The Interaction of extended minds

Ruth Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Andy Clark and David Chalmers argue that human cognition can extend beyond the limits of the physical body. Whilst conceding that some mental experiences such as perceptual processing may be internally determined, they assert that the environment can play an active role in aiding cognition, and in driving and maintaining thought processes such as beliefs. They argue “If a part of the world functions as a process which, were it done in the head, we would have no hesitation in recognising as part of the cognitive process, then that part of the world is part of the cognitive process”. This assertion supports their view that “epistemic credit” should be given to appropriate epistemic actions (1998: 8). Beliefs can be constituted and maintained partly by environmental features, if these external factors drive cognitive processes in the correct way (ibid: 12). The most important factors for assessing whether external elements count as a part of cognitive processing are portability and general availability for use (Clark: forthcoming). I will analyse Clark and Chalmer’s argument and respond to a number of the objections that have been made to different aspects of their reasoning. Doubts have been raised that non-conscious entities could be included in cognitive processing. It also seems to be important that the components of cognitive processing should be portable. If external aspects are not part of the brain, they might be disconnected too easily to be reliably used or they could be subject to interference and deception that does not occur internally. I argue that these issues are relevant, but not insurmountable for an extended theory of mind. There are many instances when the mind does extend beyond the barrier of one brain – not only to include inanimate tools as in Clark and Chalmer’s examples – but also to connect with and use the capacities of other minds. There are substantial benefits in incorporating more than one brain into coupled cognition processes. However, there are also significant issues to address in terms of the portability, reliability, and endorsement of the information that is used.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-19
Number of pages8
JournalCogito
Volume3
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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