The Extended Mind
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The Extended Mind

"The Extended Mind" by Andy Clark and David Chalmers (1998)[1] is a seminal work in the field of extended cognition. In this paper, Clark and Chalmers present the idea of active externalism (similar to semantic or "content" externalism), in which objects within the environment function as a part of the mind. They argue that it is arbitrary to say that the mind is contained only within the boundaries of the skull. The separation between the mind, the body, and the environment is seen as an unprincipled distinction. Because external objects play a significant role in aiding cognitive processes, the mind and the environment act as a "coupled system". This coupled system can be seen as a complete cognitive system of its own. In this manner, the mind is extended into the external world. The main criterion that Clark and Chalmers list for classifying the use of external objects during cognitive tasks as a part of an extended cognitive system is that the external objects must function with the same purpose as the internal processes.

Closely related points have been made by others, using different terminology, for instance in the work of James J. Gibson on use of various kinds of Affordance in the environment, in selecting and controlling actions, and also in chapters 6 and 7 of Sloman (1978)[2] e.g. action planning, online control of actions, and mathematical reasoning are often done with the aid of external objects, including diagrams used by mathematicians since ancient times, e.g. Archimedes, Zeno of Elea, Euclid, Meno's slave, Apollonius of Perga, and many others. Research in various branches of Ethology have shown that many animals, including some insects, make essential use of static and changing aspects of the environment in controlling behaviour, e.g. in Animal navigation, where the relationships between environmental structures and sensory information can be highly context dependent, for instance, influenced by relative directions and distances of objects, direction of line of sight, direction of motion and effectors available for acting on the environment.

In "The Extended Mind", a thought experiment is presented to further illustrate the environment's role in connection to the mind. The fictional characters Otto and Inga are both travelling to a museum simultaneously. Otto has Alzheimer's disease, and has written all of his directions down in a notebook to serve the function of his memory. Inga is able to recall the internal directions within her memory. In a traditional sense, Inga can be thought to have had a belief as to the location of the museum before consulting her memory. In the same manner, Otto can be said to have held a belief of the location of the museum before consulting his notebook. The argument is that the only difference existing in these two cases is that Inga's memory is being internally processed by the brain, while Otto's memory is being served by the notebook. In other words, Otto's mind has been extended to include the notebook as the source of his memory. The notebook qualifies as such because it is constantly and immediately accessible to Otto, and it is automatically endorsed by him.

Going further, the authors ask and answer their own question about the role of enculturation:

"And what about socially-extended cognition? Could my mental states be partly constituted by the states of other thinkers? We see no reason why not, in principle."

They bring up the recurrent theme of the role of language:

"The major burden of the coupling between agents is carried by language ... Indeed, it is not implausible that the explosion of intellectual development in recent evolutionary time is due as much to this linguistically-enabled extension of cognition as to any independent development in our inner cognitive resources."


The "extended mind" is an idea in the field of philosophy of mind, often called extended cognition, which holds that the reach of the mind need not end at the boundaries of skin and skull. Tools, instrument and other environmental props can under certain conditions also count as proper parts of our minds. Closely related topics often conjoined with the idea of "extended mind" are situated cognition, distributed cognition, and embodied cognition.

See also


  1. ^ Andy Clark, David J Chalmers (January 1998). "The extended mind". Analysis. 58 (1): 7-19. doi:10.1093/analys/58.1.7. JSTOR 3328150.; reprinted as: Andy Clark, David J Chalmers (2010). "Chapter 2: The extended mind". In Richard Menary (ed.). The Extended Mind. MIT Press. pp. 27-42. ISBN 9780262014038.; and available on line as: Andy Clark, David J Chalmers. "The extended mind". Cogprints.
  2. ^ Aaron Sloman. The Computer Revolution in Philosophy: Philosophy, science and models of mind.

Further reading

  • Adams, Frederick, and Kenneth Aizawa. (2008). The bounds of cognition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Arnau, Eric; Estany, Anna; González del Solar, Rafael and Thomas Sturm. (2014). The extended cognition thesis: Its significance for the philosophy of (cognitive) science. "Philosophical Psychology", 27 (1), 1-18.
  • Chemero, Anthony. (2009). Radical embodied cognitive science. Cambridge MA: MIT Press/Bradford.
  • Clark, Andy. (2008). Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action, and cognitive extension. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Clark, Andy, and David J. Chalmers. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis 58: 7-19.
  • Crisafi, Anthony, and Shaun Gallagher. (2010). Hegel and the extended mind. AI & Society 25.1: 123-129.
  • Estany, Anna, and Thomas Sturm. (2014). Extended cognition: New philosophical perspectives. Special Issue of "Philosophical Psychology", 27 (1), 2014.
  • Menary, Richard. (2006). Attacking The Bounds of Cognition. Philosophical Psychology 19.3 (June): 329-344.
  • Menary, Richard. (2007). Cognitive integration: Mind and cognition unbounded. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.
  • Menary, Richard, ed. (2010). The extended mind. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press/Bradford.
  • Noë, Alva. (2004). Action in perception. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Robbins, Philip, and Murat Aydede (Eds.). (2009). Cambridge handbook of situated cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sloman, A. The Computer Revolution in Philosophy: Philosophy, science and models of mind, Harvester press and Humanities press, 1978. (Out of print but now freely downloadable.)
  • Sterelny, Kim. (2004). Externalism, epistemic artifacts, and the extended mind. In Richard Schantz (Ed.), The externalist challenge (239-254). New York: de Gruyter.
  • Sterelny, Kim. (2012). The evolved apprentice: How evolution made humans unique. Cambridge: MIT Press/Bradford.
  • Wilson, Robert A. (2004). Boundaries of the mind: The Individual in the fragile sciences: Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wilson, Robert A. (2005). Collective memory, group minds, and the extended mind thesis. Cognitive Processing 6.4: 227-236.

External links

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