Thursday, 26 May 2016

Linguistic Determinism as a testable hypothesis

Linguistic Determinism as a testable hypothesis

Broadly speaking LD is the claim, quoting (De Cruz, 2009)-“that language shapes the way we see the world, and that as a result, speakers of different languages conceptualize reality differently”. The strong version claims that language determines thought entirely. If this were the case, we would have to confront the possibility of incommensurable linguistic communities. The weaker form claims that language influences cognition to an important extent. Many cognitive scientists would reject LD outright citing evidence of high-level cognition e.g. categorisation, that is independent of language. In this view language is necessary for communication but once the information has been passed on cognition is predominantly non-linguistic. Psycholinguists like Steven Pinker (The Language Instinct, 1994)(How the Mind Works, 1997) would argue that language is crucial for thought but that it is, following Chomksy (1965), the general syntactic structure shared by all people throughout the world, a ‘Universal Grammar’, that pre-empts language acquisition, which fundamentally shapes thought. This is against the blank slate view of the person favoured by social constructivists (Social Constructivism). Despite the prevalence of this view in cognitive science LD has persisted in some form or other. 

One means by which the argument may be put to rest is to subject it to empirical testing. LD makes the prediction that:

If language determines or at the very least influences cognition, we expect speakers of different languages to have divergent conceptualisations of the world-as the linguist Whorf (1956, 213) put it ‘We dissect nature along lines laid out by our native language’”.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Development of the Nervous System

The nervous system is regularly considered by the cognitive sciences to be an information processing hub that analyses incoming sensory information and creates an output in return (Keijzer, van Duijn, & Lyon, 2013). This carries a very distinct, sequential and directional view of interactions between an organism and its environment, and is regularly referred to as the Input-Output View (Keijzer et al., 2013). The neuron doctrine lies in the foundation of this view, as well as many similarities drawn between neural activation and logic gates found in computers (Gardner, 1985). Challenges have began to mount against these foundational stances as more and more evidence contradicts their assertions. Contradictory to the neuron doctrine, neurons have been shown to fire bidirectionally, interact with each other through purely electrical gap junctions, and to be affected by substances other than neurotransmitters such as neuropeptides and cytokines (Keijzer et al., 2013).

Thursday, 12 May 2016

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Social Interactions

I think an important aspect of studying anything is the ability to bring together research from a variety of disciplines. It enables us to look at all of the perspectives in order to gain a better understanding of the topic. DeJaegher explores this idea really well in relation to social interactions in her paper ‘Theco-creation of meaningful action: bridging enaction and interactional sociology’. She combines the insights from interactional sociology and enaction to conceptualise their organisation in terms of autonomy. She provides an overview of the different factors that have an influence on social interaction which include a structural perspective on coordination, co-presence, engagement, turn taking, sequentiality, emergent processual perspective on coordination, the temporality of coordination, origins of coordination and the interplays between interactional and individual autonomy in the co-creation of meaningful action. The need for an updated way to study social interactions is evident in the paper and so she provides interactive guidelines for studying the co-creation of meaning.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Follow Up: Providing A Better Definition Of “Objectivity”. Hempel’s Ravens And The Paradox Of Confirmation.

In the last blog post, the term “objectivity” was regularly used, however, the definition of this term was not as clearly defined as it could have been. In this post I will attempt to explain how one can still be justified in saying that something is “objective”, while at the same time acknowledging the problems with the term “objective”. 

When the term “objective” is used, often times it is referring to something that is believed to be ontologically true. However, in science and other areas of life it is essential to analyse what we mean when we say that something is true scientifically. Evidence for whether a statement is considered to be objective or not, depends on evidence for that statement.

In the philosophy of science, the ravens paradox (Hempel’s Ravens) is worth analysing. Consider the proposition that “all ravens are black”. This can be understood to be an objective fact because to date no one has observed anything that is a none black raven. When this is the case, does observing anything that is not black and not a raven become evidence for the proposition that “all ravens are black”? At the moment I am writing this blog post on a grey laptop, does the fact that my laptop is not black and not a raven, count as evidence for the proposition that “all ravens are black”?

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Yes, There Is Politicisation In Science- But We Still Need To Be Careful When We Discuss Objectivity

*I am aware that this joke to the left fails recognise the difference between science and technology.

