Monday, 26 January 2015

The Extended Mind - Clark & Chalmers 1998

The first section of the The Extended Mind  argues that cognition can be extended beyond the individual through the use of tools such as pen, paper and computers in coupled systems. The major advances in computing, since this article was written, have provided tools that are easily accepted as extensions to visual and audio processing, memory, problem solving, learning and other cognitive processes. The tools are active in what is described as active externalism. Our cognitive processes are improved substantially through the use of these computer extensions. It is as if some cognitive abilities were transferred into these tools by the hardware and software engineers who created them.  Similarly, the pen and paper only participate in cognition once we transfer some of our cognition to them during the process of writing. 

It could be argued that the degree of emotion can be changed when coupling with systems such as virtual reality or watching a film. Steve Ramirez and others claim to have artificially created a false memory of fear in mice - Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus. How extended cognition applies to consciousness is left open. The paper acknowledges that the mental state of experience ‘may be determined internally’.

The second section of the paper argues for the extended mind.  It bases this on the case of a person believing they know where a museum is before consulting their memory for the exact address and an Alzheimer patient believing that their notebook has details of where the museum is. There seems to be some implication that belief is a special cognitive process in terms of the mind. What makes it different to memory? The patient has the memory that he stores information in his notebook, otherwise he would not look at it. Could belief just be a level of activation of a process that has not yet reached our awareness, just an unconscious process?

The extension of cognition is well argued, however, without a clear definition of belief and mind, it is difficult to come to the same conclusion about the extended mind.

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