Extended mind thesis

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The extended mind thesis (EMT) says that an agent's mind and associated cognitive processing are neither skull-bound nor even body-bound, but extend into the agent's world.[1] As Clark and Chalmers put it:

Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?...We propose to pursue... an active externalism, based on the active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes.

— Andy Clark and David Chalmers: "The Extended Mind"[2]

The question is raised as to the division point between the mind and the environment. The EMT 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.


Philosophical arguments against the extended mind thesis include the following.[3]

  1. When focusing on cognition, the thesis confuses claims about what is constitutive about the concept of cognition with claims about causal influences on cognition (the "causal-constitutional fallacy"). For example, Adams and Aizawa (2010) write, "Question: Why did the pencil think that 2 + 2 = 4?, Clark’s Answer: Because it was coupled to the mathematician."
  2. It stretches the limits of our ordinary concept of cognition too far ("cognitive bloating"), potentially implying that everything on the Internet is part of individual cognitive systems.
  3. It uses a coarse-grained functionalism about the mind that ignores plausible differences between internal and external processes, such as differences between beliefs and external props and devices; or for creating a notion of cognition too heterogeneous to make up a scientific natural kind.

Each of these arguments is addressed in Clark (2008), in which he notes:[4]

  1. While coupling is important for cognition, that is not to say that it is sufficient – the coupling must play a functional role in cognition. Many couplings do not do so and thus would not be 'extensions' (and this is consistent with a strong extended mind thesis).
  2. Any putative part of a system – internal or external – is unlikely to yield "cognition" on its own. Thus, examples such as calculators, pencils, should be considered in parallel with neural regions. Simply looking at the part is not enough for cognition.
  3. One can imagine circumstances under which a biological being might retain information in non-neural ways (a hypothetical Martian with a bitmap-based memory, or humans with prosthetics to support memory). Thus, being neural cannot be a necessary condition for being cognitive.

While in Supersizing the Mind Clark defends a strong version of the hypothesis of extended cognition (contrasted with a hypothesis of embedded cognition) in other work, some of these objections have inspired more moderate reformulations of the extended mind thesis. Thus, the extended mind thesis may no longer depend on the parity considerations of Clark and Chalmers' original argument but, instead, emphasize the "complementarity" of internal and external elements of cognitive systems or processes. This version might be understood as emphasizing the explanatory value of the extended mind thesis for cognitive science rather than maintaining it as an ontological claim about the nature of mind or cognition.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilson, Robert A.; Foglia, Lucia (July 25, 2011). Edward N. Zalta, ed. "Embodied Cognition". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition). 
  2. ^ Andy Clark; David J Chalmers (January 1998). "The Extended Mind". Analysis. 58 (1): 7–19. doi:10.1093/analys/58.1.7. ; reprinted as: Andy Clark; David J Chalmers (2010). "Chapter 2: The extended mind". In Richard Menary. The Extended Mind. MIT Press. pp. 27–42. ISBN 9780262014038. ; and available on line as: Andy Clark; David J Chalmers. "The extended mind". Cogprints. 
  3. ^ Adams, Fred.; Aizawa, Ken (2010). Defending the bounds of cognition, in The Extended Mind (Eds, Richard Menary). pp. 67–80. 
  4. ^ a b Clark, Andy (2008). Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford University Press.