Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience

"Perception, Action, and the Extended Mind"

According to the extended cognition hypothesis (henceforth ExC), there are actual (in-this-world) cases in which thinking and thoughts (more precisely, the material vehicles that realize thinking and thoughts) are spatially distributed over brain, body and world, in such a way that the external (beyond-the-skin) factors concerned are rightly accorded cognitive status. David Chalmers, one of the original architects of ExC, has recently articulated an objection to the view which turns on the claim that the idea of cognitive extension is in conflict with an intuitive thought that we ought to preserve. Chalmers puts that intuitive thought like this: “It is natural to hold that perception is the interface where the world affects the mind, and that action is the interface where the mind affects the world. If so, it is tempting to hold that what precedes perception and what follows action is not truly mental.” Chalmers proceeds to offer a defence of ExC against the worry. In my talk I'll (i) set the scene with some comments about how one ought to understand ExC, (ii) explain Chalmers' objection and his response to it, (iii) argue that Chalmers' response fails, and (iv) suggest that we should solve the problem by ditching the intuitive thought. This final move will enable me to address a challenge that, up until now, has arguably not been met successfully by advocates of ExC, that is, to say what consequences the view has for empirical work in cognitive science and psychology. To begin to explore these consequences, I'll discuss the lessons of some recent empirical work in robotics in which chaotic search allows a network of indirectly coupled neural oscillators to achieve coordinated motor patterns.