Should the sociology of science be studied? Absolutely, if there are biases on the part of individual researchers these should be addressed, it is important to clarify this from the outset that under no circumstances am I saying that we shouldn’t be critical of how objective certain fields of science are or even the extent to which we believe something to be ontologically true as opposed to a truth that may just be culturally determined.  In fact, part of what has invigorated my recent interest in the origins of bias is in analysing the nature of biases so that they can be overcome. Although in this context the use of language is important if one is to refer to science as not being objective. Any discussion on the politicised aspects of science needs to take place within the context of a greater epistemological discussion about how evidence can be ranked accordingly and the extent to which it’s reliability can be determined, failure to do so could lead to increase politicisation or a devaluing of the scientific method amongst the general public or even in the academic community.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Circular Reasoning in Psychology

Psychology receives a barrage of complaints from the harder sciences because it doesn’t result in useful theories that can effectively explain and predict human behaviour. It also suffers from regularly conflicting results or issues of circular reasoning, which don’t act to solidify it’s standing in the scientific world.

An example of the circular reasoning that is rampant, especially in cognitivist approaches, comes from the literature on Intrinsic Motivation. According to Deci and Ryan (1985), the biggest proponents for the concept, intrinsic motivation reflects a desire to act without any external reasons to do so, because the activity is inherently interesting or enjoyable, or because personal significance is attached to the task.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A Defence of a Neo-Darwinian analysis of culture

Culture moulds us
Ingold in his “An Anthropologist looks at Biology” offers a critique on Neo-Darwinism. From the text, he seems to be referring to the theory that was popularised under Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene” moniker. Ingold argues convincingly that that is a theory that is not complete, such as it was in 1990. Neo-Darwinism then as now is a structure which allows for a well-defined, if abstracted account of evolution, one that can be convincingly put to use analysing the kinds of systems where evolution through fitness for reproduction may emerge. This model however also offers us a view on cultural evolution through the extension into memes.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dialogism and the Psyche

This is review of an article by Salgado and Clegg, which is called Dialogism and the psyche: Bakhtin and contemporary psychology. The authors in their article argue that Bakhtin offered psychology a way to conceptualize and study human experience so that the notion of psyche is preserved and enriched. Then they discuss the implications of dialogism for theories of the self which focus on six basic principles of dialogical thought: the principles of relationality, dynamism, semiotic mediation, alterity, dialogicality, and contextuality. All together these principles refer to the notion of psyche.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

What about the brain?

In neuroscience the brain is the centre of everything. It is the control centre that allows us to be who we are and act as we do in our environments. Neuroscience is taught in a factual way, it is science and it is not to be questioned. Although there is a lot about the brain that scientists still do not understand, neuroscience is taught in a very confident way indicating that this is the way the brain works and this brain is how we as humans or animals are able to live. It is hard to go from this to a more enactive way of thinking, where the brain is simply another organ in the body. But the more I look into the enactive approach the more plausible it seems.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Tooling about with a Polar Planimeter

Dr. Jakob Amsler-Laffon
Not uniquely among animals, humans are a tool using animal. We seem to be very efficient at tool use, and also very efficient at teaching/learning how to use tools. Tooling about is something that we do. At a fundamental level toolmaking precedes us as a species. Toolmaking is something that the species that preceded us used. We evolved from a species that used tools.

At the broadest level, tools are those things that can expand our potential options for interacting with our world. The most obvious set of tools are the physical ones which with the skill to apply them correctly can grant us abilities that are not available to us otherwise, or make us more efficient at those that we have evolved to be capable of.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Is this stool taken?

Ai Weiwei, Bang, 2010-2013, 886 antique stools, installation view
I walked through and around Ai Weiwei’s 2013 Bang organic sculpture when it was exhibited in Vancouver last year. The unified sculpture emerges from the connection of 886 three-legged wooden stools, all of which were made by traditional Chinese craftsmen. 
Walking through the internal spaces created by the piece, the individual stools quickly lose their object distinction while the primacy of their relationship to the overall structure is established. There is also an awareness that appreciation can only be achieved by exploring it from its created internal spaces i.e. becoming part of it.  It was evident that the gallery had to adjust the exhibition space, rooms, and other works of art, to display Bang.  In that necessary adjustment to accommodate the sculpture, western and eastern cultural differences become apparent. The traditional western display of the Objet d’art for passive appreciation by a clearly distinct viewer can be contrasted with the eastern integration of both art and viewer to create an identifiable relationship.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Making sense of a Bayesian approach to the world.

