Michael Wheeler: "Thrown Machines: in Defence of a Heideggerian Cognitive Science"

Lecture by Michael Wheeler, University of Stirling, Scotland, UK.


In this talk I shall argue first (and briefly) that the very idea of a Heideggerian cognitive science makes philosophical sense and second (and in much more detail) for a particular vision of what such a cognitive science ought to look like. To achieve the first of these goals, I shall provide a sketch of how to interpret Heidegger's existential phenomenology such that it is consistent with - indeed, is in a relation of mutual illumination with - the scientific study of mind. To achieve the second goal, I shall highlight the key elements of Heideggerian cognitive science as I understand it, and then defend my view against some criticisms that have been directed against it by Hubert Dreyfus and Erik Rietveld. As I understand Dreyfus and Rietveld, they agree with me that something worth calling a Heideggerian cognitive science is certainly possible, but they take my particular unpacking of the idea to be seriously flawed. The dispute here turns on the issue of how to explain the human capacity for fluid and flexible sensitivity to context-dependent relevance, a capacity which has arguably proved resistant to orthodox cognitive-scientific theorizing, but which promises to yield to a properly conceived Heideggerian approach. With luck, then, resolving the Dreyfus-Rietveld-Wheeler debate might even deliver a better understanding of this distinctive human capacity. It is here that the notion of a thrown machine - a closely coupled brain-body-environment mechanism that is activated correctly only in the presence of the right, contextually relevant input - will play a crucial role.