The theory of the extended mind: the psyche beyond our brain

It is well known that the term “mind” refers to all cognitive processes, ie consciousness, thought, intelligence, perception, memory, attention, etc. But does the mind have a material reality? Is it a tangible and concrete being or space? or is it an abstract concept that brings together a series of intangible experiences?

Philosophy of mind, as well as cognitive science, have proposed different theories to answer these questions. In turn, the answers have often been framed around the traditional opposition between body and mind. To resolve this opposition, the theory of the extended mind asks if it is possible to understand the mind beyond the brain, And even beyond the special private.

In the following text, we will briefly see what are the propositions of the Extended Mind Hypothesis, as well as some of its main antecedents.

    Extended Mind Theory Mental Processes Beyond the Brain?

    The theory of extended mind began its formal development in 1998, based on the works of philosopher Susan Hurley, Who proposed that mental processes should not necessarily be explained as internal processes, since the mind does not exist only within the narrow confines of the skull. In his work “Consciousness in Action”, he criticized the entry / exit perspective of traditional cognitive theory.

    In the same year, philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers published the article “The Extended Mind” which is considered the founding text of this theory. And a decade later, in 2008, Andy Clark published Supersizing the Mind, which eventually introduced the extended mind hypothesis into debates over philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

    From computer metaphor to cyborg metaphor

    Extended mind theories are part of the historical development of philosophy of mind and cognitive science. In this development different theories have emerged on how mental states work and its consequences for human life. We will briefly see what the latter consists of.

    The individualistic model and IT

    The most classic tradition of cognitive science took the computer operating system metaphor as an explanatory model of the mind. He basically proposes that cognitive processing begins with the inputs (sensory inputs) and ends with the outputs (behavioral outputs).

    In the same sense, mental states are faithful representations of the elements of the world, occur in the face of internal manipulations of information and generate a series of inferences. For example, perception would be an individual and precise reflection of the outside world; I it goes through an internal logical order similar to that of a digital operating system.

    In this way, the mind or mental states are an entity that is found within each individual. In fact, it is these states that give us the quality of being subjects (autonomous and independent of the environment and of relations with it).

    It is a theory which follows the dualistic and individualistic tradition of reasoning and of the human being; the precursor was René Descartes, who doubted everything except what he thought. So much so that he inherited from us the already famous “I think, therefore I exist”.

    But with the development of science, it has been possible to suggest that the mind is not just an abstraction but there is a tangible place in the human body for its storage. This place is the brain, which under the premises of the computational perspective would fulfill the functions of a material, insofar as it is the material and self-configurable support of mental processes.

    Mind-brain identity

    The above emerges in an ongoing debate with mind-brain identity theories, which suggest that mental processes they are nothing more than a physicochemical activity of the brain.

    In this sense, the brain is not only the material support for mental processes, but the mind itself is the result of the activity of this organ; thus, it can only be understood through the physical laws of nature. Mental processes and subjectivity thus become an epiphenomenon (phenomena secondary to physical events in the brain).

    In this way it is a theory of naturalistic approach, And more of a brain-centric theory, since everything human would be reduced to the action potentials and physicochemical activity of our neural networks. Among the most representative of these theories, we find, for example, materialist eliminativism or neurological monism.

      Beyond the brain (and the individual)

      Faced with these, other theories or explanatory models of the mind emerge. One is the Theory of the Extended Mind, which attempted to localize information processing, and other mental states, beyond the brain; that is, in the relationships that the person establishes with the environment and its objects.

      It is therefore a question of extending the concept of “spirit” beyond the special private. the last represents a major break with individualism typical of the most classic cognitive science.

      But to achieve this, it was necessary to begin by redefining both the concept of the mind and the mental processes, and in this the reference model was the functionalist. In other words, it was necessary to understand mental processes from the effects they cause or as effects caused by different causes.