With “Perceptual decision making: drift-diffusion model is equivalent to a Bayesian model” (2014) Blitzer et al. have taken the Bayesian approach to the problems that exist when we approach the world as a percepting decision maker. Their target of attack with this paper is the drift-diffusion model of perception, or at least the drift-diffusion model of following a dot as it traverses a computer screen under experimental conditions.

In this kind of experiment, a dot moves across the screen, along some vector, it’s local position is also subject to a Gaussian distribution centred upon the vector at time t.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Social constructivism and research in the human sciences

Social constructionism (SC) is a diverse intellectual field, comprising perspectives from philosophy, social science, pedagogy, art etc., that resists easy categorisation. It has often been unfairly derided by prominent academics, most notably in the evolutionary and psychological sciences. The argument against SC has been popularised by Steven Pinker (Blank Slate Ted Lecture)in his cutting critique of the blank slate model of humanity (favours the social environment as explanation for behaviour over innate factors e.g. genetic makeup). Whilst Pinker does some disservice to this literature he is right to challenge the role of the social (the product of our interactions with one another), as the sole determinant of behaviour. However, he underdetermines the validity of the social in shaping behaviour. I index his argument because it raises key points which framed the Science Wars and continues to polarise opinion along realist and anti-realist lines[1].

The gulf between ecological validity and controlled experiments regarding social interaction and cultural activity

Brain to brain coupling
I recently read a piece titled 'Brain-to-brain coupling: a mechanism for creating and sharing a social world' (Hasson,Ghazanfar,Galantucci, Garrod, Keysers, 2012). It was an informative, straightforward read that addressed many of the problems in contemporary psychology. It challenged the focus on the mind of the individual in isolation, except through abstract conceptualisation, as opposed to looking at the mind in situ i.e. in interaction with other people. What struck me as a concern was the repetitive invocation of 'brain-to-brain coupling' (see image below) as the locus of attention that should concern researchers in looking at social interaction. Now of course if one is looking at the brain in particular that this is where the focus must be. For a complete understanding of social interaction, an understanding of the spectrum from the fundamental neural and related physiological processes, to the activity of the interaction itself, it will be necessary to understand the role of the brain in this interaction. However, what worries me is not this but that this focus on the brain, and then the body almost as an afterthought, blinds the researcher to other aspects of the interaction. 

Social cognition and the death of the inner voice

During a lively discussion at the most recent class on the subject of participatory sense-making, I cited Fred’s paper as an example of the kind of dynamic social phenomena that the theory of PSM seems to well describe.

The paper provides a detailed and persuasive account of the voice, and the act of speaking, as an integral part of language and languaging rather than a peripheral and non-salient aspect that is attributed to it by modern linguistics, which assumes phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics to be worthy, and the rest (literally) is noise.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Whole Body

This is in response to, the blog post"Embodied cognition is not what you think it is" by Andrew Wilson.
      I choose to write  a response to "Embodied cognition is not what you think it is" by Andrew Wilson because it cleared up some grey areas for myself. A few times, the idea of embodied cognition has appeared throughout my years of studying and the term has been defined in different ways.
      I was glad to see that he mentioned opposing or even wrong ideas of embodied cognition. The main one that stuck out for me, that I vaguely remembered is the idea that embodied cognition has to do with our body being effected by mental representations. It was best explained by using a paper that showed that when people thought about the future they would tend to lean forwards. For myself when I read this, I thought how could that actually be represented as embodied cognition? To me that seems more of a social framing. 

The Sensorimotor Theory Of Perception and Savant Syndrome

In the class on the Sensorimotor Theory Of Perception I put forward the case was made that savant syndrome could falsify the Noe and Regan’s theory on sense making. Admittedly this could have been presented more clearly, this blog post will attempt to clarify how Savant Syndrome proposes a serious problem for the sensorimotor theory of perception.  
A unified theory of consciousness (or sense making) is a major problem for cognitive science. Within recent years the sensorimotor theory of perception has increased in popularity. The sensorimotor theory of perception states that our perception of the world is based on a series of representations. Perception is determined by our nature to focus visual attention on an object. Visual attention is likened to a spotlight that can be engaged, disengaged and moved. Perception is described as an extended memory in that it is described as a poorly defined representations. Experiments that have been conducted by Noe have helped to demonstrate this. The strengths of this theory of consciousness is that unlike other theories (philosophical or religious) this one relies on empirical data; therefore it cannot simply be dismissed as lacking scientific basis.


