Ktismatics

30 April 2011

Extended Mind Joke

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:09 pm

Why did the pencil think that 2+2=4?

Because it was connected to a mathematician.

– from Fred Adams and Ken Aizawa, “Defending the Bounds of Cognition”

I’m not a complete curmudgeon with respect to extended mind theory. I acknowledge that I’ve not read the primary documents other than this seminal paper by Clark and Chalmers, and I’ve not thought carefully about the implications. Tentatively, I’d say that thinking is an intentional action performed by some agent, using whatever materials and tools it has at its disposal to perform this action: pencil and paper, calculator, human expert consultant, etc. When using external tools in performing a cognitive act, the thinking agent has to wield those tools with skill and intent, which requires deploying cognitive capabilities internal to the agent. However, the external tools deployed by the agent as part of the thinking process do not thereby become part of the thinking agent.

These distinction between action and agent and tool apply to more mundane activities as well. When I cook a scrambled egg I use a bowl, a fork, a skillet, a stove, and a big spoon. These are tools I use in cooking, and I couldn’t cook a scrambled egg without them: the tools are as integral to the cooking process as is the cook. But the cooking tools aren’t part of the cook. The tools aren’t even part of the scrambled egg, even though there would be no scrambled egg without them.

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30 Comments »

  1. I can’t think of anything I like less than a catty academic paper.

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    Comment by Asher Kay — 30 April 2011 @ 4:54 pm

  2. They led with the joke; after that I read the first two pages then glazed over and gave up. I just added a link in the post to Clark and Chalmers’ seminal paper on extended mind.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 April 2011 @ 5:16 pm

  3. I’m not sure I’m on board with the extended mind hypothesis either. At one point, I liked the fact that it was out there, because I felt like it opened up some discussions about *embodied* mind — an idea I’m very much on board with. But it seems like most of the arguments that were spawned end up being about terminology, i.e. how we decide to slice the world up and name the different parts, which doesn’t really further the embodied mind idea at all.

    The important point, for me, is that there can be no cooking tools without a cook, and no cook without the tools. There is almost nothing you can say about one that does not reference the other, directly or indirectly. Most of the interesting things you can say have to do with their interactions. There is really no separating them, even if it helps us speak about them to do so.

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    Comment by Asher Kay — 30 April 2011 @ 5:24 pm

  4. I too support an embodied mind position: mind is a function of the physical organism; mind evolved biologically as an adaptive capability in ways similar to the evolution of locomotion and binocular vision; and so on. But moving from embodied to extended I find problematic. I just got back from a run. In so doing I traversed varied terrain on different kinds of surfaces: concrete, asphalt, gravel. The run-as-activity included me, the surfaces, and the terrain. But there’s no reason that I can think of to contend that the body of the runner extends to include the surface and the terrain. Similarly, while running I saw mountains, a stream, some cows, cars, bicycles, a guy with fishing gear, etc. The visual scene included the seer and that which was seen. But to contend that my embodied visual perception system includes the stuff I saw? That stuff is out there; I see it because the light reflects off of the surfaces onto my retina, recording chemical changes that are transmitted through the optic nerve etc. etc. Without the reflected light I’d have seen nothing; without functioning optical sensory apparatus I’d have seen nothing; vision includes both seer and seen. That’s as far as we need to go; going farther isn’t particularly helpful in understanding how it is that vision works.

    I just found an article by Margaret Wilson entitled “Six Views of Embodied Cognition.” Here’s the abstract:

    “The emerging viewpoint of embodied cognition holds that cognitive processes are deeply rooted in the body’s interactions with the world. This position actually houses a number of distinct claims, some of which are more controversial than others. This paper distinguishes and evaluates the following six claims: 1) cognition is situated; 2) cognition is time-pressured; 3) we off-load cognitive work onto the environment; 4) the environment is part of the cognitive system; 5) cognition is for action; 6) off-line cognition is body-based. Of these, the first three and the fifth appear to be at least partially true, and their usefulness is best evaluated in terms of the range of their applicability. The fourth claim, I argue, is deeply problematic. The sixth claim has received the least attention in the literature on embodied cognition, but it may in fact be the best documented and most powerful of the six claims.”

    Wilson goes into more detail on all six, but the point that concerns us here is 4) — “the environment is part of the cognitive system” — and I agree with her assessment that it’s “deeply problematic.” She elaborates:

    “The claim is this: The forces that drive cognitive activity do not reside solely inside the head of the individual, but instead are distributed across the individual and the situation as they interact. Therefore, to understand cognition we must study the situation and the situated cognizer together as a single, unified system.

