An interesting piece since it references literature beyond the canonical extended mind hypothesis.
Here is an extract from the issue’s Editorial introduction: Socializing the extended mind
by Michele Merritt , Somogy Varga, and Mog Stapleton
Research at the intersection of philosophy and cognitive science has been a dynamically evolving and rapidly growing field that has witnessed increased attention over the last decade. A particular debate that has contributed to this growth concerns the role of non-neural, “external” structures in cognition and the idea that the neural, or even organismic, boundary is a merely arbitrary stopping point for the systematic investigation of cognition. This debate is particularly stimulating for researchers across the traditional disciplinary boundaries as it indicates a gradual change in opinion about how the cognitive apparatus is to be studied. Supporters of this approach have, in various ways, opposed the view that cognition is constituted only by computational, representation-manipulating activity that finds place in the head and have argued instead that the study of cognition must acknowledge the non-trivial role of the body and external structures in cognitive processes.
This special issue expands upon the aforementioned discussion by addressing what the editors and contributors see as lacuna among the extended mind debates. The focus in this issue is on the extent to which “extended” frameworks are useful for understanding the role of social structures in cognition. This is an area of research that has until recently received little attention in the philosophy of cognitive science. The title of this special issue, and of the target paper, refers back to one of the most heavily discussed articles in this field, The Extended Mind (Clark & Chalmers, 1998) in which the authors introduce the ‘Hypothesis of Extended Cognition’. In this paper Clark and Chalmers argue that cognitive activity not only often involves the exploitation of the surrounding environment but that sometimes extra-cranial items actually figure as constituents of cognitive processes. That is to say, proper parts of cognition sometimes extend into the environment. Although this hypothesis has provoked a deluge of opponents and defenders, the debate has tended to focus on the two particular kinds of external items which Clark emphasizes in his works: tools in the environment, and actions of the morphological body. Where social cognition has been considered in the debate, it has typically been in terms of the possibility of using another person as some sort of external memory resource, perhaps betraying the prominent influence of the disciplines of artificial intelligence, computer science and robotics upon the philosophy of cognitive science. In the target paper of this volume Shaun Gallagher takes a quite different tack on this theme of cognitive extension and social cognition by arguing that certain social practices, which he calls “mental institutions”, are usefully understood as extending our minds. This proposal could have radical implications for the flow of research between cognitive systems research and the discipline of sociology and pave the way to firmly establishing sociology as one of the cognitive sciences.
Image: Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson
The intro to Joel’s paper:
Everybody knows that time, the body and the environment are important for cognition. You would not get much thinking done if you were not in a sufficiently oxygen-rich environment or if your body did not operate so as to deliver that oxygen to your organs in just the right quantities at just the right times. In addition, it is almost a truism that what we do with our bodies and environments is tremendously important for mental life; we all rely on diaries and shopping lists to help supplement our notoriously unreliable memories, and even adults sometimes resort to counting on their fingers in order to speed up calculations. This practical significance, however, has not often amounted to a kind of theoretical significance for cognitive science; an agent’s body, environment and temporal co-ordination have mostly been seen as (mere) implementation details.
There is, however, a growing and laudable interest in a nexus of concepts one can usefully refer to as the DEEDS approach to cognitive science. Central to this development is the idea that the mind is essentially “situated”. Embodied, embedded and distributed approaches try to understand cognitive systems with reference to the bodies, environments and social structures in which they are physically situated. Dynamical cognitive science tries to do justice to the temporal situatedness of cognition, by emphasising the importance of time and timing. Both aspects of this theoretical reorientation have gone hand in hand with a novel and intriguing set of example phenomena that advocates of the DEEDS approach regard as paradigmatically cognitive. Whereas classical cognitive science was concerned with abilities such as chess-playing and logic-crunching, many now see abilities such as sensori-motor co-ordination and obstacle avoidance as central. Brian Cantwell Smith (1999) captures this new zeitgeist, by noting that the DEEDS approach “… views intelligent human behaviour as engaged, socially and materially embodied activity, arising within the specific concrete details of particular (natural) settings, rather than as an abstract, detached, general purpose process of logical or formal ratiocination” (p. 769).
In this paper, I want to draw out a distinction between two different readings of the DEEDS hypothesis. On one reading, the DEEDS approach makes a metaphysical claim about the nature and location of cognitive processes—it claims that they may, in some cases, be constituted by factors which lie outside of the physical boundaries of the organism. On the other reading, the DEEDS approach advances a methodological prescription about how we ought to do cognitive science—it claims that more attention should be paid to bodily and environmental factors than has hitherto been the case. These two claims are often run together by advocates of the DEEDS approach, but they are worth teasing apart. For one thing, the distinction has some historical precedent—both behaviourism and the dynamical approach to cognition have already been outlined in accordance with similar distinctions. Further, I will argue that the methodological reading of the DEEDS approach is “pursuitworthy” independently of the metaphysical reading. It can also avoid some of the major objections that have targeted the latter. Thus, I conclude that the DEEDS approach cannot be dismissed as straightforwardly as some of its opponents would wish.