Philosopher Jerry Fodor has written a sceptical and entertaining review of a new book on the extended mind hypothesis – the idea that that we use technology to offload our mental processes and that such tools can be thought of as extensions of the mind itself.
The book in question is by fellow philosopher Andy Clark and is entitled Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension.
It’s a development of the original idea, described in Clark and Chalmer’s 1998 article called ‘The Extended Mind’, and it’s clear that Jerry Fodor is not a fan.
However, it’s probably true to say that Fodor starts from a definition of the mind which already excludes any form of information recording technology, be it a computer or a notepad, whereas the extended mind argument argues that we should rethink exactly these sorts of definitions.
The review gets a bit muddy in the middle as Fodor tries unsuccessfully to explain the difference between the confusingly similar but subtly different philosophical concepts of intentionality and intensionality in a paragraph but the article remains enormously good fun throughout.
Link to London Review of Books article ‘Where is my mind?’ (thanks Paul!)
2 thoughts on “Reigning in the extended mind”
The review seems long, dry, and arrogant; it’s arguing semantics without actually seeming to get to a review.
I think the joke I heard the other day was appropriate here; if PhD’s were required to spend one year contributing to the Basic English Wikipedia, academia would massively benefit in the long run.
Of course computers and the internet act as mind extensions. To prove this is elementary. Here’s how:
(1) You are thinking of a movie. You remember the lead actor’s name, but not the title of the film, and you can see in your mind the face of the lead actress. You really would like to remember her name so you could find the name of another film you remember she was in, but you just can’t remember who she is.
(2) You look up the actor on IMDB (the Internet Movie DataBase).
(3) Looking down his list of films, you see a title that might be it, and go to the entry for that film.
(4) You look at the stills from that film and there is the actress you’re thinking of.
(5) You check her name, slap your forehead, and say to yourself “of course!”
(6) You look up her entry and find the other film you’re thinking of.
This exchange relies on BOTH entities: your mind AND the Internet. You needed both to go through this exchange. Your mind remembered the pertinent associations; the Internet provided the details. By having access to both, you mind is now able to link other thoughts and memories that it might not have been able to link otherwise.
How is this NOT mind extension?