Extended Mind

David Chalmers

The Extended Mind‘ is a book in the field of philosophy of mind edited by MIT philosopher Richard Menary. It contains several papers by different philosophers. The ‘extended mind thesis’ (EMT) refers to an emerging concept that addresses the question as to the division point between the mind and the environment by promoting the view of active externalism.

The EMT proposes that some objects in the external environment are utilized by the mind in such a way that the objects can be seen as extensions of the mind itself. Specifically, the mind is seen to encompass every level of the cognitive process, which will often include the use of environmental aids.

The seminal work in the field is ‘The Extended Mind’ by Andy Clark and David Chalmers (1998), which presents the idea of active externalism (similar to semantic or ‘content’ externalism), in which objects within the environment function as a part of the mind. They 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. The main criterion that Clark and Chalmers list for classifying the use of external objects during cognitive tasks as a part of an extended cognitive system is that the external objects must function with the same purpose as the internal processes.

In ‘The Extended Mind,’ a thought experiment is presented to further illustrate the environment’s role in connection to the mind. The fictional characters Otto and Inga are both traveling to a museum simultaneously. Otto has Alzheimer’s Disease, and has written all of his directions down in a notebook to serve the function of his memory. Inga is able to recall the internal directions within her memory. In a traditional sense, Inga can be thought to have had a belief as to the location of the museum before consulting her memory. In the same manner, Otto can be said to have held a belief of the location of the museum before consulting his notebook.

The argument is that the only difference existing in these two cases is that Inga’s memory is being internally processed by the brain, while Otto’s memory is being served by the notebook. In other words, Otto’s mind has been extended to include the notebook as the source of his memory. The notebook qualifies as such because it is constantly and immediately accessible to Otto, and it is automatically endorsed by him.

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