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The Extended Mind Thesis

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The Extended Mind Thesis
Julian Kiverstein1, Mirko Farina2 & Andy Clark3
1 Institute for Logic, Language and Computation, Amsterdam

2 ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD), Australian Hearing Hub, Macquarie University, Sydney.

3 University of Edinburgh

General Overviews



Intellectual Precursors and Inspiration

Extended Functionalism

"Second Waves" Approaches

Perception and Action

Language and Thought


Consciousness, Self and Agency

Emerging Topics

Extended Mind and Epistemology


Material Culture and Cognitive Archaeology

Group and Social Cognition


The extended mind thesis claims that the cognitive processes that make up our minds can reach beyond the boundaries of individual organisms to include as proper parts aspects of the organism’s physical and socio-cultural environment. Proponents of the extended mind story thus hold that even quite familiar human mental states (such as states of believing that so-and-so) can be realized, in part, by structures and processes located outside the human head. Such claims go far beyond the important but less challenging assertion that human cognizing leans heavily on various forms of external scaffolding and support. Instead, they paint mind itself (or better, the physical machinery that realizes some of our cognitive processes and mental states) as, under humanly attainable conditions, extending beyond the bounds of skin and skull. Extended cognition in its most general form occurs when internal and external resources become fluently tuned and deeply integrated in such a way as to enable a cognitive agent to accomplish her projects, goals and interests. Consider for instance how technological resources like pens, paper, and PCs are now so deeply integrated into our everyday lives that we couldn’t accomplish many of our cognitive goals and purposes without them. Technological resources have become so thoroughly enmeshed with our internal cognitive machinery as to count, so the extended mind thesis claims, as a part of the machinery of thought itself. Underlying (but distinct from) the extended mind thesis is a commonplace observation. It is that intelligent problem solving of the kind we find in adult humans isn’t something the naked brain can achieve all on its own but is the outcome of the brain and body operating together in an environmental and often technologically-loaded setting. Humans possess the kinds of high-level cognitive skills and abilities we do in no small part because of the many tools we use for thinking. The extended mind thesis goes further, however, by claiming that it is mere prejudice to suppose that all cognition must take place within the confines of the organism’s skin and skull. Cognitive Science, it is then claimed, shouldn’t just concern itself with the more or less enduring processes taking place inside the heads of cognitive agents. Cognitive scientists should also investigate, on a kind of equal footing, temporary, soft-assembled wholes that mesh the problem-solving contributions of the brain and nervous system with the body and physical and socio-cultural environment. The section on *Extended Mind and Epistemology* was kindly prepared with the assistance of Spyridon Orestis Palermos. Many thanks to Orestis, and to Duncan Pritchard and John Sutton, for their help and advice.

General Overviews

There are a number of monographs and essays that provide useful introductions to the extended mind thesis, and to the work in cognitive science that (partially) motivates it. Clark and Chalmers 2002 provide the seminal statement of the extended mind thesis, and much of the current debate is in part based on the arguments of this paper. Clark 1997 draws on a wide body of empirical research in robotics, artificial life, connectionism, developmental psychology and economics to make a case for extended cognition. Haugeland 1998 contains an early statement of the view that minds can profitably be thought of as complex systems that emerge from the dynamic couplings of brain, body and world. It also described (contested) criteria for determining whether the mechanisms that support cognition can be “partitioned-off” from body and world. Rowlands 1999 (cited under *Memory*) develops an argument that evolution favoured essentially hybrid cognitive processes. Drawing on research from (more or less) mainstream psychology he constructs accounts of visual perception, memory, thought and language as extended cognitive processes. Wheeler 2005 shows how the extended mind thesis has its philosophical foundations in Heidegger’s phenomenology and explains how Heidegger’s philosophy when combined with the extended mind thesis contains the seeds of a solution to the frame problem, which has so far proved an insuperable problem for orthodox cognitive science. Wilson and Clark 2009 offer a useful taxonomy of extended cognition along the two dimensions of the nature of the external resources recruited by cognisers, and the durability of extended cognitive systems. Adams and Aizawa 2009 assembles and further develops a number of important challenges to the extended mind thesis, and advances an alternative “intracranialist” view of cognitive systems. The introduction to the Menary 2010 anthology contains a state of the art survey of the debate surrounding the extended mind.

