Distributed loci of control: Overcoming stale dichotomies in biology and cognitive science

Daniel C. Burnston, Antonella Tramacere


Abstract: We argue that theoretical debates in biology and cognitive science often are based around differences in the posited locus of control for biological and cognitive phenomena. Internalists about locus of control posit that specific causal control over the phenomenon is exerted by factors internal (to the relevant subsystem) of an organism. Externalists posit that causally specific influence is due to external factors. In theoretical biology, we suggest, a minimal agreement has developed that the locus of control for heritable variation is distributed – that is, both internal and external factors exert specific, non-redundant causal influence on evolved traits. We suggest that debates in cognitive science, particularly surrounding “enactivism”, should also embrace a distributed locus of control. We show how both internal and external factors contribute non-redundantly to psychological capacities and behavior. We further suggest that embracing a distributed locus of control provides a basis for a revisionary, but substantive account of “mental representation”.

Keywords: Locus of control; Internalism/Externalism; Evolutionary Biology; Cognitive Science; Mental Representation


Loci di controllo distribuiti: superare le vecchie dicotomie nella biologia e nella scienza cognitiva

Riassunto: Numerose discussioni in biologia e nella scienza cognitiva vertono spesso su differenze nella individuazione del locus di controllo dei fenomeni biologici e cognitivi. Posizioni internaliste rispetto al locus di controllo ritengono che il controllo causale specifico su un fenomeno biologico o cognitivo venga esercitato da fattori interni a (un sottosistema rilevante) di un organismo. Al contrario, posizioni esternaliste assumono che specifiche influenze causali siano dovute a fattori esterni. In questo articolo mostriamo che nell’ambito della biologia teorica si è giunti a un minimo accordo rispetto al fatto che il locus di controllo per l’emergere di variazioni ereditarie è distribuito – ossia dovuto sia a fattori interni che esterni all’organismo che esercitano influenze specifiche e non-ridondanti sui tratti che si sono evoluti. Riteniamo che tale accordo debba essere raggiunto anche nell’ambito della scienza cognitiva, in particolare per quel che concerne l’enattivismo. In questo articolo mostriamo che sia i fattori interni che quelli esterni contribuiscono in maniera non-ridondante alle capacità psicologiche e al comportamento di un individuo. Inoltre sosterremo che l’adozione di un locus di controllo distribuito possa costituire un buon punto di partenza per una revisione sostanziale della nozione di “rappresentazione mentale”.

Parole chiave: Locus di controllo causale; Internalismo/Esternalismo; Biologia evolutiva; Scienze cognitive; Rappresentazione mentale

Parole chiave

Locus of control; Internalism/Externalism; Evolutionary Biology; Cognitive Science; Mental Representation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.4453/rifp.2023.0008

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