Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Extended Mind - Richard Menary

In 1998, the essay The Extended Mind was published by David Chalmers and Andy Clark. The main argument contained within the essay entailed the idea that our minds are capable of extending beyond our bodies into the external world, into devices such as mobile phones or computers. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of our minds, Chalmers and Clark explain that we must firstly understand our interactions with the external world.

The Extended Mind essay has in turn provoked a mixed bag of reactions. Richard Menary provides a compilation of responses in his 2010 volume that range from stark defences that attempt to provide further developments of the 1998 essay, to strong, provocative critiques. Menary shows two distinctive, yet unsaid, approaches in his volume. The first being of course a defence of Chalmers and Clark's 1998 essay, which is provided in a staggering 12 out of 15 responses. However, having said that, Menary does open the volume heavily defending the Extended Mind Hypothesis, so it was not a complete surprise that the volume contained an overwhelming amount of defenses in comparison to the number of criticisms. If you are currently in search of an unbiased, balanced approach to the argument, then this is not a source I would recommend taking into account.

Menary also attempts to provide the reader with another version of the extended mind hypothesis, one that he has developed himself, that can be described as leading it in an alternative direction. This said 'new direction', which was also taken up by another author, John Sutton, in his article entitled 'Exograms and Interdisciplinary', seems to abandon the original principle of parity, and adopt the 'complementarity principle'. Menary and Sutton separately develop this extension further and seem to overlap on a number of ideas. However, a prominent factor that I noted, was the fact that the authors in defence of the Extended Mind hypothesis, fail to provide an argument for the utilisation of structures that are external, and their importance for cognition and the performance of cognitive tasks. I felt as though not only was this factor left unaddressed, but purposely ignored.

Despite the fact that this volume is heavily in favour of the Extended Mind hypothesis, it does provide the reader with a somewhat diverse outlook of the topic, in comparison with similar literature available, as well as indirectly enhancing the discussion surrounding the extended mind.

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