Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why did Tribble need EM?

So, the question that started this segment was "How did the Elizabethan actors remember all their lines?"  The answer was roughly because of the many prompts in the organization of the Globe Theater.
Alan Saunders then asks a good question.  Why does this analysis of the Globe Theater performances require EM?  Why do we have to add the part about the whole of the Globe being a cognitive system?

The first part of Sutton's reply is that Hutchins' theory of EM inspired Tribble, but he admits after that that, in principle, Tribble's account can be given without the EM view.  Then, he turns to the point that prior to Tribble's work, scholars had supposed that there was a single prompter, but now there is the hypothesis that there were many prompts.
But, the obvious rejoinder here (right?) is to ask why multiple prompts versus a single prompt should make for extended cognition.  Note, moreover, that saying that the whole of the Globe is a cognitive system does not really address the original question of how the Elizabethan actors remembered all their lines.  The Globe-as-a-cognitive-system story just encourages a (trivial) reformulation of the question.  How did the Elizabethan actors (who were part of this larger cognitive system) remember all their lines?  Now the question is one of how certain components of a system did their job.  That seems to me to be no advance at all.  The real advance was in seeing the many components rather than the one.
Sutton adds that this single prompter was thought to be the single intelligent agent behind the performance and that that is not the case.
Personally, I'm kind of skeptical about this last bit of commentary.  Did anyone really think that the actors on stage were not intelligent agents behind the performance?  I guess that it depends on how much one loads into the word "behind".  Maybe the actors weren't "behind" the performance, but part of the performance.
 Now, I confess that I have not read the original Tribble paper, but I should have and it is on my list of things to read.  But, there is that Gibson thing I have to read .... =)


  1. I haven't read the Tribble paper either. I did read Sutton's paper in Menary's book, but on a first reading wasn't sure what to make of it--mostly because I hadn't read the stuff about Elizabethan theater that he was referring to so much.

    But in response to the points you mentioned in this post, I can say the following.

    You've got a quintessentially cognitive task--recall of information introduced in the past. The cognitive system encompassing just the actor's body isn't up to the task. But the system encompassing the troupe plus the theater _is_ up to the task. Since it's a cognitive task, and since the theater-encompassing system does it, it appears the theater-encompassing system is a cognitive system.

    My biggest worry lately is the "can we do science if things are like that?" worry. If the globe theater gets to be a cognitive system, can we do a general science of cognition?

    We can tweak various things about the theater and see how they affect its problem-solving capabilities. Isn't that pretty much what cognitive scientists do when they tweak brains?

    Another worry would be this: Why say the theater-encompassing system is accomplishing a "cognitive task" just because, within it, behaviors are produced which amount to evidence of the recall of information happening somewhere? What's the difference, in other words, between the cognitive process of recall, and the numerous possible non-cognitive processes which issue forth in the same information coming to the fore from time to time in our examination of the process? And once we know the difference, which side of the difference does the theater-encompassing process belong to?

  2. Hi, Kris,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I had hoped to explore some new issues that I think that Globe example raises, but there are the familiar ones as well. So, what makes a task a cognitive task? Isn't it just one that involves a cognitive process (somewhere? to some degree?) or is the whole of the performance of the task supposed to be a cognitive process? If the first disjunct, then it is not clear we have the extension of a cognitive process. If the second disjunct, then isn't what one means by performance a cognitive task just a matter of a cognitive behavior, hence one does have extended behavior, but does that mean that there is extended cognition? A common cognitivist line is that cognitive processes are contributors to cognitive behavior.

    Then, there is the extended cognitive process versus extended cognitive systems distinction. I'm happy to say that the whole of the Globe theater is a cognitive system, but that not all parts of the system involve cognitive processing. This is like a computer system and computational processes. This is what Adams and I discussed in the Bounds of Cognition, Chapter 7.