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.



In your face: transcendence in embodied interaction

A new open access article by Sean Gallagher (there currently seems to be some problem with the journal’s website but will hopefully be resolved).

In cognitive psychology, studies concerning the face tend to focus on questions about face recognition, theory of mind (ToM) and empathy. Questions about the face, however, also fit into a very different set of issues that are central to ethics. Based especially on the work of Levinas, philosophers have come to see that reference to the face of another person can anchor conceptions of moral responsibility and ethical demand. Levinas points to a certain irreducibility and transcendence implicit in the face of the other. In this paper I argue that the notion of transcendence involved in this kind of analysis can be given a naturalistic interpretation by drawing on recent interactive approaches to social cognition found in developmental psychology, phenomenology, and the study of autism.



Socially Extended Cognition

Another extended mind themed issue from Cognitive Systems Research, the anchor paper being Shaun Gallagher’s The Socially Extended Mind. 

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 socially extended mind

Spot on Shaun!!! This is exactly what I’ve been banging on about over the past six years – very nice validation from a top-notch theorist. The fruits of my labour will be available in its full form next year as a book entitled Stigmergic Cognition.


Rupert interview on extended mind

The VERY excellent Rob Rupert on naturalistic theories of mental content and no surprise – extended mind. Also with Jonno Sutton and Richard Menary sandwiched in between Rob. H/T to Ken Aizawa for the alert. Here is a link to my collection of  “Rupertiana“.