• jamalrob
    1.9k
    This month we'll be reading the paper "The Extended Mind" by Andy Clark and David Chalmers, 1998.

    Wikipedia summarizes it as follows:

    In this paper, Clark and Chalmers ... argue that it is arbitrary to say that the mind is contained only within the boundaries of the skull. The separation between the mind, the body, and the environment is seen as an unprincipled distinction. Because external objects play a significant role in aiding cognitive processes, the mind and the environment act as a "coupled system". This coupled system can be seen as a complete cognitive system of its own. In this manner, the mind is extended into the external world. — Wikipedia

    Before contributing to this discussion make sure you've read the paper (unless you have a point to make or question to ask about how we're going to run the discussion). It's available online:

    HTML: http://consc.net/papers/extended.html
    PDF (more readable): http://postcog.ucd.ie/files/TheExtendedMind.pdf

    Feel free to begin posting any time. Do you agree with them, or do you think the mind can only ever be in the head?
  • Hanover
    4.1k
    I downloaded it and will read it tonight.
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    I'll get to it this weekend. I need a refresher. Great idea.
  • Wosret
    3.2k
    I have Sunday off, I'll try to get to reading it then.
  • StreetlightX
    3.2k
    One of my favorite papers, am keen to contribute when I can :)
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    One of the things that occurred to me in reading this time was how much the paper is definitely not aimed at me. I agree with the moral of the paper. But I don't believe the second argument works because the notebook is actually more reliable than a belief or a memory. We construct our memories, they aren't deposited in a box for us to look up. There are cues for us to do so -- which is why, if we are studying for a test, we should listen to the same music each time and have a unique tactile object to associate our studies with [and then bring both to the test].

    So I wonder if the notebook could count as a belief because it seems too reliable to count.

    But, clearly, this objection isn't going to sink the moral of the paper -- that cognition, and the mind [if memory counts as part of the mind] extend outside the boundaries of the skull and skin.
  • Marchesk
    2.4k
    But, clearly, this objection isn't going to sink the moral of the paper -- that cognition, and the mind [if memory counts as part of the mind] extend outside the boundaries of the skull and skin.

    What if the purpose of memory isn't to be a faithful recording, but rather a tool for future action?
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    In that case, given the functional approach of the paper, perhaps my objection is off the mark.
  • Hanover
    4.1k
    My general reaction to the paper was that I didn't see why one must commit to the idea that cognition occurred outside the mind simply because a problem could be more easily solved by reorganizing it in a more solvable way.

    For example, I can determine that a particular Tetris piece will fit into the larger puzzle by manipulating the piece on the screen. I'm not thinking through the screen; I'm just simplifying the problem by moving the piece in a way that visibly and more obviously fits.
  • Michael
    7.4k
    My general reaction to the paper was that I didn't see why one must commit to the idea that cognition occurred outside the mind simply because a problem could be more easily solved by reorganizing it in a more solvable way. — Hanover

    From what I remember of it, it doesn't say that cognition occurs outside the mind; it says that the mind extends beyond the brain.
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    Because the only difference between cognition in the head and the manipulation of something in the environment is that one occurs inside the skull and the other one doesn't, since some part of the brain is coupled with another part of the brain in what is traditionally thought of as cognition, and some part of the brain is coupled with the screen in the other case. Since they are similar in all other ways -- the mental manipulation of a tetris piece to find how it should fit being identical [functionally] to the manipulation of a tetris piece on the screen, aside from its location -- to not include the tetris piece on the screen is just to beg the question in saying that cognition only occurs within the brain.
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    True. Good catch. They actually state that the mind is outside of the brain -- not that cognition happens outside of the mind.
  • Wosret
    3.2k
    Kind of weird how they keep talking about brain augmentations, and stuff...
  • Hanover
    4.1k
    If we're simply saying that the mind includes activity outside the brain but we admit that the extra-brain activity is non-cognitive, then the thesis becomes somewhat trivial, simply offering a novel definition of "mind." If, however, we adhere to a definition of "mind" that requires a cognitive (or at least conscious) aspect, then it seems my objection would hold, namely that what occurs outside the brain is fundamentally different than what occurs internally.
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    The argument is for both -- first for cognition, and then for the mind. Consciousness is mentioned as something which isn't necessary for cognition, though -- that's very different from cognition, because we aren't always conscious of our cognition. It's more than terminological, though -- at least, according to the paper -- because it's also backed up by empirical work in cognitive science [as they reference it]. [[this is just how the argument works]]

