Friday, April 30, 2010

EC is no joking matter

The second paper that Adams and I wrote on extended cognition began with the following:

Question: Why did the pencil think that 2 + 2 = 4?
Clark’s Answer: Because it was coupled to the mathematician.
 That about sums up what is wrong with Clark’s extended mind hypothesis.  (Adams and Aizawa, Forthcoming).
One can surely have one's doubts about the humor, but one unfortunate consequence of this has apparently been to suggest to others that we misunderstand EC.  Our misunderstanding is supposed to be that, according to EC, external objects alone are cognitive in virtue of coupling.  EC does not, so the reply goes, maintain this.  It is the brain + body + world that is supposed to be an extended cognitive system.  Or, it is processing the brain, body, and world that is supposed to be a cognitive routine. 

(Clark also supposes that it makes no sense to talk of objects, such as a pencil, being cognitive.)

Now, in truth, the aim of the story is to draw attention to the absurdity of coupling arguments, which is a principal topic of the paper.  But, it does not seem to me to be that bad a reading of the Inga-Otto thought experiment.  See the following:

Question: Why was the scrawl in the notebook a dispositional belief that MOMA is on 52rd St.?
Clark’s Answer: Because it was coupled to Otto.

Adams, F. and Aizawa, K. (Forthcoming).  "Defending the Bounds of Cognition."  In Menary, R., (Ed.). The Extended Mind, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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