Adams, Frederick & Aizawa, Ken. The Bounds of Cognition. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2009.

A comprehensive critique of the arguments for the extended mind.

Clark, Andy, & Chalmers, David, J. “The Extended Mind.” Analysis 58 (1): 7-19. Reprinted in David Chalmers Ed. Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

The original statement of the extended mind thesis (including the ‘parity arguments’ described later in this entry).

Clark, Andy. Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.

A book-length exploration of cognition as embodied and as environmentally scaffolded. This wide body of empirical research helps to motivate and support the extended mind thesis. For a similar survey of recent research (mostly in robotics) see the opening chapter of Clark 2008 (cited under *Textbooks*).

Haugeland, John. “Mind Embodied and Embedded.” In Having Thought: Essays in the Metaphysics of Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

An influential early statement of the view that minds should be thought of as product of the dynamic coupling of brain, body and world. Contains a useful (but also controversial) criterion for fixing the boundaries of cognitive systems.

Menary, Richard. “Introduction: The Extended Mind in Focus.” In Richard Menary Ed. The Extended Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

A useful survey of the current debate surrounding the extended mind. Forms the introduction to an important collection of essays.

Wheeler, Michael. Reconstructing the Cognitive World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.

Suggests that the extended mind thesis is part of a new movement in cognitive science that has its philosophical foundations in Martin Heidegger’s existential phenomenology. Uses the extended mind thesis to propose a solution to the frame problem, a notoriously stubborn problem for orthodox cognitive science.

Wilson, Robert, A., and Clark, Andy. “How to Situate Cognition: Letting Nature Take Its Course.” In Philip Robbins & Murat Aydede Eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Provides a useful taxonomy of extended cognition and argues that the resulting account of cognitive extension can be used to respond to a number of prominent objections to extended cognition.


There are currently a number of book length treatments of the extended mind thesis which would work well as textbooks for advanced undergraduate or postgraduate courses on the extended mind. Clark 2008 offers a careful and nuanced defence of the extended mind using up to date examples from cognitive science. Rupert 2009 would work well as a detailed statement of the challenges to the extended mind. It also contains a well worked-out alternative conception of cognitive systems. Clark 2001 provides a friendly overview of the philosophy of cognitive science that is explicitly set out in such a way as to make room for a science of the extended mind usefully described in the book’s final chapter. Rowlands 2003 provides a clear and readable survey of externalist approaches to the mind including the extended mind situating externalist ideas in an historical context with useful discussions of Descartes, Kant, Husserl, Sartre, Wittgenstein and Putnam.

Clark, Andy. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

This work isn’t intended as a general introduction to the extended mind thesis but it would work well as an advanced introduction. It contains a detailed presentation of the extended mind thesis including many new examples of relevant empirical work, and engages many of the major challenges to the extended mind that have been mounted over the last decade.

Clark, Andy. Mindware: an Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

This introductory textbook charts the changes in cognitive science’s understanding of cognition from classical cognitive science to connectionism to dynamical, embodied cognitive science. Chapter 8 (pp.140-159) provides useful background to the extended mind thesis. The Second Edition (In Press-2013) includes a new chapter on the arguments for, and against, the extended mind.

Rowlands, Mark. Externalism: Putting Mind and World Back Together Again. Chesham, Buckinghamshire: Acumen, 2003.

Covers externalist ideas more generally, though there are two chapters dealing specifically with the extended mind and extended consciousness. The chapters on the history of philosophy are helpful for setting the intellectual background to externalism. The book also contains useful discussions of the extended mind in relation to consciousness (see *Consciousness, Self and Agency*) and the philosophy of action.

Rupert, Robert. Cognitive Systems and the Extended Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

This critical monograph was not written to work as a textbook, but it would work well as an advanced introduction. The book is organised around Rupert’s contrast between (merely) ‘embedded’ cognitive systems and genuinely extended cognitive systems. Rupert deploys this distinction to mount criticisms of many of the main arguments for extended cognition.


The extended mind thesis is a relatively new topic in the philosophy of mind and so anthologies have only recently begun to appear. The collection by Menary 2010 covers all of the main debate surrounding the extended mind. There are also a number of papers that deal with disagreements within the extended mind camp about how extended cognition is best conceptualised. The extended mind thesis grew out of work in cognitive science on situated cognition. Robbins and Aydede 2009 is a collection of papers by leading cognitive scientists, psychologists and philosophers on the related (but more general) topic of situated cognition.

