Extending The Mind.

The discussion of the extended mind is mostly about location: Where is the mind? But if you simply add the dimension of time, then the question becomes: When is the mind? I.e., does it — or more exactly some aspects of it — exist beyond the individual's lifetime. DII says it does.

1. My mind extends to this paper, a scratch pad if you will, where I am developing these ideas.

2. My mind also extends to my old notes on this subject. To what extent are these merely reminders of thoughts I can access in memory and to what extent are they externalizations of my thoughts — and memory? And how is the difference significant?

3. Every writer has experienced that moment of doubt where he or she writes down a phrase and wonders, "Is this my idea or am I just remembering something I've read?" Knowing this, we wonder how different these remembered ideas are from our own. How different, therefore, are they from our cognitively accessible* works (e.g., books) of others? Or, to address the larger question, how can I accurately draw the boundaries — in space and in time — of my own mind?
        At this very moment, hundreds if not thousands, of philosophers (and philosophy students) are rethinking Plato's thoughts. If this demonstrates their extended minds, does it not also demonstrate the extended mind of Plato? If the extended mind of the biologically dead Plato still greatly influences living minds, where do we draw the line?

* By cognitively accessible, I mean readily accessible for cognition (as opposed to instantly). Can we really differentiate between a memory that takes the better part of a minute to retrieve fully and a quick lookup (in a book, on the net) that takes about the same time?

Some of the techniques of the extended mind are simply externalizations of techniques our consciousness employs within the skull, e.g., the ubiquitous do-list. Here, our conscious mind structures part of our memory into a list of things to be done (next, today, soon, etc.). Extending that list to paper — or computer as I do every day — is a simple demonstration of the extended mind. But, in fact, this internal utilization of memory is itself an example of the extended mind. In other words, these cognitive tools were first developed internally.
        Even more significantly, it is these intentional externalizations of conscious thought that demonstrate the evolutionary advantage of consciousness. They do so because no amount of non-conscious action can externalize the mind (it merely repeats actions originated by the conscious mind). The simplest demonstration is the use of conscious thought to memorize any short list of things (e.g., do-list). This is an application of a cognitive tool that, once mastered, can go beyond the skull. It is, in fact, the development of these initially internal cognitive tools, that prepares our minds for externalization.

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This is the Extended Mind links page for Digital Immortality Institute
Last updated 5/22/09

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