Cognitive Fluidity

Steven Mithen, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Reading, and author, writes about cognitive fluidity in an essay titled Out of the mind: material culture and the supernatural in Becoming Human. (2009).

He discusses two cognitive developments which resulted in religion and art; the emergence of cognitive fluidity and the extension of the human mind beyond the brain into ‘material culture’.

In defining cognitive fluidity Steven Mithen compares our early mind with that of Neaderthals. He discusses how they had domain-specific ‘mentalities’, meaning that they had botanical and zoological knowledge and so on, but they lacked the “ability for metaphor and had limited imagination”. He continues; “the mental conception of a supernatural being requires cognitively fluid thought – that which makes such connections between cognitive domains.”

My interpretation of this is the human ability to change and modify though across domains.

In reference to interactive text and symbol manipulation, it is worth reflecting on how writing slowed down cognitive fluidity by making nodes more fixed and did not allow for flexibility in their rearrangement.


This definition is included here in relation to link and interaction. First the etymology:

Early 15c., “a knot or lump,” from Latin nodus “knot” (see net (n.)). Originally borrowed c. 1400 in Latin form, meaning “lump in the flesh.”
Meaning “point of intersection” (originally of planetary orbits with the ecliptic) first recorded 1660s.

From computer science: A node is a basic unit used in computer science. Nodes are devices or data points on a larger network.