Mindscapes and Landscapes: The Extended Mind

It’s been ten years since a snappy and provocative paper by Andy Clark and David Chalmers (1998) audaciously burst upon the philosophical scene. Given that the paper had been rejected three years earlier by three major journals (Chalmers 2008, 42), it must surely have come as an enormous surprise to the authors that a veritable Extended Mind (EM) cottage industry has since been generated by their paper. Whether or not one subscribes to the Clark-Chalmers argument or variations thereof, what cannot be denied is the palpable excitement and overall quality of the EM literature – philosophy of mind has been greatly enriched by this topic. EM forces one to take seriously the idea that cognition has an embodied, social and artefactual dimension – indeed, mind exists at the intersection of this trinity.

The EM literature is as controversial as it is suggestive. [1] It should be no surprise then that EM has taken wing in a context that its progenitors, in all probability, did not anticipate. All the contributors here have an established interest in matters of cognition and religion, though not necessarily for the same motivations. Of the group Rowlands and I are best considered as skeptics.[2] This stance does not present discontinuity or dissonance: a highly attractive feature of Zygon is that the editorial policy has been incredibly ecumenical with writers of all persuasions engaging one another across disciplines and across belief systems. Just about a decade ago, Andresen and Forman (2000, 7-8) called upon “religious studies to explore how consciousness functions and how it may play a role in the constitution of reality, in spiritual experience, in the generation of doctrine, and in ritual and meditative life.” This is precisely the conversational character that Zygon has been promoting for many years now. Beyond the table-thumping tone characteristic of recent best sellers (Marsh 2006), there is a great deal of sober discussion of religious experience from a naturalistic perspective, a notable example being Loyal Rue (Marsh 2007). So much for the disclaimer.

Rowlands’ brief (2009) is to survey the EM literature – few are better placed to do so since Rowlands himself is a major player in the EM world. At first blush, the Clark-Chalmers argument presents a challenge to traditional notions of personal identity. Lynne Rudder Baker (2009), a preeminent metaphysician with an established interest in religion, is well-placed to examine these issues. Teed Rockwell (2009) through his intimate knowledge of Buddhism together with the non-Cartesian sensibility that drives his philosophy of mind – negotiates EM border skirmishes. Joel Krueger (2009) incorporates the current hot topic in philosophy of mind – simulation theory – with discussion of empathy filtered through EM and Zen Buddhism. Leonard Angel (2009) presses the notion of EM into the service of formulating a new understanding of the concept of humanism. Matthew Day (2009) rounds off this collection by examining the sociological implications of EM for the study of religion.

It is probably a good idea that one read the Clark and Chalmers paper as soon as possible – it is brief, accessible and easily available. If, after reading this and the papers comprising this symposium, one were inclined to negotiate a burgeoning literature, I’d recommend that one tackle the somewhat sparse critical literature to help crystallize the issues. By far, the best critiques are by Adams & Aizawa (2008) and Rupert (2004, forthcoming). Clark’s latest (2008) offers a spirited defense of EM having the benefit of assimilating these sustained critiques. There are other influential EM theorists worth checking out: notably Noë, Hurley, Hutchins, Thompson and Wilson, referenced in one or more of the papers here. The exceptional vibrancy of the EM literature is well worth engaging with.

NOTES

I want to thank Phil Hefner for charging me, yet again, with organizing a symposium and Debra Van Der Molen and the Zygon editorial team for making the editorial mechanics so straight-forward. In addition to thanking the contributors I want to pay tribute to the referees: Kenneth Aizawa (Centenary College of Louisiana); Tony Chemero (Franklin and Marshall College); Harry Collins (Cardiff University); Adam Holland (University of Technology, Sydney); Anna Marmodoro (University of Oxford); David Spurrett (University of KwaZulu-Natal), Joel Parthemore (University of Sussex); David Skrbina (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor); Liz Stillwagon Swan (State University of New York at Buffalo) and Geoffrey Thomas (Birkbeck College, University of London).

1. The term “extended mind” has also been associated with biologist Rupert Sheldrake. The notion of EM as used in this symposium bears no resemblance at all to Sheldrake’s telepathic Theory of Morphic Fields which posits the idea that mind extends beyond the brain like a magnetic field with the ability to reach, touch, and influence things.
2. Some might have come across Rowlands’ writing as an ardent secularist thinker: http://secularphilosophy.com/. My brand of skepticism was articulated in Marsh (2006, 2007, 2009).

REFERENCES

Adams, Frederick and Kenneth Aizawa. 2008. The Bounds of Cognition. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Andresen, Jensine and Robert Forman. 2000. “Methodological Pluralism in the Study of Religion: How the Study of Consciousness and Mapping Spiritual Experience Can Reshape Religious Methodology.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 7 No. 11-12: 7-14.
Angel, Leonard. 2009. Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science ??
Baker, Lynne Rudder. 2009. Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science ??
Chalmers, David. 2008. “A piece of iMe.” An Extended Interview on the Extended Mind with David Chalmers. The Philosophers’ Magazine issue 43: 41-49
Clark, Andy. 2008. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clark, Andy and David Chalmers. 1998. “The Extended Mind.” Analysis 58:10-23. Also available in Clark 2008 and online.
Day, Matthew. 2009. Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science ??
Krueger, Joel. 2009. Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science ??
Marsh, Leslie. 2006. Review of Daniel Dennett: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Journal of Mind and Behavior Vol. 27 No. 3& 4: 357-366.
___________ 2007. “Taking the Super out of the Supernatural (or a Manifesto for a Latter-Day Pantheism).” Zygon: Journal of Science and Religion. Vol. 42 No. 2: 343-356.
_____________(2009). “Reflecting on Michael Oakeshott.” Zygon: Journal of Science and Religion Vol. 44 No. 1: 47-51.
Rowlands, Mark 2009. “The Extended Mind.” Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science ??
Rupert, Robert. 2004. “Challenges to the Hypothesis of Extended Cognition.” Journal of Philosophy 101: 389-428.
________________(forthcoming). Cognitive Systems and the Extended Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, Robert. 2004. Boundaries of the Mind: The Individual in the Fragile Sciences. Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge University Press.