I was quite sceptical at first when I read the articles about joint action and synchronisation ‘Social connection through joint action and interpersonal coordination’ by Marsh, Richardson and Schmidt and ‘Periodic and aperiodic synchronisation in skilled action’ by Fred Cummins. I could not get my head around coupling between two individuals. Hasson (2011) states that ‘Brain to brain coupling is the perceptual system of one brain can be coupled to the motor system of another’. Signals and stimulation come from another individual’s brain and body. However in order to become ‘coupled’ both individuals need to function in a similar way. 

The Enaction in Slavery

As I was reading the Froese and Di Paulo's outline of the enactive approach, I was particularly intrigued by their outline of the parameters necessary to designate an interaction as a "social interaction" between two agents, and how these parameters may or may not be met. One of the key conditions for such a designation lies in the autonomy of the two agents in the equation, and the recognition of each other as having that autonomy. Froese and Di Paulo highlight the problem which arises when the autonomy of one of the agents in question is destroyed, reducing the encounter to a mere cognitive engagement. In addition to the absolute destruction of autonomy, a similar result is yielded by an encounter wherein one of the agent simply fails to recognise the autonomy of the other. Here, they are simply recognising the other agent as an object or tool with which to use to their advantage, or maybe an obstacle or problem needed to be solved.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Prosody, hearing and emotions

In the paper “Auditory event structure and speech”, Fred Cummins illustrate types of event structures suggesting that being familiar with them could motivate their phonologization into familiar structures. In his words – “This work is an initial attempt to move the discussion of speech prosody towards a grounding in auditory ecology.”. Reading the article took me to a completely different direction. Thinking about the many people who focus on speech and language. From acquisition to proper and folk usage of it, why is speech so special? What is it about hearing that fascinates us?
As the article continues on auditory systems and recognizing events I could not stop thinking about sound tracks and scary movies when we can “feel” what the movie wants us to feel just by listening to the sounds. Growing up with sound tracks like the ones from “jaws”, “psycho” and “the shinning” I still have goosebumps when I hear one of those sounds. Reading about how sounds can combining to belong as a single event made me realize how many sounds could combine to characterize moments that are important to us and will be remembered in a certain way, specially reading about the example of bouncing and breaking sounds. Is it the same hear a glass breaking during breakfast or your mother’s glass of water breaking while she collapses on the floor?

Robots: Engineered Art

Theo Jansen’s  Strandbeest  sculptures attracted enormous attention in the last few weeks, with over 17 million views on  the Insider clip showing the giant pieces moving across windswept beaches. The movement is without any executive control and uses wind, funnelled by land sails, to maintain momentum. The wind-sourced energy somewhat obscures the dependence of smooth movement on the interaction between the Strandbeest and the ground. The biological robotic nature of the structures has not been lost on the popular audience where the comments range from 'they are amazing'  to 'a bit creepy aren’t they'.The immediate attribution of anthropomorphic characteristic is testament to the popular (and wrong) idea that if it moves it has a mind! If Jansen’s Strandbeest robot were shown on a sloping surface without wind the interdependence of the environment and the morphology may have been more visible. What is obvious in the Strandbeest  is the morphology and materials chosen in its construction to achieve function. The critical nature of the jointing in the ‘legs’ is very obvious in that co-ordination of movement is achieved not because of central control but because of the interaction of the jointed legs and hence the body with the environment.

Merleau's Ponty-fication on Cézanne and Depth

It is hard not to be in awe of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961).  If Woody Allen had made a Midnight in Paris movie for aspiring existential philosophers, the journey back to the past may have located the protagonist in late 1920’s Paris where Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty were students together. What would it have been like to go late night drinking with this crew, ashtrays piled high with cigarette butts, arguing at length on how we understand the world? Sartre wrote many years later that Maurice convinced him of the validity of Marxist communism, but they eventually fell out because Sartre remained aligned with communism while Maurice distanced himself from the contemporary interpretations. One source of agreement between this group however is likely to have been a rejection of their lecturer Edmund Husserl’s view on phenomenological transcendence. Transcendence didn’t cut the mustard with this bunch of existentialists, they didn’t concur that perception went beyond the physical limits; for them phenomenology was concrete, the lived experience was the driver of our knowledge of the world.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Surprised? No, I saw it coming

Not long after I moved to Singapore, the city–state in South East Asia, an acquaintance invited me to a movie. The film was an unremarkable post apocalyptic Hollywood production. What was remarkable to me was the audience reaction to the ebb and flow of the dramatic tension in the film. I, reared in western Europe and sensitised to the projected affect of its cultural artifacts, had what I thought to be natural and universal reactions to these ebbs and flows. As the film director built the tension and upped the ante, creating danger and life-threatening risk for the protagonists, I in turn tensed my body, fixed my eyes unblinkingly to the screen and remained solemn and still until our glorious lead overcame the danger and allowed me to relax again.

