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Cognitive Democracy and the Internet
Henry Farrell, George Washington University and Cosma Shalizi, Carnegie-Mellon/ The Santa Fe Institute
Conference Paper
May 10, 2013

 

Ithis paper, we lay out the core arguments for an approach to democratic theory that we dub 
´cognitive democracy,´ and apply it to understanding the democratic potential of the Internet. Our 
baseline is fundamentally pragmatist - we start from the supposition that institutions are justified 
by their usefulness for pursuing (and, as justified by experience, reconsidering) our collective 
ends as a society. We combine this starting point with the results of a burgeoning new literature 
in order to understand the circumstances under which social arrangements can promote or 
impede the pursuit of useful knowledge. To be more precise, we look at various forms of 
information processing on the Internet as forms of _collective cognition_ - collective processes 
that are more or less successful in bringing together understandings of the world so as to produce 
useful political knowledge. Our arguments begin with the question of how different 
arrangements bring different viewpoints together. New work in cognitive science allows us to 
understand how such contact can contribute to collective problem solving. However, the question 
of whether specific forms of social activity on the actually-existing Internet does or does not 
promote such contact is an open research question. We conclude by setting out a research agenda 
for understanding the Internet as a set of field experiments in information processing, from 
which we can gather provisional results that we can then apply to improve democratic 
arrangements.

In this paper, we lay out the core arguments for an approach to democratic theory that we dub ´cognitive democracy,´ and apply it to understanding the democratic potential of the Internet. Our baseline is fundamentally pragmatist - we start from the supposition that institutions are justified by their usefulness for pursuing (and, as justified by experience, reconsidering) our collective ends as a society. We combine this starting point with the results of a burgeoning new literature in order to understand the circumstances under which social arrangements can promote or impede the pursuit of useful knowledge. To be more precise, we look at various forms of information processing on the Internet as forms of _collective cognition_ - collective processes that are more or less successful in bringing together understandings of the world so as to produce useful political knowledge. Our arguments begin with the question of how different arrangements bring different viewpoints together. New work in cognitive science allows us to understand how such contact can contribute to collective problem solving. However, the question of whether specific forms of social activity on the actually-existing Internet does or does not promote such contact is an open research question. We conclude by setting out a research agenda for understanding the Internet as a set of field experiments in information processing, from which we can gather provisional results that we can then apply to improve democratic arrangements.
Full paper and presentation here

 
 
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