Epistemic actions, material culture and distributed cognition among marine molecular biologists
Mads Solberg (University of Bergen)
Paper short abstract:
This is a cognitive ethnography of an experimental system designed by marine parasitologists to elucidate interactions between salmon lice and salmon. The approach of distributed cognition helps describe how a novel experimental system affords biologists with a powerful cognitive architecture.
Paper long abstract:
This paper presents a cognitive ethnography of an experimental system designed and used by a group of molecular marine parasitologists to elucidate interactions between salmon lice (an ectoparasite) and salmon (the host). By deploying the framework of distributed cognition, I describe how a novel experimental system affords molecular biologists with a cognitive architecture that can provide new insights about a troublesome relationship that annually costs Norwegian salmon farmers around 500 million Euros. Central to this experimental system is a technology for genomic screenings known as RNA-interference. New biotechnologies like RNAi partly relies on an epistemic strategy that has been dubbed 'exploratory experimentation' (EE) by some historians and philosophers of science. EE does not strictly rely on Popperian hypothesis-testing, but rather a 'manipulate and see what happens'-approach to knowledge production. Distributed cognition, which extends the unit of analysis beyond the individual cognitive agent, offers a way to think about how a group of epistemic engineers per excellence propagate and transform representations through interactions with a rich material culture and a variety of cognitive artefacts.
Cognitive anthropology and cultural transmission; legacies and futures