Keynote Speaker

Minding One’s Business: On the How, When, and Where of Cognition

Wolff-Michael Roth
University of Victoria


Where is the mind when we mind our business, that is, when we do what we characteristically do? Is mind between the two ears and underneath the skull? Is it in the business that has been minded? Or is it somewhere else? A foray into the literature on theories of cognition (knowing, learning) has to be confusing. There is research that looks for mind in neurons and neuronal connections; other studies assume an enacted or embodied mind; others again consider mind to be in society. How we think about cognition has direct implication on when and where we look for it when conducting research, and how we go about teaching a field. If we assume a classical computer metaphor, then learning occurs when information is transferred to the brain (mind) of the learner where it is stored, and lecturing constitutes a main pedagogical modality. If we assume that knowledge is actively constructed when we engage in relevant activities, then one or another student-centered pedagogy will be the method of choice. When the metaphor is the embodied or enactivist mind, then opportunities tend to be provided for students to act with the relevant practical objects.

In this talk, I work through some empirical examples to exhibit how, when, and where to look to find cognition that is not reduced to the physical body (including brain physiology) or to some non-physical mind and that is not reduced to the individual or social. Instead, the physical or mental dimensions, the individual or social aspects, are but manifestations of a thinking body that itself is invisible in the same way as the wave functions in quantum mechanics. Minding one’s business, i.e., acting so that what is done is intelligible and intelligent, simultaneously is individual and social, sensuous (material, specific) and super-sensuous (ideal, universal). As a result, phenomena commonly searched for in the brain—e.g., remembering, perceiving, knowing a concept, reasoning—manifest themselves, often contradictorily, in different modes and modalities. Some implications are sketched for computing education.


Wolff-Michael Roth is Lansdowne Professor of Applied Cognitive Science in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. After an MSc in physics, he obtained a PhD from the College of Science and Technology at the University of Southern Mississippi for an investigation on the development of mathematical reasoning in adults. His early experiences include eight years as teacher of science, mathematics, and computer science. For the past 30 years, he has been investigating knowing and learning across the lifespan in formal educational (elementary, middle, high school, and university students and teachers), workplace (fish culturists, scientists, electricians, pilots, software developers), and leisure settings (environmentalists). His journal publications range across several disciplines and fields (natural sciences, research methodology, education, psychology, social studies of science) and he has drawn on the entire spectrum of research methods (from quantitative to qualitative, and also has modeled human behavior using mathematical models [e.g. fuzzy logic, catastrophe theory] and artificial neural networks) and theories of cognition (information processing, [radical, social] constructivism discursive psychology, phenomenology, cultural-historical psychology). He has received many career and publication awards, elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Educational Research Association, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Ioannina, Greece.