Reasons, robots and the extended mind

Andy Clark*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

157 Citations (Scopus)


A suitable project for the new Millenium is to radically reconfigure our image of human rationality. Such a project is already underway, within the Cognitive Sciences, under the umbrellas of work in Situated Cognition, Distributed and Decentralized Cognition, Real-world Robotics and Artificial Life. 1 Such approaches, however, arc often criticized for giving certain aspects of rationality too wide a berth. They focus their attention on such superficially poor cousins as 'adaptive behaviour', 'ecologically sound perception-action routines', 'fast and frugal heuristics' and 'fast, fluent real-time real-world action control'. 2 Is this robbery or revelation? Has 'embodied, embedded' cognitive science simply lost sight of the very phenomena it was meant to explain? Or are we finally seeing rationality aright, as fully continuous with various forms of simpler, ecologically situated, adaptive response? I distinguish two ways of developing the 'embodied, embedded' approach. The first, which does indeed threaten to lose sight of the key targets, is fully committed to a doctrine of biological cognitive incrementalism according to which full-scale human rationality is reached, rather directly, by some series of tweaks to basic biological modes of adaptive response. The second depicts human capacities for advanced reason as at best the indirect products of such a process. Such capacities, it is argued, depend heavily upon the effects of a special kind of hybridization in which human brains enter into an increasingly potent cascade of genuinely symbiotic relationships with knowledge-rich artifacts and technologies. This latter approach, I finally suggest, does better justice to our peculiar profile, which combines deep biological continuity with an equally deep cognitive discontinuity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-145
Number of pages25
JournalMind and Language
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2001
Externally publishedYes


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