    “The first part of this claim is trivially true. Causes of behavior (and also causes of covert cognitive events such as thoughts) are surely distributed across the mind plus environment. More problematic is the reasoning connecting the first part of the claim with the second part. The fact that causal control is distributed across the situation is not sufficient justification for the claim that we must study a distributed system. The reason is that science is not ultimately about explaining the causality of any particular event. Instead, it is about understanding fundamental principles of organization and function.

    “Consider, for example, the goal of understanding hydrogen. Before 1900 hydrogen had been observed by scientists in a large number contexts, and a fair amount was known about its behavior when it interacted with other chemicals. But none of this behavior was really understood until the discovery in the 20th century of the structure of the atom, including the protons, neutrons and electrons that are its components and the discrete orbits that electrons inhabit. Once this was known, not only did all the previous observations of hydrogen make sense, but the behavior of hydrogen could be predicted in interactions with elements never yet observed. The causes of the behavior of hydrogen are always a combination of the nature of hydrogen plus the specifics of its surrounding context; yet explanatory satisfaction came from understanding the workings of the narrowly defined system that is the hydrogen atom. To have insisted that we focus on the study of contextualized behavior would probably not have led to a theoretical understanding with anything like this kind of explanatory force.”

    Wilson then goes on to discuss what constitutes a “system,” which she considers to be a matter of “organization, that is the functional relations among its elements.” She acknowledges that defining something as a system is partly a judgment call, and also that no system is entirely closed. But this:

    “We are now in a position to make a few observations about a “cognitive system” that is distributed across the situation. The organization of such a system – the functional relations among its elements, and indeed the constituative elements themselves – would change every time the person moves to a new location or begins interacting with a different set of objects. That is, the system would retain its identity only so long as the situation and the person’s task-orientation toward that situation did not change. Such a system would clearly be a facultative system, and facultative systems like this would arise and disband rapidly and continuously during the daily life of the individual person. The distributed view of cognition thus trades off the obligate nature of the system in order to buy a system that is more or less closed.

    “If, on the other hand, we restrict the system to include only the cognitive architecture of the individual mind or brain, then we are dealing with a single, persisting, obligate system. The various components of the system’s organization – perceptual mechanisms, attentional filters, working memory stores, and so on – retain their functional roles within that system across time. The system is undeniably open with respect to its environment, continuously receiving input that affects the system’s functioning and producing output that has consequences for the environment’s further impact on the system itself. But, as in the case of hydrogen, or an ecosystem, this characteristic of openness does not compromise the system’s status as a system. Based on this analysis, it seems clear that a strong view of distributed cognition – that a cognitive system cannot in principle be taken to comprise only an individual mind – will not hold up.”

    Wilson acknowledges that doing empirical investigation of a weaker version of extended mind — minds in context of situations — evades these problematic issues. However, she observes, in this weakened form extended mind theory “loses much of its radical cachet.” Further, cognitive psychology/science already studies mind in context; e.g., studies of cognition typically involve subjects attempting to solve problems, studies of visual perception involve subjects looking at things, etc.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 April 2011 @ 6:19 pm

  5. “The important point, for me, is that there can be no cooking tools without a cook, and no cook without the tools.”

    I agree. Humans are inveterate tool-users. I think it’s fair to say that humans make more adaptive use of their environments than do any other species, and that without this manipulation of the environment we’d surely not have achieved such widespread adaptation to such a wide variety of ecological niches. From a strictly biological POV, though, a human doesn’t inherit the ability to make or use any particular tools. I.e., tool using generally speaking is surely an inherited trait, but we’re not driven by instinct to use any particular tools, or even to speak any particular language (which is a very intricate and abstract sort of tool). To that extent a bird and its nest are more like a single organism than are a human and his skillet.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 April 2011 @ 6:28 pm

  6. I like Wilson’s take on it. It’s not just about the terminology, but about what model of things has the most explanatory power and what model allows us to learn more about other things.

    I also like what she said about the sixth claim. To me, that’s where the rubber of embodied cognition really meets the road of extended cognition. But that’s as far as I’d really want to take claims about extended cognition. Holding a stronger stance does enhance the “radical cachet”, but it doesn’t seem to do much else.