Friday, 1 April 2016

What It IS Like To See: A Sensorimotor Theory Of Perceptual Experience

             This is a review of an article by J. K. O'Regan and A. Noe 'What It Is Like To See: A Sensorimotor Theory Of Perceptual Experience'. It proposes a way of bridging the gap between physical processes happening in the brain and the 'felt' aspect of sensory experience happening when coming into direct contact with the world around us. It has a new idea that the process of experience does not happen in the brain only but it is constituted in a way the brain processes enable a form of 'give and take' between the perceiving person and the environment. J.K. O'Regan also approaches issues of visual awareness and consciousness, as well as change blindness.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Distributed Cognition

This is in response to, the essay, "Distributed Cognition" by Edwin Hutchins.
         I find the concept of distributed cognition to be an entirely plausible way of explaining and understanding our cognition. As Hutchins, discusses in his essay, distributed cognition is not limited to our body or skull, it is the way in which we also use other tools, people, or other things outside of ourselves to distribute our cognition. From a young age, we are taught, in basic history classes, that at one point in time humans did not have a reading or writing system-- they depended on verbal communication and story telling in order to teach future generations of their culture and how to survive the elements. I cannot help but to think back to some of my earliest lessons came from the verbal instruction from parents, babysitters, daycare employees, teachers, etc of what to do and what not to do. 

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Extended Definition

If we are to compare the human mind with a computing device, it would soon become clear that it is peculiar in its methods. In Clark’s (2014) lecture and in Pfeiffer’s (2012) lecture, the concept of embodiment is used to show that many of the actions assumed to involve complicated mental processing can occur by virtue of the characteristics of the system. Recent work with robots has brought this facet to bare with passive walking devices, which use the swinging of the attached limbs to create smooth walking motions. All that is needed is a gradual decline and gravity will cause the device to move. Both Clark and Pfeiffer demonstrate clearly in their talks that instead of building a robot that controls every facet of the action, using the body of the system to take on most of the processing creates a much more efficient system. In such as system the body itself will do most of the walking and the computing system can work through gentle nudges and corrections to maintain its action.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

“Darwin und die englische Moral”: The Moral Consequences of Uexküll’s Umwelt Theory

This is a short review of  J. von Uexkull's Umwelt theory as contrasted to Darwin's theory of evolution by J. Beever and M.Tonnessen. J. von Uexkull wrote an essay on 'Darwin und die englishe Moral presenting the relation between German and English morality and the differences between them. Uexkull also talked about Darwin and his theory and how his own theory though similar to C. Darwin's, in a way, differed from it. All the essay was highly influenced by the political situation of the time, which all focused around the World War 1 and the relationship between Germany and England.

Monday, 14 March 2016

What is it like to be Mary? - A reaction to Nagel's "What is it like to be a bat?"

Through the use of his famous “What is it like to be a bat?” analogy, Nagel argued that the reductionist based theories of mind are not capable of explaining the phenomenon of consciousness, and that the reductionist theories of mind also neglect to consider that consciousness is something more than neurological activity, but involves the “subjective character of experience”.  Nagel argues that the subjective nature of consciousness cannot be explained through the use of objective analyses.  By using the “what is it like to be a bat” analogy, Nagel claims that no matter how much a person might try to study bats in an attempt to understand what it is like for them to fly around at dusk with webbed wings, using echolocation to perceive the world in front of them, to hunt, and hang upside down, a person will never know what it is like.  They will never be able to experience the world as the bat does (unless they were capable of transforming themselves into a bat), at best the person can only speculate and attempt to imagine what it is like to be a bat to the best of their abilities. 

