Speaker: Richard Menary, University of Wollongong
Respondent: Eric Mandelbaum
Abstract: The idea that organisms often create and maintain complex environmental niches is familiar in biology from the work of Odling-Smee, Laland and Feldman (2003). Sterelny (2003 and forthcoming) has applied the framework to the greatest niche constructor of them all – humans – and has produced an intriguing analysis of how humans have constructed uniquely cognitive niches. The cognitive niche construction idea has also been taken up by Clark and Wheeler (2008) and Stotz (2010) but their versions differ in important ways from Sterelny's. Sterelny (2010) argues that cognitive niche construction supports a scaffolded, rather than an extended, model of cognition. I argue for a position somewhere in between scaffolding and extension by focusing on the important role of development in the cognitive niche and especially the resulting transformation of cognitive capacities.
Bio: Richard Menary read for a BA in philosophy at the University of Ulster, an MSc in Cognitive Science at the University of Birmingham and then a PhD in philosophy at King's College London. He has taught philosophy at the University of Kent, Birkbeck College Faculty of Continuing Education and was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire. He is now Senior Lecturer and Head of the Philosophy Programme at the University of Wollongong in Australia.