Philosophy and psychology related to the hypothesis of extended cognition
I haven't read this one yet, but there have been plenty of explorations of similar themes outside of philosophy for quite a while. One of the best antecedents remains Csikszenthmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton's 1981 book "The Meaning of Things." Sherry Turkle's 2007 edited volume "Evocative Objects" is full of interesting reflections as well. These ideas also arise in aesthetics and art theory in, e.g., Peter Schwenger's "The Tears of Things" and papers like Bill Brown's "Thing Theory" (also, in archaeology, Chris Gosden's "What do objects want?", drawing on various ideas of W. J. T. Mitchell). Not that it matters, but in my view these works raise a much more rich and productive set of questions than would another tired go around the pinched circle of "where's the mind now?"
Dan, have these other works explicitly aligned themselves with extended cognition, as has this Malafouris book?It would be good to have some new take on these sorts of topics. My sense is that there are not a lot of new ideas regarding extended cognition, except maybe that some folks have apparently been meaning extended behavior, when they write of "extended cognition."
No, this work is for the most part occurring outside of the terms of that debate. But I think that's a good thing, if one wants to open the field to a wider range of ways in which mind and environment can interpenetrate.
I think Fred and I would agree that the EC take on a lot of this has been a distraction. I guess Rupert would as well. But, maybe that is more than you have been after. Maybe you only want to say that the EC take has run its course.
I'd say there are two sides to the debate, a metaphysical one and one involving the right research program for psychology. The metaphysical program of figuring out how, in a broadly functionalist context, to draw boundaries around whole cognitive systems, is mildly interesting--it's a bit of a loose end that was never picked up from the early days of functionalist theorizing. But for a few reasons there's little pressing reason to pursue it. First, it's obvious that there's a simple way to translate EC claims into non-EC ones, and vice versa. Given that, what substantive issue can possibly be at stake? Second, the truth or falsity of the metaphysical claim is something that seems to make little difference in psychological practice. This gets to the issue about the poverty of the research program. While there are lots of interesting observations, phenomena, and experimental results about how minds rapidly and fluidly make use of bits of the environment, these are pretty heterogeneous and hardly cohere into anything like an overarching theory of extended systems. It's telling that nothing like this seems even to be in the works. As a heuristic to focus our attention on these kinds of relations, EC is useful. But there's no research program that makes distinctive predictions concerning the formation, dynamics, processing, and dissolution of extended systems--at least none that isn't basically parasitic on individual psychology. So, summary judgment for now: EC brings back a metaphysical question of, perhaps, some intrinsic interest (but proposes a quite implausible answer to it), and makes a useful suggestion for where psychological research might look to make some fruitful discoveries (but offers no new predictions or unifying and novel theory of its own).
But there's no research program that makes distinctive predictions concerning the formation, dynamics, processing, and dissolution of extended systems--at least none that isn't basically parasitic on individual psychology. Modern ecological psychology, with it's emphasis on dynamical systems, actually does this (with, I admit, varying levels of success).
Well, I have to agree with the idea that "While there are lots of interesting observations, phenomena, and experimental results about how minds rapidly and fluidly make use of bits of the environment, these are pretty heterogeneous and hardly cohere into anything like an overarching theory of extended systems. " I think Fred and I staked out this position in our 2001 paper.This, however, seems doubtful to me: "it's obvious that there's a simple way to translate EC claims into non-EC ones, and vice versa. Given that, what substantive issue can possibly be at stake? " I'm not sure that "translate" is the right word here. I guess one can easily envision claims and counter claims, but why would that show that there is nothing substantive at issue? I was just reading the Philosophy Compass article on cognitive penetration and it ended up with a kind of pessimistic conclusion that it is hard to empirically resolve the debate, but did not go so far as to suggest that there is nothing substantive at issue.
By "translate" I just mean that for any case that an individualist will describe as one involving a person-sized cognitive system plus its environment, EC will describe it as a person-plus-environment-sized cognitive system. It's easy to go from one to the other. Is that a metaphysical difference? Sure, I suppose it is. Does it have any empirical import? None that I can see, except insofar as it's reflected in our choice of description.The issue about cognitive penetration is a little different, since the problem there is that the empirical issues might be so fine that we won't ever have the experimental tools to resolve them. In the case of EC, though, all of the facts could be in and there might still be a question about which description of the metaphysical situation to prefer. That seems to me like a hallmark of an insubstantial debate from the point of view of psychology, since the ease of going either way exerts no pressure on our theories.
Am I getting this straight? You think it is merely a matter of description whether or not some region of spacetime realizes a cognitive system?
No, the two descriptions certainly correspond to metaphysically different situations: the cognitive system boundary lying here rather than there, for example. It's just that where that boundary lies is empirically trivial. I can't see any predictions that follow from one of those situations that don't also follow from the other (again, suitably adjusted).
So, why doesn't EC predict that bodily paralysis will stop cognitive processing?