Menary, Richard, ed. The Extended Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

This is a collection of essays that deal directly with the extended mind thesis. Contains a useful introduction, essays by leading opponents and supporters of the extended mind, and essays suggesting different directions in which the extended mind thesis might be taken in the future.

Robbins, Philip and Aydede, Murat eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

This substantial anthology brings together cutting edge research from cognitive science, anthropology, robotics, philosophy, psychology and neuroscience concerned with the nature of situated cognition. The Extended Mind thesis offers a controversial theoretical framework for conceptualizing this empirical work. It should be stressed that many researchers concerned with situated cognition would stop short of embracing the Extended Mind, arguing instead for a view of minds as embedded in their environments.

Intellectual Precursors and Inspiration

The intellectual roots of the extended mind lie partly in work in cybernetics and systems theory that stresses the importance of feedback loops that run through the body into the world in explaining cognition. Gibson 1979 shows how visual perception is the result of a dynamic coupling of perceiver and environment in which the perceiver manipulates information-bearing structures found in its environment. The extended mind thesis stresses the role of the socio-cultural, material setting in linking neurobiology to higher-level cognitive processes. Vygotsky 1978 describes how higher-level psychological processes take form through the child’s participation in social, material and institutional culture. Hutchins 1995 offers a rich and detailed account of how external props and aids, and sociocultural practices contribute to the process of ship navigation. Dennett 1996 shows how well-designed tools (including the ‘tool’ of public language) can mesh with our native abilities to extend them in far-reaching ways. Donald 1991 is also concerned with the role of public language in the evolution of culture and cognition. He develops an evolutionary hypothesis and a well worked-out cognitive architecture that accounts for transition from non-symbolic intelligence to symbolic thought. Kirsh and Maglio 1994 shows the importance of offloading actions in the environment and argue that, under certain circumstances, this might serve the purpose of priming memory by reducing the need of internal, costly and potentially error-prone computations. Merleau-Ponty 2005 distinguishes between perception and action and proposes an embodied account of perception that is informed by the psychology of his time. Through a phenomenological analysis of the concept of perception, he also challenges the schism between mind and body formulated and endorsed by Cartesianism. In a similar vein, Heidegger 1962 claims that humans are essentially beings in the world and systems of related practises; practices that occur and constitute the instrumental network of relations that characterises each one of us and our situated existences in the world.

Dennett, Daniel, C. Kinds of Minds. New York: Basic Books, 1996.

Dennett distinguishes between different levels of intentionality each of which yields a different kind of mind. Particularly important for the Extended Mind is the account he gives of Gregorian creatures that can supplement their biological problem-solving abilities with tricks, shortcuts, strategies and tools acquired through culture from their peers. Dennett argues that the most powerful of these tools is public language.

Donald, Merlin 1991: Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Takes up the question of how humans managed to bridge the gap between symbolic thought and nonsymbolic forms of intelligence. Donald argues the modern human mind must be seen as a hybrid structure composed of capacities that are the product of biological evolution and neurophysiological structures that result from the imposition of technological and cultural constraints.

Gibson, J.J. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

Gibson was openly hostile to information processing models of psychological processes in a way that many proponents of the extended mind thesis would resist. However his idea of an optic array structured in ways the perceiving animal can discover through movement remains a key influence on extended and situated approaches to perception.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time.(1962) (J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, Trans., New York: Harper & Row)

Heidegger’s magnum opus is many things but in part it is an attack on Cartesian philosophy for its failure to recognise the situatedness that is a part of our way of being as human beings. The extended mind ideas of cognitive technology and the vision of the cognitive agent as immanent within a web of active causal factors meshes well with Heidegger’s notion of equipment and his description of human existence as being-in-the-world.

Hutchins, Edwin. Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.

Hutchins provides a detailed analysis of a navigation team working on the bridge of a navy ship as a socially distributed cognitive system. Hutchins shows how the practices of the navigation team can be described in computational terms, and argues for an understanding of human cognition as both a computational and a cultural and social process.