    I agree with you that what occurs outside the brain is different than what occurs internally -- but the paper, by "internal", only means "inside of the skin and skull", not interiority or some such [which is what your use of internal makes me think of here]. Which is primarily what they are speaking against, I think, given the examples they start out with. They aren't speaking against interiority. I don't think they're speaking about that much at all. They're speaking against mind-brain identity theories more than anything, and at a minimal level, that even if the mind-brain identity holds, that cognition is wider than what happens inside the skull.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    the thesis becomes somewhat trivial, simply offering a novel definition of "mind."Hanover

    They anticipate the objection that their thesis is merely arbitrarily terminological:

    ... in seeing cognition as extended one is not merely making a terminological decision; it makes a significant difference to the methodology of scientific investigation. In effect, explanatory methods that might once have been thought appropriate only for the analysis of "inner" processes are now being adapted for the study of the outer, and there is promise that our understanding of cognition will become richer for it.

    What I find exciting about this area of philosophy is that here, philosophy really does make a direct, noticeable difference. Research in psychology, cognitive science and robotics is actually guided by philosophical positions in quite a clear way. And when an agent's cognition (and it is still the agent's cognition, not the system's) is treated as distributed through an agent-environment system, the experiments are very different from what they're like under an internalist paradigm, and progress is made where before it was not.

    ... what occurs outside the brain is fundamentally different than what occurs internally.Hanover

    This is not denied in the paper. But what exactly do you mean? The question is one of relevance: is this fundamental difference relevant to what we call cognition or mind? After all, petroleum is fundamentally different from rubber but driving a car involves both.

    Anyway, I will try to write a longer post when I get the time.
  • Harry Hindu
    1.5k
    I created a thread at the former site on this same subject;
    http://forums.philosophyforums.com/threads/the-extended-mind-71029.html

    If the mind is extended beyond the skull into, say your cell phone, then if your cell phone is stolen, is that theft or assault?

    The reason we outsource our mental processing to external devices is to conserve energy. Processing information (thinking) requires energy.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    I missed that one Harry! Oh well, let's hope we get some similarly good responses here.
  • Marchesk
    2.4k
    The reason we outsource our mental processing to external devices is to conserve energy. Processing information (thinking) requires energy.Harry Hindu

    It's also because external devices are often more reliable than our internal cognition. Writing something down on paper makes it easier to retain.
  • StreetlightX
    3.2k
    Thoughts on rereading the paper:

    It strikes me that the paper is somewhat incongruously named with respect to the actual analysis that takes place in it. On a close reading, what seems to stand out is that Chalmers and Clark might have better named the paper: The Arbitrary Mind. After all, what is at issue in the paper is the fact that any attempt to institute a divide between outside and inside is in fact an arbitrary one. In the analysis of the the role of memory in Otto and Inga for example, the whole point is that they cannot in fact locate a dividing line which would be 'categorically' placed. There is, in other words, a seeming arbitrariness with respect to where both 'inside' and 'outside' might be located (their 'deconstruction' of such a line is, interestingly enough, a move right out of the Derrida playbook... but that's something else entirely).

    Anyway, part of the problem here, it seems to me, has to do with the implicit and unstated ontology that actually underpins the terms of the paper. In a word, the paper presupposes what we might call a static ontology. A static ontology deals in parts and wholes. In such an ontology, the identity of a given 'unit' - say, Otto or Inga - is presupposed as an already constituted entity. Otto has an identity, and the notebook forms part of this identity. Taken together, Otto and the notebook constitute a 'whole' identity. But as the paper itself demonstrates, this talk of wholes and parts is hopelessly confused. Any attempt to demarcate a part over and against a whole - and correlatively an inside and an outside - inevitability falls into arbitrariness. Chalmers and Clark end the paper by proposing that such a consequence calls for a renewed understanding of the mind as extended - extended, precisely, from the 'skull and skin.'

