Monday, April 19, 2010

Who Supports Revolutionary EC? 4

Mark Rowlands:
I shall argue that there is no theoretically respectable reason for separating the mind off from the world in the way the internalist picture tells us we should.  There is, in other words, no theoretically respectable reason for thinking of cognitive processes as purely and exclusively internal items.  And to say there is no theoretically respectable reason, here, simply means that there is no reason that can be derived from psychological theory as such.  The parsing of the realm of cognition into, on the one hand, cognitive processes that are conceived of as purely internal items and, on the other, external causes, stimuli, orcues of these internal items is not something that is demanded by our theorizing about the mind, but an optional extra.  It is a pre-theoretical picture we use to interpret our explicit theorizing, not something mandated by that theorizing.  It is, in short, a mythology. 
(Rowlands, 1992, pp. 12-13)

Rowlands, M. (1999). The Body in Mind.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  1. I like this game, Ken. Take a quote that, on its own, could mean one of several things. Lift it out of its surrounding context. Then assign it one's preferred meaning.

    Of course, in this passage, I don't say why there is no respectable reason for thinking of cognitive processes as purely and exclusively internal processes. Is it because I think all cognitive processes are not internal? Or is it because I think some are not like this?

    Of course, if you look at the surrounding context - i.e. pretty much everything I've ever written on this subject - you'll see that I mean the latter.

    But, anyway, as I say I like this game. So, can I play too? Let's take this passage:

    'Cognitive processes are typically brain bound and do not extend from the nervous system into the body and environment.'

    Note that the authors here use the word 'typically'. Typically is opposed to 'invariably'. It typically rains in Miami on St Swithin's day, but not invariably. So, as a matter of conversational implicature at least, they seem to suggest that cognitive processe are not invariably brain bound. Otherwise, I wold assume they would want to use the word 'always' instead of 'tyically'.

    But, as you know, I understand the extended (or as I prefer it 'amalgamated') mind as making an existential claim of this sort. Some cognitive processes are extended. Not all. So, welcome to the club Ken. This passage was, of course, takne from p. 70 of The Bounds of Cognition.

  2. Hi, Mark,
    I'll agree that what you say here is open to interpretation. Indeed, I find much of what is in the EC literature is ambiguous. That causes me no end of consternation. What are the various things this could mean? How could they arguments support each of the interpretations?

    Faced with this ambiguity, I don’t want to shoulder the burden of getting the interpretation “right”. Instead, I try to provide arguments against all the plausible cases, so that whichever interpretation you go with, I’ll have a reply. (See, for example, my discussion of Noe’s view in “Understanding the Embodiment of Perception”. I think he’s equivocal about whether perception requires action in the form of bodily movement, or not. But, I provide replies to the view that it does and to the view that it does not. In a subsequent paper, “Consciousness: Don’t Give up on the Brain” I pursue both versions again.)

    So, suppose (contrary to what you now maintain) that one has the view that there is no purely intracranial cognition. Then, you have to account for what goes on in cases of neuromuscular blockade. Looks like one can think without environmental propos. Suppose, instead, that you are ok with cases of purely intracranial cognition, but instead only want to argue that there are some cases in which cognition extends. Then, why does it extend? Is there an evolutionary argument? I argue that won’t work in Chapter 8 of The Bounds of Cognition. Is there a complementarity argument? I argue that that won’t work in Chapter 8 again. Is there a coupling argument? I go against those in Chapters 6 and 7?

    So, there is a sense in which it doesn’t matter to me which horn of the dilemma you take. I am not trying to defeat you by pinning an implausible interpretation on you. Instead, I let you pick your poison.

  3. So, I don’t have to make any hay by pinning an uncharitable interpretation on you. That said, I still think that a denial of intracranial processes is a plausible interpretation of what you have written, even if one can strain another interpretation.

    Or, how about

    The Ontological Claim: Cognitive processes are not located exclusively inside the skins of cognizing organisms. (Rowlands, 1999, p. 31)

    It looks to me as though, while you are allowing that there is an intracranial component or “segment” to cognitive processes, you are still saying that all cognitive processes extend. You do not seem, here, to be leaving any room for the existence of entirely brain-bound cognition.

    Now, I haven’t read everything you have ever written, but I have read a lot of The Body in Mind . But, your argumentation does not as univocally clear up your view as you seem to think. In Chapter 5, you argue that manipulation of the optic array is itself a cognitive process. The optic array exists outside the body, right? But, if visual processing is manipulating the optic array, then it looks like all visual processing is extended, there is no purely intracranial visual processing. This seems to me not to be the way you argue or the conclusion you explicitly draw, but instead an (apparently undesired) consequence of your theoretical commitments.

  4. I've also been in the "club" for a while. I can't find the refs right now, but it stems for Andy's comments on this:
    "Having argued that, in general, there must be non-derived content in cognitive
    processes, it must be admitted that it is unclear to what extent each cognitive state
    of each cognitive process must involve non-derived content. That is, it is epistemically
    possible that cognitive processes involve representations that include a closed
    set of non-representational functional elements, such as punctuation marks and
    parentheses. Such items might be included in the language of thought, based on the
    manner in which they interact with items having non-derived content. If this
    happens, then cognitive states will to some extent be less than maximally dependent
    on non-derived content. One might worry that this concession leaves some wriggle
    room for inserting extracranial states and processes into cognitive processes, but
    addressing such worries will depend on features of specific cases." (Adams & Aizawa, 2001, pp. 50-51).

    Andy and A&A have sorted this out now, though.