    That’s an interesting thought about the bird’s nest vs. the human’s tool. I hadn’t really thought about it from the perspective of what’s “hard coded” or inherited for the organism. I guess I’d say that calling any external object “part of” an organism would be going too far in the same way as the 4th claim does. It’s interesting to ponder but doesn’t really buy us anything extra in the end.

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    Comment by Asher Kay — 30 April 2011 @ 9:02 pm

  7. Are we seeing the emergence of a new fad (to finally replace OOO), or is this just an extension of the main thesis that all objects are equal, and no objects are more equal than dr. Harman, therefore, the mind is just like the body, and the body is just like the mind, ergo, everything is connected and – paradise on Earth!

    As a closet Christian I must express my lifelong suspicion of project that claim to bestow the human mind with divine powers.

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    Comment by center of parody — 30 April 2011 @ 9:15 pm

  8. As I understand it, the sixth claim contravenes the idea that mental representation always constitutes some sort of conscious propositional thinking. It’s pretty cool that mental maps of physical terrain encode and simulate the topographic features of the terrain via patterns of neural connections. Then there’s the idea of muscle memory, where rehearsed bodily movement sequences are stored and retrieved unconsciously as a distributed bodily function, without imposing any sort of processing burden on a central executive processor to issue instructions. These sorts of cognitive processes call attention to the embodiment of cognition all the way down to the neuroprocessing level.

    A new fad? I don’t know; I’m usually a step behind on these developments. Both Levi and Pete Wolfendale seem to endorse the idea not only of embodied mind but also the more radical claims of extended mind. Between the two of them they span pro- and anti-OOO. I’m not sure where extended mind fits, frankly. For Levi I suspect it fits with the idea that two objects interacting with each other cause the emergence of new hybrid objects; e.g., interaction of a human mind and an environmental object spawns a subject-object hybrid. Instead of the mind moving toward objective knowledge of the world outside of itself, mind and world together create a new truth.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 April 2011 @ 10:28 pm

  9. Instead of the mind moving toward objective knowledge of the world outside of itself, mind and world together create a new truth.

    [Amusing scurrilous remark deleted — Ed.]

    But this again sounds a bit truistic, some general Buddhistic thoughts launched as a new science… ??? What’s the point?

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    Comment by center of parody — 1 May 2011 @ 7:06 am

  10. As a closet Christian I must express my lifelong suspicion of project that claim to bestow the human mind with divine powers.

    O.K. but the animals ( and all the other objects ) jump a little short either. In a sense I wonder why there were no dinosaur civilizations.

    It took just about 100.000 yrs for a genetically unaltered human brain from primitive tooling and being close to extinction to the flight on the moon and the LHC. Some phase shift happened towards a minds I and it wasn’t a biological one. There must be something else playing the catalyst. The embodied mind is too less because it only allows to fall back into biology and there is just no difference to make.

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    Comment by Kay — 1 May 2011 @ 9:35 am

  11. What’s the point? I’m sure as you imply it’s partly the immanentistic blurring of boundaries between things and energy flows — including, I may point out, your well-received adumbrations on the Voles about the work of art (W of A?) being extended through the commentaries it inspires. So if you were to pull that thread via extended mind theory you’d say that the film includes its commentaries, while the commentators’ mind includes the films he comments on. There’s also the posthuman idea going on, where biological human minds are augmented by pencil and paper, by computer keyboard, by external memory device jacked into the brain. More directly, embodied mind is a worthwhile reaction against mind-body dualism in philosophy and sometimes also in psychology, while extended mind pushes against organism-environment dualism. As I acknowledged in the post, though, I’m not very well-versed in this literature.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 1 May 2011 @ 11:00 am

  12. your well-received adumbrations on the Voles

    Dear Eloise, you are so attuned to emotional flows, you notice such details. The Dyke has always struck me as an exceptionally agreeable bear, and so I doubt that he would be surrounding himself with petty idiots, as is often the case in the objectosphere.

    But what about the question of hierarchy, i.e. which mind is more powerful / in charge?

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    Comment by center of parody — 1 May 2011 @ 2:54 pm

  13. Good question about power/control in extended minds. If I can get you to help me with my math homework, does that mean that I’ve made you part of my mind? Or if you own a business and I work for you, am I a part of your mind/body while I’m on the job? Whoever is in charge of the thinking and doing expands his selfhood at the expense of the subordinates, whose subjectivity gets absorbed into his. This goes beyond controlling the means of production: the boss absorbs materials, tools, and workers into himself as his extended mind/body.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 1 May 2011 @ 4:58 pm

  14. This goes beyond controlling the means of production: the boss absorbs materials, tools, and workers into himself as an extended mind/body.

