Monday, December 20, 2010

Ramsey on Sutton's Examples of Second Wave EC

Along similar lines, John Sutton joins Menary in developing a second-wave EMH position. To illustrate his complementarity principle, Sutton discusses two historical examples. The first involves Elizabethan actors at the Globe theater, who were required to perform an incredibly large number of different roles with minimal rehearsal. This was possible only because the physical lay-out of the sets, social variables, and various props served as information-bearing elements that helped to guide the actors' performance. The second example concerns the medieval memory palaces used by monks and scholars for storing large amounts of information. With this mnemonic strategy, buildings or familiar streets were memorized and then used to store various bits of information for later retrieval. Sutton claims this qualifies as a form of extended cognition, though I had a hard time understanding how it does. Given that the process involves everything being internalized (with memorized images of spatial geography used as mnemonic aids), just how this is supposed to support EMH is a bit mysterious.
Here I share with Ramsey, I think, the sense that there is a lot of interesting coupling between brain and environment going on in these cases, but Sutton is less than maximally explicit on how this connects with the hypothesis of extended cognition.  In his recent joint paper in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, for example, he seems to be distancing himself from the issue of whether the mind is really just in the brain or is in part realized by tools.  But, to me at least, that is the central issue in the EC debates.

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