Part of Jagiellonian University in Kraków
Part of Jagiellonian University in Kraków

Cognitive artifacts for geometric reasoning


In this paper, we focus on the development of geometric cognition. We argue that to understand how geometric cognition has been constituted, one must appreciate not only individual cognitive factors, such as phylogenetically ancient and ontogenetically early core cognitive systems, but also the social history of the spread and use of cognitive artifacts. In particular, we show that the development of Greek mathematics, enshrined in Euclid’s Elements, was driven by the use of two tightly intertwined cognitive artifacts: the use of lettered diagrams; and the creation of linguistic formulae (namely non-compositional fixed strings of words used repetitively within authors and between them). Together, these artifacts formed the professional language of geometry. In this respect, the case of Greek geometry clearly shows that explanations of geometric reasoning have to go beyond the confines of methodological individualism to account for how the distributed practice of artifact use has stabilized over time. This practice, as we suggest, has also contributed heavily to the understanding of what mathematical proof is; classically, it has been assumed that proofs are not merely deductively correct but also remain invariant over various individuals sharing the same cognitive practice. Cognitive artifacts in Greek geometry constrained the repertoire of admissible inferential operations, which made these proofs inter-subjectively testable and compelling. By focusing on the cognitive operations on artifacts, we also stress that mental mechanisms that contribute to these operations are still poorly understood, in contrast to those mechanisms which drive symbolic logical inference.

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Cite as:
Hohol, M., Miłkowski, M. (2019). Cognitive artifacts for geometric reasoning. Foundations of Science, 24(4), 657–680.
MCLL is funded by the Excellence Initiative – Jagiellonian University within the Priority Research Area Society of the Future
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