    Hm, there is no circular tool-body-mind interaction as if you were hacking on a keyboard. The workers are not at your disposition as your tennis racket. Instead of an extended mind you end up with a distributed system, lots of communication which may not happen in realtime, problems with fault tolerance, availability and so on.

    A functionalist could still argue that this is equivalent to an extended mind but then the mind becomes an abstract pattern again, which can be encoded in software and run on your PC. Since this wasn’t entirely convincing the whole embodiment story took off in the first place.

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    Comment by Kay — 1 May 2011 @ 5:25 pm

  15. I agree that the distributed system is a better representation than extended mind. A distributed system consists of discrete nodes which process information, money, power, etc. and pass it along to other nodes. The nodes are strapped together in interdependent relations, but they still retain their separate existence and functionality. Does a functional system that includes humans as nodes — e.g., a corporation or a government — comprise an abstract extended mind? I too wary of making this move, for some of the same reasons you allude to when considering computer hardware-software systems as “artificial intelligences.” Where does the agency reside? Who decides what work the AI system or the corporation is going to perform?

    Certainly humans who function as nodes in distributed systems are affected by differential exertions of power propagating through the system. In his latest long post Pete at Deontologistics rehearses Foucault’s exposition of how power propagating through a distributed network compromises individual human agency. There is some truth to the idea that those with power can suck others’ subjectivity into themselves. But it strikes me that this way of speaking is metaphorical: potentially cautionary or inspirational when invoked rhetorically but not particularly useful either in advancing scientific understanding or in designing/building/optimizing actual distributed systems.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 1 May 2011 @ 6:20 pm

    • …or in reconfiguring/undermining/dismantling existing systems in which knowledge and power are inequitably distributed and concentrated in particular nodes.

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      Comment by ktismatics — 2 May 2011 @ 11:13 am

  16. Appertaining to extended mind, our daughter and her pals were wondering if having a permanent unit circle tattoo would constitute cheating on the AP calculus exam. After all, it would be a permanent part of your body, not just something written on your arm with a pen that you could wash off later.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 May 2011 @ 1:54 pm

  17. Coming late to this debate, I offer the following observation. When I sit down at my computer, choose several thousand nodes from a social network database and export to the software that generates the network diagram and calculates a variety of network measures, I am acting and thinking in ways that were, when I was in graduate school back in the sixties, literally unthinkable. Neither concepts nor software nor hardware were available to do what I now do in a matter of minutes. I might have been able to collect data from a small sample of individuals, keypunch it onto Hollerith cards, and write a FORTRAN routine to perform some rudimentary statistical processing—and I wouldn’t have had time to do anything else. Has my mind been extended by the authors of Filemaker Pro (my database), Pajek (my network analysis software) and the people who were just starting to think about network analysis as I was finishing my Ph.D.? You bet it has.

    You might also want to consider Donald Mackenzie’s observations in Material Markets: How Economic Agents are Constructed (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies). Here again, we see extended minds in action, trading in global markets that didn’t exist before digital technology and algorithms for real-time calculations made them possible. In Gregory Bateson’s famous case of the blind man and his stick, you could take the blind man’s stick and he could still fumble his way around. Take away the trader’s computers and his access to global networks, and that trader qua trader is dead.

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    Comment by John McCreery — 6 May 2011 @ 12:38 am

  18. Yes, these are the sorts of examples that are invoked in support of extended mind. It’s clear that humans are inveterate tool-users, and that we can do things with tools that we would do more poorly or not at all without them. Clearly it takes a particular kind of mind — most notably a human one — to use already-invented tools effectively. Biochemically and genetically, the human using computers to perform complex calculations is no different from the human using pebbles as tokens for counting. Using both of these cognitive tools requires similar kinds of perceptual, motor, and intellectual abilities. The same could be said for performing physical tasks: a farmer driving an automated plow is deploying the same sorts of tool-using skills as does the farmer who gouges holes in the ground with a stick.