    But such a proposal ultimately names a problem, and not a solution: the fact that the mind must be 'extended' out from the skull and skin designates an issue with the very manner in which the very notion of 'extension' is posed in the first place. Ultimately, the problem lies with the static ontology that underlies the the paper's argument. What is needed is a revision of the very terms in which the problem is posed, one which would do away with the idea of already-constituted entities, and instead conceive of identities as a matter of becoming. What is needed is a dynamic ontology which recognizes an individuating process by which 'inside and outside' are continually and unceasingly forged without calcifying into static borders. To nick a passage from Renaud Barbaras:

    "The individuality of the thing [In our case, someone like Otto - SX] makes sense only to the extent that it is situated just short of or beyond every principle that would gather it together. The sensible thing is between quantity and quality or, rather, beyond this distinction; its individuality is actual only if it does not go all the way to the numerical nor all the way to the specific. The individual exists, then, only as pre-individual, general, in the course of or on the way to individualization. Individuality is essentially next to the point where one seeks to fix it: always already beyond the atom, yet never essence; it sustains itself only by escaping identification." (Barbaras, The Being of the Phenomenon).

    --

    One way to think about this is to note a curious fact about the examples of 'the extended mind' that Chalmers and Clark use: all of them in fact involve memory. There is, in other words, a temporal dimension to each of the examples used to argue for the extended mind. Although implicit in all of them, the authors pass over this and construe 'extension' almost entirely in spatial terms: as a matter of inside and outside, "biological organism and external resources." They briefly speak about socially extended cognition - and thus open the door to the entire realm of narrative, myth, culture, history and evolution - as well as role of language (itself a diachronic system) - but quickly resort to spatial terms in speaking about them anyway: "Words and external symbols are thus paramount among the cognitive vortices which help constitute human thought" (emphasis mine).

    Now, the importance of memory - and thus temporal extension - is that in a dynamic ontology, identity must be understood as that which takes place across time. An identity must be unified not only in space but also in time. An identity must be a ongoing activity of unification. Now, by (implicitly) acknowledging memory as the vector that in fact places the mind 'outside of itself', Chalmers and Clark - in an equally implicit manner - recognize that the process of identity in fact takes place according to a circuit that runs between self and world, one that in fact constitutes the very demarcation between self and world in the process of crossing it. To put it programmatically: memory is a vector of individuation. It is not the case that a self-contained and already fully-formed identity reaches out in order to 'recall' a memory 'stored' somewhere in the brain/environment/body. Rather, the very act of memory recall feeds-back upon the identity of very person who called upon it in the first place, contributing to his or her individuation in time (which, we recalls, never reaches anything like an 'end point').

    Another symptom of the static ontology that underlies the paper is, in fact, in the treatment of memory as itself a static 'thing', an object to be retrieved or discarded at will. Despite recognizing the cognition takes places 'outside' of the brain, the authors, curiously enough, do not make the same concessions for memory, which itself is always 'local': memory 'resides' 'in the brain' or 'in the notebook', and is not treated as an event that itself takes place. Yet a phenomenology of memory will recognize that memory always belongs to the order of an encounter: memories impose themselves upon us as we encounter events and occasions in the world. Even the most fleeting of daydreams are brought about wandering trains of thought sparked, perhaps, by subtle modulations in the smell of the cafe about one, a certain sheen or glint of familiar light, even only subconsciously recognized.

    When the authors write that Inga's belief regarding the location of the museum "was sitting somewhere in memory, waiting to be accessed", one has to wonder if, had Inga's friend not mentioned the exhibition, whether or not 'memory' would have come into it at all. Anyway, the point is that by construing extension in wholly spatial terms, Chalmers and Clark more or less foreclose even the possibility of rethinking the static ontology that underlies their paper. In keeping memory as a localized 'unit' of data - and thus also construed in spatial terms - they further shut down any attempt to introduce a temporal dimension into their analysis, and with it, any thought of individuation as a process.

