The (second) cognitive revolution

Rom Harré

By the mid 80s of the last century it became clear that further developments of cognitive psychology were required to provide a solid foundation for a scientific psychology. Language, as the main tool of cognition, began to be the focus of all kinds of research, including developmental studies. Along with that came the realization that the first cognitive revolution had remained trapped by the presumption of individualism. Jerome Bruner (1986) was one of those who realized that social cognitive processes were prior to individual acts of thinking. This was the beginnings of the second cognitive revolution.

Harré (2009: 181)

The expression second cognitive revolution may be a bit of an overstatement, because it downplays the precedents and underscores the magnitude of changes. Be it as it may, by the late 1980s the classical, information-processing paradigm had led to some major advances in machine translation of (written) language pairs, but it had also obviously failed to capture the basics of meaning and human meaning-making.

Researchers started to look at language not as a limited set of empty symbols, but as a window onto higher cognition. Linguistics became more interested in mental constructs (scripts, frames, schemata) than in rules. Brunner (1990) claimed that such constructs are used both to ascribe meaning and also to organize experience, and this has led to expand cognition to areas that had been purposefully excluded.

On the one hand, emotions are now considered part of cognitive processing (Ortony, Clore & Collins 1988). Thought has come to be seen as embodied, thereby ending the Cartesian dualist opposition between mind and body (e.g., Damasio 1994). Also, cognition is situated in an environment and not an endeavor of an isolated, autonomous processing machine (Clancey 1997). In fact, humans may be said to extend part of our cognitive processes into the environment (Clark & Chalmers 1998), thereby closing the gap between inner and outer experience. And rational thoughts are not always conscious (De Gelder, de Haan & Heywood 2001).

On the other hand, schemata are partially conventional and thus shared by social groups. Cognition and culture are closely linked (Hutchins 1995), so schemata are the interface between neurobiology and social and developmental psychology. The self and self-consciousness became new research topics, and researchers started to look also at their neurocognitive foundations.

On the whole, the different strands behind these changes and advances amount to initial attempts to offer partial answers to the shortcomings of the information-processing paradigm, but they are slowly converging into overarching principles that are fostering a renewal in cognitive approaches to translation and interpreting.

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