The Extended Mind

I recently read a very interesting article in Discover magazine (yes I still read print) about the concept of the extended mind.  This refers to an emerging concept within the philosophy of mind that addresses the question as to the division point between the mind and the environment by promoting the view of active externalism. This view proposes that some objects in the external environment are utilized by the mind in such a way that the objects can be seen as extensions of the mind itself. Specifically, the mind is seen to encompass every level of the cognitive process, which will often include the use of environmental aids.

This article got me thinking how technology, particularly the Internet, has extended my view of my life over the past 17 years. Back in 1991 I used a computer to write papers or store some very basic financial information. I did not really 100% trust my computer then,  so I would keep hard copies of everything important stored on my computer. Over time, I started to view my computer as somewhat as an extension of myself that I stopped keeping hard copies and felt like if I need to access music or my tax info I could easily type a few commands to access that information. Flash forward to 2009 and I keep almost nothing important on my computer, instead my life life is stored somewhere in the pipes of the Internet. My finances, memories, resume, work, knowledge, documents, communication, friends, and my thoughts are all stored somewhere out in the ether. This information instead of being stored in some random section of memory in my Brian is now stored in some random computers scattered around the world connected to hardware and cable, which has become my extended mind..

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One thought on “The Extended Mind

  1. It is an interesting idea.

    One question would be the relationship between the extended mind and consciousness. I can agree that computers, the Internet and other such technologies are in some sense–at least metaphorically–extensions of my mind. However one important aspect of the mind is consciousness and I guess I’m not quite ready to ascribe consciousness to the Internet.

    Having said that, one camp in the philosophy of mind thinks that consciousness isn’t some kind of “special sauce” that exists independently of its physical substratum; rather it’s a property that emerges out of a certain kind of organization. I have no idea whether that’s right or not (and no idea how we would ever determine it) but if it’s correct then who’s to say that the “extended mind” won’t eventually be an extended consciousness as well. Skynet here we come!

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