Philospot

Some friends of mine have recently alerted me to some strange things my old sparring partner, Ken Aizawa, has been saying about my work on his blog (www.theboundsofcognition.blogspot.com).

Ken accuses me of being a proponent of what he calls revolutionary extended cognition. That is, I apparently believe that all cognitive processes are extended. This is a very strange and implausible view that I do not endorse, and never have endorsed.

Ken cites passage such as these as evidence in favor of his interpretation. This is from The Body in Mind (1999)

"I shall argue that there is no theoretically respectable reason for separating the mind off from the world in the way the internalist picture tells us we should. There is, in other words, no theoretically respectable reason for thinking of cognitive processes as purely and exclusively internal items. And to say there is no theoretically respectable reason, here, simply means that there is no reason that can be derived from psychological theory as such. The parsing of the realm of cognition into, on the one hand, cognitive processes that are conceived of as purely internal items and, on the other, external causes, stimuli, or cues of these internal items is not something that is demanded by our theorizing about the mind, but an optional extra. It is a pre-theoretical picture we use to interpret our explicit theorizing, not something mandated by that theorizing. It is, in short, a mythology."

But note, of course, that in this passage I don't say precisely why there is no theoretically respectable reason for thinking of cognitive processes as purely and exclusively internal items. Is it because I believe that all cognitive processes are extended? Or is it because I believe that some cognitive processes are extended?

The answer can be found in surrounding text. In particular, passages such as:

"I shall not argue that all processes of remembering necessarily involve manipulation of environmental structures. On the contrary, I shall assume that some types of memory do not involve such manipulation, at least not necessarily, and that, therefore, these types of memory may turn out to be purely internal in character." (123)

"There are essentially two distinct conclusions defended by Part 1 [of the book], one metaphysical, the other epistemological ... The metaphysical claim is that not all cognitive processes occur inside the head or skin of cognizing organisms." (29)

"For at least some memory processes, that is, there is no respectable reason for regarding them as purely internal processes." (119)

I have to admit that when I wrote The Body in Mind I wasn't really concerned with distancing myself from the claim that all cognitive processes were extended. That is because I regarded, and still do regard, the claim as so ludicrous that nobody could possibly foist such a bizarre interpretation on my work. In hindsight, it seems I was overly optimistic.

As readers of my autobiography (The Philosopher and the Wolf) might remember, when I wrote The Body in Mind - this would have been in the mid-late nineties, it came out in 1999) - my life was dominated by a large, and rather destructive, wolf, Brenin, together with his sidekicks, Nina and Tess. The upshot was that I didn't get out very much. But after Brenin's death, when I got on the philosophical circuit - talks, conferences - I began to realize that, in fact, some people did think of extended cognition as this absurd thesis that all cognitive processes are extended. And, so my denunciations gradually became more strident. This passage, taken from my paper ‘Enactivism and the extended mind' (2009) is typical:

"Finally, EM [the thesis of the extended mind] does not make a blanket claim about all mental processes. EM can view with equanimity the strong likelihood that the composition of some, even many, mental processes is exclusively neural. EM claims only that exclusive neural composition is not true of all mental processes ... EM claims that some, but not all, cognitive processes are ones partly and contingently composed of processes of environmental manipulation, exploitation and transformation. Thus, contrary to popular belief, EM is compatible with the possibility of a brain in a vat."

I'm not sure it's possible to be much clearer than that. (And I am equally emphatic in The New Science of the Mind: e.g. ‘The general idea is that at least some - not all, but some - extend into the cognizing organism's environment' p. 58) I choose this paper because Ken has also devoted a few blog entries to it. So, he's apparently read the paper but still wants to claim that I'm a proponent of revolutionary extended cognition. Weird.

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