Kirsh, David, and Maglio, P. “On Distinguishing Epistemic from Pragmatic Action.” Cognitive Science 18 (1994): 513-549

Epistemic actions are actions performed on the world with the goal of extracting or uncovering information. Kirsh and Maglio show how expert players of the video game Tetris perform epistemic actions to generate information about the shape of a zoid (game piece) that will enable the player to correctly determine where to place it.

Merleau Ponty, M. The Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge, London 2005.

Merleau-Ponty offers detailed phenomenological description, deeply informed by the psychology of his day, of the many ways in which perception is embodied and situated. His rejection of the distinction between perception and action has been proven a significant influence on the extended mind. His discussion of the body schema has also influenced extended mind thinking about the relation between the human body and tools.

Vygotsky, Lev, S. Mind in Society: the Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.

The idea that humans exploit structures in the environment to “scaffold” our problem solving plays a central role in arguments for the extended mind. This idea of scaffolding originates in the writings of the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, and in this work he shows how human higher cognitive processes develop in the social sphere with the adult providing a ‘zone of proximal development’ that scaffolds infant learning and behavior.

Extended Functionalism

The extended mind thesis is sometimes depicted as flowing naturally from functionalist views concerning the ‘mutiple realizability’ of cognitive processes. Just as it doesn’t matter what physical materials accomplish the functions constitutive of a cognitive process, nor does it matter, or so it is argued, just where those physical materials are located. If this is correct, then the material components upon which a cognitive process ‘runs’ may sometimes be spread across brain, body and world. What matters is that the components play the right sort of roles and are integrated with other cognitive processes in the right sort of way. Wilson 1994 demonstrates how the boundary of skin and skull needn’t form the boundaries of computational systems. Computational processes, he suggests, can extend beyond the skin into the world to include operations of resources located outside of the individual cogniser. Adams and Aizawa 2009 and Rupert 2004 argue (in slightly different ways) that most external processes lack key functional properties characteristic of cognitive ones, and do so in such a way as to preclude external processes from counting as cognitive. Clark 2008 (part 2) and Wheeler 2010 respond to this objection by defending a version of functionalism that avoids tying the functional properties definitive of cognition to the functional properties characteristic of internal biological processes. Rowlands 2009 argues that such a response may fall foul of the liberalism-chauvinism problem that has traditionally plagued functionalism. Taking up a similar worry, Sprevak 2009 argues that an extended functionalism may be overly liberal in what it allows to count as cognition in a way that runs the risk of undermining functionalism altogether. Menary 2007 attempts to avoid these worries by emphasizing the ‘complementarity’ of internal biological resources and external tools and representations.

Adams, Frederick, R. & Aizawa, K. The Bounds of Cognition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

A comprehensive and up to date statement of many of the most perplexing and difficult problems facing proponents of the extended mind thesis.

Clark, Andy. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008

Part 2 of this monograph includes a defence of extended functionalism and responses to most of the main arguments against the extended mind, including those by Adams and Aizawa 2009 and by Rupert 2009.

Menary, Richard. Cognitive Integration: Mind and Cognition Unbounded. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007

A defence of the extended mind thesis that avoids the appeal to functional considerations and emphasizes the integration and ‘complementarity’ between biological and non-biological components and processes.

Rowlands, Mark. “The Extended Mind.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. 44.3 (2009): 628-41.

A review essay aiming to clarify the extended mind thesis and its relationship with classical functionalism. Rowlands challenges proponents of the extended mind to provide a defence of the extended mind that is neither chauvinist nor overly liberal.

Rupert, Robert, D. “Challenges to the Hypothesis of Extended Cognition.” The Journal of Philosophy 101 (8): 389-428, 2004.

Rupert argues for an embedded approach to cognition according to which cognitive processes can causally depend on environmentally located resources without those resources being constituents of cognitive processes. He offers a number of arguments meant to favour an embedded description of cognition over an extended account.

Sprevak, Mark. “Extended Cognition and Functionalism.” The Journal of Philosophy 106: 503-527, 2009

Sprevak attempts to disarm worries concerning the functionalist argument for extended cognition, but ends by raising some new difficulties that cast doubt upon both functionalism and the claims concerning the extended mind.

Wheeler, Michael. “In Defence of Extended Functionalism.” In The Extended Mind. Edited by Richard Menary, 245-270. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010

As advertised in the title, Wheeler responds to a number of central objections to extended functionalism. The paper includes extensive discussion of the parity principle, and seeks to demonstrate that it should be understood in a way that doesn’t beg the question either against or in favour of the thesis of the extended mind.