    My club membership will be fully certified in a paper Teed Rockwell tells me is forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology. In this paper, A&A are charged with using the word "motion" to refer to the medieval concept of impetus, rather than to ..... yes, motion.

  5. I just recalled that I have had my club membership validated in an exchange on the following passage from Sutton's recent Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences paper: "

    Sutton’s project, they say, ‘can be undertaken while leaving much of the cognitive psychology of memory as the study of processes that take place, essentially without exception, within nervous systems’ (2008, p. 179). We disagree: this reversion to internalism is not an implication of Sutton’s view. "

    For more details on how John and I sorted this out, one can follow up on Gary Williams blog:

  6. Hi Ken,

    I have to admit that when I wrote The Body in Mind, I wasn't really thinking about distancing myself from the claim that all cognitive processes are extended. This is because I regarded (and still regard) that claim as so ludicrous that surely, I thought, no one would foist that bizarre interpretation on me.

    Nevertheless, even in The Body in Mind, there are obvious, and numerous, flags. For example:

    "I shall not argue that all processes of remembering necessarily involve manipulation of environmental structures. On the contrary, I shall assume that some types of memmoery do not involve such manipulation, at least not essentially, and that, therefore, these types of memory may well turn out to be purely internal in character." (123)

    "The metaphysical claim is that not all cognitive processes occur inside the head of cognizing organisms." (29)

    "For at least some memory processes there is no need to regard them as purely internal processdes.' (119)

    In addition, of course, sensitivity to the way some of my arguments worked reveals that I did not think all cognitive processes are extended. In the memory argument, for example I contrasted, a la Luria and Vygotsky, the biological (hence internal) memory of the African envoy with the augmented memory of the Peruvian Kvinu officer.

    As I got out on the circuit, and I began to realize that some people were indeed understanidng extended cognition in the bizarre way I never thought they would, my distancing of myself from this claim became more and more strident. For example, take the paper, 'Enactivism and the extended mind':

    "Finally, EM does not make a blanket claim about all mental processes. EM can view with equanimity the strong likelihood that the composition of some, even many, mental processes is exclusively neural. EM claims only that exclusive neural composition is not true of all mental processes ... EM claims that some, but not all, cognitive processes, are ones partly and contingently composed of processes of environmental manipulation, exploitation, and transformation. Thus, contrary to popular belief, EM is compatible with the possibility of a brain in a vat."

    So, I do not believe that all cognitive processes are extended, and I never have.

    With regard to club membership, I'm not sure we're talking about the same club. The 'club' I'm talking about is the extended cognition club. This is a club to which I take you and Fred to have committed yourself when you claim, at least as a matter of conversational implicature, that cognitive processes are not invariably brain bound (see previous post). I think you took me to be referring to the 'people who have been misinterpreted club'. I love the irony. I post a comment to protest about misinterpretation - and you misinterpret my comment.

  7. Hi, Mark,

    (Your comment got caught in the spam filter, so I may have missed it for a while.)

    Well, I am sure that there are plenty of passages where you do say that only some cognitive processes are extended, but there are also those that seem to suggest that you do think that all cognitive processes are extended. But, this might just show that you are equivocal.

    But, it is fine by me if we can agree that there are instances of purely intracranial cognition. Maybe then you'll side with me against Menary and Haugeland on this. (They seem to me to deny that there are instances of purely intracranial cognition. Or, maybe I get them wrong too.)

  8. With regard to the club, you are exactly right. We were talking about different clubs of the sort you describe. And, there is indeed irony in this.

    Yes, at times I'm willing to admit that there is some extended cognition in the same way I'm willing to admit that there are some things I'm mistaken about. I just resist particular cases.

    But, I'm happy with the claim that there is typically no extended cognition, since that is enough for my principal goal, which is to legitimate the enterprise of studying a purely intracranial cognition. If EC finds some exotic case of extended cognition, that does little, it seems to me, to undermine a particular scientific tradition of cognitivism.

  9. Hi Ken,

    Equivocation? Possibly. Perhpas no one is ever as clear as they think they are being. But, even if this is true, the passage you cite at the beginning of this thread is not an example of this equivocation. In the part highlighted in blue, the function of the word 'exclusively' is intended to indicate that I take only some cognitive processes to be extended. Cognitive processes are not 'exclusively' internal items: that is, some of them are, some of them are not. Cheers, and happy holidays - Mark

  10. Hi, Mark,

    I think most equivocation is like the tango, it takes two. So, to me at least,

    The Ontological Claim: Cognitive processes are not located exclusively inside the skins of cognizing organisms. (Rowlands, 1999, p. 31)

    means that for any cognitive process, the whole of it is not inside the skin. So, it looks to me like a claim about all cognitive processes. That's one.

    "For at least some memory processes there is no need to regard them as purely internal processes." (119) Here, however, it does look like you mean only the weaker claim that some cognitive processes are extended. Here's the partner in equivocation.

  11. Hi, Mark,

    I think I must have misunderstood you again. So, earlier, I thought you point was that the claim:

    "There is, in other words, no theoretically respectable reason for thinking of cognitive processes as purely and exclusively internal items." (The passage in blue above.)

    could be interpreted to say that there is no purely internal cognition, but that this interpretation is overridden by other passages.

    Now, given your last comment, it seems to me that you are saying that this alone could be read as saying that only some cognitive processes are extended.

    This, however, does not seem to me to be correct. The way I parse the sentence, "exclusively" modifies "internal items". It is not a quantifier over cognitive processes.