David Chalmers and Andy Clark Interview

This from the New Philosopher.

Andy’s colleagues at Edinburgh in the epistemology department proposed the extended knowledge project, where you start thinking of knowledge as this extended process that involves interaction with the environment.

I’ve been calling it stigmergic epistemology.



Neurotechnology, Invasiveness and the Extended Mind

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


Stigmergic epistemology, stigmergic cognition

Here is the intro and conclusion to Chris and my paper:

To know is to cognize, to cognize is to be a culturally bounded, rationality-bounded and environmentally located agent. Knowledge and cognition are thus dual aspects of human sociality. If social epistemology has the formation, acquisition, mediation, transmission and dissemination of knowledge in complex communities of knowers as its subject matter, then its third party character is essentially stigmergic. In its most generic formulation, stigmergy is the phenomenon of indirect communication mediated by modifications of the environment. Extending this notion one might conceive of stigmergy as the extra-cranial analog of artificial neural networks or the extended mind. With its emphasis on coordination, it acts as the binding agent for the epistemic and the cognitive. Coordination is, as David Kirsh (2006, p. 250) puts it, “the glue of distributed cognition”. This paper, therefore, recommends a stigmergic framework for social epistemology to account for the supposed tension between individual action, wants and beliefs and the social corpora: paradoxes associated with complexity and unintended consequences. A corollary to stigmergic epistemology is stigmergic cognition, again running on the idea that modifiable environmental considerations need to be factored into cognitive abilities. In this sense, we take the extended mind thesis to be essentially stigmergic in character.

This paper proceeds as follows. In Section 2, we set out the formal specifications of stigmergy. In Section 3, we illustrate the essentially stigmergic characteristics of social epistemology. In Section 4, we examine extended mind externalism as the preeminent species of stigmergic cognition. In Section 5 we illustrate how the particle swarm optimization (PSO) algorithm for the optimization of a function could be understood as a useful tool for different processes of social cognition, ranging from the learning of publicly available knowledge by an individual knower, to the evolution of scientific knowledge. In Section 6, we offer some concluding remarks.


A great deal of ground has been covered in the course of which we have made a case for two central claims:

1. Social epistemology has the formation, acquisition, mediation, transmission and dissemination of knowledge in complex communities of knowers as its subject matter. Such knowledge is, for the most part, third party and as such it is knowledge that is conditioned and modified. Understood thus, social epistemology is essentially stigmergic.

2. One might conceive of social connectionism as the extra-cranial analog of an artificial neural network providing epistemic structure. The extended mind thesis (at least the Clarkean variant) runs on the idea that modifiable environmental considerations need to be factored into cognitive abilities. This notion of cognition is thus essentially stigmergic.

With 1 and 2 in mind, two disclaimers are in order. First, a stigmergical socio-cognitive view of knowledge and mind should not be construed as (a) the claim that mental states are somewhere other than in the head or, (b) the corollary, that as individualists, we do not think that what is outside the head has nothing to do with what ends up in the head. A stigmergic approach, necessarily dual aspect, does not require one to dispense with one or the other. There is no methodological profit whatsoever to throwing out the Cartesian baby along with the bath water. Second, a socio-cognitive view of mind and knowledge be not be mistaken as a thesis for strong social constructivism, the idea all facts are socially constructed (a denial that reality in some way impinges upon mind) – again, it would be inconsistent with the environmental emphasis entailed by stigmergy.

For Clark, “[M]uch of what goes on in the complex world of humans, may thus, somewhat surprisingly, be understood in terms of so-called stigmergic algorithms.” (Clark, 1996, p. 279). Traditional cases of stigmergic systems include stock markets, economies, traffic patterns, supply logistics and resource allocation (Hadeli, Valckenaers, Kollingbaum, & Van Brussel, 2004), urban sprawl, and cultural memes. New forms of stigmergy have been exponentially expanded through the affordances of digital technology: we’ve expounded upon Google’s RP and Amazon’s CF but of course include wiki, open source software, weblogs, and a whole range of “social media” that comprise the World Wide Web. These particular examples serve to make the wider stigmergical point that the Janus-like aspect of knowledge and cognition must be set against a background fabric of cultural possibility: individuals draw their self-understanding from what is conceptually to hand in historically specific societies or civilizations, a preexisting complex web of linguistic, technological, social, political and institutional constraints.

