|Main interests||Philosophy of mind|
|Notable ideas||Extended mind|
Andy Clark is a Professor of Philosophy and Chair in Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Before this he was director of the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University in Bloomington. Previously, he taught at Washington University at St. Louis and the University of Sussex in England. Clark is one of the founding members of the Contact collaborative research project whose aim is to investigate the role environment plays in shaping the nature of conscious experience. Professor Clark’s papers and books deal with the philosophy of mind and he is considered a leading scientist in mind extension. He has also written extensively on connectionism, robotics, and the role and nature of mental representation.
Clark’s work explores a number of disparate but interrelated themes. Many of these themes run against established wisdom in cognitive processing and representation. According to traditional computational accounts, the function of the mind is understood as the process of creating, storing, and updating internal representations of the world, on the basis of which other processes and actions may take place. Representations are updated to correspond with an environment in accordance with the function, goal-state, or desire of the system in question at any given time. Thus, learning a new route through a (presumably, maze-like) building would be mirrored in a change in the representation of that building. Action, on this view, is the outcome of a process which determines the best way to achieve the goal-state or desire, based on current representations. Such a determinative process may be the purview of a Cartesian 'central executive' or a distributed process like homuncular decomposition.
According to Clark, the computational model, which forms the philosophical foundation of Artificial Intelligence, engenders several intractable problems. One of the most comptuationally salient of these problems is an informational bottleneck: if it is the job of the mind to construct detailed inner representations of the external world in order determine apposite action, and the world is constantly changing, the informational demands on the mental system will almost certainly preclude any action taking place. For Clark, we really need very little information about the world before we may act effectively upon it. We tend to be susceptible to a ‘grand illusion’ where our impression of a richly detailed world obscures a reality of minimal environmental information and quick action. We needn’t reconstruct the world within, as the world is able to serve as its own best model from which we extract information on a ‘just-in-time’ basis.
The Extended Mind
Clark is perhaps most famous for his defence of the hypothesis of the extended mind. According to Clark, the dynamic loops through which mind and world interact are not merely instrumental. The cycle of activity that runs from brain through body and world and back again actually constitutes cognition. The mind, on this account, is not bounded by the biological organism but extends into the environment of that organism. Consider two subjects carry out a mathematical task. The first completes the task solely in her head, while the second completes the task with the assistance of paper and pencil. By Clark’s ‘parity principle’, as long as the cognitive results are the same there is no reason to count the means employed by the two subjects as different. The process of cognition in the second case involves paper and pencil, and the conception of ‘mind’ appropriate to this subject must include these environmental items.
Clark concedes that in practice the criterion of equal efficiency (required by the parity principle?) is seldom met. Nonetheless, he proposes that the boundary of ‘skin and skull’ is arbitrary and cognitively meaningless. If the paper and pencil used by the second subject becomes a virtual ‘paper and pencil’ visible on a monitor and controlled by a silicon chip implanted in the head, the similarity between the two situations becomes clearer.
Clark foresees the development of cognitive prosthetics, or electronic brain enhancements (EBEs), as only the next logical step in the human mind’s natural integration with technology. Clark’s research interests also include wetwiring and other human-electronic integration experiments, as well as technological advances in immediate human communication and their utilization in society.
Books by Andy Clark:
- Microcognition: Philosophy, Cognitive Science and Parallel Distributed Processing (1989)
- Associative Engines: Connectionism, Concepts and Representational Change (1993)
- Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again (1997)
- Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science (2001)
- Natural Born Cyborgs (Published: 2004)
- Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (2008)
- Cognitive Science (journal)
- Connection Science
- Minds and Machines
- Philosophy and Society
- Pragmatics and Cognition
- Cognitive Science Quarterly
- Behavioral and Brain Sciences
- "CONTACT - Consciousness in Interaction". linus.media.unisi.it. 2006 [last update]. Retrieved October 3, 2011.