Is the Mind a Network? Maps, Vehicles, and Skyhooks in Cognitive Network Science

Thomas T. Hills, Yoed N. Kenett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Cognitive researchers often carve cognition up into structures and processes. Cognitive processes operate on structures, like vehicles driving over a map. Language alongside semantic and episodic memory are proposed to have structure, as are perceptual systems. Over these structures, processes operate to construct memory and solve problems by retrieving and manipulating information. Network science offers an approach to representing cognitive structures and has made tremendous inroads into understanding the nature of cognitive structure and process. But is the mind a network? If so, what kind? In this article, we briefly review the main metaphors, assumptions, and pitfalls prevalent in cognitive network science (maps and vehicles; one network/process to rule them all), highlight the need for new metaphors that elaborate on the map-and-vehicle framework (wormholes, skyhooks, and generators), and present open questions in studying the mind as a network (the challenge of capturing network change, what should the edges of cognitive networks be made of, and aggregated vs. individual-based networks). One critical lesson of this exercise is that the richness of the mind as network approach makes it a powerful tool in its own right; it has helped to make our assumptions more visible, generating new and fascinating questions, and enriching the prospects for future research. A second lesson is that the mind as a network–though useful–is incomplete. The mind is not a network, but it may contain them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-208
Number of pages20
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

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