Extended Cognition and the Automoton

This week’s reading and python exercises really helped me to see the major distinction between computational thinking and thinking more generally. I had used Python before for manipulating large sets of Twitter feeds in Social Media Analytics, but the readings along with doing the course in Code Academy helped me connect a few dots I hadn’t seen before.

First and foremost was this idea of layers of abstractions (Wing). That computational processes shed layers of any one human abstraction to only the abstractions necessary to carry out a function really helped me de-blackbox this idea of computational thinking. That human abstractions can be reasoned with by separating them into layers of abstractions really tossed me around this week, because this idea differs from the more traditional semiotic process. It seems like in computational thinking, we start with the meaning, and we break it into its components and reason with them that way – a reverse semiosis. The treatment of artifacts was interesting as well. That in computer science, the scientific method observes artifacts are created is so fundamentally different from how we scientifically study other things, especially because computers are so intertwined with our cognition (Dasgupta). That the intervention of a computer’s purpose must be considered in it’s scientific study effectively makes the study of computers the study of humans.

However, the utility of computers is this idea that they automate abstractions (Wing). This was reminiscent of cognitive offloading and the extended mind for me. We use computers to offload complex processing and automate it, making it more efficient. And then, these automated processes become part of our cognitive process. Even though our brains aren’t the ones doing the automating work, computers allow us to behave as if they are. So the question still stands… what is and isn’t computable? What is the range of possibility with an extended cognition that uses this advanced computational thinking? This question is further complicated if we accept that computers are not the origin of computational thinking (Campbell-Kelly).


  • Campbell-Kelly, Martin. “Origin of Computing.” Scientific American 301, no. 3 (September 2009): 62–69.
  • Dasgupta, Subrata. It Began with Babbage: The Genesis of Computer Science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • TheIHMC. “Jeannette M. Wing – Computational Thinking and Thinking About Computing.” YouTube. YouTube, 30 Oct. 2009. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.