Wilson, Robert, A. “Wide Computationalism.” Mind 103 (411): 351-72, 1994

Challenges those who have argued from computationalism to individualism defending instead the possibility of computational processes that operate on information located in the individual’s environment. Wilson shows how this understanding of computation is consistent with computational explanations found in cognitive psychology.

Second Wave” Approaches

The literature on extended cognition includes two distinct styles of argument supposed to favor the extended mind thesis (EMT). One strand invokes the so-called “parity principle” while the other emphasizes considerations of “complementarity”. Complementarity approaches investigate the many different ways in which diverse components of a cognitive system intermingle and function together in triggering, driving and forging complex cognitive behaviour, and seek to avoid some of the difficulties to which first-wave parity-style defences seemed prone. Sutton 2010 distinguishes such first and second-wave of arguments for EMT. He defends the latter approach over the former by analysing the different but complementary contributions that exograms (external memories) and engrams (internal memories) make to cognitive behaviour. Sutton et al. 2010 offer a detailed, multidimensional account of collaborative recall. Such a multidimensional account is then offered to show that research on memory can support an extended and socially distributed view of cognition. Menary 2010 discusses and extends Sutton’s framework, suggesting two dimensions (the manipulation and transformation of information) as a means of cashing out the details of the particular way in which individuals and environments intermingle to achieve sophisticated cognitive tasks. These two dimensions characterize the notion of integrationism (Menary 2007). Integrationism, on Menary’s account, concerns the way in which 'internal' and 'external' aspects of cognition are merged and combined into a larger hybrid cognitive whole. A similar perspective is embraced by Kiverstein and Farina 2011. Rowlands 2010 argues for what he calls an 'amalgamated' conception of mental processes. Weiskopf 2010 argues against Menary’s case for integrationism,

Kiverstein, Julian, & Farina, Mirko. (2011). “Embraining Culture: Leaky Minds and Spongy Brains”. Teorema, 32.2, pp. 35-53.

A “complimentarity” argument for extended cognition. A secondary goal of the paper is to show that complementarity and functionalist defences of EMT aren’t necessarily opposed.
Menary, Richard. (2010). “Dimensions of Mind”. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 9(4), pp.561-578.

Menary offers a multidimensional framework for the study of extended cognition and argues for cognitive integration involving the key dimensions of manipulation and transformation.

Menary, Richard (2007). Cognitive Integration: Mind and Cognition Unbounded. Palgrave-Macmillan.

Defends an account of cognition in which thinking is bounded neither by the brain nor by the skin of an organism. It describes processes of progressive integration in which neural and bodily features entwine with the functions of representational vehicles.
Rowlands, Mark. (2010), The new science of the mind: from extended mind to embodied phenomenology, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Rowlands defends the idea that mental states frequently depend, for their realization, on the amalgamation between neural, bodily and extra-neural processes. He then develops an account of ‘ownership’, which aims to deliver an account of cognition that is embodied and extended.
Sutton, John, Harris, Celia, Keil, Paul, & Barnier, Amanda. (2010). “The Psychology of Memory, Extended Cognition, and Socially Distributed Remembering”. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, vol.9, pp.521-560.

Presents the authors’ empirical work on collaborative recall, which is offered as experimental evidence for an extended and socially distributed account of memory. This paper explicitly bypasses any consideration of metaphysical claims about constitution by describing, in rich detail, the whole range of differently-influential causal processes that contribute to remembering.
Sutton, John. (2010), “Exograms and Interdisciplinarity: history, the extended mind, and the civilizing process', in Richard Menary (eds). The Extended Mind. (pp. 189-225). MIT Press.

Distinguishes between first and second waves approaches, and highlights some of the major problems with standard defences of EMT and stresses the complementarity principle - the idea that outer states or processes (such as exograms) should synergize with, rather than replicate, the functions and the roles of internal biological resources.

Weiskopf, Daniel. “Review of Cognitive Integration: Mind and Cognition Unbounded”. Mind (2010) 119 (474): 515-519.

A critique of Menary’s integrationism that questions the appeal to normativity that distinguishes the integrationist view from its competitors.
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