Mediated Cognition: Information Technologies and the Sciences of Mind
Mcmillan, Alasdair James
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This dissertation investigates the interconnections between minds, media, and the cognitive sciences. It asks what it means for media to have effects upon the mind: do our tools influence the ways that we think? It considers what scientific evidence can be brought to bear on the question: how can we know and measure these effects? Ultimately, it looks to the looping pathways by which science employs technological media in understanding the mind, and the public comes to understand and respond to these scientific discourses. I contend that like human cognition itself, the enterprise of cognitive science is a deeply and distinctively mediated phenomenon. This casts a different light on contemporary debates about whether television, computers, or the Internet are changing our brains, for better or for worse. Rather than imagining media effects as befalling a fictive natural mind, I draw on multiple disciplines to situate mind and the sciences thereof as shaped from their origins through interaction with technology. Our task is then to interrogate the forms of cognition and attention fostered by different media, alongside their attendant costs and benefits. The first chapter positions this dissertation between the fields of media studies and STS, developing a case for the reality of media effects without the implication of technological determinism. The second considers the history of technological metaphor in scientific characterizations of the mind. The third section consists of three separate chapters on the history of cognitive science, presenting the core of my case for its uniquely mediated character. Across three distinct eras, what unifies cognitive science is the quest to understand the mind using computational systems, operating by turns as generative metaphors and tangible models. I then evaluate the contemporary cognitive-scientific research on the question of media effects, and the growing role of electronic media in science. My fifth and final section develops a content analysis: what is said in the media about the popular theory that media themselves, in one way or another, are causing attention deficit disorders? The work concludes with a summary and some reflections on mind, culture, technoscience and markets as recursively interwoven causal systems.