The Extended mind thesis

Julian Kiverstein, Mirko Farina, Andy Clark

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Abstract

The extended mind thesis (EMT) claims that the cognitive processes that make up the human mind can reach beyond the boundaries of individual to include as proper parts aspects of the individual's physical and sociocultural environment. Proponents of the extended mind story thus hold that even quite familiar human mental states (such as states of believing that so-and-so) can be realized, in part, by structures and processes located outside the human head. Such claims go far beyond the important, but less challenging, assertion that human cognizing leans heavily on various forms of external scaffolding and support. Instead, they paint mind itself (or better, the physical machinery that realizes some of our cognitive processes and mental states) as, under humanly attainable conditions, extending beyond the bounds of skin and skull. Extended cognition in its most general form occurs when internal and external resources become fluently tuned and deeply integrated in such a way as to enable a cognitive agent to solve problems and accomplish their projects, goals, and interests. Consider, for instance, how technological resources such as pens, paper, and personal computers are now so deeply integrated into our everyday lives that we couldn’t accomplish many of our cognitive goals and purposes without them. The extended mind thesis claims that technological resources have become so thoroughly enmeshed with our internal cognitive machinery that they now count as part of the machinery of thought itself. Underlying (but distinct from) the extended mind thesis is a commonplace observation that intelligent problem solving of the kind we find in adult humans isn't something the naked brain can achieve all on its own, but is instead the outcome of the brain and body operating together in an environmental and often technologically loaded setting. As humans, we possess the kinds of high-level cognitive skills and abilities we do in no small part because of the many tools we use for thinking. The extended mind thesis goes further, however, by claiming that it is mere prejudice to suppose that all cognition must take place within the confines of the organism's skin and skull. Cognitive science, it is then claimed, shouldn't only concern itself with the more or less enduring processes taking place inside the heads of cognitive agents. Cognitive scientists should also investigate, on a kind of equal footing, temporary, soft-assembled wholes that mesh the problem-solving contributions of the brain and nervous system with the body and physical and sociocultural environment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford bibliographies online. Philosophy
EditorsDuncan Pritchard
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Pages1-20
Number of pages20
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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    Kiverstein, J., Farina, M., & Clark, A. (2013). The Extended mind thesis. In D. Pritchard (Ed.), Oxford bibliographies online. Philosophy (pp. 1-20). Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0099