Dennis Meadows 
Naomi Oreskes
Paul Thagard
Eric Winsberg

Facing Surprises with Nonknowledge

Why should the cognitive sciences be involved in climate science? Recent history has made the computer our primary tool for climate science, enabling researchers to produce increasingly sophisticated general circulation models which integrate more readily into systemic approaches to research on anthropogenic climate change. These integrated models are crucial, helping to identify the impacts of climate change and to evaluate economic responses and policy scenarios. Yet, climate science today seems to have gotten caught up in a paradigm of computation. If this is so, then the evolution of the cognitive sciences towards interpretation and situated cognition allows us to question that paradigm. The cognitive sciences are no longer defined as information processing, but rather as part of the humanities.  They are the social and behavioural sciences of cognition which relate humans to our social and physical environments.

The main objective of the ISC 2020 Summer School is to put the human being – the “Neuronal Man” – at the heart of climate science. This is the challenge being answered by behavioural scientists who see the importance of considering research on human cognition in conjunction with our computational climate models. These efforts serve to create a social climate science through which we may study human interactions, perceptions, reasoning, and ultimately action in this critical period of growing climate awareness and transition towards the implementation of policies to mitigate climate change and to adapt to a warming planet.

By reflecting on the cognitive challenges of climate change, the ISC Summer School aims to think beyond disciplinary boundaries in order to expand our knowledge on climate issues. This unique, international and transdisciplinary event brings more than 40 specialists together to increase understanding as to how we may mobilize globally to combat the emissions causing the greenhouse effect and to decarbonize our practices and our tools in a distributed and decentralized way. On Day 01, our presenters begin by identifying and addressing important research questions regarding human cognition as it relates to climate change.

For decades Dennis MEADOWS has been researching how humans may be affecting the planet (Meadows, 1972). His team created the World3 model, a computer simulation modelling dynamic relations between human population growth, industry, agriculture, pollution and the planet’s nonrenewable resources over the period spanning from 1900 to 2100. Up to the present day, Meadows has continued working with World3 (Meadows, 2004), his research demonstrating the importance of understanding the effect we humans are having on our world.

In addition to researching the effects of the human population on this Earth, it is important to increase our understanding of how the human brain works. Our brains and minds hold the keys to what motivates us to act as we do, to what has brought us to the crisis in which we now find ourselves, and ultimately to an answer as to what we might do to move ourselves and the rest of the planet away from the brink of catastrophe. Paul THAGARD is working to incorporate computer models, experimental techniques, and current findings in psychology and neuroscience into the domain of philosophy (Thagard, 2019). His theories open the door for researchers to look deeper into how the biological brain leads to the mind and cognition as well as how we may model social cognitivism from communities of individual minds.