The extended mind in science and society

Summary 

Professor Andy Clark’s concept of the ‘extended mind’ re-imagines human thought. It questions the boundary between brain and technology, with profound impacts for society.

What was the problem? 

The extended mind theory says that ‘cognition’ does not just happen in our heads. Just as a prosthetic limb can become part of a body, technology such as computers, or even notebooks, become part of our minds.

Clark worked with David Chalmers in the 1990s. They published the paper ‘The Extended Mind’ in 1998. This paper asked: ‘where does the mind stop, and the rest of the world begin?’.

In his work since then, Clark has continued this line of enquiry. His 2008 book Supersizing the Mind has had a wide influence on contemporary philosophy.

What did we do? 

Clark has continued to work on the idea of the ‘extended mind’ in many published articles. Supersizing the Mind was the subject of a high-profile book symposium in 2011. Many international scholars wrote responses to Clark’s work, to which he responded.

Clark’s work says that cognition is not limited to the brain, or even to the body. Objects in the external world can be used in such a way that they become part of the mind itself. In a society ever-more reliant upon computers and internet connectivity, this poses relevant questions about human identity.

Clark was Principal Investigator for the UK element of a Europe-Wide project called CONTACT (Consciousness in Interaction: The Role of the Natural and Social Environment in Shaping Consciousness). This was funded by a €1.9m grant from the European Science Foundation (2006-2009). Clark also received a Speculative Research Grant (2008-2010) from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for `Extending the Senses and Self Through Novel Technologies' (`e-sense').

Mind and technology
Andy’s thinking, and the brand of brain and mind sciences he explains, is becoming more and more relevant to understanding ourselves and our daily lives
Hide & Seek Productions, game design studio
What happened next? 

The extended mind theory has a wide range of impacts. Three main areas of impact are: technology, public discourse, and the setting up of the Extended Mind Think Tank.

Technology

The ‘Extending the Senses’ project produced a range of devices for iPod and iPhone. These are freely available from iTunes and ask how technology can enhance our natural senses. Could technology help you play a musical instrument?

Clark was appointed scientific advisor to game design studio Hide & Seek in 2011. He works with them on applying the theory of the extended mind to iPhone and Xbox Kinect apps. He presented the extended mind thesis at the ‘Googleplex’ – Google’s headquarters in California in 2013, and the thesis has been adopted in several reports targeted to technology practitioners.

Public Discourse

Clark presented his ideas at the Brighton Science Festival in 2009 and the Hay-on-Wye book festival in 2010. He also wrote a blog on the subject for The New York Times blog series ‘Opinionator’ in 2010. This blog has half a million readers. Click this link to read Clark’s blog:

Think Tank

A Finland-based think tank now exists called the ‘Extended Mind Think Tank’. This group includes games developers and internet CEOs. It seeks to explore the effects of Clark’s work on the extended mind, including how the theory can be put into use in technology and cultural thought.

About the researcher(s)

Research unit

Subject area:
  • Philosophy

Funder(s)

  • European Science Foundation
  • AHRC

Related study programmes