The Extended Mind

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Clark and Chalmers co-authored a paper , “" [Broken]” in which they ask the question, “Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?” The intuitive response is to suggest the mind is supervenient only on the brain and not on any external part of the environment. However, it seems Clark wants to extend the mind such that it supervenient on the environment as well. At least, that’s my interpretation of the paper. See if you agree…

Tools for example, can be thought of as being extensions of our body, but that doesn’t seem to have the same connotation as notebooks and calculators being extensions of the mind. Nobody get’s their eye put out by suggesting a knife or a hammer is an extension of the body – there’s no implication that such tools are anything more than useful objects. And by analogy, no one is going to get hurt by suggesting that a notebook or calculator is an extension of our brain in the same way a hammer is an extension of the body. But… if we suggest a notebook or calculator are an extension of our MIND, then it seems to me there needs to be a phenomenal aspect which is supervenient on the notebook or calculator such that these things are not simply aids for the brain.

I guess the way I read Clark is that he's claiming that the mind is supervenient not only on the brain but also on a person’s surroundings, such that the phenomenal aspects of mind are also supervenient on those surroundings. Is this how you read Clark and Chalmers?

Notes""" [Broken]
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Math Is Hard

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Hi Q Goest,

That is a really interesting paper. As always, I enjoyed reading your comments. This reminded me of one of my cognition classes where such things as calendars and clocks and calculators where described as "psychological tools". The first thing I wondered was if the authors would also include fingers, since we use them to stand in for mental representations when we are learning to count. Looks like they covered that.

Here's my little naive take on it. I may not have read this well enough to do a good job. The thing I am not sure they hit hard enough is the intermediary step that Otto has to take that Inga does not. Otto has to remember that he has the notebook with the address in order to retrieve and use it, but Inga doesn't have to remember that she has the address in her memory. Otto and Inga both have to use "goal directedness" but Otto has an extra step to carry out. Maybe the authors call Inga's process "better" retrieval, but I think a fast (quick draw) Otto could beat a slow (um.. um.. um) Inga so maybe they are just computationally different?

I'm wondering if you could logically fence in cognition boundaries at the border of these intermediate steps? I suppose this gets muddied with the example of the helpful wife who anticipates what her forgetful husband is trying to remember and provides him with it on the spot. It's almost like she's taking on some executive functions of his brain in deciding what to retrieve, as well as the storage and retrieval functions.

Something that seems kind of interesting to me was to think about specific functions that can't be replaced or aided with "psychological tools". I was thinking about people I've read about with frontal lobe damage who sometimes cannot plan or even conceive of future events. I suppose nothing could adequately substitute for that. I'm thinking that there is some basic cognitive functionality that needs to be in place before an external tool can be useful. Could that be where the line is drawn?

And one last thought, if we propose that the mind is supervenient on the brain+physical surroundings, does it suggest that those born with sensory impairments are "cognitively limited" in some way? It doesn't seem to be the case.
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Hi Math, Thanks for your thoughts. I added one more reference (by Fulda) above as it’s very short and nicely summarizes Clark’s paper. Fulda would agree with Clark and Chalmers and would suggest that this phenomenal aspect of mind is indeed supervenient on things outside the mind. He states:
…Clark and Chalmers conclude that BELIEFS* are also not in the head – but in the mind, and, in particular, in the extended mind.
*My emphasis.

So the phenomenal aspect here is the experience of BELIEF. To emphasize this, Fulda concludes with an interesting proposition:
Although we do not provide such an account here, we have sketched out a theory that explains why someone who uses the Internet daily (and particularly the Web as a gateway to intranets) would feel that he is losing his mind, that his beliefs were slippling away, when his Internet access is cut off. How exactly do we feel? The same way we feel the day we forget our watch at home or (if we are under 35) cannot find a calculator when we have need of arithmetic.
<um… I can think of other (biological) reasons why someone would feel he’s losing his mind or beliefs were slipping away without resorting to external objects. Seems a bit crazy to me to suggest my experiences of belief slipping away are because my beliefs supervene on external objects. Anyway… >

He also seems to address your concern about this intermediary step that Otto has to take when he points out what is necessary for this belief experience to be supervenient on something external to the mind.
They [Clark & Chalmers] set forth four conditions for beliefs: (1) the external component which has the information ascribed to the belief must be such that the person will rarely act on a matter relevant to the belief without first making use of the external component; (2) the information must be readily available; (3) upon retrieving the information, the person automatically endorses it as his belief; and (4) the information has been so endorsed by the person in the past and is there as a consequence of that endorsement.
So the intermediate step and the external objects must meet the four conditions above. Otto must not only remember this little book, but the book must be acted on, readily available, automatically endorsed and have a history of endorsement. I think this addresses your issues, but not sure. (Note: I hate when philosophers do this – they make up definitions so their conclusions ring true; but there’s no natural laws they rely on to create these definitions. It just ain’t scientific I tell ya!)

What I take from all that is: Clark wants things external to the body to be part of the experience of belief. He wants the phenomenal experience of belief to be supervenient on Otto’s notebook.

As I see it, the computationalist can’t say anything to deny Clark’s claims. Note Clark makes the presumption that computationalism is true. Computationalism doesn’t differentiate between classical scale causal actions in one’s brain and those outside of the brain. In other words, computationalism does not recognize anything special about the interaction of neurons. Per computationalism, any causal interactions might in some way allow conscious phenomena to emerge. We simply don’t know what those interactions are right now, so any classical scale interaction can, per computationalism, allow for some phenomenal experience to supervene on the interaction. Take for example, Block’s China Brain. Computationalists are forced to conclude that the interaction of billions of people must produce the same phenomenal experiences as the equivalent human brain.

Does computationalism scare you yet? (It makes my right eye grow disproportionately larger than my left. Maybe I should stop before it bursts.)

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