Zygon: Extended Mind Symposium

In anticipation of the symposium on the Extended Mind that I’m editing for Zygon, I can now make available the abstracts.

Mark Rowlands

The extended mind is the thesis that some mental – typically cognitive – processes are partly composed of operations performed by cognizing organisms on the world around them. The operations in questions are ones of manipulation, transformation or exploitation of environmental structures. And the structures in question are ones that carry information pertinent to the success or efficacy of the cognitive process in question. This paper examines the thesis of the extended mind, and evaluates the arguments for and against it.

Teed Rockwell

Certain philosophers and scientists have noticed that there is data that does not seem to fit with the traditional view known as the Mind/Brain identity theory (MBI). This has inspired a new theory about the mind known as The Hypothesis of Extended Cognition (HEC). Now there is a growing controversy over whether this data actually requires extending the mind out beyond the brain. These arguments, despite their empirical diversity, have an underlying form. They are all disputes over where to draw the line between intrinsic and relational causal powers. Nagarjuna, the second century Buddhist philosopher, deals with similar issues when he argues for a middle way between the two positions that were known in his time by the terms “Eternalism” and “Nihilism.” Eternalism, like the modern MBI, asserts that the mind is a permanent enduring substance (although the two theories disagree as to how long Mind endures.). Nihilism argued that the mind had no intrinsic existence, and today some people argue that HEC could lead us to a similar conclusion. Nagarjuna’s argument for a middle-way between these two extremes is similar to an argument that can be made for modern HEC. We can accept that neither the brain nor any other single physical item is identical to the mind, without falling down the slippery slope that leads to “the mind doesn’t really exist, and therefore we are one with everything”. Nagarjuna was right when he said that the mind has conventional reality. This means that the mind exists even though there is no single sharp border between the mind and the world.

Lynne Rudder Baker

The extended-mind thesis (EM) is the claim that mentality need not be situated just in the brain, or even within the boundaries of the skin. Some versions take “extended selves” be to relatively transitory couplings of biological organisms and external resources. First, I show how EM can be seen as an extension of traditional views of mind. Then, after voicing a couple of qualms about EM, I reject EM in favor of a more modest hypothesis that recognizes enduring subjects of experience and agents with integrated bodies. Nonetheless, my modest hypothesis allows subpersonal states to have nonbiological parts that play essential roles in cognitive processing. I present empirical warrant for this modest hypothesis, and show how it leaves room for science and religion to co-exist.

Leonard Angel

First, this paper shows how the extension of the system that includes the key substrates for sensation, perception, emotion, volition, and cognition, and all representational sources for cognition, supports the view that there is an extended mind and an extended body. These intellectual views, the paper then suggests, can be made practical in a humanist system based on extensions, and in religious systems based on extensions. Independently, there is also, I maintain, an institutional extension of secularism. Hence, I maintain, there are five principal forms of extension.

Matthew Day


This essay takes up the question of how models of extended cognition might redirect the academic study of religion. Entering into a conversation of sorts with Emile Durkheim and Bruno Latour regarding the “overtakenness” of social agency, the essay concludes that a robust account of extended religious cognition results in two specific proposals. First, religious studies should take up the methodological principle of symmetry that informs contemporary histories of science and begin theorizing the efficacy of gods as social actors. Second, theorists of religion should begin noting how the work required to construct spaces in which the gods appear depend upon the construction of disciplined and capable subjects.

Joel Krueger


I draw upon the conceptual resources of the extended mind thesis (EM) to analyze empathy and interpersonal understanding. Against the dominant mentalistic paradigm, I argue that empathy is fundamentally an “extended” bodily activity, and that much of our social understanding happens outside of the head. First, I look at how the two dominant models of interpersonal understanding, Theory Theory and Simulation Theory, portray the cognitive link between folk psychology and empathy. Next, I challenge their internalist orthodoxy and offer an alternative “extended” characterization of empathy. In support of this characterization, I analyze some narratives of individuals with Moebius Syndrome, a particular kind of expressive deficit resulting from bilateral facial paralysis. I conclude by discussing how a Zen Buddhist ethics of responsiveness is helpful for articulating the practical significance of an extended, body-based account of empathy.