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.