    Nonetheless, the merit of the paper - and it is still one of my favorite papers ever written - is to show, more clearly than ever, the problems encountered when conceiving cognition in a static manner - even if they don't necessarily recognize the fact that they're pulling the rug out of under themselves, and leaving a space for much more interesting approaches to take it's place. The paper's failure, is, in some sense, it's very success. Anyway, I wish I could say more about memory, but a study of memory is something I've been sorely lacking; these thoughts are more provocations to myself than anything, and I thought it'd be fun to throw them out there for a bit of provocation and feedback.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    Yes, I was also dissatisfied with the somewhat complacent treatment of memory. Here's Louise Barrett writing from the standpoint of a psychology and ethology heavily influenced by Gibson and embodied cognition:

    A storehouse metaphor leads to storehouse experiments, which lead to storehouse memory.

    So, just as with experiments on robots and other animals, there is also our frame of reference to consider with respect to experiments on other humans—what looks like a stable structure to an observer from the outside may, from the perspective of the person performing the task, be a more dynamic process of re-creation (or even simply creation). Rolf Pfeifer and Josh Bongard give the example of a fountain: the shape of the water as it sprays out is not stored anywhere as a structure inside the fountain, but results from the interaction of the water pressure and surface tension, the effects of gravity, and the shape and direction of the jets. This gives the fountain structure—not a static, stable structure, though, but one that is continuously created. It is quite possible that memory could have this kind of “structure” and be completely different from our everyday idea of memory.

    This is especially likely to be so given that the conscious recall of words is a very specialized human activity. Most of our everyday activities that involve memory are not like this (driving or walking to work; preparing a meal), and it certainly doesn’t capture aspects of the daily experience of other animal species. We also learn and memorize many things implicitly—we have no conscious awareness that we have done so, but our behavior changes in ways that refl ect our experience—and this kind of implicit memory is undoubtedly common to other animals as well.

    What we call memory may be much more like the activity of the robot mouse in its maze environment: a process of sensorimotor coordination distributed across animal and environment, in which the animal actively engages, and not simply the storage and retrieval of (explicit) internal representations.
    — Louise Barrett, Beyond the Brain

    In the last line she could have said "not simply the storage and retrieval of (explicit) representations", leaving out the "internal", because a more dynamic account of memory goes against storage and retrieval as such, whether inside or out.

    However, if we take Clark and Chalmers to be referring merely to conscious recall rather than memory in general, I think their argument is at least a piece of the puzzle, despite your concerns. (Again, I'm still trying to find the time to say more about this).
  • Harry Hindu
    1.5k
    Pen and paper are not information processing devices like brains, calculators and computers. They don't use energy to process information, so we aren't conserving energy by writing things down. It is more likely that we are using pen and paper to expand our limited memory, not to process information, like a calculator does. I could use pen and paper to solve a math problem, but I'd still be using my mental energy to solve the problem. The symbols on the paper simply help me to keep from losing my place in the process. Calculators do all the work for me and are therefore more preferable.
  • StreetlightX
    3.2k
    @jamalrob: that's an excellent quote actually. I've been struggling over trying to frame the idea that memory is created in real time - while still respecting the specificity and 'pastness' of memory - and that fountain metaphor is a really nice way to think about it.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    I printed this out and started annotating it. Hopefully I'll be able to join the discussion within a day or two.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    I like this paper a lot, but in the end I think it's a small piece of the puzzle and doesn't go far enough. I'll say at the outset that I agree with them that the mind is not bound by the skull or the skin. But in common with other critics, including @StreetlightX in this discussion, I'm critical of the paper's reluctance to go beyond spatial location and the inside-outside dichotomy, which is apparent from the very first sentence:

    Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?

    One might expect them to question the question—e.g., what if the mind is an activity or a kind of worldly engagement, like dancing, rather than a thing in space?—but I'm not sure they ever really do. They argue that the mind doesn't stop at the skull or the skin, but goes beyond it to a definite if uncertain extent. In a nutshell, their answer to the question is that the mind stops a bit further out, depending on the functional role of certain things we happen to use (indicating that we're dealing with a kind of functionalism, which might lead us to wonder if this is another representationalist theory of mind a la computationalism, rather than a more interesting and radical theory of dynamic embodiment). And note the dichotomy between the mind and the rest of the world. It almost seems—but it's possible this is unfair—to be taken for granted already that the mind and the rest of the world form exclusive contiguous spaces. But surely they envelop each other? Surely "the rest of the world", i.e., that which is not mind, does not "stop" or "begin" at all?

