Tag Archives: embedded mind hypothesis/isolationism

Time and the extended/embedded mind hypotheses I


Illusion and the extended/embedded mind hypotheses

Content and constitution

Metaphysics of time


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.

Illusion and the embedded/extended mind hypotheses


Conditions of illusion

Three kinds of content and constitution

Appearances and good-making features of scientific theory

What does an illusion of x show?


What significance does the embedded/extended mind debate about mental entities have for questions about illusion? The embedded/extended mind debate concerns how mental entities are constituted. This is relevant to the question of how perceptions and perceptual experiences are constituted (see my earlier post ‘three kinds of content and one of constitution‘). The issue of perceptual constitution is, along with the issue of perceptual content, relevant to the question of whether or not a particular perceptual experience is actually an illusion.

  • Embedded mind

The embedded mind hypothesis, or what Clark has elsewhere called ‘isolationism’  is that minds are embedded (and can be dependent) on a surrounding world, which mental entities can be about/be directed toward/intend/represent, but which mental entities are not in any way constituted by. By the surrounding or external world is meant what lies outside the mind, i.e., in a broadly physical ontology, something in the brain.

[C]ognitive processes are often (and on some versions essentially) embedded in the environment. […] [S]ome cognitive processes are dependent on environmental structures in the sense that these processes have been designed to function only in conjunction, or in tandem, with these structures. […] But however tight we make [this] relation of dependence, it is still relation of dependence, not constitution.

(Rowlands 2010, pp.68-69)


Q: Where is the mind?

A(Embedded physicalist): ‘It’s in the brain.’

A(Embedded dualist (of some kind)): ‘It’s not anywhere.’ (E.g., debates found in the collection of essays The Mind-body Problem (ed.Baier, 1970). Or some variations: ‘at least, it’s not anywhere in what we might conceive of as physical space’, e.g., McGinn’s 1995.

  • Extended mind

The extended mind hypothesis is that some mental entities are at least partially constituted by external (surrounding) entities.

[S]ome cognitive processes are made up, in part, of the manipulation, exploitation, and/or transformation of information-bearing structures in the cognizing organism’s environment […]

(Rowlands, op.cit., p.59)

The general idea is that at least some mental processes – not all, but some – extend into the cognizing organism’s environment in that they are composed, partly (and, on the version I am going to defend, contingently), of actions, broadly construed, performed by that organism on the world around it […] of manipulating, exploiting, and/or transforming external structures […] the function of the action […] on these structures is to transform information that is merely present in the structures into information that is available to the organism and/or its subsequent processing operations.

(ibid, p.58)


Q: where is the mind?

A(extended mind advocate): ‘It’s in the brain and can extend into the surrounding world.’ [And also could be nowhere, too, but I’m not going to pursue that here].

Given one interpretation of naive realism(e.g., Nudds 2009, Logue, forthcoming), external entities partially constitute perceptual experience. As always with naive realism, this is because external entities seem to partially constitute perceptual experience.[1] This leads to the following way in which the embedded/extended mind relates to issues around illusion.

  1. If perceptions are mental entities and naive realism is true, then external entities partially constitute at least one mental entity (a perception).
  2. If external entities partially constitute at least one mental entity, then the extended mind hypothesis (XMH, here) is true.
  3. If XMH is not true, then (from ‘2’) external entities do not constitute at least one mental entity.
  4. If XMH is not true, then (from 3 and 1), then it is not the case that perceptions are mental entities and naive realism is true.
  5. If the embedded hypothesis is true (BMH, here), XMH is not true.
  6. Therefore, if BMH is true, then (from 4 and 5) it is not the case that perceptions are mental entities and naive realism is true.
  • From this argument, for perceptual experience, and given the assumption that naive realism is the perceptual theory which corresponds best to appearances (although perhaps not reality), XMH corresponds better to appearances than BMH does.

If we don’t like this, how might one respond?

  1. Deny that commitment to illusion is a weakness of a theory. I explain elsewhere why I don’t like that idea, but it may not bother others.
  2. Deny perceptions are mental entities. Their constituents, external or otherwise, are not cases of constituents of mental entities, external or otherwise. So, issues around perceptions and perceptual experience are irrelevant to any XMH/BMH debate.
    • A more specific form of this might be: deny that perceptions are wholly mental entities. That which is external that is a constituent of perception is not a mental aspect/part/constituent of perception. The mental part is still only internal, embedded and so on.
  3. Deny naive realism. Whether or not XMH or BMH is correct, perceptions are not partially constituted by external entities, even if they appear that way. Thus, one is denying the appearance of externality about what is perceived. One is under an illusion of externality — no matter the hypothesis about constitution.
  4. Deny that XMH or BMH are applicable to perceptual experience because XMH/BMH apply to interactive mental entities.
    • How about this: A central component to the extended mind hypothesis is that it involves manipulation of entities. (Looking at Chalmers/Clark’s original paper, we see talk of diaries accessed, etc). These entities in virtue of their capacity to be manipulated can be treated as mental, e.g., certain subsets of information encoded in the brain (and physicalists treat that as mental, if they treat anything as mental).
    • Next, one argues: the entities of naive realism and perception are not entities manipulable in this way, at least insofar as we perceive them or they play a role in naive realist theory. We can see distant stars but we do not and cannot manipulate them in the seeing of them. This is just not the right way to think about perception.
      • Further, even if we continue to call such entities constituents of mental entities(as in ‘1’) they are not targets of the extended mind hypothesis (or embedded mind hypothesis,either).
    • I think one might respond in one of two ways:
      1. Manipulation is not central to the targets of the extended mind debate; use is central. When someone looks up a notebook for an address, they certainly need to take it out of their pocket, open it and look. But the information that they are accessing, the details of the address, is not any of these things. It is not itself being manipulated, but accessed and used. If we are right, then, to say that this information in the notebook can be a constituent of a mental entity, we are right to say that a star, or other distant thing can be a constituent of a mental entity. We can certainly use such distant things, even if we can’t alter or interact with them, e.g., we can use what we see of the night sky to navigate, even though we cannot push the night sky around with our oars.
      2. Perceptual experience is a kind of action or manipulation. This puts it on the other side: even if extended/embedded mind concerns manipulable/interactive mental entities, this is no threat to perception. Perception is a kind of action. Theories such as the enactive theory of perception, etc., and other work by Alva Noe seem very like this. (This is not my preference. It seems to me such theories do not gel with phenomenology, with appearances, and so require claims of illusion or even delusion). In any case, it is an option for those who hold it or are willing to do so.

This is just an initial investigation into the relationship between illusion and these hypotheses. Let’s do something similar for what thinking about time does to thinking about the extended/embedded mind debate.


Metaphysics of time

Time and the Extended/embedded mind hypotheses I


1. I think you can put naive realism in other ways:

Naive Realism: Perceptual content = (some)* perceptual constituent = (perhaps, if you keep this terminology) (some)* perceptual vehicles.

*’some’ because I don’t think anyone naive about experience or perception, endorsing that how things seem is how things are, is denying that there may be more to experience and perception than what is apparent. Experience/perception is partial. (See Kalderon 2011 for discussion regarding colour.)