February 9, 2009

Andy Clark: Supersizing the Mind

There's a new book by Andy Clark worth checking out: Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension. This will be of interest to readers of this blog in that it's a discussion of the so-called "extended mind."

When historian Charles Weiner found pages of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman's notes, he saw it as a "record" of Feynman's work. Feynman himself, however, insisted that the notes were not a record but the work itself. In Supersizing the Mind , Andy Clark argues that our thinking doesn't happen only in our heads but that "certain forms of human cognizing include inextricable tangles of feedback, feed-forward and feed-around loops: loops that promiscuously criss-cross the boundaries of brain, body and world." The pen and paper of Feynman's thought are just such feedback loops, physical machinery that shape the flow of thought and enlarge the boundaries of mind. Drawing upon recent work in psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, robotics, human-computer systems, and beyond, Supersizing the Mind offers both a tour of the emerging cognitive landscape and a sustained argument in favor of a conception of mind that is extended rather than "brain-bound." The importance of this new perspective is profound. If our minds themselves can include aspects of our social and physical environments, then the kinds of social and physical environments we create can reconfigure our minds and our capacity for thought and reason.
Be sure to read Jerry Fodor's review from the London Review of Books and David Chalmer's comments.

1 comment:

Robin said...

Thank you for posting this! I had no idea Clark had a new book out, which is vaguely embarassing as I'm teaching a class on his work next semester and was planning to use Natural Born Cyborgs as the text. Now I'll have to grab the new one and see what else it has to offer. (Jerry Fodor's responses to these things never fail to give me a good chuckle. I respect him immensely, but it's sort of like Republican criticism of current attempts to clean up their messes in America - he hasn't changed his story since the 70s or earlier, and his research project hasn't moved forward since then. I just don't think the old GOFAI guard are the right people to be commenting on Situated Action, in the face of one's failures and one's successes.)