      This paradigm had already permeated the calculation assumptions. However, for the theory of the extended mind, mental processes are not only generated inside the individual, but outside of the individual. And these are “functional” states like they are defined by a cause and effect relation with a given function (Relationship that encompasses a set of material elements, including no life of its own).

      To put it another way, mental states are the last link in a long chain of causes that ultimately lead to these processes. And the other links in the chain can range from bodily and sensorimotor skills to a calculator, computer, watch, or cell phone. All this because these are elements that allow us to generate what we call intelligence, thought, beliefs, etc.

      Therefore, our mind it exceeds the specific limits of our brain, And even beyond our general physical limits.

      So what is a “subject”?

      This changes not only the way we understand “mind”, but the definition of “I” (understood as “extended self”), as well as the definition of one’s own behavior, as it is no longer a planned action. Rationally. This is learning that is the result of practices in the material environment. As a consequence, “the individual” is more of a “subject / agent”.

      Likewise, this theory is considered by many to be a radical and active determinism. It is no longer a question of the environment that shapes the mind, but of the environment that is part of the mind itself: “cognitive states have a wide localization and are not limited by the narrow boundary of the body. human ”(Andrada de Gregorio and Sánchez Parera, 2005).

      the object it is likely to be constantly modified by its continuous contact with other material elements. But it is not enough to have a first contact (for example, with a technological device) to consider it as an extension of the mind and the subject. To be able to think in this way, it is essential that there are conditions such as automation and accessibility.

      To illustrate this, Clark and Chalmers (cited by Andrada de Gregorio and Sánchez Parera, 2005) cite as an example a subject with Alzheimer’s disease. To compensate for his memory loss, the subject writes down everything that seems important to him in a notebook; so much so that, automatically, this tool is generally reviewed in the interaction and resolution of daily problems.

      The notebook serves as device to store your beliefs, as well as a physical extension of your memory. The notebook then plays an active role in cognition of that person, and as a whole, establish a cognitive system.

      The latter opens a new question: does the expanse of the mind have limits? According to its authors, mental activity takes place in constant negotiation with these limits. However, the theory of extended mind has been called into question precisely so as not to offer concrete answers to this.

      Likewise, the theory of the extended mind has been rejected by more brain-centered perspectives, of which they are important representatives. the philosophers of the spirit Robert Rupert and Jerry Fodor. In this sense, he was also questioned so as not to delve into the field of subjective experiences, and to focus on a vision strongly focused on the achievement of objectives.

      Are we all cyborgs?

      It seems that the theory of the extended mind comes close to proposing that we humans are and act as some sort of hybrid similar to the cyborg figure. The latter understood as the fusion between a living organism and a machine, And the goal is to improve, or in some cases replace, organ functions.

      In fact, the term “cyborg” is an Anglicism meaning “cybernetic organism”. But the theory of the Extended Spirit is not the only one that has allowed us to reflect on this question. In fact, a few years before the founding work, in 1983, feminist philosopher Donna Haraway published an essay called Cyborg Manifesto.

      In general, by means of this metaphor, she has tried to question the problems of Western traditions strongly founded on an “antagonistic dualism”, with visible effects in escelialism, colonialism and patriarchy (questions which have been raised). present in certain traditions of ‘own feminism).

      We could therefore say that the cyborg metaphor opens up the possibility of thinking a hybrid subject beyond body-mind dualisms. The difference between the two is that the Extended Mind proposal is part of a tradition closer to logical positivism, with a very specific conceptual rigor; while Haraway’s proposition follows the line of critical theory, with a decisive socio-political component (Andrada de Gregorio and Sánchez Parera, 2005).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Garcia, I. (2014). Reviewed by Andy Clark and David Chalmers, The Extended Mind, KRK, Editions, Oviedo, 2011. Dianoia, LIX (72): 169-172.
      • Andrada de Gregorio, G. and Sánchez Parera, P. (2005). Towards a continental-analytical alliance: the cyborg and the extended mind. Collectif Bitxo Bunda Coord. (Ábalos, H.; García, J.; Jiménez, A. Montañez, D.) Memories of the 50th.

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