It is no surprise then that it has been claimed that stigmergic systems are so ubiquitous a feature of human sociality, it would be more difficult to find institutions that are not stigmergic ( Parunak, 2005 and Tummolini and Castelfrananchi, 2007). If stigmergy were merely coextensive with “the use of external structures to control, prompt, and coordinate individual actions” (Clark, 1997, p. 186), then the concept would amount to a claim about situated cognition in all its dimensionality Solomon, 2006b. While stigmergy includes these aspects, it distinctively emphasizes the cybernetic loop of agent → environment → agent → enviro nment through an ongoing and mutual process of modification and conditioning, appearing to dissolve the supposed tension between the self-serving individual and the social corpora at large through indirect interaction. Though this process of behavior modification has long since been identified by both PSE and SSE theorists, only recently has there begun a concerted effort ( Turner, 2001 and Turner, 2003) to, as Ron Sun puts it (Sun, 2006) “cognitivize” human sociality. Social theory and cognitive science must now recognize the virtues of a “cognitivized” approach to all things social.


Quintuple Extension: Mind, Body, Humanism, Religion, Secularism

Here is the intro to Leonard’s article.

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.


Minds, Intrinsic Properties, and Madhyamaka Buddhism

Here is the intro to Teed’s article.

Those of us who defend the Hypothesis of Extended Cognition (HEC) get criticized from two different perspectives which, to use a political metaphor, could be called radical and conservative. Because HEC was born in the cognitive science community, most of the criticism comes from epistemological conservatives i. e. from those who want to conserve the idea that the mind is best described as being in some sense identified with the brain. These critics want to be assured that there is some place where the mind stops and the world begins, and believe that the brain is the best place to draw the line. Outside the orthodox cognitive science community, however, there are readers from the radical epistemological “left,” who welcome HEC as some version of the claim that we are “one with everything”. The most articulate and cautious of these radicals is David Skrbina, who argues that if I were to follow through with my own logic, I would accept “a kind of full-blown panpsychism” (Skrbina 2006). It is possible that I could be persuaded to agree with Skrbina about this, depending on how we define our terms, and what level of reality he is willing to grant to discrete individual minds. That, however, would be a topic for another time. In this paper, I will only concern myself with those who see my position (whether approvingly or disapprovingly) as a kind of muddled monistic mysticism. These causal readers serve an important function in the debate, by providing a reductio ad absurdum argument against HEC for the Conservatives. If HEC really required us to abandon all distinctions between mind and world, it could not be the next paradigm in Cognitive Science. On the contrary, it would require us to abandon cognitive science altogether. One reason that my version of HEC sometimes receives this radical interpretation is that I believe the mind is best described as a behavioral field, rather than a single item such as a brain or a body. There is also the fact that I occasionally describe this behavioral field with somewhat evocative language that might be appealing to the radicals, such as “Consciousness could be a pattern which, like a vibration started by throwing a stone in the water, ripples through the world even though there is a biological creature at its center” (Rockwell 2005, 103). However, it is my intention to position myself in a kind of “middle way” between these radical and conservative extremes, even though my position is more radical than some other HEC theorists. For example, Andy Clark’s version of HEC does try to give fairly hard and fast criteria for identifying the mind with certain kinds of external cognitive “scaffolding”, such as the note book that aides the memory of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. (Clark and Chalmers 1998, 17). Unlike Clark, however, I am inclined to believe that drawing a single line between the self and the world outside the brain is probably even more misleading than trying to draw the line at the brain. Consequently, I think we should abandon the idea that there is a single place where the line can always be drawn. This is what makes some of my readers accuse me of rejecting “the analytic distinctions of self and world.” (McCarthy 2006), and thus embracing the radical “we are one with everything” position. This is a misinterpretation, however, because I also insist that “To say that the mind emerges from the brain-body-world nexus does not mean that there is no world, only a mind. The line between the self and the world must always be drawn somewhere . . .That is what it means to live in a world.” (Rockwell 2005, 104) I do not identify the mind with the entire brain-body-world nexus, because I believe that the line between the self and world must be drawn somewhere at any given moment. But this does not necessarily imply that there is a single place that the line can be drawn for all conscious creatures, or for a single conscious creature throughout its history. A great deal of useful scientific work can be done by drawing the line at the skull, but the books that defend HEC describe scientific work that needs to draw the line in a variety of other places. I think the best way to account for both mainstream neuroscience and this other more problematic work is to see the boundary between self and world as flexible. That is why I feel the mind is best described as a behavioral field rather than as an organ in the skull.