In the light of these remarks let’s look a little closer at Adams and Aizawa’sMenary thinks that we cannot consider cognitive agents independently of their environment.
account of causal-coupling to see where they have gone wrong. “If a cognitive agent causally interacts with some object in the external world in some “important” way—if that agent is coupled to an object—then that agent’s cognitive processing is constituted by processes extending into that object.” (2010b) This is precisely what I was objecting to in 2006. It assumes an already formed cognitive agent with, presumably, internal representations manipulated by computational processes, who just happens to interact with the environment. Adams and Aizawa are here leveraging their argument on a premise that I think is false—that we can consider cognitive agents independently of their environments (apart from the inputs from and outputs to the environment).
But, A&A replied to this. We think this move does not help. Here is what we said in The Bounds of Cognition, pp. 102-3:
The suggestion appears to be that we should never think of a lone human being as a discrete cognitive system. Humans are, so this line goes, always cognitive systems integrated into a network of interacting components. Humans in their mere biological being are never cognitive systems. Put more boldly, perhaps, insofar as humans are cognitive beings, they are essentially users of external vehicles.Why isn't this a correct statement of Menary's view and also an adequate reply?
Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that it is true that, insofar as humans are cognitive agents, they are never entirely bereft of external vehicles that they manipulate. That is, suppose that every human cognitive agent always engages some external vehicle or another in her cognitive processing. Even this concession is not adequate to circumvent the coupling-constitution fallacy. We can simply reformulate the problem to incorporate Menary’s idea. So, suppose, simply for the sake of argument, that Otto’s biological mass never in itself suffices to form a cognitive system. Otto’s cognitive being is always enmeshed in a network of tools. Still, think of “young Otto” before the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Young Otto was embedded in one network of tools. Presumably this network of tools will not include the notebook that will one day, say, 30 years later, be manufactured in some factory and subsequently purchased by “Old Otto” who has come to suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease. That is, assume that ones cognition does not extend into currently non-existent tools that one will use in the future. Now consider “Old Otto” following the onset of Alzheimer’s, but prior to the purchase of the notebook. Still, the notebook lying on a store shelf never seen by Old Otto is not part of Old Otto’s cognitive apparatus. How, then, does the notebook become part of Old Otto’s cognitive apparatus on a coupling argument? One might suspect it begins with Otto’s coming to regularly use the apparatus. It begins when Old Otto begins to manipulate his notebook. But, it is right here that the coupling-constitution fallacy is committed. It is committed when one makes the move to include new cognitive processing mechanisms, such as the notebook. So, even Menary’s strong hypothesis that cognitive agents are never without their cognitive processes extending into tools is not enough to avoid the coupling-constitution fallacy.
Now, later Menary comments, "I am not committed to the view that cognition is first
in the head and then gets extended into tools." Right. That's why we wrote,
"The suggestion appears to be that we should never think of a lone human being as a discrete cognitive system. Humans are, so this line goes, always cognitive systems integrated into a network of interacting components. Humans in their mere biological being are never cognitive systems. Put more boldly, perhaps, insofar as humans are cognitive beings, they are essentially users of external vehicles."Here is how our argument works though. At t0 Otto is committed to one set of tools, hence not bereft of tools. But, then at t1 he acquires a new tool, hence is still not bereft of tools. At t1, Otto is now coupled to something else, but that new coupling does not make the processes that take place in that new tool cognitive processes. So, we tweaked the C-C fallacy point to deal with change of tools used. We are trying to give Menary this point, but show that it is of no help to him. I don't see why this is otiose.