The Extended Mind

For this week’s assignment I’ve chosen to recommend Andy Clark and David J. Chalmer’s  paper: The Extended Mind. The paper challenges not only the boundaries that differentiate natural and artificial, body and machine, unity between and difference of head and body, but first of all asks the question:

Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?” (Clark and Chalmers, 1)

With three cases, or thought experiments, of human problem-solving as a point of departure, Clark and Chalmers propose a conception of an active externalism in which the environment play an active role and becomes influential and a driving force for our cognitive processes. They argue that human organisms has always depended on their external environment for experience and knowledge, and extending our cognition into the world transcend the notion of a discrete and non-extensible inner cognitive system, i.e. the human brain, as the cognitive system.

Through their examples that vary much in terms of applied technology – from notebook to neural implant – they explore how cognition, and possibly mind, is extended beyond our head and into the world beyond our bodies, and underlines the importance of language as a central example of action in which cognitive processes are extended into the world. They even go further into their conception of the extensibility of our organisms’ head-calculator and consider the possibility that both mind and self might exist beyond the traditional confines of our human body. The latter question revolves around their reflections on the fictional Alzheimer character Otto, whose notebook becomes an extension of his memory and the medium wherein Otto finds his beliefs to where places are located in the world. Although Clark and Chalmers doesn’t touch too much upon future technologies besides neural implants, I think that this article is valuable to mention in a posthuman discourse as it touches upon, e.g. the themes mentioned earlier, and might also function well as an outset for discussing Haraway’s claim that the distinction between human/animal, human/machine, physical/non-physical, has become increasingly dissolved due to our technological development.

A Source: http://postcog.ucd.ie/files/TheExtendedMind.pdf

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4 Comments on "The Extended Mind"

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Jelica Veljovic

Dear Frederik, thank you for mentioning this article, it was completely unfamiliar to me. In the aspect of interrelatedness of human cognition and its surrounding, and also of inevitability of the mutual influence, I would recommend you book by Robert Pepperell, titled “The Posthuman Condition” (which, as I have seen, nobody has mentioned at this course and assignment) in which he seeks to prove the impossibility of an independent mind development, and thus the insubstantiality od disembodiment, because it is our embodiment that allows us to develope a net of relations with our environment and our conscuousness as a result.

Mads Søndergaard
Interesting choice, especially considering the previous topic of consciousness. It’s easy to see why some regard Chalmer’s as almost a prototypical Cartesian Dualist, but what do you think? Is their notion of an “extended mind” more than simply a divorce between mind-body in the traditional sense, or is it intertwined with the notion of dualism? I also think the fictional case of Otto is of interest, because if it is indeed his own mind that is extended into the real world via his notebook, wouldn’t that necessarily also imply that consciousness isn’t uniquely personal? If one makes the argument that… Read more »