Thursday, July 22, 2010

Clark's "Material Surrogacy" 3

It may still be objected, of course (see e.g. Adams & Aizawa 2001; Rupert 2004) that even if material culture sets the scene for new ways of thinking, the thinkings themselves are always fully internal, and brain-bound just as tradition has it. Two quick closing comments on this popular compromise.
Second, even if (mistakenly rejecting the consid­erations above) we choose to treat the organism alone as the physical substrate of all genuinely cognitive activity, it is still open to us to hold that the role of certain props and artefacts is essential to explain­ing how that very organism can manage to think the thoughts it does. For it may be that without the use of artefact-involving modes of stabilization, targeting, feature-highlighting, time-dilating and attention­ sculpting, certain thinkings would be impossible either to attain or to maintain. Material culture, on this only slightly more deflationary view, would still be massively cognition-enabling. Either way, material culture penetrates deep into the cognitive fold. (Clark, 2010, p. 27)
I think I can agree with most everything that Clark says here, except for those last two sentences.  They seem to me to be ambiguous in such a way as to have at least one reading that is fine and another reading that is problematic.  So, props might (and probably do) enable you to think thoughts you would never have had without them, hence be in some sense "cognition-enabling".  But, that would mean simply that props can make a causal contribution to the life of your mind such that you can think thoughts you would never have thought before.  But, if "cognition-enabling" is understood as "cognition constituting" then I'd have to demur.

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