Advisory Board

Professor Andy Clark

The Discover Magazine article The Brain: How Google Is Making Us Smarter said

Our minds are under attack. At least that’s what I keep hearing these days. Thumbing away at our text messages, we are becoming illiterate. (Or is that illiter8?) Blogs make us coarse, YouTube makes us shallow. Last summer the cover of The Atlantic posed a question: “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” Inside the magazine, author Nicholas Carr argued that the Internet is damaging our brains, robbing us of our memories and deep thoughts. “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world,” he wrote, “it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”
 
I have a hard time taking these Cassandras of the Computer Age seriously. For one thing, they are much more interested in our fears than in the facts. In his new book, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, the English linguist David Crystal demonstrates that many of the dire warnings about texting are little more than urban legends. Texting doesn’t lead to bad spelling, he finds. In fact, Crystal writes, “Texting actually improves your literacy, as it gives you more practice in reading and writing.”
 
More significantly, the ominous warnings feed on a popular misconception of how the mind works. We tend to think of the mind as separated from the world; we imagine information trickling into our senses and reaching our isolated minds, which then turn that information into a detailed picture of reality. The Internet and iPhones seem to be crashing the gate of the mind, taking over its natural work and leaving it to wither away to a mental stump. As plausible as this picture may seem, it does a bad job of explaining a lot of recent scientific research. In fact, the mind appears to be adapted for reaching out from our heads and making the world, including our machines, an extension of itself.
 
This concept of the extended mind was first raised in 1998, right around the time Google was born, by two philosophers, Andy Clark, now at the University of Edinburgh, and David Chalmers, now at the Australian National University. In the journal Analysis, they published a short essay called The Extended Mind in which they asked a simple question: “Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?” Most people might answer, “At the skull.” But Clark and Chalmers set out to convince their readers that the mind is not simply the product of the neurons in our brains, locked away behind a wall of bone. Rather, they argued that the mind is something more: a system made up of the brain plus parts of its environment.

Andy Clark, BA, DPhil, FRSE is Professor of Logic and Metaphysics and Head of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Before this he was director of the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University in Bloomington. Previously, he taught at Washington University at St. Louis and the University of Sussex in England.
 
Andy is one of the founding members of the Contact collaborative research project whose aim is to investigate the role environment plays in shaping the nature of conscious experience. His papers and books deal with the philosophy of mind and he is considered a leading scientist in mind extension. He has also written extensively on connectionism, robotics, and the role and nature of mental representation.
 
He is on the Editorial Boards of Connection Science and Minds and Machines.
 
Andy is perhaps most famous for his defence of the hypothesis of the Extended mind. He has discovered that the dynamic loops through which mind and world interact are not merely instrumental. The cycle of activity that runs from brain through body and world and back again actually constitutes cognition. The mind, on this account, is not bounded by the biological organism but extends into the environment of that organism.
 
Consider two subjects carry out a mathematical task. The first completes the task solely in her head, while the second completes the task with the assistance of paper and pencil. By his “parity principle”, as long as the cognitive results are the same there is no reason to count the means employed by the two subjects as different. The process of cognition in the second case involves paper and pencil, and the conception of “mind” appropriate to this subject must include these environmental items.
 
He notes that, in practice, the criterion of equal efficiency is seldom met. Nonetheless, he believes that the boundary of “skin and skull” is arbitrary and cognitively meaningless. If the paper and pencil used by the second subject becomes a virtual “paper and pencil” visible on a monitor and controlled by a silicon chip implanted in the head, the differences between subjects become less clear and his hypothesis becomes more compelling.
 
Andy foresees the development of cognitive prosthetics, or electronic brain enhancements, as only the next logical step in the human mind’s natural integration with technology. His research interests also include wetwiring and other human-electronic integration experiments, as well as technological advances in immediate human communication and their utilization in society.
 
Andy authored Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (Philosophy of the Mind), Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Microcognition: Philosophy, Cognitive Science, and Parallel Distributed Processing, Associative Engines: Connectionism, Concepts, and Representational Change, and Cognitive Architectures in Artificial Intelligence: The Evolution of Research Programs, and coedited Mind and Morals: Essays on Ethics and Cognitive Science, and Connectionism, Concepts, and Folk Psychology: The Legacy of Alan Turing, Volume II (Mind Association Occasional Series).
 
His papers include The Twisted Matrix: Dream, Simulation, or Hybrid?, Local Associations and Global Reason: Fodor’s Frame Problem and Second-Order Search, Clark’s Law: Everything Leaks, Artificial Intelligence and the Many Faces of Reason, Beyond The Flesh: Some Lessons from a Mole Cricket, Memento’s Revenge: Objections and Replies to the Extended Mind, That Special Something: Dennett on the Making of Minds and Selves, and Trading Spaces: Connectionism and the Limits of Uninformed Learning. Read the full list of his publications!