Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Reading :: The Extended Mind

The Extended Mind
Edited by Richary Menary

Don't confuse this book with the one I recently reviewed with the same title by Robert K. Logan. This one is a collection of essays about the extended mind hypothesis, famously discussed in an article by Clark and Chalmers and more recently elaborated in Andy Clark's book Supersizing the Mind.

This collection includes an introduction by the editor; Clark and Chalmers' original essay; and discussions by various respondents interspersed with Clark's own rejoinders. Note that the original essay was also reprinted in Supersizing the Mind and Clark also repurposed some of his rejoinders there, so if you read both books, you'll find a lot of overlapping material.

In the interest of time, I'll just highlight a few things that do not overlap.

In a massive Ch.6, "The varieties of externalism," Susan Hurley situates the extended mind hypothesis among other externalist thought. You can read the entire chapter, but see Table 6.3 on p.144, which summarizes the different strands of externalism in a four-field whose axes are "content/quality" and "what/how."

In Ch.8, "Meaning making and the mind of the externalist," Robert A. Wilson also discusses variants of externalism. Wilson notes that "active cognition arguments" have been with us a while; he categorizes Vygotsky and Luria's mediational approach as such an argument (p.172). "These arguments all focus on determinate forms of a particular cognitive ability (e.g., memory, attention, problem solving) as they are exercised by individual agents. They view the integration of individuals with both their biological and artificial environments as critical to their status as cognitive agents with these particular capabilities" (p.172). In contrast, he characterizes Clark and Chalmers' argument as a "cyborg fantasy" argument (p.173, his emphasis). Such arguments "proceed by introducing an imaginative example in which an individual's performance is mediated by external forms of technology, typically arguing, through a comparison with cases in which the same kind of activity is performed without such mediation, to the conclusion that that the boundary between what's inside the head and what is in the environment is irrelevant to whether a given agent has some particular cognitive capacity" (p.173). And "the chief aim of cyborg fantasy arguments has been to establish the extended mind as a conceptual default; they do so by shifting the burden of proof to internalists, challenging them to identify why the skin should be a relevant boundary for cognition at all" (p.173).

Overall, this collection was an interesting shakedown of the extended mind concept. Unlike Supersizing the Mind, it included different perspectives and criticisms of the concept, and I especially appreciated Wilson's contrast with mediation. At the same time, many of the authors are not as engaging writers as Clark. Nevertheless, if you've become interested in the extended mind concept, I suggest you start here first.

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