    I'll post more when I can, when I hope to cover more than just one sentence.
  • Michael
    7.4k
    One can still talk about where the dance stops and the rest of the world begins. The dance happens within the ballroom, for example (and to be more specific, within this ever-changing space within the ballroom).
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    I half-expected that objection. The point is that the way we treat thing concepts is importantly different from the way we treat activity concepts. In Street's terms, static and dynamic ontology. Maybe a clearer example is walking. To understand walking, how relevant is it to ask where the walking is?
  • Aaron R
    178
    One might expect them to question the question—e.g., what if the mind is an activity or a kind of worldly engagement, like dancing, rather than a thing in space?—but I'm not sure they ever really do. They argue that the mind doesn't stop at the skull or the skin, but goes beyond it to a definite if uncertain extent. In a nutshell, their answer to the question is that the mind stops a bit further out, depending on the functional role of certain things we happen to use (indicating that we're dealing with a kind of functionalism, which might lead us to wonder if this is another representationalist theory of mind a la computationalism, rather than a more interesting and radical theory of dynamic embodiment).jamalrob

    I agree with this. It seems pretty clear that Chalmers and Clark are working within a broadly functionalist/comutationalist paradigm, and that the "radicalism" of their thesis is therefore hamstrung or confined by the limits of that paradigm. Personally, I'm not convinced that functionalism/computationalism can tell us what cognition "really" is. Functionalist theories seem more like an elaborate heuristic device that can be used to help determine whether or not to treat a given system as if it were cognizant (i.e. bascially an elaborate Turing test), rather than a theory of mind per se. It's been interesting to watch the analytic tradition slowly move away from functionalism, and toward more dynamical system/embodied approaches over the the last couple of decades. There's significant overlap between the work of, say, Rosen, Juarrero, Deacon, Thompson, etc. on the analytic side and the work of, say, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, Delanda, Derrida, etc. on the continental side. I think the Chalmers/Clark paper could have been more interesting had it tapped more deeply into some of those other theoretical currents.
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    One thing to note in all this, though, is that the paper doesn't propose any theory of consciousness. Consciousness is a different topic from the paper. They utilize a functionalist account of mind in order to get at a particular notion -- that cognition, and by extension the mind, is not limited to the brain.

    So the target seems squarely to be on mind-brain identity theories. (Also, interesting to note that the authors were listed by degree of commitment -- since Chalmers certainly doesn't believe that functionalism can account for consciousness, though he seems to believe that it can account for most of the mind)
  • Aaron R
    178
    You're right, Chalmers and Clark are indeed concerned with cognition rather than consciousness, I should have used the words "mind" and "cognition" rather than "consciousness" (i've updated my post). My apologies for the confusion.

    In any event, the main point was really to agree with Jamalrob's assessment and to also say that I find that functionalism offers a rather limited set of explanatory resources with which to approach the particular question being inquired into, and frankly I'm not convinced it's up the task. In that regard I find the paper to be much less ground-breaking and insightful that it could have otherwise been had it brought some other, more powerful explanatory resources to bear on what is certainly a very interesting question. That being said, the paper was written in the late 1990's from a predominantly analytic point of view, so perhaps that criticism is unfair to some degree.

    Thoughts?
  • Ciceronianus the White
    786
    If these people are right, then we can no longer claim somebody is "out of his mind." "Out of his brain" perhaps, but this wouldn't be quite the same.

    Despite this obvious drawback, I find nothing surprising or new, or objectionable, in the thrust of the article as it's described to the extent it's a recognition of the fact that our lives and our thoughts are the result of our interaction with the rest of the world of which we're a part and a rejection of the tendency to separate ourselves from the world. I'm not sure about the claim that there exists a "complete cognitive system" though, being suspicious of the tendency to treat concepts of this sort as if they were things floating about somewhere.

    I should also say, though, that I think the authors distinction between epistemic and pragmatic is inappropriate, as it preserves the distinction between cognition and action. This seems odd, as I think much they have to say is reminiscent of Dewey, especially his Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, who felt that thought involved the active interaction with and manipulation of the environment in which we live.
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