Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sterelny as Fan of EC?

I have not read Sterelny's paper in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, but I am skeptical that he is the fan of EC that Menary suggests he is.  Here is Sterelny from a paper back in 2004.
"to depict much of advanced cognition as rooted in the operation of the same basic kinds of capacity used for on-line, adaptive response, but tuned and applied to the special domain of external and/or artificial cognitive aids-the domain, as I shall say, of wideware or cognitive technology."((Clark forthcoming) chapter 8)
To a significant extent we are serial processing inference engines. But we are so only because of our reliable, designed, adjusted coupling with a staggering array of cognitive artefacts, including linguistic and quantitative systems of serial representation. Our extended mind uses and processes linguiform representations even though (quite likely) naked human brains do not.
     Furthermore, some of these artefacts can literally be parts of an agent's cognitive system. In The Extended Mind, Andy Clark and David Chalmers develop a thought-experiment about an Alzheimers sufferer (Mr T, as I shall call him). Mr T cannot unaided remember the location of an exhibit he wants to visit. But he manages such problems by writing down in a notebook crucial information for his daily plans notebook. He then acts by consulting this book. Clark and Chalmers argue that the information in the notebook plays the same functional role for Mr T that an ordinary (non-occurrent) belief plays for ordinary human agents. They conclude we should count the notebook as part of the patient's mind, and the location of the exhibit as one of Mr T's beliefs (Clark and Chambers 1998). Clark is careful not to trivialise this extension of the boundaries of the mind. He insists that agents' minds include only those exter¬nal tools to which they have regular, unfettered access: "the props and aids which can count as part of my mental machinery ... are at the very least, reliably available when needed and used or accessed pretty much as automatically as biological processing and memory" (2001, p139).
     While agreeing with Clark on the fundamental role of epistemic agency in explaining human rationality, I have reservations about this picture. Even when there is a reliable link between user and tool, there are important differences between internal and external cognitive resources. The external storage of information is very important, but the psychological and evolutionary dynamics of mind /filofax relations are critically different from those of mind/memory interactions. So I do not think it is helpful to think of epistemic artefacts as literally parts of the minds of the agents that regularly use them. Moreover and more importantly, Clark underplays the importance of non-exclusive use of epistemic artefacts. Many of our most important cognitive tools are common-use tools, not parts of coupled systems. (Sterelny, 2004, p. 245).
Far from supporting EC, it seems to me that Sterelny comes very close to the Adams and Aizawa view.  Instead, he seems to be supporting something like HEMC.  

The way the Sutton and Menary papers are shaping up, it sounds to me as though they are unhappy that I am challenging, say, Clark's version of EC, but not their version of EC. 

Sterelny, K. (2004). Externalism, epistemic artefacts and the extended mind. The externalist challenge: New studies on cognition and intentionality, 239-254.


  1. Why is he allowed to rename Otto? What the hell is a filofax relation?

    And re: my comments from earlier, this is a useful phrase maybe: I'm not sure it makes any sense to ask what 'the naked brain' does, given that it's never naked.

  2. I think Sterelny might be taking advantage of the great Mr. T. (I pity the fool who doesn't respect Mr. T. And, I would be B.A. of the A Team.)

    But, there is also a scenario, made famous by the philosopher Stephen Stich, of one Mrs. T who has lost all of her beliefs.

    I think you may be parsing this wrong. I think it is supposed to be mind and filofax that are supposed to be in a relationship. They are engaged, one might say.

    Yes, the context embeddedness is something that the EC folks tend to play a lot of.

  3. "Clark ... insists that agents' minds include only those external tools to which they have regular, unfettered access"

    This addresses the issue of "knowing" everything accessible in a credible source (raised in one of my comments on the previous thread) but doesn't help in the Internet age. To suggest that one "knows" everything in credible sources to which one has "regular, unfettered access" with a hand-held browser remains a very generous interpretation of knowledge.

    "Clark underplays the importance of non-exclusive use of epistemic artefacts. Many of our most important cognitive tools are common-use tools"

    And from the justification perspective, exclusive-use is part of the problem with Otto's notebook. But suppose instead of the making entries in his private notebook, Otto creates entries in wikipedia, reviews criticisms, and corrects as he deems appropriate. Then he has the community and procedures that might help him in justifying his assertions, at least regarding public matters about which others could have opinions.

    "mind and filofax ... are engaged, one might say."

    Or the latter is the adopted child of the former?