5 Mar 2013

Andy Clark, Intro, Supersizing the Mind, “Introduction: BRAINBOUND versus EXTENDED”

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Andy Clark

Supersizing the Mind:

Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension



Brief Summary:
There is a way of seeing cognition (BRAINBOUND) as being housed in the brain, which uses the body as an instrument to solve problems in the world which is like the arena of its activities. Another way(EXTENDED)  is to see cognition as involving a complex intermingling and meshing of brain, body, and world, as the workings of all coordinate in the process of human cognition.


Clark relates a story about physicist Richard Feynman who said of his writing that it is not a record of his cognitive work but rather it itself is part of that cognitive working. (xxv..c)

For Clark, the thinking itself was also happening on the paper.

The loop through the pen and paper is part of the physical machinery responsible for the shape of the flow of thoughts and ideas that we take, nonetheless, to be distinctively those of Richard Feynman. It reliably and robustly provides a functionality which, were it provided by goings-on in the head alone, we would have no hesitation in designating as a part of the cognitive circuitry. | Such considerations of parity, once we put our bioprejudices aside, reveal the outward loop as a functional part of an extended cognitive machine. Such body- and world- involving cycles are best understood, or so I shall argue, as quite literally extending the machinery of mind out into the world – as building extended cognitive circuits that are themselves the minimal material bases for important aspects of human thought and reason. Such cycles supersize the mind. (xxv|xxvi)

We also see this at work in other bodily and extrabodily loops, like gestures. (xxvi)

Embodied cognition means that our cognition happens through our body and its motor interactions with the world. (xxvi)

Esther Thelen’s definition of embodied cognition has this notion of meshing that suggests “a kind of ongoing intermingling of cognitive activity with the perceptuomoter matrix from which it putatively emerges. (xxvii) She writes [quoted in the prior paragraph]:

cognition depends on the kinds of experiences that come from having a body with particular perceptual and motor capacities that are inseparably linked and that together form the matrix within which memory, emotion, language, and all other aspects of life are meshed. (2000, 4) [xxvi]

We see this intermingling and meshing in John Haugeland, who writes that we can examine perception and action “and see not principled separation but all sorts of close coupling and functional unity . . . Mind, therefore, is not incidentally but intimately embodied and intimately embedded in its world. (1998, 236–237)”. [xxviib]

Haugeland is countering a another model of mind that Clark calls the ‘brainbound’ model.

This is the model of mind as essentially inner and, in our case, always and everywhere neurally realized. It is, to put it bluntly, the model of mind as brain (or perhaps brain and central nervous system): a model increasingly prevalent in a culture where just about everything to do with thinking seems to be accompanied by some kind of image of the brain. Call this model BRAINBOUND. (xxvii..c)

Brainbound sees cognition as being in the brain, with the body as like its exterior instrument, and the world like the source of problems to solve:

According to BRAINBOUND, the (nonneural) body is just the sensor and effector system of the brain, and the rest of the world is just the arena in which adaptive problems get posed and in which the brain–body system must sense and act. If BRAINBOUND is correct, then all human cognition depends directly on neural activity alone. The neural activity itself may, of course, in turn depend on worldly inputs and gross bodily activity. But that would be merely what Hurley (1998, 10–11) usefully dubs “instrumental dependence,” as when we move our head or eyes and get a new perceptual input as a result. All that really matters as far as the actual mechanisms of human cognition are concerned, BRAINBOUND asserts, is what goes on in the brain. (xxvii..d)

Clark’s alternate model sees crossing loops between brain, body, and world, which in a way extends the mind through the body into the world.

Maximally opposed to BRAINBOUND is a view according to which thinking and cognizing may (at times) depend directly and noninstrumentally upon the ongoing work of the body and/or the extraorganismic environment. Call this model EXTENDED. According to EXTENDED, the actual local operations that realize certain forms of human cognizing include inextricable tangles of feedback, feedforward, and feed-around loops: loops that promiscuously criss-cross the boundaries of brain, body, and world. The local mechanisms of mind, if this is correct, are not all in the head. Cognition leaks out into body and world. (xxviii..a)

One aim of this book is asking “when and where an extended perspective is indicated and to show what we gain by adopting it.” (xxviii.bc)

Another goal is showing why it matters that our minds are extended. (xxviii.c)

It is also important to show why it matters to science. (xxviii.d)

Much of this book revolves around Clark’s and Chalmer’s article, “The Extended Mind”. (xxviii.xxix)

Part I discusses empirical considerations and exemplars. Part II examines criticisms and objections. Part III describes limitations of extended mind and also its place in cognitive sciences. (xxix..b)

Andy Clark. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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