Development, resilience engineering, degeneracy, and cognitive practices

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing on a range of literature, I introduce two new concepts for understanding and exploring distributed cognition: resilience engineering and degeneracy. By re-examining Ed Hutchins’ (1995) ethnographic study of the navigation team I show how a focus on the developmental acquisition of cognitive practices can draw out several crucial insights that have been overlooked. Firstly, that the way in which agents learn and acquire cognitive practices enables a form of resilience engineering: the process by which the system is able to overcome and adapt to errors and the vagaries of nature. Secondly, that the best way to engineer a resilient system is through promoting degeneracy – how differing structures produce the same function – at the level of cognitive practices. These two features show that focusing on cognitive practices and developmental trajectories is important for both greater explanatory leverage; and is also useful in regard to the practicalities of designing real-world cognitive systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-664
Number of pages20
JournalReview of Philosophy and Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date13 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


  • Cognitive practices
  • Degeneracy
  • Development
  • Distributed cognition
  • Ed Hutchins
  • Epistemic tools
  • External representations
  • Resilience engineering
  • Richard Menary


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