Friday, 4 March 2016

Subjectivity Can't Be Universal

Imagine a diverse collection of marbles. Some of them are perfectly spherical, some of them are deformed through malfunctions in the manufacturing process, and some of them have been chipped and damaged from regular use. The marbles differ from each other in slight ways that are unique to each marble. Now throw them onto a tabletop, introducing them into an environment. The spherical marbles will roll off the table and fall onto the ground. Some of the remaining marbles will get caught on the ridges and imperfections of either the table or the marble and stop their movement. Some of them will cluster together and cause others to fall, while others will remain on the table because of this clustering. The marbles that have remained on the table are there because either the marble or the table have properties that led them to not fall off. You wouldn’t ascribe these marbles as having the intent of staying on the table, or the table of having the purpose of holding these marbles. The marbles that have remained are there because they happen to have the properties that keep them there, if they did not have those properties, they would not be there. The fact that the marbles were diverse meant that the interaction with the environment of the table allowed their separation. If the environment was different where the marble’s ability to roll was beneficial, spherical marbles would have been selected instead.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Affordances cognition and decisions

The wall is not to scale
Last night, I went for a pretty typical mid-week run. Near my house is a small wall that provides a handy shortcut, trimming a few metres off my intended route. At the start of the run, when my energy levels are high, I nearly always springboard this small wall; the wall is an affordance for my preferred running route. 

Potential of an ecological approach to a unified theory.

Traditionally, psychology and other social sciences like sociology, political science, etc., have been considered to be “soft science” disciplines, whilst natural sciences like chemistry, physics, etc., have been considered to be “hard science” disciplines.  This soft science label can be considered as a chip on the shoulder for most researchers in social science disciplines, particularly psychologists.  Unlike the natural sciences, psychology is still considered to be a rather young field of science, particularly experimental psychology, which the first lab dedicated to experimental psychology being opened in 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt.  Though many would argue that psychology is a hard science on the grounds that researchers attempt to rigorously adhere to the scientific method and prefer quantitative methods, and results, above qualitative methods, alongside the widely accepted concept that large sample sizes will make the results more generalisable to the general population.  

Sunday, 28 February 2016

This is a reaction to an article published in Frontiers in Psychology, 2014 by Joel Krueger. He tried to adapt the ever famous idea of A.Clark's Extended Mind and take it even one step further and present a musically extended mind. Can our mind be musically extended? J. Krueger argues that it can. He explains the reader about music and musical affordances, he also shows how music effects our motoric response, emotions, how it develops affective synchrony and influences our behaviour. The author then continues to show how, in his opinion, music can extend our cognition. Following A. Clark's example, J. Krueger presents people suffering from Moebius syndrome and how  music can help them express their emotions.

Friday, 26 February 2016

In defence of the Psychologist's "White Room"

Throughout his review of Hutchin's book, "Cognition in the Wild", Bruno Latour makes consistent reference to a navigation technique employed by the navy. He uses this reference as a classic example of distributed cognition throughout the navigation crew in a particular ship.

In the view of distributed cognition, there ceases to be any such thing as a "mind", or really any independent agent within which cognitive processes such as working memory, reasoning and attention could be "housed". Instead, these processes are available distributed across time, space and between different people. It is in this that the view contrasts most sharply with that of cognitive psychology.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Extended minds and wisdom sits in places

Are minds extended?

This is a reaction piece to 'The Extended Mind Paper' (Clark and Chalmers, 1998) co-authored by Andy Clark and David Chalmers with references to some of the more recent work done in this area. I am sure that my impression might change next week but such is the nature of my 'mind'.

When reading the extended mind readings for this week I was intrigued and stumped, in equal measure, as it sat awkwardly with some of my intuitions, and comfortably with others. Are cases of people using memory aid tools such as diaries, other people, Evernote (in a reliably coupled systematic way) to function in their day to day activities, to be thought of as cases of minds being extended e.g. a protestant minister who can no longer form new memories, following brain damage, who employs Evernote to successfully go about his duties (Clark, 2014)?

I am not wholly convinced by the premise of minds as extended, though I am sympathetic to the views extolled. So is it something useful to think with, but little more, or are they genuine cases of cognition? There is an issue concerning the lax usage of the terms cognition and mind in this piece which reflects a more general problem in cognitive science which I will not be able to tackle today (that mind is a contested concept, not to mention that cognition is too). For some thinkers, minds are synonymous with cognition and that cognition only takes places within the brain, which is the classic cognitivist view, of which there many variants. For others it is the view that the mind is thought to be embodied, that the cognising agent is the brain and body in dynamic interplay with one another. Enactivist approaches go further noting the dynamic relationship between the agent and the environment that is integral to cognition. I do all of these diverse theoretical outlooks a great disservice by passing over them in this way but I'll leave it to the readers to explore these avenues. Is this simply a case of different definitions of the same term being used to describe radically divergent activities, for which Clark and Chalmers should be taken to task, for their muddying of the water? I suspect that the water has been muddied long before this. With no expectations of putting the 'what is mind', 'what is self' dilemma to rights let's explore the Extended Mind hypothesis (EMH) a little.