Cognitive Confinement: Theoretical Considerations on the Construction of a Cognitive Niche, and on How It Can Go Wrong – Synthese – article

Cognitive Confinement: Theoretical Considerations on the Construction of a Cognitive Niche, and on How It Can Go Wrong

Konrad Werner | Synthese

2019-10-24

This paper aims to elucidate a kind of ignorance that is more fundamental than a momentary lack of information, but also not a kind of ignorance that is built into the subject’s cognitive apparatus such that the subject can’t do anything about it (e.g. color blindness). The paper sets forth the notion of cognitive confinement, which is a contingent, yet relatively stable state of being structurally or systematically unable to gain information from an environment, determined by patterns of interaction between the subject and the world. In order to unpack the idea of cognitive confinement the paper discusses niche construction theory, and then, in greater detail, the notion of cognitive niche once proposed by John Tooby and Irven DeVore. Cognitive confinement is here imagined as a pathologized form of cognitive niche. This posit is substantiated by referring to a case that has come to the fore in recent years and raised debate around the world: the rise of so-called filter bubbles. They turn out to be instantiations of a more general phenomenon of cognitive confinement.

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