    So, it’s understood that the human’s intellectual and physical capabilities are extended by use of tools. What is to be gained by saying that the human’s mind or body are extended by using tools? If mind is defined as a function, as the ability to perform cognitive tasks, then the biological and mechanical devices performing this function recede into the background. Human brains and fingers, computers and the electricity to run them, the data accessed by the humans and the computers — all of it together is performing a cognitive task, so functionally all of it together is a mind. Similarly with bodies: if the body is defined functionally as the ability to perform physical tasks, then the farmer and his plow and the diesel fuel used to run it and the field full of dirt together constitute a body.

    I’m prepared to consider mind and body in functional terms: human and computer and electricity and data functioning together as a mind; farmer and plow and fuel and dirt functioning together as a body. Now it seems one encounters a decision point. Are these coupled functional systems to be regarded as extensions of the humans who are deploying them? Or are they minds and bodies in their own right, with the humans serving as component parts? Both views have features to commend them. In almost all distributed coupled systems it’s possible to identify humans who function as executive agents, deciding what tasks are to be performed, coordinating the work process, using the tools, evaluating the output — implying that the system functions as an extension of the human agent. On the other hand, the whole system has to work properly if it’s going to get the job done, suggesting the autonomous system point of view. Still, each distinct component has to do its assigned function properly in order for the whole system to operate effectively. Debugging a system failure typically involves tracing the problem to the failure of a particular component or its interfaces with other specific components. And it’s also the case that the system’s components can be pulled apart and reassembled into other components: the computer used in a stock exchange could be reprogrammed for use in a library; the guy sitting at the computer terminal could go out in the field and start driving the plow.

    Or, using Margaret Wilson’s example cited in comment 4, water can be broken up into its components, with the hydrogen ion strapped to chlorine to make an acid and the hydroxide ion coupled with sodium to make a base. Is there any advantage to regarding water or hydrochloric acid as “extensions” of hydrogen? Arguably it’s more useful, from both a scientific and an engineering standpoint, to regard the HOH and HCl as systems, while also regarding H, OH, and Cl as components of these systems and as separate systems in their own right. So too with human minds: they can function as components of economic and political and social systems, but they also function as systems in their own right.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 May 2011 @ 8:28 am

  19. Eloise I’ve been reading the new speculation magazine that the Narcissistic Cat is advertising in the latest post, and some articles are really good (including the cat’s). It only now shone on me that the OOO is fighting against the STRUCTURALIST position that the world is indelibly torn by a split – e.g. Lacan’s Hole in the symbolic order – but that they are indeed privy to SEMIOTICS, because every object in the world has his own meaning. In this way the human is deprivileged, but meaning isn’t. I can accept this position very much, because I think it’s deeply true that meaning exists in the world despite and beyond human understanding, volition, or awareness. I think this also allows for a religiousness, within the OOO, that is to say the OOO doesn’t seem to be in conflict with God, but with the (human)Master Signifier.

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    Comment by center of parody — 6 May 2011 @ 9:42 am

    • One of the first things you learn when you are doing mathematical analysis ( calculus ) is that you prove that an integral measure over a set doesn’t depend on the particular partition ( the Riemann sum ) of the involved sets in the limit of the partitions refinement. What is done here is an operation in which a subject determines the object and then proves that the result doesn’t depend on the way it is determined i.e. on the specific account of the subject. The subject moves into the correlation for the determination and then it removes the correlation and itself again for the objectivity of the result. There is nothing speculative or idealist about it. Hypotheses non fingo.

      It is speculative that objects exist beyond the closure or scope or potential applicability of this procedure, not the factual application. A stronger assertion is that this scope can be derived once one has the correct physics and the correct initial data for the universe: there is a single object which evolves and which can be subdivided into objects which may or may not be studied in isolation or in co-dependence.

      Not entirely sure, what OOO attempts to establish? Maybe science has become redundant on some level and we want to enjoy the established objectivity of objects without too much intellectual discipline. Just like using and enjoying gadgets, we didn’t have invented and do not intend to create ourselves. The emancipation of the user over the engineer, so to speak. It’s objectivity for the common folks who only have to understand Heidegger-Harmans fourfold and reading some philosophy texts in plain English. Someone else does the math and figures out how the climate works and builds our AI overlords. There is not much reason to run after those people as a philosopher, in particular when they don’t need you anyway.

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      Comment by Kay — 6 May 2011 @ 11:25 pm

    • Calculus, objects, objectivity, Newton — a nice weaving together of strands, Kay.

