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Hardcover | Out of Print | 356 pp. | 6 x 9 in | March 2005 | ISBN: 9780262232401
Paperback | $33.00 X | £24.95 | 356 pp. | 6 x 9 in | January 2007 | ISBN: 9780262731829

Reconstructing the Cognitive World

The Next Step


In Reconstructing the Cognitive World, Michael Wheeler argues that we should turn away from the generically Cartesian philosophical foundations of much contemporary cognitive science research and proposes instead a Heideggerian approach. Wheeler begins with an interpretation of Descartes. He defines Cartesian psychology as a conceptual framework of explanatory principles and shows how each of these principles is part of the deep assumptions of orthodox cognitive science (both classical and connectionist). Wheeler then turns to Heidegger's radically non-Cartesian account of everyday cognition, which, he argues, can be used to articulate the philosophical foundations of a genuinely non-Cartesian cognitive science. Finding that Heidegger's critique of Cartesian thinking falls short, even when supported by Hubert Dreyfus's influential critique of orthodox artificial intelligence, Wheeler suggests a new Heideggerian approach. He points to recent research in "embodied-embedded" cognitive science and proposes a Heideggerian framework to identify, amplify, and clarify the underlying philosophical foundations of this new work. He focuses much of his investigation on recent work in artificial intelligence-oriented robotics, discussing, among other topics, the nature and status of representational explanation, and whether (and to what extent) cognition is computation rather than a noncomputational phenomenon best described in the language of dynamical systems theory.

Wheeler's argument draws on analytic philosophy, continental philosophy, and empirical work to "reconstruct" the philosophical foundations of cognitive science in a time of a fundamental shift away from a generically Cartesian approach. His analysis demonstrates that Heideggerian continental philosophy and naturalistic cognitive science need not be mutually exclusive and shows further that a Heideggerian framework can act as the "conceptual glue" for new work in cognitive science.

About the Author

Michael Wheeler is Reader in Philosophy at the University of Stirling. He is the author of Reconstructing the Cognitive World: The Next Step (MIT Press, 2005).


“Engaging, admirably clear, and written with an authority that comes only from intimate familiarity with contemporary research on cognition, Wheeler develops a biologically grounded and noncomputational notion of mental representation that forms the foundation for a broadly Heideggerian interpretation of the revolutionary embodied-embedded turn in contemporary cognitive science. This book has the potential to radically reshape how cognitive science and analytical philosophy view the mind.”
Mark A. Bedau, Professor of Philosophy, Reed College, Editor-in-Chief of Artificial Life
“After shedding a harsh new light on the Cartesian flaws at the heart of much of mainstream cognitive science, Wheeler carefully and persuasively builds a case for an alternative Heideggerian approach, grounding his arguments in current empirical work in AI. Superbly written with great clarity and energy (not to mention scholarship), this is a very important book for all serious students of cognitive science and its constituent disciplines from AI to philosophy of mind.”
Phil Husbands, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, University of Sussex
“Michael Wheeler has given us a masterly account of the embodied, dynamical perspective in cognitive science. His book is philosophically sophisticated, technically well informed, and beautifully written. It communicates the excitement and biological relevance of a variety of work in A-life, and shows how some of Heidegger's ideas can be constructively applied to the field. It will even make you laugh. In short: it's not to be missed.”
Margaret A. Boden, Research Professor of Cognitive Science, University of Sussex, author of The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms
“Taking Rodney Brooks's pronouncement 'It isn't German philosophy' as his point of departure, Wheeler shows that, on the contrary, much of the most recent and interesting work in cognitive science has been implicitly, but importantly, guided by principles that derive from the work of the great German phenomenologist Martin Heidegger. In rigorously and lucidly prosecuting this case, Wheeler develops a devastating attack on Cartesian cognitive science, and produces his own significant contribution towards an embedded and embodied alternative. This is a wonderful and timely book.”
Mark Rowlands, Professor of Menal and Moral Philosophy, University of Hertfordshire, U.K.