Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Here's a Nice Bit of Irony

From Shaun Gallagher's forthcoming "The Overextended Mind":
If, as we confront some task, a part of the world functions as a
process which, were it to go on in the head, we would have no
hesitation in recognizing as part of the cognitive process, then
that part of the world is (so we claim) part of the cognitive
process. (Clark and Chalmers 1998, p. 8)
On a strict interpretation this principle appears to measure cognition in
terms of the Cartesian gold standard of what goes on in the head. It suggests
that a process outside of the head counts as cognitive only if in principle it
could be accomplished in the head (Gallagher, forthcoming, p. 1).
The irony, of course, is that Clark, and others, have taken to charging A&A with brain-o-centric bias.
Clark (2008, p. 114) rejects this interpretation, insisting that the
parity principle should not be interpreted as requiring any similarity
between inner and outer processes. Wheeler (2006, 3) explains that the
parity principle does not “fix the benchmarks for what it is to count as a
proper part of a cognitive system by identifying all the details of the causal
contribution made by (say) the brain [and then by looking] to see if any
external elements meet those benchmarks.”  (Gallagher, forthcoming, p. 2)
And, it's good to see them on the defensive on this.


  1. I've wondered about this. Is Andy just a victim of history, in that the functional analysis for a candidate task has, historically, been about the mental gymnastics required to achieve the goal? Traditional cognitive psychology puts all the action in the brain, and this action tends to be the list of things you need to achieve to perform the task; maybe the framing of the parity principle reflects this?

  2. This is completely OT, but since the thread seems to be terminally ill, perhaps I will be forgiven.

    I remain unclear as to what you guys mean when you talk about a "representation". So, which - if any - of the following would you so describe:

    1. for some specified set N of neurons assumed to be involved in a specified "mental function", some measure of the activity of the members of N

    2. the set of "states" (however defined) of the members of N

    3. same as 1 and 2 for a set of neurons where membership is specified other than by involvement in a "mental function" (and if so, what are some examples of such membership-determining specifications

    4. a mental image of (for example) an object, ie, the phenomenal experience associated with "seeing" the object

    5. The mental image of a remembered object (assuming there is such a thing)

    6. A set of "thoughts" that amount to a description of an object, whether in English or in Ken's "mentalese"

    Or am I on entirely the wrong tack?


  3. 1. Underdescribed.

    2. Underdescribed.

    3. Underdescribed.

    4. Representation.

    5. Representation.

    6. Representation.

  4. Got it - just what one would naturally assume. I thought it might be a bit more subtle. Thanks.