Extending the mind

18 Mar

This week I would like to focus on the extended mind concept. Specifically, the theory of ‘active externalism’, which is when, objects (TV, mobile phone) in the environment take over functions that used to be performed in the mind (Wikipedia, 2012). This means that people’s minds regularly make use of external objects to such a degree that they become extensions of their mentality (Wikipedia, 2012). Another important aspect of this theory is the ‘coupled system’ where the mind and the environment form a cognitive system, this makes it possible for the mind to be stretched out into the external world (Wikipedia, 2012). The way this system functions was further elaborated on in the David Chalmers video. In this video clip he explains how the environment can be joined to a cognitive system. He does this by introducing the ‘parity principle’; this is based on the idea that we all have the same beliefs and inclinations even before we begin to remember things using our minds or objects (Chalmers, 2009). To demonstrate this he uses the example of Inga and Otto who are both on their way to a museum. Otto who has Alzheimer’s disease uses a notebook to write down the directions to the museum while Inga uses her memory to recall the directions. Using the parity principle one can see that they both hold the same belief and desire about the directions to the museum so they are equally situated (Chalmers, 2009). The only difference is that Otto’s notebook acts as his biological memory (Chalmers, 2009). Therefore Otto’s mind is been extended, as the notebook becomes the root of his memory (Wikipedia, 2012).

This theory made me think differently about my environment as it made me realise that objects such as my laptop or mobile phone had indeed become part of my cognitive system. For example, the way they make daily decisions for me or the fact that they contain my immediate desires. Furthermore, these theories made me aware of how my mind works and the way technology embodies my thought processes and disembodies my mind (Chalmers, 2009). However, I think one needs to explore the negative implications of extending the mind into the environment. For example, does this mean that we are no longer in control of our own thought processes? Is there a possibility that these objects could unconsciously influence us due to our over-reliance on them?

Some of the negative aspects of the extension of the mind theory are examined in the Bernard Stiegler reading. In particular, he states that as we engage more with ‘cognitive technologies’ that aid our memory like the computer or telephone we are in danger of loosing our own knowledge (Stiegler, 2011). Moreover, he states that this loss of knowledge is due to the fact that we are no longer performing everyday tasks instead we are relying on technologies, this leads us to ‘consume blindly’ (Stiegler, 2011). Ultimately this can lead to our own extinction. This relates to the section on memory in the course outline. Specifically, how ancient Greeks believed that technologies such as writing could destroy our ‘natural memory’. This is because memories would be able to exist outside the mind (Murphie, 2012, p. 23). This makes me think about how much of my own knowledge has been jeopardised due to my dependency on technology.

Additionally, it also makes me think about the possibilities of mind control, which is examined in the article by Veronica Pamoukaghlian. One thought control device that was mentioned in the article was the electroencephalography (EEG), which was developed by Dr. Igor Smirnov (Pamoukaghlian, 2011). This device creates a visual representation of the electronic activity in the brain (Pamoukaghlian, 2011). This allows a person to create a map of the subconscious. As a consequence of this, one could use subliminal messages to alter the thought processes of a person (Pamoukaghlian, 2011). Another thought control device is the Semantic Stimuli Response Measurements Technology (SSRM) Tek project which was developed by Moscow’s Psychotechnology Research Institute. This is a technology that uses software to assess a person’s involuntary responses to subliminal messages (Pamoukaghlian, 2011). For example you can flash subliminal images at an airport screening post and get a good idea of what the audience is thinking. This is the reason why America’s Homeland Security Department has taken such an interest in this project. This interest alarms me because as the article mentions, these technologies could be used by different government organizations. This could mean that we would no longer be able to think privately in public spaces.

In my research project I would like to look at the negative consequences of extending our mind through technologies. How is this embodied in real life and what will this lead to in the future. Should we be resiting it or embracing it?


1)   Wikipedia (2012) The Extended Mind [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_Mind [Accessed 17 March 2012].

2)   Chalmers, D. (2009) The Extended Mind Revisited [1/5], at Hong Kong, 2009 [online] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S149IVHhmc [Accessed 17 March 2012].

3)   Stiegler, B. (2011) Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation [online]. Available at: http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis [Accessed 16 March 2012].

4)   Murphie, A. (2012) Course Outline and Readings [online]. Available at: http://arts3091.newsouthblogs.org/course-outline-and-readings/ [Accessed 16 March 2012].

5)   Pamoukaghlian, V. (2011) Mind Games: Science’s Attempts at Thought Control [online] Available at: http://brainblogger.com/2011/12/28/mind-games-sciences-attempts-at-thought-control/ [Accessed 18 March 2012].


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