Time and the extended/embedded mind hypotheses I


Illusion and the extended/embedded mind hypotheses

Content and constitution

Metaphysics of time

Note: Most of the ideas here are developed further in my 2018 book, Philosophy of Time and Perceptual Experience.

I think that time is relevant to the extended mind debate because of the following:

1. The extended and embedded hypotheses, and other hypotheses in the same area of discussion (e.g., enactive, embodied , Rowland’s amalgamated mind — a combination of the embodied and extended mind) — these concern the constitution of mental events:

  • Embedded (EMH): mental events are wholly and necessarily constituted by events/processes/objects inside the brain (and/or mind)[1]
  • Extended (XMH): mental events are partially and contingently constituted by events/processes/objects outside the brain (and/or mind).


2. As discussed in an earlier post, I hold questions of constitution to be questions about the real structure, elements, relations, properties, etc., of mental events; they are not about the intentional, represented etc. structure/elements/relations/properties. Put more loosely: constitution concerns what mental events are made of, not what mental events are about (unless that has implications for what they’re made of).

  • Such questions are important. Their answers prescribe what, for theories with minds in their ontology, it is that can or needs to be real. Their answers also tell you when it is you can say there is a mind involved.
    • There are further consequences that I think follow from this, e.g., thought experiments about the mind: what is necessary for the constitution of mental events determines what can you assume you have when you posit minds in imaginary situations. I am planning a later post where I discuss one such thought experiment — Davidson’s ‘Swampman’ — that I think is affected by thinking about mental constitution over time.
    • I must be brief here on this, so can only note it and put it off for later. But I also consider questions of constitution to be more important than questions of intentional or represented content. They are more important because questions about intentional or represented content divide into two parts:
      • (a) Questions about what is needed for the mental event, the vehicle, to be representing or intending. That is, how can some x represent or intend? (b) Questions about what is represented or intended.
      • ‘a’ is a question about constitution; ‘b’ is about content. But whatever you say about ‘b’, it does not commit you to anything involved.
      • A central debate in contemporary philosophy of mind, about, e.g., consciousness, attitudes, information, representation, concerns the claim that physicalism leaves something about the mind out of its range of what is real. E.g., that ‘what it is like’ to be conscious is not something physical, but is something real.
        • It is not not the claim ‘I can think about consciousness and consciousness isn’t physical’. This is just the same as saying ‘I can think about crystal spheres’ or ‘I can think of next Saturday’s lunch’ or ‘I can think of ghosts’. The physicalist can reply: ‘good’; or even, ‘so can I’. But, also, ‘none of these things you think of are real.’


3.It is plausible that (a) a debate about what is real may have implications for (b) a debate about the real constituents of something.  This is not the case if the ‘what’ in ‘a’ does not encompass the constituents of ‘b’. But if ‘a’s ‘what’ does encompass ‘b’, then it is relevant. And I think that the ‘what’ in the metaphysics of time debate encompasses, and so is relevant to, the constituents in the extended/embedded mind debate.

  • The debates in the metaphysics of time, particularly I think those surrounding eternalism and presentism, are debates about what is real. These include physical things, both internal to a human body and extending throughout the external world. The debate concerns what physical things are related to each other, and how they are related.
    • For example, I argue in my 2010b that it is plausible to hold that only real things are spatially related to one another — e.g., I am no distance from unicorns. If so, then only real things can participate in spatially organised structures together (of course, merely possible things can participate in merely possible spatially organised structures, but that’s not important).Then:
      • If one holds, as presentists do, that only present simultaneous things are real, then only present simultaneous things can participate in spatially organised structures.
      • If one holds, as eternalists do, that anything at any time is real, then — I argue in 2010b, anything at any time can participate in spatially organised structures. That is, whether a number of elements are past, present, simultaneous, non-simultaneous — given eternalism, they are real.
      • Note that the point about eternalism (which is in many ways one of my Big Ideas behind my work).
    • The question asked in the extended mind debate: how are mental events constituted, by merely internal or also external events?  — this is a question at least partly about the spatial organisation of mental events. [2]
  • The debates between extended and embedded mind are debates about physically real things, both internal to a human body and in the external world.
  • The debates in the metaphysics of time may affect what we can say about what is real in the world, and so what we can say about the physical constitution of mental events.


Here are three ways to approach this possible relationship between the two debates, and why you might pick each of them:

  1. You want to remain neutral about the metaphysics of time. So, you pick physical constituents which  (a) encompass all physical things agreed in the extended mind debate and (b) all real thingsagreed in the metaphysical debate about time.
    • This can get difficult. See next post.
  2. You commit to a metaphysical position on time, and doing so undermines some of the motivations for one of the position in the extended/embedded mind debate.
  3. You commit to a position on the extended/embedded mind hypotheses, and doing so undermines some of the motivations for the positions in the time debate.


I will spell this out a little more.


Time and the extended/embedded mind hypotheses II (in development)


1. This is not how I separately define them in the illusion and extended mind post. I haven’t decided yet which is the best way to express the differences, or even if there is a need to decide.

2. They arguably also can include non-physical things, which is why I;m being explicit here about physical things.


2 thoughts on “Time and the extended/embedded mind hypotheses I

  1. Pingback: Illusion and the embedded/extended mind hypotheses | Time and Illusion

  2. Pingback: Phenomenal Presentism [definition of] | Time and Illusion

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