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AUTHOR'S PROOF JrnlID 11097_ArtID 9062_Proof# 1 - 13/08/2007

Phenom Cogn Sci 1

DOI 10.1007/s11097-007-9062-2 2

Michael Wheeler (ed): Reconstructing the cognitive 4

world: The next step 5
Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2005, 340 pages, $35 hard 6

Leslie Marsh 7

# Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007 9


Michael Wheeler is the latest in a new wave of philosophical theorists that fall within a
loose coalition of anti-representationalism (or anti-Cartesianism): Dynamical –, 13
Embodied –, Extended –, Distributed –, and Situated –, theories of cognition 14
(DEEDS an apt acronym). Against this background, cognition for Wheeler is, or 15
should be, a more ecumenical concept. This ecumenical approach would still be 16
amenable to making theoretical distinctions, the central one being the notion of 17

offline and online styles of intelligence, a distinction that makes conceptual space for 18
another closely related notion, that of propositional knowledge (knowing that) and 19

tacit knowledge (knowing how). 20

Wheeler’s book comprises 11 chapters and, informally, 3 sections. Beyond the 21
introduction, chapters 2 to 4 offer a close-grained analysis of cognitive science’s 22

Cartesian inheritance; chapters 5 to 9 present Wheeler’s deployment of Heideggerian 23


ideas in the service of four central DEEDS claims (pp.11–14):


1. That online intelligence (OI) is the primary kind of intelligence;

2. That OI is causally woven within an extended brain–body–environment system; 26

3. That cognitive science needs to be more cognisant of the biological dimension; 27

4. That cognitive science should adopt a dynamical systems perspective. 28

Chapter 10 is dedicated to the frame problem and chapter 11 is a brief epilogue. 29


The Descartes that Wheeler presents is what he terms a “generic Cartesianism.” 30

The intention here is twofold, one a primary reason, the other a derivative reason. 31
First, Wheeler wants to see for himself exactly what Descartes said, as opposed to 32
what has historically been attributed to him. Second, as a Heideggerian, Wheeler feels 33
his position is further strengthened if he does not rely upon Heidegger’s Descartes. 34
Wheeler very bravely makes no appeal to a Heideggerian understanding of 35
Cartesianism and therefore feels that he is not vulnerable to its idiosyncrasies 36

Q1 L. Marsh (*)
Centre for Research in Cognitive Science, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QH, UK
e-mail: l.marsh@sussex.ac.uk
JrnlID 11097_ArtID 9062_Proof# 1 - 13/08/2007
L. Marsh

(pp. 184–185). Wheeler, unlike many DEEDS theorists is not content to use 37
Descartes as the philosophical whipping boy: he is of the view that an extreme 38
mind–body dualism has been unfairly pinned on the historical Descartes. This has, 39
perhaps inadvertently, given rise to, despite their endorsement of physicalism, 40
covert Cartesians. They are committed to a specific notion of Cartesian 41
representationalism: a physical rather than immaterial ontology. This is what 42
Dennett has disparagingly termed Cartesian materialism. Wheeler sets out eight 43
Cartesian principles that comprise Cartesian psychology. They divide into two 44
interpretations: the narrow and the broad. The former identifies the faculty of reason 45
as a wholly mental capacity with the upshot that there is a denial of non-intellectual 46
psychological processes, typically sensory experiences. The latter has a place for 47
both the intellectual and non-intellectual (non-conceptual content) psychological 48

phenomena. 49

In much the same way as he approaches Descartes, Wheeler approaches 50

Heidegger. The reasons here are somewhat more complicated. First, interpretation
of Heidegger has been notoriously divergent: though there is no such thing as a 52

“definitive” commentary on Heidegger, there are less contentious ones (Taylor 53
Carman and Richard Polt are two commentators that spring to mind but are not at all 54
referenced by Wheeler.) Second, Heidegger is a philosopher that has been (mis?) 55
appropriated in areas where there is no philosophical culture. This has given rise to a 56
caricatured Heidegger: the paradigmatic anti-realist, anti-naturalist, relativist and 57

social constructivist pressed into service for those promoting some ideological sub- 58
text (pp. 152, 156). This does no favors for Heidegger in particular and so-called 59
Continental philosophy in general – more on this later. Last but by means not least, 60

