Distributed cognition

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Distributed cognition simply means "write it down."

David Allen of Allen Co. teaches a system called GTD or "getting things done." Even students who have been studying his work for up to three years still resist "writing things down." Distributive cognition is the clinically proven fact that when you write down all of the things that you know that you need to do, they will stop eating away at you in your unconscious psyche (or in what David Allen calls Psychic Ram.)

David's theory is based on the idea that once you accept a task or make a plan you have created an "open loop" that your unconscious will start working on "all the time" regardless of your active participation. This is why so many people take their work home with them. Most of your worry, stress and your inability to stay in the moment- has to do with the personal failure generated come from the endless list of things that remain inside your head, unprocessed. Your psychic Ram (unconscious mind) thinks it should be doing all of these tasks RIGHT NOW unless you right them down in a systematic way.

Your unconscious mind has no sense of time. It will try to complete a task "all the time" once you have told someone that you would complete the task. Every task, including simply opening an email, is a sort of an agreement. In fact all tasks are essentially forms of agreement with yourself and others. This is why it is very advisable not to over-extend yourself and to not make commitments unless you can joyfully fulfill them. Don't agree to everything.

More importantly write everything down using the GTD system. Get it out of your head. This is called distributed cognition.

Once this "gnawing guilt" about the things you have not completed has been written down it distributes the psychic Ram (unconscious Ram) into the physical world, which relieves much of the cognitive pressure.

A regular weekly, monthly and quarterly review is still required to process the items that you have written down.

Distributed cognition is a psychological theory developed in the mid 1980s by Edwin Hutchins. Using insights from sociology, cognitive science, and the psychology of Vygotsky (cf activity theory) it emphasizes the social aspects of cognition. It is a framework (not a method) that involves the co-ordination between individuals, artifacts and the environment. It has several key components:

1. Embodiment of information that is embedded in representations of interaction

2. Coordination of enaction among embodied agents

3. Ecological contributions to a cognitive ecosystem

In a sense, it expresses cognition as the process of information that occurs from interaction with symbols in the world. It considers and labels all phenomena responsible for this processing as ecological elements of a cognitive ecosystem. The ecosystem is the environment in which ecological elements assemble and interact in respect to a specific cognitive process. Cognition is then shaped by the transduction of information across extended and embodied modalities, the representations formed as result of their interactions and the attentive distribution of those representations toward a cognitive goal.

Distributed cognition is a branch of cognitive science that proposes that human knowledge and cognition are not confined to the individual. Instead, it is distributed by placing memories, facts, or knowledge on the objects, individuals, and tools in our environment. Distributed cognition is a useful approach for (re)designing social aspects of cognition by putting emphasis on the individual and his/her environment. Distributed cognition views a system as a set of representations, and models the interchange of information between these representations. These representations can be either in the mental space of the participants or external representations available in the environment.

This abstraction can be categorized into three distinct types of processes.

1. Cognitive processes may be distributed across the members of a social group.

2. Cognitive processes may be distributed in the sense that the operation of the cognitive system involves coordination between internal and external (material or environmental) structure.

3. Processes may be distributed through time in such a way that the products of earlier events can transform the nature of related events.

See the entry on David Allen for more information.

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