How systemic cognition enables epistemic engineering

Stephen John Cowley, Rasmus Gahrn-Andersen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Epistemic engineering arises as systems and their parts develop functionality that is construed as valid knowledge. By hypothesis, epistemic engineering is a basic evolutionary principle. It ensures that not only living systems identify the differences that make differences but also ensure that distributed control enables them to construct epistemic change. In tracking such outcomes in human life, we stress that humans act within poly-centered, distributed systems. Similar to how people can act as inert parts of a system, they also actively bring forth intents and vicariant effects. Human cognitive agents use the systemic function to construct epistemic novelties. In the illustration, we used a published experimental study of a cyborg cockroach to consider how an evoneered system enables a human subject to perform as an adaptor with some “thought control” over the animal. Within a wide system, brains enable the techniques to arise ex novo as they attune to the dictates of a device. Human parts act as adaptors that simplify the task. In scaling up, we turn to a case of organizational cognition. We track how adaptor functions spread when drone-based data are brought to the maintenance department of a Danish utility company. While pivoting on how system operators combine experience with the use of software, their expertise sets off epistemically engineered results across the company and beyond. Vicariant effects emerge under the poly-centered control of brains, persons, equipment, and institutional wholes. As a part of culture, epistemic engineering works by reducing entropy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number960384
JournalFrontiers in artificial intelligence
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • distributed cognition
  • evoneering
  • pre-reflective experience
  • radical embodied cognitive science
  • simplexity
  • social organizing
  • systemic cognition
  • vicariance


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