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      Comment by ktismatics — 7 May 2011 @ 9:51 pm

  20. I suppose that extended mind is also a reaction against structuralism, at least in part. Instead of individual subjects being determined by the larger physical and cultural world in which they’re immersed, the world becomes an extension of the individual subject.

    I’m in league with the speculative realists who contend that objects of the world are different from me, and that their composition and structure and so on exist independently of what I think about them. But then there’s a variant in which information about objects flows in some kind of merged medium between the transmitting object and the recipient. E.g., information I gather about the sun’s brightness, the wall’s hardness, etc. is transmitted in a kind of extended field between the sun and the wall and me. But clearly the sun emits light regardless of whether I or any other creatures are around to “observe; i.e., to interpret the light as information.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 May 2011 @ 10:46 am

    • Did structuralism die in Searles Chinese Room? It probably died several deaths but this one might be the most lasting for analytic philosophers.

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      Comment by Kay — 6 May 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    • At least I can now name-drop Extended Mind, as well as Actor-Network Theory and now also New Materialisms. These movements react not just against structuralism but also against the purported reductionism of science, where the rich nuances of the particular are lost in the abstractions of analysis. An explosive emergence of difference is envisioned: human-paper-pencil is a different mind from human-computer or human-book. But the assemblage human-paper-pencil already abstracts its components — better presumably to speak of this particular human using this pencil to write on this pad of paper. I’m not sure what’s to be said about this proliferation — narrative texts, poems, photographs, catalogs… There’s that story by Borges called “Funes, His Memory”:

      With one quick look, you and I perceive three wineglasses on a table; Funes perceived every grape that had been pressed into the wine and all the stalks and tendrils of the vineyard. He knew the forms of the clouds in the southern sky on the morning of April 30, 1882, and he could compare them in his memory with the veins in the marbled buildings of a book he had seen only once, or with the feathers of spray lifted by an oar on the Rio Negro on the eve of the Battle of Quebracho. Nor were those memories simple — every visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal sensations, and so on. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day; he had never once erred or faltered, but each reconstruction had itself taken an entire day… A circle drawn on a blackboard, a right triangle, a rhombus — all these are forms we can fully intuit; Ireneo could do the same with the stormy mane of a young colt, a small herd of cattle on a mountainside, a flickering fire and its uncountable ashes, and the many faces of a dead man at a wake. I have no idea how many stars he saw in the sky.

      I agree with Searle that mind requires understanding and intentionality; everything else is a tool used by the thinking agent. The hammer drives the nail, but only if the carpenter wields the hammer. Even an automated hammer is wielded by the machine’s programmer and operator and owner. Agency may be distributed, but not to the machines.

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      Comment by ktismatics — 7 May 2011 @ 9:45 pm

      • An explosive emergence of difference is envisioned: human-paper-pencil is a different mind from human-computer or human-book. But the assemblage human-paper-pencil already abstracts its components — better presumably to speak of this particular human using this pencil to write on this pad of paper.

        The irony is that this is indeed reductionist: there is no stop barrier for the refinement process, for carving out details and shape particulars until you hit the limits of resolution. Analysis and synthesis are confined within a set or rather measure theoretic setup. All the details are preserved up to the level of infinitesimal structures – or “pixels” if you keep the resolution finite.

        I understand this is very boring and we shall “resist” it :)

        We cannot do much about it but counting, determining the length/shape/volume and compare it to other individuals for exact equality. All the interesting stuff emerges when we start parsing things, determine features and move on towards semantic analysis. Even an “assemblage” is a structured object which requires parsing for features. Unfortunately there is no canonical grammar for everything, no spooky “universal grammar” of the world. So we apply the correlation trick, I talked about above: choose a grammar and keep a parser, move into the correlation, parse the object and get a sentence ( assemblage ), determine more features, move out of the correlation and state the objective result which can be reproduced by everyone with the same object and parser ( “sameness” in absolute and raw measure theoretic terms ), everywhere and at all times. When we give up space and time symmetry of the correlation trick we run into problems with the “arch-fossil” but only then. It’s also not important philosophically, that it is actually practiced but only that the world is such that it could be practiced.

        Just a little more fun stuff before breakfast: when we spin the parser analogy a little further then there are three objects involved. We have the raw text ( the object ), the parser ( the subject ) and the parse tree ( the object in the subjects mind ). But what if we want to avoid the parse tree in the mind as an artificial construct? We are used to assign the determined features to the original object, not to a structured representation, a particular encoding of the parse tree. So removing the correlation in the end also means to forget about the particular representation. The structure we got becomes the structure of the object itself. It loses its raw state. Objectivity guarantees idempotence: we can apply the full correlation trick twice and get the same result.