Wheeler has the influential work of Hubert Dreyfus to negotiate (pp. 166–191), 61
again a very distinctive Heideggerian on offer. 62
Wheeler’s overall task is to reject the view that Heidegger’s philosophy is 63

incompatible with or irrelevant to a science of the mind. Heideggerian smooth coping, 64


real-time environmental interplay constitutes a form of knowledge, namely embodied 65

knowledge-how. Embodied know-how emerges as our primary way of gaining 66

epistemic access to the word and takes epistemic primacy over knowing-that 67

(propositional knowledge). Whereas the Cartesian cognizer is a fully decontextualized 68

entity, for Heidegger it would seem to be an essential fact about human cognition that it 69

always operates within a context of activity. Wheeler concedes that Heidegger’s pure 70

circumspective know-how is rarely operative. (I would have liked more discussion on 71

contrasting cognitive and philosophical notions of skill-based rationality.) 72
The key to a generic Heideggerian response to orthodox cognitive science, 73
Wheeler believes, lies within the conceptual picture offered by the Heideggerian 74
philosophy–science nexus. Being and Time is primarily an investigation into 75
intelligibility (Reality). The scientific mode reveals the mathematically describable 76
causal properties of entities, properties that as the present-at-hand abstracted from 77
everyday significance, what the “The English Heidegger,” Michael Oakeshott, has 78
termed sub specie quantitatis. For Wheeler there is no Heideggerian reason why 79
phenomena that are ready-to-hand in an everyday context cannot constitute the 80
present-at-hand subject matter of a scientific investigation (p. 157). 81
Wheeler is in accord with much of Dreyfus’s work but feels that Dreyfus runs the 82
risk of over-playing his Heideggerian hand (p. 185). Wheeler suggests that for the 83
AUTHOR'S PROOF JrnlID 11097_ArtID 9062_Proof# 1 - 13/08/2007

Q2 Reconstructing the cognitive world: The next step

Heideggerian there is a tactical advantage to moving away from a Dreyfus-style 84

negative assessment of empirical achievement. Rather, the Heideggerian should 85
engage with the concrete empirical success of a Heideggerian position in cognitive 86
science. This leaves such work vulnerable to the criticism that philosophy then loses 87
its sui generis status. Wheeler seems to sidestep this by interpreting Heidegger as 88
taking the view “that science need not wait for philosophy, not that philosophy must 89
wait for science.” (p. 127) 90
Wheeler is not suggesting that a Heideggerian phenomenological approach is a 91
panacea for the problems faced by cognitive science “but rather as a way of 92
articulating what it is, to a large extent, an independent and already happening 93
transition in the fundamental character of the discipline ...” (p. 124) Wheeler feels 94
that recent cognitive science can be construed as Heideggerian, not so much an 95

engagement with Heideggerian ideas, but as response to empirical questions faced 96

within science itself (p. 188). These two observations suggest then that the sub-title 97
of Wheeler’s book “The Next Step” is redundant – conceived thus we are all already 98

Heideggerians! On a related issue there is a tension in Wheeler’s avowed approach 99

in his so-called generic presentation of the two titans – Descartes and Heidegger. 100
Wheeler’s own reading of these thinkers, ostensibly to present an unvarnished 101
interpretation is a misnomer. If by “generic” he intends an impressionistic Cartesian 102
and Heideggerian approach, then though perfectly legitimate, it is hardly any more 103
“reliable” than Heidegger or Dreyfus. 104

The frame problem looms large; discussion of this issue Wheeler judiciously defers 105
towards the end (chapter 10). Wheeler presents an ambitious three-step strategy that 106
assimilates both Cartesian and Heideggerian insights, the critical third step being the 107

highly speculative invocation of a dynamical open-ended “continuous reciprocal 108

causation” or “adaptive plasticity or flexibility” of agents to negotiate new contexts. 109
This sets up the “research question of how do action-orientated representation and 110

continuous reciprocal causation combine to produce online intelligence?” (p. 280). 111

Perhaps this should, as Wheeler here implies, be “The Next Step.” 112
If ever there were a book that meets the central aims and scope of this journal, i.e. 113

addressing the confluence of phenomenology, empirical science, and analytic 114


philosophy of mind, then this book fits the bill perfectly. It speaks to the health of 115
Anglophonic philosophy, at least as practiced under the aegis of cognitive science, that 116

Wheeler brings an analytical sensibility to ostensibly “obscure” Continental thought. 117


This should not be taken as chauvinistic – Wheeler is merely someone trained in one 118
“style” of philosophising and who deeply appreciates another – there is no 119
incompatibility. Those who insist on maintaining the “continental (hermeneutic)/ 120
analytical” divide are ideological, rather than philosophical: subscribing to this 121
fault-line is as perverse as “dividing America into Business and Kansas.”1 122
I have barely scratched the surface of Wheeler’s concerns. Despite a residual 123
doctoral denseness, he excels in making difficult notions clear without ever 124
vulgarising them. Wheeler is a theorist to watch: there is the promise that his best 125
is yet to come. 126

Attributed to John Searle.


Q1. Please check if affiliation 1 was correctly presented.

Q2. “Reconstructing the cognitive world: The next step” was used as
running title for this article. Please check if appropriate.