Critical neuroscience and socially extended minds

Another paper by Shaun this time coauthored with Jan Slaby (check out Jan’s website – lot’s of good stuff here). 

The concept of a socially extended mind suggests that our cognitive processes are extended not simply by the various tools and technologies we use, but by other minds in our intersubjective interactions, and more systematically by institutions that, like tools and technologies, enable and sometimes constitute our cognitive processes. In this paper we explore the potential of this concept to facilitate the development of a critical neuroscience. We first explicate the concept of cognitive institution and show how it builds on a more enactive version of the extended mind. We then turn to the idea that science itself is a good example of a cognitive institution that through various practices and rules shapes our cognitive activity so as to constitute a certain type of knowledge, packaged with relevant skills and techniques. Building on this idea, we focus on neuroscience, its cultural impact, and the various institutional entanglements that complicate its influence on reframing conceptions of self and subjectivity, and defining what questions count as important and what kind of answers will be valued. Our intent is to show that by understanding neuroscience as a cognitive institution – that is, as a set of practices that help us to think and solve problems within a specific domain – we gain a critical perspective on what neuroscience accomplishes.



Extended cognition: New philosophical perspectives

Here’s a special issue of Philosophical Psychology that features some top-notch names that includes Ed Hutchins, Rob Wilson and Sven Walter.



Neurotechnology, Invasiveness and the Extended Mind

This from the latest issue of Neuroethics December 2013, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp. 593-605.



The Peripheral Mind

Last August I chanced upon a forthcoming book by István Aranyosi. I’m pleased to say that my copy arrived today and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. Any book that opens with a Kafka quote suggests immaculate taste. Not only that, but the series of which this book is a part is edited than none other than Dave Chalmers who quickly saw the virtues of István’s work. Last, but by no means least, there is a very personal story behind the realization and motivation of the book, refreshingly different from the inflated egos of writers who get funding to spend six months in say, Vézelay, to do some writing and then very pretentiously sign off their preface Joe Blogs, New York and Vézelay.

I also look forward to a close-grained review that I have commissioned for The Journal of Mind and Behavior.

The Peripheral Mind introduces a novel approach to a wide range of issues in the philosophy of mind by shifting the focus of analysis from the brain to the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). Contemporary philosophy of mind has neglected the potential significance of the PNS and has implicitly assumed that, ultimately, sensory and perceptual experience comes together in the brain. István Aranyosi proposes a philosophical hypothesis according to which peripheral processes are considered as constitutive of sensory states rather than merely as causal contributors to them. Part of the motivation for the project is explained in the autobiographical opening chapter, which describes the author’s subjective experiences with severe peripheral nerve damage.

Although Aranyosi’s approach could be classified as part of the current “embodied mind” paradigm in the philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience, this is the first time that notions like “embodiment” and “body” in general are replaced by the more focused concept of the PNS. Aranyosi puts the hypothesis to the test and offers novel solutions to puzzles related to physicalism, functionalism, mental content, embodiment, the extended mind hypothesis, tactile-proprioceptive illusions, as well as to some problems in neuroethics, such as abortion and requests for amputation of healthy body parts. The diversity of the volume’s methodology–which results from a combination of conceptual analysis, discussion of neuroscientific data, philosophical speculation, and first-person phenomenological accounts–makes the book both engaging and highly informative.


A brain in a vat cannot break out: why the singularity must be extended, embedded and embodied

Here is a pre-published version of Francis Heylighen’s paper from JCS

The present paper criticizes Chalmers’s discussion of the Singularity, viewed as the emergence of a superhuman intelligence via the self-amplifying development of artificial intelligence. The situated and embodied view of cognition rejects the notion that intelligence could arise in a closed ‘brain-in-a-vat’ system, because intelligence is rooted in a high-bandwidth, sensory-motor interaction with the outside world. Instead, it is proposed that superhuman intelligence can emerge only in a distributed fashion, in the form of a self-organizing network of humans, computers, and other technologies: the ‘Global Brain’.


Substituting the Senses

Check out this essay forthcoming from the power team of Clark, Kilverstein and Farina.

Sensory substitution devices are a type of sensory prosthesis that (typically) convert visual stimuli transduced by a camera into tactile or auditory stimulation. They are designed to be used by people with impaired vision so that they can recover some of the functions normally subserved by vision. In this chapter we will consider what philosophers might learn about the nature of the senses from the neuroscience of sensory substitution. We will show how sensory substitution devices work by exploiting the cross-modal plasticity of sensory cortex: the ability of sensory cortex to pick up some types of information about the external environment irrespective of the nature of the sensory inputs it is processing. We explore the implications of cross-modal plasticity for theories of the senses that attempt to make distinctions between the senses on the basis of neurobiology.


Hayek and Behavioral Economics: Mindscapes and Landscapes: Hayek and Simon on Cognitive Extension

I see that the publisher now has a fully detailed page up for a volume that I’ve been privileged to be a part of. The Foreword is by a very nice chappie going by the name of V.Smith and includes luminaries such as McCloskey, Boettke, Gintis, Steel and others. My abstract:

Mindscapes and Landscapes: Hayek and Simon on Cognitive Extension

Hayek’s and Simon’s social externalism runs on a shared presupposition: mind is constrained in its computational capacity to detect, harvest, and assimilate “data” generated by the infinitely fine-grained and perpetually dynamic characteristic of experience in complex social environments. For Hayek, mind and sociality are co-evolved spontaneous orders, allowing little or no prospect of comprehensive explanation, trapped in a hermeneutically sealed, i.e. inescapably context bound, eco-system. For Simon, it is the simplicity of mind that is the bottleneck, overwhelmed by the ambient complexity of the environmental. Since on Simon’s account complexity is unidirectional, Simon is far more ebullient about the prospects of explanation. Hayek’s social externalism functions as a kind of distributed “extra-neural” memory store manifest as dynamic spontaneous orders. Simon’s organizational rule-governed externalism negotiates the “inner” world (the mind) with the “outer” world through a homeostatic interface that offloads the cognitive burden into the environment. Their respective externalisms may differ in detail but not in spirit in that it ameliorates their shared presupposition of cognitive constraint. Even though any “optimization talk” for Hayek and Simon is objectionable, knowledge acquisition can be represented by a contextualized stigmergic swarm optimization algorithm that gives due emphasis to both the individual and the environment. The key insight is that “perfect” knowledge is unnecessary, impracticable and indeed irrelevant if one understands the mechanism at work in complex sociality, a stigmergic sociality that in effect augments or scaffolds cognition.