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        Comment by Kay — 8 May 2011 @ 12:43 am

      • One trick for sustaining the magical uniqueness of things is to avoid analysis altogether, dwelling only on the whole and its distinctive properties, sustaining an artificially naive view of the world. Certainly there are advantages to cultivating a taste for the qualitative differences between things rather than arraying them on quantitative scales for measuring these qualities. But doesn’t connoisseurship require an even more refined and nuanced awareness of the component features and their admixtures? And don’t the virtuoso and the master vintner develop expertise in making minuscule changes in the components of their art and in experimenting with the emergent properties generated by subtly altering the combinations of elements? Achieving facility with the elements and their combinations makes it possible to move toward greater structural complexity, greater variation. This, as you say, is where mastering the specialized grammars of music and wine make possible limitless variations in the playing of a concerto or the crafting of a Bourdeaux. While it is the unique subjectivity of the artist who brings about these unique works of art, the artistry and its results can to at least some degree be abtracted from their specific manifestations, objectified, extracted from the correlation.

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        Comment by ktismatics — 8 May 2011 @ 10:26 am

  21. On poststructuralism, extended mind, extended reader, and extended text:

    [T]he literary work has two poles, which we might call the artistic and the aesthetic: the artistic pole is the author’s text, and the aesthetic is the realization accomplished by the reader. In view of this polarity, it is clear that the work itself cannot be identical with the text or with its actualization but must be situated somewhere between the two. It must inevitably be virtual in character, as it cannot be reduced to the reality of the text or to the subjectivity of the reader, and it is from this virtuality that it derives its dynamism… This is not to deny the vital importance of each of the two poles — it is simply that if one loses sight of the relationship, one loses sight of the virtual work. Despite its uses, separate analysis would only be conclusive if the relationship were that of transmitter and receiver, for this would presume a common code, ensuring accurate communication since the message would only be traveling one way. In literary works, however, the message is transmitted in two ways, in that the reader “receives” it by composing it.

    – Wolfgang Iser, “Interaction Between Text and Reader,” 1980

    The convergence of text and reader brings the literary work into existence.

    – Iser, “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,” 1974

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 May 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  22. There’s certainly a reciprocity operating between human and tool. The tool can enable its user to do certain kinds of work that might otherwise be impossible or overly difficult, but at the same time the tool is part of the environment to which the human must adapt. The pencil’s lead breaks, the notebook runs out of paper, the computer crashes — and so the human agent in this cognitive assemblage must adapt his thinking and behavior accordingly. This mutual adaptation is especially evident when tools and other cultural artifacts designed and built through human intentionality accumulate into larger aggregates like highways and cities and factories. The factory worker might well feel like a cog in the machine rather than a participant in running the machine. The factory worker must adapt his mind and body to the factory’s machinery and procedures. But the same reciprocity holds with respect to the natural environment: if I want to walk to the west of where I’m sitting I would have to alter my stride for mountain terrain and alter my clothing for colder temperatures. But to contend that the mountains and I together comprise “walking,” rather than me walking through the mountains? Dude, this begins to sound like stoner thinking.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 May 2011 @ 12:17 pm

  23. In recent posts Levi Bryant is pitching extended mind theory as part of his naturalism. If you’re an empirical psychologist there’s no reason to regard in-the-head thinking as non-naturalistic, inasmuch as brains are material things too, and brains are part of bodies, and bodies are part of the world with which they interact. Maybe continental philosophers have a harder time with the idea of investigating cognition as a natural science. Evidently what Levi wants to counteract is the emphasis on cognitive representation of the world rather than direct engagement with the world itself. But consider long division with pencil and paper: The problem is posed from some part of the world outside the head. The problem has to be represented by the problem-solver in such a way that the paper and pencil manipulations are performed according to the algorithms stored in the head. And the proof of representational accuracy isn’t inside the head: it’s the solution that’s generated, the mental representation’s output into the world. I’ve already registered other objections to extended mind in this thread, but I don’t think they need to be invoked in countering the notion that the empirical investigation of in-the-head thinking exemplifies non-naturalistic idealism.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 October 2012 @ 1:58 pm


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