upon discussions of this topic from both social epistemology and contemporary philosophy of cognitive science.

Some of the specific research questions to be addressed at this phase of the project are the following:

    • Insofar as there is a tension between extended knowledge and mentalism, is this incompatibility more acute in the case of socially extended knowledge? Is it more implausible to think of knowledge as a mental state if the kind of extended knowledge in play is distinctively social?
    • Insofar as there is a tension between extended knowledge and accessibilism, is this incompatibility more acute in the case of socially extended knowledge? Is it more implausible to suppose that we have privileged epistemic access to our mental states if the extended knowledge in play is distinctively social?
    • If extended knowledge requires us to treat knowledge-conducive cognitive processes as environmentally extended, then does socially extended knowledge require us to treat such processes as being extended across a specifically social environment? Are standard views about the nature of knowledge-conducive cognitive processes compatible with the idea that these cognitive processes are socially extended?
    • Does the fact that the knowledge is specifically socially extended have ramifications for the cognitive responsibility of the knowing agent? For example, is the knowing agent’s cognitive responsibility less important to such knowledge on account of there being a wider cognitive responsibility which is distributed across agents in that social environment?
    • Insofar as there is a tension between extended knowledge and the putative special value of knowledge, is that tension exacerbated by the extended knowledge at issue being distinctively social?

Extended Knowledge and Education

One of the goals of the project is to relate these research themes to the epistemology of education. There has been a wealth of important work on the epistemology of education in recent years, exploring such topics as whether education has a distinctive epistemic goal (and if so, which one(s)?), but there has not been any sustained discussion in this context of the relevance of extended or distributed cognition. And yet insofar as the extended cognition/distributed cognition research programme has important ramifications for epistemology (and we believe that it does), then it surely has important ramifications for the epistemology of education too. Think, for example, of how students in western societies increasingly depend on technological devices to aid their learning. Are these devices mere instruments, or is the student instead a component part of a broader cognitive whole that includes the devices themselves? Or, to take another example, think of the (relatively contemporary) focus in educational theory on group learning. From an epistemic point of view, is the group more than the epistemic sum of its constituent parts (i.e., the individual learners who make up the group)?

We will be exploring these issues in partnership not only with educational theorists (such as from Edinburgh’s distinguished Moray House School of Education) but also with teachers and students in local schools.

For more information check out the new Eidyn-funded pilot programme, led by Dr Adam Carter.

Extended Knowledge and Informatics

The results of the Extended Knowledge Project can undoubtedly have a strong technological impact, especially within informatics, where human-computer interactions and information-processing are the primary topics of study.

Specifically, studying the ways in which knowledge can be extended can lead to the engineering of an entirely new series of programmes that have traditionally aimed at knowledge. Think about:

  • Internet SearchEngines
  • Music Databases
  • Video Databases
  • Online Encyclopaedias

The design of such knowledge oriented programmes that aim at pooling information from the social domain and then redistributing it to the individual can undergo a radical reconceptualisation. Instead of merely updating themselves by passively tracking the activity of their users, programmes could provide their users with the means to actively  contribute to the database. The overall effect would be that individual users would be able to upload their part of social knowledge to the programme, wherefrom they could, in turn, individually download it in its entirety.

One of the main aims and original contributions of the Extended Knowledge Project is to specify the details of designing such reliable and user-friendly human-machine programmes whose output will amount to knowledge.

Collaborating with research teams from Edinburgh’s School of Informatics and especially the Center for Intelligent Systems and their Applications will be essential for this aspect of the project, although external collaborations would be gladly considered too.

For more information check out the new Eidyn-funded pilot project on Group Knowledge, led by Dr Orestis Palermos

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