Neuro-reductionism?But What about cognitive reductionism?

It is very interesting to watch twitter debates between various academic communities. The problem is that if you are already part of a cult, you will never get to enjoy the big picture birds eye view of the show.

When it comes to education and learning, two of the prominent communities use the science tag, often to trash constructivism and progressive models. They are Neuroscience and Cognitive science or fusion; Cognitive Neuroscience. Recently I have been watching both Cognitive Neuroscience people and Cognitive science people exposing the neuro-reductionism and the uselessness so called Neuro speak. There is a lot of valuable insights in this critic.

I have already tweeted about it and blogged about it last year. But still, here is the original link to the tweet : Neuroscience of education

1. The first tweet is by Daniel Ansari, Cognitive Neuroscientist. He made the observation that Neuroscience can’t suggest what is and what isn’t effective pedagogy. Adds that, neural data cannot directly speak to the effectiveness of the instructional approach but can be an informative correlate of the behavioural outcomes (e.g intervention specific gains in reading)

2. The second one is by Daniel Willingham and David Daniel. They talks about this issue in their YouTube vlog; discusses the application of neuroscience in education

3. Third one is an article/ blogpost: In this, Mirjam Neelen & Paul A. Kirschner observes that “In general, brain imaging techniques in and of themselves don’t have any real practical implications. At best, for learning, it can be used in combination with behavioural research to try to understand processes underlying learning” Link to blog post: “STOP ABUSING NEUROSCIENCE FOR LEARNING!”

4. The recent one(order in which I found) is from “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Penguin Press Science S.)” by Steven Pinker. He observed: “Neural plasticity is just another name for learning and development, described at a different level of analysis. All this should be obvious, but nowadays any banality about learning can be dressed up in neurospeak and treated like a great revelation of science.


What about Cognitive reductionism


All of these observations are agreeable. Absolutely significant. But a persistent question in my mind is about the reductionism of cognitive science and the blindness of people who are committed to the cult. And can we call it a science when most of complexity and interactive dynamics are ignored. Isn’t it based on streetlight effect, that occurs when people only search for something where it is easiest to look.

What is the validity of’—for example, standardized tests, when it is absolutely clear that the tests are not measuring any skills of life success, but the socially constructed metric. An example of Pisa: Paper

Isn’t educational cognitive science mostly about social construction than about real science? I argue that most of the cognitive science driven assessments and assumptions are in a way shaping the society, constructing its values, engineering the social systems to make it easier for some people to climb the ladder, and difficult for others .

To Conclude

I like cognitive science and Neuroscience. I acknowledge the value of the tools and insights generated from neuroscience and cognitive science. I am huge fan of genuine works like that from expertise researchers and people like Herbert Simon(with his bounded rationality) who transformed the way I think. But borrowing from Dave Snowden, I am also a believer of bounded applicability of ideas, tools, theories, methods, etc. I have a tendency to question the one size fits all. E.g. , I believe Cognitive load theory is useful and good, but I also think it shouldn’t be used to dictate or sanction the validity of Direct( rote) instruction perspective. Or worst it shouldn’t be used to trash all other methods because all of them doesn’t fit a certain criteria( computer analogy).

Blog post link

Thus, I must say, I am hugely skeptical of many dimensions of educational cognitive science, particularly those works that has a tendency to influence policy and that part which is directly connected to money making industry, testing, assessments, etc.

Read about possible side effects of various cognitive science informed metrics : Goodhart’s law, Campbell’s law, Metric fixation

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