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