The Mind Emergent

Andy Clark, writing in The New York Times, contemplates this question:

Is it possible that, sometimes at least, some of the activity that enables us to be the thinking, knowing, agents that we are occurs outside the brain?

He argues the case that we should consider our iPads and iPhones as an extension of our cognitive abilities, cognitive function, our cognitive selves.

It is a good article and a good argument, which see:

Out of Our Brains –

I would add two points.

First, “mind” is a concept bounded by dotted lines. We get into trouble by believing that the distinctions we make are permanent, by believing too strongly in nouns. I remember being told that the Hopi would not say, here is a mountain, there is a stream. They would say, there it mountains, there it streams.

This is not a merely academic question. There can be real-world consequences. Consider wetlands, which we would like to protect. The law has a great deal of difficulty in defining what should be protected, in part because we insist that “wetlands” be a noun. The law has a problem protecting verbs, but really: now it plains, now it grasses, now it wetlands.

So perhaps we could say of our handhelds, now, it minds.

Second, the article –no doubt bounded by word-limits and deadlines– misses a great example of an extended mind: the hive-mind of social insects. Ants and termites are neurons on the loose. The hivemind emerges from their collective behavior, unbounded by skin and bone.

If we can accept the mound as mind, surely we can accept the iPhone and iPad as iNeurons of the iMind.


This entry was posted in Behavioral Science, Cultural Comment, Philosophy, Science, Technology, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Mind Emergent

  1. JoeW says:

    See also Karl Popper’s “Objective Knowlege”. To Popper, objective knowledge included products of the human mind that externalize thinking such as writing, libraries, etc.

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