Great Debate on the Complex Systems Approach to Cognitive Science


Welcome to the topiCS Great Debate on the Complex Systems Approach to Cognitive Science. The debate began life as a topic submission by Damien Stephen and Guy Van Orden. The submission provoked much discussion and some controversy among the topiCS Editorial Board; indeed, the range and depth of the discussion made this topic seem appropriate for topiCS’ first Great Debate.

The format of the debate is as follows. We begin with an Introduction written by Van Orden and Stephen entitled “Is Cognitive Science Usefully Cast as Complexity Science?” This introduction was written after the core articles and after the commentaries. However, the authors have been careful in their introduction to refrain from addressing issues raised by the commentators, as they felt that putting the answers before the questions might make it appear to the reader that the commentators collectively misread the “pro” side of this debate.

The Van Orden and Stephen introduction is followed by four core papers by Gibbs and Van Orden; Riley, Shockley, and Van Orden; Silberstein and Chemero; and Dixon, Holden, Mirman and Stephen. The authors for these papers were recruited by Stephen and Van Orden to be representative of the Complex Systems Approach as they define it. (We thank the authors and organizers for keeping each of these papers under 7,000 words.)

As the Executive Editor, I recruited five senior members of the Cognitive Science community to read and comment on the four paper corpus. Two of the commentators were on the list of commentators suggested by Stephen and Van Orden. A third was someone whose work was favorably cited by one or more of the corpus papers. Like the other three, the fourth and fifth are prominent theoreticians whose work has greatly influenced cognitive science theory. However, neither of them has had any prior history (that I know about) of involvement with complexity theory.

Each of the five commentators kept the length of his or her comments within the 1,000–3,000 word range. (For which I thank them very much.) Given the diversity in how these five were recruited, it is very striking that the comments, complaints, and tone of their commentaries tend toward common themes.

Lastly, we have the “Reply to Commentators” written by Stephen and Van Orden plus a very helpful “Glossary of Terms” that was provided by Stephen and Van Orden so that the readers of the Great Debate might be spared one of the complaints shared among the reviewers.