Some say that the mind is extended. I’d say that the current debate about one important interpretation of this view focuses on an overly narrow topic, whether cognition is extended. (‘Extended’ means extended beyond the ordinary physical body boundary.) All agree, though, that what will here be called fognition is extended. A system is a fognitive system iff it is a system that includes cognition and all representational sources for cognition, where a representational source for cognition is a representation used as a representation by a cognitive system. This definition allows for two sorts of theories: in one it is maintained that there is no overlap between cognitive states and any external-tothe- ordinary-body source state; in the other it is maintained that there is overlap between cognitive states and the external-to-the-ordinary-body representational source states. However, if fognition is extended, then, it is plausible to hold, the mind is extended.
Before showing such plausibility, though, a bit of background is appropriate. There is a distinction between semantic externalism (begun in the 1970’s), and active externalism (begun in the 1990’s); it is the latter view that sets the stage for our interest. Andy Clark and David Chalmers, in ‘The Extended Mind’ defended an active externalism (and they there inaugurated use of the term ‘active externalism’) in which there is “an active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes” (Clark & Chalmers 1998, Introduction). Their examples include computer aids and notebooks. Since they examined not only processing systems but also beliefs, they concluded that there is extended mind. That is, the physical base of the mind goes beyond the ordinary physical body boundary.
There is also a criticism of semantic externalism that should be briefly mentioned. Some say that semantic externalism merely presents a theory about semantic content in which there seems to be no constituency relationship between semantic content and the mind. Another way to put this is to say that semantic externalism only yields mental externalism if the contents of mental states are essential to those states; but the environmental conditions in question are not, or do not seem to be, essential to what we might well mean by mental states (Rowlands 2003, Ch. 7).
Active externalism, by contrast, attempts to identify the physical base of the mind as external. Clark and Chalmers took it that they first showed that the physical base of (some) cognition is external; then they added beliefs, which are clearly mental states, to the picture, and tried to show that the physical base of not only cognition, but also the mind, is external. Since beliefs are not only mental states, but also cognitive states, one way to construe this argument for active externalism is to say that a hidden contention within active externalism is, or seems to be, expressed in the following identity statement:
A: The physical base of cognition is the physical base of the mind.
In assessing the credibility of A we are brought to an examination from which the plausibility of extended mind, I suggest, emerges.
Critics of active externalism argue that the physical base of cognition is not extended. A fine recent criticism of active externalism is Adams and Aizawa’s The Bounds of Cognition (2008). Adams and Aizawa maintain that cognition only occurs in the substrate of non-derived representation and in the substrate with a certain sort of mechanism. That mechanism, they maintain, could be outside the brain, but is not, at the moment, outside the brain (Adams and Aizawa 2008, 9). After careful applications of these criteria, they conclude that, given what exists, the physical base of cognition is internal to the brain.
One way to take this argument against active externalism is to take it that Adams and Aizawa agree with A. Looked at this way, Adams and Aizawa’s view states that since cognition is not extended, but is only physically based in the brain, and since the physical base of cognition is the base of the mind, then the mind is not extended.
However, there are other ways to interpret the content of Adams and Aizawa’s remarks. One might focus on the modality, what could be the case, though it is, in Adam’s and Aizawa’s view, not currently the case. This tack (closely related to Clark and Chalmers’ portability arguments, 1998, section 3, one interpretation of which also rejects A) will not be followed here, but, rather, another tack, that, too, undoes A, will be sketched. It will be shown that there is no inconsistency between accepting Adams and Aizawa’s view that the extent of the base of cognition is only in the brain, and rejecting A. Some writers, e.g., Hacker and Bennett 2003, hold or imply that the base of the personal (human) mind is the whole intuitively picked out body (Hacker and Bennett: 3, and throughout). Adams and Aizawa say that orthodox psychologists take cognition to be internal to the brain, and so, if Hacker and Bennett accept A, then Hacker and Bennett reject the content of Adams and Aizawa’s psychological orthodoxy. Yet Hacker and Bennett’s approach demonstrates the consistency of the views that there is a technical psychological notion to be called cognition, that cognition is internal to the brain, and that the whole organism is the base of the mind. Orthodox psychologists, too, can hold cognition to be internal to the brain, and can reject the identity expressed in A. That allows for something broader than Hacker and Bennett’s view of the mind.
Given the modality, and given the many views in psychology, including philosophical psychology, what shall we make of the central claim of the active mind externalists, that the human mind is extended?
Adams and Aizawa (2008 x, 106-7, 146), and all members of the philosophical community who are interested in the topic, agree that what was defined above as the fognitive system is extended: the fognitive system includes things in the brain, in the intuitively picked out body, and in its environment. The notion of fognition allows all, both exponents and critics of the view that cognition is extended, to hold that A is false and yet the personal mind is extended. Whether those who hold that the base of cognition is only in the brain agree that the mind is extended depends on the degree to which they agree with the putative identity expressed in B:
B: The base of fognition is the base of the mind.
Further, B seems to be at least as credible as A. A lot of the operations in the mind are subconscious or non-conscious. But then whether or not an element is a part of the generating system of conscious cognition seems to be irrelevant. The focus should be on dispositional states and the mind.
The dispositional structure – a functional structure – seems to be independent of whether or not something is a part of the base yielding consciousness. Given the many subconscious or non-conscious features in the physio-chemical, biological, or neurophysiological base of the mind, the only thing that seems to be functionally required for something to be part of the base of the mind is that it be part of the base of fognition. Then the non-conscious aspect of a notebook in one’s pocket doesn’t prevent the notebook in one’s pocket from being part of the base of the mind.
There is another way to put this point. One could try to limit the base of the mind, taking it only to be the base of conscious cognition. But this would yield many counterintuitive results: the many levels of consciousness, sub-consciousness, and nonconsciousness, for instance, make it hard to arrive at a suitable distinction. And we don’t know yet if any region(s) of the brain can be located as the base of conscious cognition. It may well be that the continuities are too extensive for such picking out to occur. And we do want the dispositional states to count in a criterion for the mind; a human in deep sleep should still be regarded as having a vast array of mental structures usably stored in some way. But then, once we allow these in-the-brain dispositional structures to be included, we should also allow what the critics of active externalism call the non-cognitive dispositional structures to be included too. In short, that which is dispositionally fognitive seems to be all that is required for a system-base to be the base of the mind.
Supposing that Adams and Aizawa and other orthodox cognition theorists are right – that the base of cognition is only in the brain, whereas fognition extends beyond the brain and beyond the ordinarily picked out human body – it could still be that the base of cognition together with the representational sources of cognition inside or outside the ordinary body, add up to the base of the mind. Accordingly, it would seem, since fognition is extended, the base of the personal mind is extended too. This defends the main conclusion of the active externalists in a way that sidesteps the key point defended by central critics of active externalism, namely, that cognition occurs, at the moment, entirely in the brain. The main thesis of the active mind externalists is not at all implausible, despite various vigorous criticisms based on the location of cognition.
Let this be put more positively: The central theme of active mind externalists is plausible. More than that, it is intriguing. But of what further use is this intriguing notion? There are a few hints and modest suggestions at the end of Clark and Chalmers’ paper. Here, a much larger result will be taken to follow from the active extended mind view. I will claim that the active extended mind view is complemented by another intriguing intellectual view, that the underlying human body is extended beyond the ordinary human body. Then I will suggest that these two intriguing intellectual views have strong practical applications. One is in humanism and one in religion. And then I will suggest that whatever view one holds on extended mind, extended body, extended humanism, and extended religion, one should agree that there is an institutional extension of secularism. It will take a bit of time to expose these points, but the fourfold outcome is important.